Nonviolence as a Methodeology of Social Change in Islam
by Benjamin Jensen and Abdul Aziz Said

This paper was prepared by Benjamin Jensen and Abdul Aziz Said for a special edition of Quaderni Satyargraha an Italian peace research review edited by the University of Pisa and the not-for-profit association Centro Gandhi. Abdul Aziz Said is the Mohammed Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace and Director of the American University International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program. Benjamin Jensen is a research fellow at the Center for Global Peace


I. The Experience of Violence in the Islamic World 3

II. Theories Non-Violence & The Quest for Democracy 6

III. Islam & Non-Violent Political Action 16

IV. Building the Social Structures to Support Non- Violent Action 22

The Experience of Violence in the Islamic World

The modern Islamic world was born across empires. The political state of the Islamic world today is the result of a historical dynamic that has seen the rise and fall of both colonial and Caliph centered empires, each prone to its own unique form of socio-political coercion and control. The tensions produced in the wake of history produce political violence. The conflicts born in the transition of the Islamic world to the modern nation-state system have devastated the Muslim polity. Today, the Muslim community finds themselves engaged in a profound struggle, effectively cut off from a glorious past and faced with a historical present characterized by tyranny, poverty and humiliation. Much of this violence is structural in nature, a byproduct of autocratic regimes and their efforts to control all political and economic resources within the state.
Empirical evidence indicates the cruel reality of citizenship. Muslims are victims of totalitarian regimes, whether monarchies, theocracies, or autocratic, and the external parties that support them. From 1945 to 2004 an estimated 8 to 10 million Muslims lost their lives to state sanctioned violence. The overwhelming majority of this violence was perpetrated by states, Muslim states, against their own citizens. Of the 125 conflict episodes from 1945 to 2004, over 71% comprised internal political violence accounting for over 75% of all fatalities .
There is a crisis of governance in the Islamic world. This crisis consumes the entire potential of the Islamic polity in a never ending cycle of violence. Liberation is subordinate to a struggle to survive. To transcend this crisis, the Islamic world needs to discover new models of civic participation and political action that enable them to break the cycle of violence. Citizenship, for Muslims, should no longer be understood as merely the carrying out of decisions handed down by political leaders, but rather to conceptualize Muslim citizenship as genuine participation in their own society by incorporating deeply rooted universalist values emphasized in Islam.
If a single culprit can be found limiting the development and flourishing of an Islamic polity it is the state of governance in Muslim countries. Democracy is a distant promise in the majority of the Islamic world. According to the Freedom House organization, Muslim countries range between ‘not free’ and ‘partially free’ . In turn, the Middle East and North Africa still maintain one of the highest levels of defense and security spending in the world. On average, as much as 10% of the GDP of the countries in the region goes towards sustaining security apparatuses designed to maintain unelected regimes. This combustible mix of limited domestic freedom and high defense spending would seem to indicate a system of fear, in which legitimacy is purchased.
To escape the horror of state sanctioned violence will require actively seeking new modes of governance. Yet at the same time, unless political strategies are carefully chosen, the quest for democracy may result in unsettling numerous ethnic and religious tensions while mobilizing elite power institutions in an effort to crush the open questioning of state legitimacy. Any political action undertaken to initiate democratic transformation, whether overtly or in terms of gradual institutional change, must limit the open use of violence so as to deny the ruling political powers the ability and legitimacy to respond with overwhelming force. Furthermore, the utility of political violence in modern societies is limited by the need for legitimacy. In seeking to change an illegitimate government one can not make oneself subject to competing claims of moral, legal, or cultural legitimacy which often are expanded by the use of violence. The dead do have voice. It is the memory of violence that lingers over all political action.
In considering the limited utility of violence and the vast arsenals some Islamic regions have amassed to defend themselves against both internal and external threats, it is essential to reflect upon strategies for positive change. The quest for democracy must actively seek change while ensuring that all strategies sought to engender a new political reality maximize their legitimacy by limiting the use of overt and structural violence. This means the ideal methods sought to the end of democratic transformation in the Islamic world must be largely nonviolent in nature.
This nonviolent activism for democratic change in the Islamic world differs from some of the paths taken in the body of literature surrounding peace studies and conflict resolution. Too often by the use of the term nonviolence in relation to religion refers to interfaith dialogue and processes of second track diplomacy and citizens’ action groups to enable cross-cultural understanding. Nonviolent means undertaken for peacebuilding and reconciliation exercises must first address the state of unjust governance. We can not make peace with our neighbors when we are slaves in our own home. Therefore, in approaching the question of Islam and non-violence the question becomes how to use Islamic sources of knowledge and political calculation to construct non-violent resistance movements whose end objective is a veritable democratic revolution across the Islamic world. Within the Islamic world how can the practice and experience, taken together as ‘culture’ of Islam generate the social capacity necessary for non-violent political action?
It is hypothesized that in the historical experience of Islam and its principles there is a culture of non-violence able to facilitate non-violent political action and democratic transformation. In order to access this revolutionary potential within Islam, one must first (re)discover non-violent resistance typologies that reflect Islamic history and society while juxtaposing them with strategies for challenging illegitimate regimes. Through nonviolent resistance, the quest for democracy is offered to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims as a noble struggle, a journey worthy of their history and belief in the oneness of God and by extension the ubiquity of social justice.

