Resolving conflicts

Published September 16, 2022
The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.

OCCURRENCES of conflict linked to differences in human affairs are as old as any other issue in society. They occur in just about any family, tribe, society, community, state, or even globally. Conflict resolution, however, is not easy. It requires human ingenuity, forethought, grace, wisdom, generosity, and above all, patience, sacrifice, and magnanimity. In addition, it requires long-term vision, and most of all, the ‘will’ to resolve differences peacefully.

If conflicts are allowed to fester, they can bring misery and unhappiness to all, wasting human lives, capital, resources, and badly affecting the quality of life for all.

Conflict is simply a clash of interests; or even just a perception of this. It may be simpler or more complex, depending on the situation. Conflicts themselves are not an issue but the attitude towards them and how they are perceived, is a bigger issue. Societies have, through the course of history, evolved various ways of resolving conflicts, such as arbitration (jirgas), reconciliation (panchayats) or thr­o­u­­gh modern parliaments, and finally, through legal and institutional ways to reach a middle ground between contending parties.

After a long struggle, humans have learned to develop rational rather than emotional solutions by developing elaborate justice systems apart from conciliation and arbitration procedures. Though all these methods fall short of the ideal, they are often the only options. In more advanced societies, they are far more developed, though not yet perfect.

Conflict resolution in Islam is based on certain humane principles.

Conflicts among individuals or groups of people in Muslim societies arose even during the Prophet’s (PBUH) lifetime, and with much more intensity after him as life became more complex. Take two shining examples of conflict resolution during the life of the Prophet, namely the Mithaq-i-Madina or Treaty (Sulh) of Hudaybiyyah. These two pacts demonstrate exemplary principles that should continue to guide us even today.

Resolving differences — whether religious, political and socio-economic — in Islam or Muslim societies is based on certain humane principles. We should remind ourselves of these, particularly in times of strife as we in Pakistan are passing through today. Some key principles and values considered in conflict resolution are: first, no matter what happens, Muslims are brothers and sisters to each other, and therefore, they should always think of each other’s good. Second, no one should consider himself or herself superior to others, no matter on what grounds.

The Quran is very clear about it. “The believers are naught else than brothers [akhawaikum, implying you are all equal as brothers]. Therefore, make peace between your brethren [should a dispute arise]. …” (49:10). The next verse (49:11) sternly advises not to “deride a folk who may be better than they (are) … neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. …”. Therefore, hating one another because of a conflict is abhorrent in Islam.

Some, by intent, spread mischief on earth to benefit from it, but claim they are “improving” society. God gives warning to the community, “…when it is said unto them: Make not mischief in the earth, they say: We are peacemakers only. Are not they indeed the mischief-makers? But they perceive [or pretend] not” (2:11-12).

Such guidance of the Quran clearly warns us to not indulge in things which cause discord (fasad) in society for personal or political gains on the pretext of (or pretending to) ‘reform’.

The third principle, I believe, is that one comes to resolve conflicts with good intensions, honesty, truthfulness and fair claims, and not with hostile attitude and mischief-mongering. You focus on the issue, not on the person(s). You do not indulge in name-calling, blaming, passing judgments about other claimants’ faith and integrity. You do not draw a line of ‘truth’ or ‘falsehood,’ iman or shirk. These are most abhorrent actions to indulge in, as they can create animosity among “brothers” or citizens.

Many other Islamic principles deducible from the treaties of the Prophet and his companions, reached in resolving conflicts, may be: accommodation, compromise (specially for peace), magnanimity, and forgiveness. Many a times, thanks to his magnanimity, the Prophet simply compromised (take the example of removing his title as “Rasul Allah” in the Mithaq-i-Madina) to resolve issues and establish peace. Indeed, he was a ‘sulh jo’ (peace seeker/maker).

In sum, Islam promotes a more humane society that respects the dignity of each person, friend or foe, taking each one as a ‘brother/sister’ for co-existence. The Prophet terms humans as an organic body. If one limb aches, the remaining cannot rest. Resolving politico-socioeconomic conflicts without hatred and animosity but with humility, sense of brotherhood, dialogue, and a win-win spirit is in the interest of all, Muslim or otherwise, as citizens, living as we are in a modern society.

The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2022

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