Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge
“What’s in a name?” the Bard once mused. “That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet”. Islam, so we are told, “literally means peace”. With this pronouncement, it is hoped all arguments critical of Islam will melt away. Or perhaps not quite. The fundamental problem with this simplistic approach is that in essence a name is just a name, it is the substance that matters.
In a time of tangled rhetoric and heated debates, there is a voice every bit as calm and peaceful as the religion he speaks for. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community doesn’t merely proclaim the beauty of the rose, he describes its every beauteous shape and contour, alludes to its fragrance and verdure. In other words, his is the approach of expounding the actual teachings of Islam, based on the Qur’an and the example of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
In the roar of the age, his gentle words carry more strength and proof than a thousand rhetoricians. In an address at the Houses of Parliament in the UK in 2013, he explained:
The Holy Qur’an states that one of the Attributes of God Almighty is ‘Salam’ which means He is ‘The Source of Peace.’ It follows that if God truly is the ‘Source of Peace’ then His peace should encompass all of His Creation and all of mankind, rather than be limited to a specific group of people… Allah says:
‘I swear by his repeated cry “O my Lord!” that these are a people who will not believe. Therefore, turn aside from them, and say, “Peace;” and soon shall they know.’ (Ch.43: Vs. 89-90)
These words illustrate that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) brought a teaching that was a source of mercy and compassion for all people and thus was a means of peace for all of mankind.[i]
Secondly, His Holiness always emphasises respect and kindness as cornerstones of dialogue. For the fragrance of the rose attracts by its beauty. There is no need to set fire to the rest of the garden to illustrate its charms. Drawing from Qur’anic principles for Muslims to come to a “mutual word” between them and others, His Holiness extols the virtues of the founders of all faiths whom he says were sent by God, “with teachings of love and affection” [ii]. Moreover, he emphasises the compassion, mercy and kindness embodied by the example of our Noble Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). So, the second aspect of his approach is peaceful and respectful dialogue.
Thirdly, he addresses Muslims. We are instructed to practice the beauties laid out by our faith, to live out the motto of “love for all, hatred for none”. So as to prove that the rose is not a withered thing of bygone years, but that the garden of Islam is ever verdant. According to His Holiness, “to love mankind and to show compassion to others is an immense form of worship of God” [iii] and in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s annual Peace Symposium of 2016, he stated:
Allah the Almighty has said that those who believe in Him should adopt His Attributes and so it is impossible for a true Muslim to be cruel and it is similarly impossible for Islam to permit any form of injustice, violence or extremism.[iv]
After all, the attributes of Allah include the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Just, the Gentle and the Kind and it is these virtues we should seek to inculcate. His Holiness always underlines how it is not Islam that sustains extremists, but rather access to funding, the arms trade and political interests, stating that far from being a “religious war”, it is only “geopolitical gains” at play.[v] As for the religion he practices, he proclaims:
Without a shadow of doubt, Islam’s teachings are a guarantor for peace and security for all mankind. Its teachings are rooted in compassion, mercy and humanity and it is these true Islamic values that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has endlessly emphasised and endeavoured to spread across the world for more than 125 years. [vi]
Thus, His Holiness’ defence of Islam is as comprehensive as it is compelling. With an emphasis on expounding the true teachings of the faith, he speaks with gentleness and always entreats towards actions and deeds over mere wordplay. Granted, Islam by any other name would be just as sweet. But, as His Holiness has illustrated, there is a deep wisdom to the name, for Islam truly is a religion of peace.