Theories of Non-Violence & The Quest for Democracy

Before approaching how nonviolent political action can synchronize its critique of governance with Islamic tenants, it is first essential to understand what nonviolence is and how it operates. Nonviolence is essentially peoples’ power. It represents a strategy of social change that relies upon the will power of the population and their capacity to initiate and sustain organized resistance to oppression nonviolently. Every society is governed by an implied social contract, an expression of the exchange of sovereignty and power that takes place thus creating the ‘ruler’ and the ‘ruled’. Nonviolence challenges citizens not to abdicate their own power, the power of principle and act to morally responsible.
Nonviolence is viewed by those who use it as a moral and political principle of action to motivate people to act justly and ethically and to demand just and ethical action particularly by those in power, without resort to physical coercion. There is an injunction to act morally and not to be silent in the face of injustice. The key is the relationship between ends and means. There is no separation. The means must always be just and appropriate to the ends. Ultimate ends are psychological, cultural, social, and political transformation to a nonviolent sustainable state. Within this, there is a fundamental assumption: the exercise of power depends on the consent of the ruled who, by withdrawing that consent can control or destroy the power of the opponent. Once you withdraw consent, the oppressor cannot oppress you.
In creating a social mechanism for engaging entrenched power centers, whether in the form of a state government (i.e. recent examples include Georgia and Serbia), or colonial or occupation administration (Gandhi, Khudai Khidmatgar, the first Palestinian Intifada, etc.), nonviolence opens new possibilities of social engagement. All social interaction begins with the source of all political power, the individual. Because nonviolence vests such tremendous political capital in the individual, it calls upon individuals, supported by a culture of nonviolence, to become socially responsible. At its core, nonviolent political action motivates individuals to act justly and to demand just and ethical action, without resort to physical coercion or open combat.
Because of this shift from the cultural (as well as moral and ethical) code of the state to that of the individual, nonviolence roots itself in a fragmented body politic. The unit of analysis becomes the individual and social community as networks of interaction instead of state structures. One looks at people and their interactions instead of solely focusing upon institutions. In this respect, nonviolent political action requires an associated ‘culture’ or ‘subculture’ that enables this network to be inclusive, bridging ethnic, religious, gender and class identity groups. This culture should search for sources of traditional social interpretation embedded within the moral and ethical code of the world’s religion while at the same time not limiting itself to closed interpretations of any body of historical memory or knowledge.
The reliance on an individual aggregation of just and ethical action informed by an overarching ‘culture’ of nonviolence requires certain guiding principles. The primary principle rests at the level of individual and their commitment to becoming socially aware and responsible through undertaking nonviolent political action. In moving from the individual consciousness to a social consciousness, the individual must be sure not to participate in anything which is overtly immoral. If the social manifestation of collective individual action is governed by a morality and ethos in contrast to operative ruling hierarchy, it represents an alternative for the populace at large to consider. Inversely, any immoral manifestation just extends the logic of tyranny.
Plato sets forth this principle in the Apology, exemplifying Socrates refusing to take part in an unjust action. Nonviolent action is based upon principle, yet undertaken in the tactical way that is best to make the moral point effectively. Tactics and strategy are important to consider in deciding what to do. The key here is the relation of ends and means. There is no separation. The effect of an act together with its intention determines its character. The means used, through their effect, determines what the actual end is. Unjust means can not bring about just ends. This synthesis of means and ends begins in the awakening of the ethical individual.
Most often nonviolent actions, when successful, are a catalyst for sustaining social and political policy. In this respect nonviolence has the capacity to be self-sustaining because the struggle for social justice is never-ending. Nonviolence as a power technique is action that leads to both justice and peace.
At the tactical and operational level, nonviolence represents a means of wielding power. It is specifically applicable to and in many ways designed to be used against social systems and adversaries who cannot be defeated by force alone. It could one level be described as asymmetric, a force multiplier when considered in relation to the mechanisms of state violence. Yet, when analyzed in terms of social or political capital, it is not asymmetric. Rather, the violence required to maintain an illegitimate government is asymmetric to the extent that it replaces ‘legitimacy’ with violence:

