PEACETALK: Reconciliation from a textual persepective a year after Zambo siege

(Author’s note: This paper was originally a briefing paper for Councilor Ishmael Musa, the IP Mandatory representative in the Zamboanga City Council as part of the discussion for the formation of a Zamboanga Reconciliation Commission in reference to the September 2013 siege)

Almost a year has passed since the tragic September siege which left Zamboanga City and its citizens hurting – Muslims, Christians and its Indigenous peoples. This in itself clearly shows us that there is a strong need for us to initiate a city-wide and collective reconciliation and all-encompassing peace process.

At such a propitious moment, we urgently need to foster reconciliation to restore peace. We should not only restore peace and harmony but in effect, be rewarded by God the Almighty.

What are generally the Religious Textual Basis for Reconciliation?

The holy Quran in many instances reminds the the Muslim Ummah:

“So have Taqwa (fear and obedience) of Allah and reconcile the differences between yourselves.”[Al-Qur’an 8:1]

“Indeed the Believers are but brothers. Therefore reconcile the differences between your brothers, and fear Allah so that you may receive mercy.” [Al-Qur’an 49:10]

“When two parties of the Beievers fight each other, then make reconciliation between them.” [Al-Qur’an 49:9]

“Most of their discussions do not contain any good, except of the one who enjoins charity or goodness or peace-making among people; whoever does that to seek the pleasure of Allah – We shall soon give him a great reward” (Surah Nisa: 114)

It is clear from the verses above that reconciliation is greatly valued in Islamic teachings. The reconciliation-loving person is blessed with the mercy of Allah. In terms of social well-being, it is of paramount importance. It brings mutual hostility and grudge to an end paving the way to the establishment of peace and harmony in society.

One can easily evaluate the great importance that Islam attaches to reconciliation by reflecting on the permissibility of telling a lie in Islam with intent to reconcile between two warring persons or groups. While Islam strictly forbids lying, it allows one to tell a lie for the sake of reconciliation. In fact, Islam does not declare such a person a liar.

In a narration that is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) it is said: The gates of Paradise will be opened on Mondays and on Thursdays, and every servant [of God] who associates nothing with God will be forgiven, except for the man who has a grudge against his brother. [About them] it will be said: Delay these two until they are reconciled; delay these two until they are reconciled. (Hadith Qudsi 20, Sunan Abu Dawood part page 217)

Allah’s Messenger peace be upon him said: “Shall I not inform you of something that is greater in degree than (optional) fasting, charity and prayer?” They said: Indeed inform us. So he said: “It is reconciling the people. For indeed causing corruption between them is the shaver!” (Sunan Abu Dawood part page 217)

Today if we reflect among ourselves, we find that our social behavior goes much against the above Hadith. When a man fights his kith and kin over a trivial matter, belligerent people would come in and worsen the situation.

No one cares about restoring love and rebuilding peace among them. Had this perverse attitude not been in our society, our houses would have been in complete peace and tranquillity.

To be human beings in the true sense we should do the acts that manifest our true nature. Similarly, to become a true Muslim, it is obligatory to abide by the Islamic commandments of peace and reconciliation. Besides, we ought to abstain from all evils; mutual abhorrence both outwardly and inwardly. Only then wil Allah the Almighty be pleased with us. After we have got a glimpse of the holy prophet’s life, we should now feel impelled to promote the virtue of reconciliation. Because we learned that our Prophet (Peace be upon him) preferred reconciliation in every walk of life. He not only practiced it by himself but also instructed Muslims to adopt this noble attitude.

One of the clear examples can be viewed in the constitution of Madina which defiined relationships between the Jews, Christians and Muslims of Madina as well as the required reconciliation mechanisms within. This in itself shows that from the time of the Prophet (Salawatullahi alayhi), reconciliation mechanisms were already in place.

Another example is the peace treaty of Hudaibiyah, which at that time, the Prophet (SA) reconciled even between the pagans of Arab, let alone Muslims. One should remember that the Prophet (pbuh) had not less power than the pagans but even then he preferred peace treaty with a long range vision in mind.

There were three events of reconciliation that took place in the treaty of Hudaibiyah. The first was when the Prophet (pbuh) was sitting in Hudaibiyah with fifteen hundred people. They went there with the intention of performing Umrah. But Meccans did not allow them to enter Mecca for Umra. Finally they agreed to a resolution that there will be no war for ten years between the governments of Mecca and Medina. Hazrat Ali (karamallahu wajhah) wrote down the treaty with the name of Allah (Bismillah hir Rehman nir Raheem). The Meccan representatives objected and said “we want the treaty not to be labelled with “the name of Allah the most merciful and gracious”, but you can write Bismika Allah Humma (with your name O’ Allah)”. The holy Prophet pbuh asked Ali (ra) to delete these words and write according to their wish. Hazrat Ali (karamallahu wajhah) said “O’ the prophet of Allah (pbuh) how can I delete these words”? The Holy prophet (pbuh) ordered him to delete so that the other party may feel happy and treaty of peace could be accomplished.

The second was when Hazrat Ali (karamallahu wajhah) wrote: “Muhammad, the messenger of Allah (pbuh)”. The representatives of Mecca again refused to accept Muhammad (pbuh) as the messenger of Allah the Almighty. They said if we had accepted you as the messenger of God we would never have fought against you. They wanted Hazrat Ali (karamallahu wajhah) to cut it too and write down Muhammad Bin Abdullah (pbuh). The Holy Prophet (pbuh) asked Ali (karamallahu wajhah) to delete these words and write Muhammad Bin Abdullah (pbuh). This was the time when tears came in the eyes of Hazrat Ali (ra). When Hazrat Ali (ra) could not muster courage to cut the words, the Prophet (pbuh) took the papers of treaty from his hands and he cut the words “the prophet of Allah” by himself and wrote Muhammad Bin Abdullah in a bid to establish peace and avoid violence. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “By cutting these words, my prophethood is not going to be cancelled”. Thus he (PBUH) accepted their objection just for the sake of peace in Arabian Peninsula.

