Imam Salim Chishti
The concept of peace in Islam is, like in all of the world’s major religions, a central one. And as with the other day
practice of the religion.
It is simple to say that the Arabic word “Islam” means peace. But it is also simplistic to say that. The multi-
layered meaning of the word is lost and we must look deeper. The root word “salama” is said by the great Arabic
Lexicologist Edward William Lane to mean to be safe from evils of any kind. It also means to be free from fault,
from defect or from trial or affliction.
A taslim is a greeting of another person with a prayer for his safety, security and freedom from evils of any kind
in his religion and in his person. When muslims greet each other with “As-salaamu alaykum” it is not only a wish
for the peace of the other it is a promise not to do anything, one to the other, that would jeopardize that safety.
The root of the word salaam is contained in the taslim, both by intent and by etymology.
Salaam, therefore holds within it the secret of deep personal peace that is held in Islam - to be both safe from
any evil and also to be free from any defect in one’s religion, and therefore, one’s life. This concept is central to
the concept of peace in Islam. The religion one practices in Islam is commonly referred to as “deen”, a word
which is superficially referred to as “religion” but is much deeper than that. Deen means “way of life” and to a
Muslim, one’s religion is one’s way of life. There is no separation between what is religious and what is secular.
In fact, this can be illustrated by a saying that “The only true sin is a breath taken without remembrance of God
and the only true blessing is a breath taken in the full knowledge of God’s presence.”
As-Salaam is one of the names of Allah (swt) in Islam. The name means that God is the author of safety, the
creator of it and the only being who possesses perfect safety and freedom from defect and affliction. Mankind is
limited and may strive for this perfection the only source of it is in Allah (swt).
The word “Islam” comes from the same salama root. And in it’s configuration it has the meaning of giving one’s
self up to the state of that safety and perfection. And since Allah is the source of it, then Islam is the giving up of
ones self to the safety and perfection to be found in God.
So peace in one’s heart, in one’s personal life and in the life of the Muslim community means to have a personal
relationship with and to give up one’s life to the will of a higher power. One in whom we can put our complete
trust and faith because we have been promised safety from evil of all sorts if we do so.
This personal peace is implied in the personal relationship between the believer and Allah (swt) and between
As we all know, common daily practice is entirely a different matter. But again, in Islam the responsibility of
following the deen is upon the individual. In the end our ultimate judge and deliverer of justice on the last day is
Allah (swt) and we have only to answer to him for our transgressions.
So far I have been speaking about personal peace, and indeed it is axiomatic that there can be no peace in the
world until there is peace within our selves.
However true that may be, there is still the question of the outer, greater model of peace between peoples and
between nations. This is a question that looms large in today’s world of continuous war, injustice, oppression of
the weak and the existence of weapons capable of destroying most of the life on this planet in the blink of an
Without delving too much into Islamic metaphysics, let me just simply say that Muslims believe that Allah (swt)
created what in Arabic is called “al 'ameen” meaning “the worlds” – plural. We might today say – the universe.
We say he is “rabbil al 'ameen” or “lord of the worlds”. And at the same time he is “maliki yaum-mi-deen”
meaning soverign of the last day. So to Muslims, life and death, creation and destruction ultimately belong to the
one supreme power. We have no say in where, or when we are born or die and whatever construction or
destruction we perpetrate while we are here is only temporary in the ultimate sense.
But what we do with each other and in and to the world in between the first day and the last is important to our
relationship with our God and will play a role in how we are judged upon our death and subsequent resurrection.
(As an aside here, we offer salaam alaykum after each prayer to the two angles who record our deeds, both
good and bad)
And the nature of these relationships is clearly described for us in the Quran where Allah says
“Yaa ayuha an-nass inna khalaqnakum min thakar wa unthawa ja-'alnaakum. Shu-'uub wa qabaa il lita-'aa. Rafu
inna akram kum. 'inna allah atqakum inna allah 'alem khabir”
Which means approximately:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes
that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight
of Allah is (the one who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with
So we are taught that the differences between people and nations are there for us to learn and to grow in our
knowledge. That Allah put all these nations on earth together for a reason. Each has its own significance and
importance and each has something for us to learn. We are not here to despise and fight with each other. And
that ultimately in the end we are judged according to our relationship with the teachings of Allah (swt).
Lastly, jihad is a question that weighs as heavily on the mind of the Muslim as it does on the non-Muslim. I do
not intend what I say to relieve you entirely of that weight, some weighty thinking is good for all of us. But I
want to clear up a misconception that the word “Jihad” is synonymous with “holy war.” This is simply not true.
Literally, jihad means to strive, struggle and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes
struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the
battlefield for self-defense (for instance - having a standing army for national defense), or fighting against
tyranny or oppression. Jihad, as an Islamic concept, can be on a personal level--inner struggle against evil within
oneself; struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; and struggle on the battlefield, if and when
“Holy war" in Arabic is "harb muqaddasah," a term that cannot be found in the Quran or the Prophet's (saw)
sayings (hadith). There is no such thing as "holy war" in Islam, as some careless translators may imply. It is
rather a loaded medieval concept that did not arise from within the Muslim community. But because of this mis-
translation’s frequent repetition, most people in the West accept it as if it were a fact. And to add to the
confusion, since most Arabic speaking Muslims learn English from non-Arabic speaking non-Muslims they learn
that Jihad in English is holy war and tragically adopt the concept themselves. It is truly and most dangerously –
the blind leading the blind.
Like other world religions, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those
who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions
against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be
triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.
One reads in the Qur'an: "Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits.
God does not love transgressors." (Qur'an 2:190)
"And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then let there be no
hostility except against wrongdoers." (Qur'an 2:193)
"If they seek peace, then you seek peace. And trust in God for He is the One that hears and knows all things."
War is therefore the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law.
And Allah (swt) knows best.