Violence and legitimacy can be considered in relationship to one another in a social system. In order to govern the ‘ruled’, the social hierarchy must exert ever increasing quantities of violence to attain consent (authority vs. legitimacy). By nature this consent is unstable and subject to questions of legitimacy because of the means employed (violence). At the same time, the ‘ruled’ deny a government legitimacy to the extent that it limits the use of violence to maintain consent.
Nonviolence does not reduce the violence of the opponent. It merely renders the opponents violence ineffective. This takes dual manifestation in the elasticity of social violence and act of creating and conditioning social systems to experience violence. At one level, nonviolence works in denying the opponent the justification for responding with violence. In terms of political capital this effectively denies the state the asymmetric factor of violence. It is difficult to continually respond to a popular nonviolent social movement with violence and maintain a sense of legitimacy. Violence is inelastic, subject to ever increasing quantities in order to maintain hegemony. At the same time the experience of violence conditions social memory. By denying the use of violence, a nonviolent social movement, if effective, is positively conditioning the sphere of culture. You deny your adversary the ability to continually define themselves in opposition by remembering the transgressions of the past in the form of the names of the dead.
With a theoretical understanding of what nonviolence is and its social geometry, it is important in turn to consider, based upon practical experience and inference, how exactly it works. Theoretically, nonviolence depends on a number of principles. First, in seeking nonviolent engagement, one cannot improvise. There has to be a grand strategy with realizable objectives that facilitate incremental progression. Furthermore, we must understand our adversary both in terms of culture, history and material capabilities. In turn, we have to know our own group and its respective culture, history, and material capabilities and how together they can sustain resistance. Lastly, we must be self-disciplined and self-reliant both as an organization and individuals in order to sustain resistance and readily adapt to change.
Nonviolence is a technique of conducting and resolving conflict by means of economic, social and political weapons. As such, it maintains three primary classes of methods: 1) symbolic forms of nonviolent protest such as vigils, marches, and demonstrations; 2) non-cooperation in the form of boycotts, strikes, and mutinies; and 3) nonviolent intervention such as hunger strikes, self-reliant institutions, blockades, nonviolent occupation and parallel government. The weapons of nonviolence consist of psychological, economic and political methods including: nonviolent protest and persuasion; social, economic and political non-cooperation; and nonviolent intervention. Similar to other instruments of power, such as conventional war and\or guerilla war, nonviolence has its own requirements for effectiveness that need to be adhered to in order to produce the maximum impact of techniques.
In order understand the operation environment in which each of these tactics takes shape, one must reflect on the condition and use of violence to achieve political change.
Beyond calculating the moral or ethical value inherent in nonviolent political action, one must consider it for purely pragmatic reasons. The reality of modern combined arms operations and the technology informing coercive security strategies makes violent attempts to overthrow governments increasingly costly and impractical. In addition, aside from the reality of the modern battlefield, there is the inherent crowding out effect of violence within political systems.
Consider a country emerging from a prolonged insurgency. The economic infrastructure is often destroyed leaving the new government with tremendous debt and a broken system of roads, power plants, and other manifestations of unproductive capital. In order to break out of this downward spiral of economic malaise the state often seeks external capital in the form of debt issuance thus increasing the interest rates and manipulating exchange rates causing dramatic changes in the local cost of capital. Not only is their an economic legacy of violence used to alter the political landscape, but in order to maintain group cohesion, the new governing authority must make a series of political payoffs, offering high profile members ownership of key state institutions. Both in turns of economics and political transparency, any state emerging from a violent insurgency, no matter how just and warranted that struggle may have been, experiences a severe setback due to the means sought.
Despite these obvious limitations, historically the security studies and military science community has devoted most of its time and resources to understanding how violent insurgencies and counter-insurgencies operate. Therefore, any discussion of nonviolence in relation to democratic transformation must somehow access this literature while inserting the preference for nonviolence. Furthermore, it is pertinent to reflect upon the recent wave of nonviolent resistance movements that have toppled regimes in highly militarized societies such as Serbia and Georgia.
In order to gain an operational understanding of how non-violent forms of political action can be applied towards the quest for democracy in the Muslim world, it is necessary to preface our discussion by exploring the dynamics of internal conflict and political contestation.
To date, the SWORD Paradigm represents one of the most advanced (and operationalized) understandings of internal conflict. SWORD refers to ‘Small War Operations Research Directorate’, a former unit within US Southern Command. It is a multidimensional model developed by US Army researchers and academics to quantify internal political conflict. In essence, the model uses field interviews with former combatants (on both sides) and regional experts to identify seventy two key variables that shape and define insurgencies. By positioning these variables in an ordinal scale and examining the insurgencies at the aggregate level, the model is able to generalize some of the structures and social processes that determine the outcome of internal political conflict. This produces a unique system around the conflict that helps to redefine traditional concepts of ‘win\lose’ and victory. Within the model:

Victory in any kind of war – including insurgencies – is not simply the sum of the battles won over the course of the conflict. Rather, it is the product of connecting and weighting the various elements of power within the context of the strategic objectives .

In order to capture the various elements of power, or in Clauswitzean terminology intersecting centers of gravity, the model hypothesizes six inter-related dimensions. Taken together they represent the ‘battlefields’ where resistance movements and state governments contest each others authority. What is unique about the SWORD Paradigm is the lack of emphasis it places upon the use of force. In fact, military and police forces play a limited role in the model. Thus, there is a multidimensional understanding of security operating within the model that enables one to more readily consider the effects of nonviolence both upon the means and ends of political action.
In order to understand the six dimensions of the SWORD model and relate them to non-violent political action it is necessary to state each in relation to their manifestation within the limits and benefits of nonviolence:

The operative concept in the SWORD model is legitimacy. In fact in some circles it is referred as a populace-oriented-model. The research that produced the end model found that the group able to create and sustain legitimate authority, whether through appealing to history, cultural norms or economic development, was time and again the victor in internal political struggles. For Manwarring and the scholars who advocate the SWORD Paradigm, “…the thrust of a revolutionary program relies on grievances such as political, social, and economic discrimination as the means through which the government is attacked .” It is the legitimacy of the government that is under attack and as such it is the primary political commodity for all parties concerned. With respect to nonviolent political action, the effectiveness of nonviolence can be determined in relation to its ability to legitimate its critique of the political centers of power. One could even argue that due to its very nature, nonviolent political action is inherently more legitimate than violent political action due to its emphasis on individual awareness and will power vs. force and subversion.