The third event of reconciliation took place when it was agreed upon that if a non-Muslim goes to Medina to seek exile, the state of Medina would have no right to give him exile and he should be sent back to Mecca. On the other hand, if somebody comes from Medina to Makkah and seeks exile, he will not be sent back.  This was absolutely a shocking condition that made the eyes of all companions wet with tears. But the holy prophet (pbuh) accepted this condition just for the sake of peace and reconciliation. (For the relevant Hadith, see Muslim Shareef part 12, page 111 to 112)

The peace treaty of Hudaibiyah benefitted Muslims a lot. Those kings and lofty people, who had resisted Islam before, witnessed that the prophet pbuh and his companions were not oppressors but rather they were the oppressed ones. The prophet pbuh endured stiff opposition and continued persecution including the serious injury caused by the stones that street boys had hurled on him in Taif. The aggressive pagans used to lay thorns in the ways of the prophet pbuh. He tolerated pain and sufferings even during his Salah (prayer). Sometimes he used to be forcibly stopped from worshipping God Almighty. Despite all that, the prophet kept patience and taught his companions to maintain peace and order.

Thus he continued to spread the message of the holy Quran: “And help one another in righteousness and piety – and do not help one another in sin and injustice” (Surah Maidah verse: )

During the battle of Khaibar, when the Prophet (PBUH) had won the war, he could do everything. But in place of retaliation, the prophet pbuh reconciled with his rivals and handed over their land to them. This was the unprecedented example of blessing in the entire history of humankind.

Today, we need to bring these aspects of the prophet’s life into our focus and emulate these glaring examples of reconciliation in our daily practical life. If we do it, our society will be safe from plenty of evils. The pressing need of the time is to reconcile in the religious matters so that the Islamic message of peace could reach every nook and corner of the world.

One frequently asked question is why there is fierce fighting in Muslim countries while Islam is a religion of peace. Similarly, why there is Muslim extremism and intolerance growing against Muslims themselves, let alone non-Muslims.

The answer is that many Muslims have turned a blind eye to the pluralist and inclusive nature of Islam. They have totally become dependent on exclusivist extremist ideologues, regardless of the fact that such ideologies are antithetical to the nature of Islam.

Islam basically seeks to establish peace and reconciliation in place of war. It is such extremist-minded Muslims who bring this religion into disrepute by imposing a very conservative, literal and exclusivist presentation of it. If the Muslims start introspecting and reconciling, there will be no fighting and no civil war in the Muslim world.

As such, technically, we should have no problem reconciling with people for economic benefits. When it comes to matters of religion, we are not willing to do the same duty with love and peace when it is evident from the holy Quran and Hadith that there should be reconciliation, mutual harmony and peace in all aspects of life. Religion is synonymous with goodwill for others. We should remember that there is no use for religion without peace and reconciliation.

Establishing a reconciliation process for Zamboanga City

Zamboanga City has been historically a melting plot and a migration spot, it has been home to both settler and indigenous communities, witness to centuries of fighting and conflict,its residents have developed a level of stigma which has actually been on the brink several times, from the IPIL Burning, to the Cabatangan siege, and most recently the September 2013 siege.

These, in addition to the regular incidents of cultural discrimination and social isolation, have managed to leave a subconscious imprint on the people of Zamboanga, both on the side of the Christians, Muslims and the indigenous communities.

As such here is a need for the creation of a reconciliation process for Zamboanga City, whether this may be a government or a third party mechanism which may allow semblance of transitional and restorative justice to operate and allow a sense of healing for the people of Zamboanga City.

How do we go about this process?

The hurt and pain that the people of Zamboanga experienced have been felt on many levels, intergenerational, socio-cultural, political as well as economic isolation. This requires that the process is clearly inclusive and all-encompassing at the same time focusing on healing the hurts rather than focusing on the pain experienced, a sort of moving forward for the people of Zamboanga.

This means that the reconciliation process should both involve communities and sectors, both culturally and demographically speaking so as to ensure that reconciliation happens from within and healing becomes an innate part of that process.

Who should be part of those who will lead the reconciliation process?

All community leaders, irrespective of their socio-cultural affiliations must move forward to embrace this, but primary leaders who should move forward are the religious sectors, who have the trust and confidence of their communities. Community leaders, including those who are traditional elders as well as political leaders can truly help in this process.

The forming up of a third party reconciliation commission / body who will come from different stakeholders and sectors who will be able to draw up an inclusive program for healing and reastoration, not of rights but of respect and acceptance of each other as part of the culturally diverse city of Zamboanga City.

Two of the many groups that oftentimes are forgotten are first, the cultural workers, who in the words of Kublai Milan, Mindanao Artist who primarily creates art spaces that help in the expression of healing of a community and who are able to positively influence mindsets through their art should always be an essential part of this reconciliation process. And second the youth, who are endlessly full of energy and can be invigorated to “heal the world” with enthusiasm as well as lead them towards full healing of the hurt that has happened to Zamboanga.

Trust is not easy to gain in any situation, most especially when there is much hate and anger generated, this is where peacebuilders should come in.

Peace indeed is the “greater struggle” that we have to wage for ourselves deep within ourselves.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on peace in Mindanao. Yusuf Morales is the Muslim Concerns Coordinator of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University and a member of the Board of Advisers of Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities of the Ateneo de Davao University)