In analyzing the effectiveness of various insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, the SWORD model found, “….without an organization of the highest level to establish, enforce and continually refine a national campaign plan, authority is fragmented, and there is no unity of effort to resolve the myriad problems endemic to counterinsurgency .” In essence, conflict parties must be able to build and maintain a cohesive structure of resistance. In terms of nonviolent political action, this articulates itself both materially in terms of the organizational structure and also in terms of the culture that acts as a conductor enabling different social groups to participate in the resistance.

Internal and External Support
Limiting the sources of financing and sustaining illegitimate governance is an operative concern in any resistance movement. In essence, a movement must ensure that there is a reduction of outside aid to the host government while ensuring open access to internal sources of aid. Any funds that enable an autocratic regime to reduce the capacity of the polity to institute to democratic change must be brought into the public domain and contested through non-violent action. Simultaneously, through an inclusive culture, a nonviolent movement must ensure that it has access to internal sources of financing and support.

Intelligence and Information
Often entire battles are won before they are even initiated on the ground due to the information and intelligence available. In terms of nonviolent political action, the movement must study the political environment in which it operates. Beyond understanding how the regime organizes and sustains power, any resistance movement, and especially non-violent movements, must seek to understand the geometry of despotism. It is necessary to exploit societal and institutional weaknesses, thus limiting the extent to which one expends material resources.

Unity of effort
In order to challenge the legitimacy of an autocratic regime, an opposition must be able to ensure group cohesion both as a means of sustaining political action and stopping infiltration. Furthermore, as any group is made up of multiple subgroups, each with a different agenda, a nonviolent resistance movement should strive to ensure that it bridges each group, in effect using dialogue and cooperation to construct a multidimensional platform for its grievances. This unity of effort ensures a momentum with positive feedback.
Taken together, these six dimensions and their articulation in relation to nonviolence represent the basis of nonviolent political action. In many of the dimensions the role and paramount importance of culture began to take shape. Because it operates as a social movement and is subject to the strengths and limitations of a network structure, nonviolence requires a conductor, a means of moving from point to point across the network. That conductor is culture. Culture represents the synthesis of individuals collectively becoming aware. Its boundaries are the boundaries of social identity within the movement and as such represent the ability of the movement to add new members to its constituency.

Islam & Nonviolent Political Action

In order to operate effectively within the Islamic world, nonviolent social movements seeking democratic transformation must (re)discover tenants of the faith that build an inclusive culture within the movement. This is not just the logical extension of the nature of culture within nonviolent resistance movements. Rather it is also a unique case considering the nature of Islam and its position as a universal quest for social justice in knowing the teachings of the prophet.
In Islam the concept Islah implies both refocusing of attention and a liberation of energies through emphasis on the essential. The peace and well-being of the community is understood to be the responsibility not only of the statesmen, but also of educators, professionals, activists, students, and people from all walks of life. Moreover, the consolidation of a truly peaceful and Islamic way of life is understood to require more then the absence of war and the suppression of threats to physical security. This suggests the importance of conceiving peace in terms of positive peace.
Another important aspect of a culture of nonviolence in Islam is the concept of power. According to Rabia Harris (director of the Muslim Peace Fellowship ), power in Islam accumulates to people through the unarmed struggle and continues to reside there. Armed struggle is only a branch which dies if torn from its root – for it is only unarmed struggle that teaches reliance to God. This is based on the assumption that power in its essence is non-coercive. It is only dissipated, never generated through coercion. Observed from this vantage point, power becomes an infinite spiritual resource which infuses into those who abandon their own objectives for the objectives of their Creator. Although Islam does not dismiss the possibility of war, there exists a tradition within Islam that prefers nonviolence.
Following the same line of thought, Chaiwat Satha-Anand argues that the meaning of Jihad is to stand up to oppression, despotism, and injustice, in his book entitled, “Islam and Nonviolence”. Quoting Ibn Taymiyya, he adds that jihad can be waged by heart, tongue and hand. He also states that Muslims are required to fight ‘tumult and oppression’, but at the same time Islam proclaims that murder is one of the four major sings. In that case, Satha-Anand concludes, nonviolence becomes the only means to fight against oppression and justice.
In addition, in his article, “The Nonviolent Crescent: Eight Thesis on Muslim Nonviolent Actions”, Anand states that according to the rules of violence in Islam, if violence cannot discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, it cannot be accepted. And since modern warfare makes it impossible to make such a distinction, Muslims cannot use violence in the modern world. At the same time, since Muslims must fight for justice with an understanding that human life is sacred and has a divine purpose, the only option left is nonviolent action. Islam, according to Anand is a ‘fertile soil for nonviolence because of its potential for disobedience, strong discipline, sharing and social responsibility, perseverance and self-sacrifice, and the belief in the unity of Muslim community and the oneness of mankind.”
The essential thrust of the Qur’anic revelation could be characterized as a theme of surrender to and integration in God, suggesting a world view premised n universalism, tolerance, and inclusiveness. According to Karim Crow, former project coordinator for the Islamic and Peace Project , Islamic values encourage a courageous peaceful activism which liberates and empowers, thus enabling and ultimately requiring a different path than violent political action. The moral and ethical aptitudes and spiritual ideals of Islam operate by the inner willing of conscience, and are expressed in praiseworthy character and admirable models of behavior. Among these values that empower individuals in the Islamic tradition are the attempt to achieve self-determination, social and economic justice, and oppose corruption, all through peaceful political action.
Furthermore, the Qur’an displays a definite realism in its concern for discipline and regulating the retributive responses of people to social conflict and violence. Yet, while retribution is permitted and self-defense is enjoined, forgiveness is consistently held out as the preferred option for humanity which it is a matter of requiting a clear injustice or crime. (Qur’an 42:40) In addition, the Qur’an frequently cautions people against going to excess when attempting to pursue or correct injustice. The Qur’an heaps utter condemnation on those who, by selfishly pursuing their own limited goals, bring destruction, oppression and violence (fitnah) down upon the rest of their community. (Qu’ran 5: 33).
While numerous scholars have approached the study of Islam in relation to its position concerning social violence, many have not taken their search one step further to consider practical political action in Muslim countries. The Islamic world is living under the yolk of violence and its only chance of freedom is to find distinctly Islamic sources of wisdom that enable the creation of a culture of nonviolence and through it, create the social pressure necessary to force autocratic regimes to realize the merits of democracy with the least lose of life.
To approach this end, the basis of inquiry must shift from the theoretical to the practical. That is, instead of asking if Islam supports nonviolence, the operative question is how Islamic social movements can create a culture of nonviolence by calling upon key principles and tenants of the faith. Certain Islamic ideas resonate with the requirements of nonviolent. In considering the faith in its totality, not limiting to any school of interpretation, certain tenants emerge which readily make themselves available to supporting nonviolent political action:
1. Jihad: defined as ‘active intervention’ to includes individual and communal search for social justice through discipline, education, and sacrifice. In this case, jihad does not mean war or violence, but nonviolent struggle against oppression and injustice. There is clearly articulated preference in Islam for nonviolence over violence, and for forgiveness (‘arfuw) over retribution. In turn the manifestation of jihad at the personal level as itijihad makes the principle of non-violent action a tenant of personal choice.
2. Sawm: ‘fasting’ is symbolic of forgoing substance to indicate the illegitimacy of the regime. As a form of protest and boycott it strengthens communal determination and clarity of objectives. It binds the group closer through the collective experience of sacrifice and its direct political declaration.
3. Zakat and Waqf: ‘the alms tax’ and ‘charitable endowment’ offer a means of securing the material resources required to sustain social organization and political action. By using traditional concepts of charitable and social obligation inherent within the tenants of Islam, a nonviolent movement maximizes its ability to secure community resources in a non-confrontational manner.
4. Mau’izah: ‘exhortation or warning’ points to the larger process of bringing the truth to bare upon political calculation. The power of the truth is its reflection of the social reality of the great body of the population. Any political or social action that vocalizes the inequity and injustice forces the broader audience, both the leadership and their constituency, to acknowledge their indiscretions.
5. Afw, husna, and ihsan: “forgiveness’, ‘what is best’ and surpassing goodness’ illustrate the social organization of a model of human conduct that contrasts the operative model of citizenship in a closed political system. Instead of relying on obedience in whatever form the political system requires as an indication of piety and worth, the incorporation of traditional religious articulations of modes of human conduct enable a transcendental model of social existence. The new citizen is beholding to a larger code of social justice, outside the authorization of the a corrupt political system and thus able to criticize and seek social action. To heal discord, rectify imbalances, and exemplify a higher human mode of behavior become the subject of nonviolent resistance.
6. Khutbah: “Friday sermon” points to the social institutions able to provide an organizational structure for constructing an Islamic nonviolent resistance movement. Just as Mosques are used a place of prayer, they can be used as a place of social discussion and debate. The social justice of Islam is beyond the borders of any state or political-territorial entity. As such, opening a positive connection between experiencing faith in a community and using this experience to debate the inherent worth of a political body is the natural byproduct of the universal appeal of Islam. Though this aspect of Islam as been used in a negative manner, such as the recruitment of terrorist organization operatives, it does not diminish the space of the Mosque as a symposium, a space of public dialogue.
7. Hisbah and ihtisab: “oversight of public welfare and safety” serves in Islam to promote the necessity of conceiving of public goods. Furthermore, it offers a moral guideline for limiting institutional corruption and giving voice and articulation to popular perceptions of the public manifestation of moral and ethical behavior.
8. Sulh and islah: “conciliation and peacemaking” represent a religious articulation of the end goals of nonviolent political action. In seeking to initiate nonviolent transformation and thus reconciling means and end, one is by nature, engendering a positive social environment where reconciliation and peacemaking are possible.
To consider how these tenants of Islam can create and support a culture of nonviolence able to achieve real political change, consider each tenant in relation to the strategic dimensions of insurgency outlined in the SWORD model:

Islamic Tenant Strategic Dimension Nonviolent Political Action
Jihad Legitimacy The concept of jihad and itijihad provide a basis for individual morality and ethical articulation within the social spectrum required for nonviolent activism. They legitimate the movement which is why you often see the term jihad used in relation to different political programs.
Sawm Unity of effort Fasting and forgoing in essence bind the movement through ethical deprivation closer together. The symbolism of these acts increases group integrity.
Zakat and Waqf Internal and external support These traditional concepts of social and charitable obligation offer the most readily accessible means for nonviolent movements to transparently sustain their operations.

Mawaiz Intelligence and information Before one can criticize an autocratic regime they must have gathered all the evidence and use to construct a public information campaign that helps the public to acknowledge the inequality of the system.
Afw, husna, and ihsan Unity of effort As ethical principles, these concepts help to create a distinct atmosphere conducive to the moral acts that propel and sustain nonviolent activism.
Khutab Organization All organizations require a fixed means of organizing and communicating. The historical role of the Mosque has been to facilitate group dialogue and thus it represents a key portal for all political action in the Islamic world.
Hisbah and ihtisab Legitimacy By adopting the a historical articulation of the public good as a organizational ideal, a nonviolent movement increases its overall legitimacy.

Building the Social Structures to Support Non-Violent Action

As important as it is to (re)discover Islamic tenants that support the formation of a culture of nonviolence, it is equally vital to dispel the growing malformed popular perception that Islam is somehow both inherently violent and resistant to nonviolence. This is both biased and historically inaccurate. If anything the reverse is true. The prevalence of ideas and concepts that support nonviolence within Islam has led, time and again, to its realization as a strategy for political change.
Early Muslim jurists and Sufi figures have, for centuries articulated social possibilities for resolving conflict nonviolently. In particular, the Sufi writers range from Shihab al-Din Yahya al-Suhrawardi, Al Halláj, Abû Hamîdi Muhammadi al-Ghazzâlî, Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, and Jalal-e-Din Mevlavi Rumi. In early exploration, nonviolence was associated with a concept of what emotional, spiritual and ideological concepts were required to sustain political power in a positive setting. In this respect it became a mechanism for bridging the gaps between the ruler and the ruler, the oppressed and the oppressor. For example, Al Hallaj exemplified the Sufi conceptualization of nonviolence as love and compassion in conquering his personal enmity towards his the man who had cut off both his legs.
Beyond the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of the individual experience of violence, the nonviolence articulated by Al-Ghazzali articulates a state of being in which practioners are ‘lost in God’, that is, become centered and socially aware through direct civil disobedience of a nonviolent nature. Likewise, Rabi’a and Ibn Al-Arabi employ the concept of focused nonviolence, the process of becoming socially aware through moral and ethical political action to articulate a means of transforming societies torn apart by the predatory wars of the Ottoman Empire and its enemies. For them, nonviolence is both the process through which the individual becomes socially aware and the pragmatic space of reconciliation and peacemaking.
Conceiving of nonviolent social action as a means of becoming a conscious ‘citizen’ realigns the power dialectic of society. In both Rumi, Rabi’a, Ibn Al-Arabi, and Al-Ghazzali, power is reconstituted in communal institutions (such as the madrasa) and vested in the masses (ulama) rather than solely in their representative (Caliphate or Sultan). It is education, not military conscription for perpetual war (devshirme) that brings the community together and empowers them.
Fakhar-e-Afghan Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890 – 1986) and the Pashtun’s Khudai Khidmatgar (‘servants of God) movement illustrate broader themes of religious restraint and empowerment in nonviolent struggle. The movement was firmly rooted in Islamic conviction and emphasized the value of education, social justice, human dignity, nonviolence and gender equity. At its height, the movement had over 100,000 members, who affectively withstood the violent oppression and provocation of the British.
The nonviolent resistance movements of the 20th century in the Muslim world are not well understood or studied in the West today. Among the most interesting cases of this century’s nonviolent movements in the Muslim world are: 1) the South African Muslim movement; 2) Gaffar Khan’s movement in India; 3) the 1948 uprising in Iraq; 4) the struggle in Southern Thailand accounted by Satha-Anand; 5) the 1936 general strike and first Intifada (1987)in Israel-Palestine; 6) the 1981-82 resistance by Golan Druze; the 1985 insurrection in Sudan; and 7) the university led protests in Turkey (1998).
Nonviolence emerged in Lebanon within the elements of the Islamic community, specifically, the Druze and Sufi. Working from the writings of Mahdiyya, Summaniya, Tijaniyya, Farhat, Ibrahim Al Nahwi, Ibrahim Al Halabi, Mustafa Al Siddiqi, Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, and Muhammed Ibn Abd Al Wahhab, leaders from these communities worked with prominent Sunni and Shiite Arab communities and even Christian (Quakers) like Theophilus Waldmaier to found a peace community known as Ain’ Al Salaam (Fountain of Peace). From this vantage point, the organization began in the late 1970s to work with Al Muntalikun. Al Muntalikun’s 200 core members and 1,000 working members mobilized local and global resources to generate training programs as practical as first aid, building bomb shelters and in community activism and peace education. It initiated a Gandhian style interest in direct nonviolent action for peace and justice.
The rich history of non-violence in Islam adds to the practicality of supporting nonviolent political action in the Muslim world in a distinctly Islamic culture. Because of the nature of modern combat and state systems of oppression, nonviolence emerges as one of the only effective strategies for confronting illegitimate regimes. Breaking the cycle of violence that continues to claim the lives of Muslim citizens will require developing political strategies to shift the state of governance from autocratic to democratic. This journey begins in realizing an Islamic culture of nonviolence.