With so much of our daily news digests dominated by the search for conflict resolution in the world’s military hot-spots and problem zones, one can often forget that despite the obvious starting point political solutions may offer to solving many of our big international issues, actually most of the real problems are found between ourselves at the personal level.
When we argue amongst ourselves and become divided as individuals, families, friends, neighbours and colleagues, we induce ourselves to pursue different interests and objects. Making peace on the other hand restores us back to a state of unity, giving us that single interest to build a healthy community upon, and indeed take that unity forward as a strong foundation to tackle the bigger wider issues. The alternative is untenable at every level, as God Almighty says in the Qur’ān:
“…and do not quarrel among yourselves lest you lose heart and your momentum disappears.” (al-Anfāl, 46)
Those who can see the effects of disunity, argumentation and conflict upon others as well as importantly themselves in the general sense, have to act upon the moral and religious imperative of helping out whenever possible and as quickly as possible. History teaches us that the moments during which reconciliation and indeed reason prevail are far too short and fleeting amongst the chitter-chatter of our busy fast-paced lives. God Almighty brings our attention to this again when He says:
“There is no good in much of their secret talk, except in the case of those who enjoin to charity, or what is good, or reconciliation between people. If anyone does that, seeking the pleasure of God, We will give him an immense reward.” (An-Nisā’, 114)
Muslims above all others should recognise the sense of urgency on bringing peace between opposing parties, as God commands in the Qur’ān:
“The Believers are but brothers, so make peace between your brothers and be conscious of God so that hopefully you will gain mercy.” (al-Hujurāt, 10)
Islamically speaking this means that whenever there is some kind of problem or enmity between two parties, you should try your best to resolve the issue and diffuse the situation of what is causing the difficulties in the first place. And whenever the magnitude from a sin point of view is greater with respect to the enmity between the two parties such as between a father and son, or between two blood brothers or between husband and wife, then the urgency and importance to resolve the problem becomes more emphasised respectively.
One should never lose sight of how excellent an act conflict resolution is – Christian tradition calls such Peacemakers the “children of God” which is a term of respect in their theology as one is doing the work of the Divine when bringing people together. In Islam, the sentiment is the same but rather our recompense is an “immense reward” and as narrated from the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) that the one that brings about reconciliation is “giving in charity” every day by doing the work of the Divine.
Indeed in Islam, despite lying and deception being completely impermissible, it is still allowed for a Peacemaker to stretch the truth slightly – let’s call it a “white lie” for argument’s sake – if it will bring people together. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) mentioned in a narration collected by Imām al-Bukhārī and Imām Muslim, “The one who reconciles between the people is not to be considered a liar.” (Bukhārī, 2692)
In the version collected by Imām Muslim, the narrator Umm Kulthūm added, “I have not heard him grant a concession in anything with respect to how the people talk (i.e. lie) except in three: war, reconciling between people and what a husband says to his wife and a wife says to her husband.” (Muslim, 2605)
So when we approach some folks who have had an argument, not only should we appreciate that there really is a real impasse here where each party is unhappy, feels they have been wronged and/or are not getting their full rights, but we must appreciate also that a worked solution has to get over other personal issues as well. We might be able to negotiate a “settlement” but how are we going to get the people to actually negotiate first if they are so angry at one another?
Here then, we realise that there are usually a few crucial obstacles to peacemaking from the two parties themselves: anger, pride, greed, envy and ambition.
I would put forward that once you can get over the tangible anger and calm the rhetoric as the Peacemaker because pride from each person is not allowing themselves to move forward, then we can work on the other three.
Now, nothing starts to soothe anger like praise and love, so here is where the Prophetic narration comes to play: we might go to X and say, “Hey, you do know that Y really regrets how this all turned out, right? You know he loves you and thinks the world of you – he just told me that, and I know I shouldn’t be telling you this really but I had to.”
Practically speaking, this acts like a fire extinguisher. X immediately thinks, “But I love him too! Why am I allowing my anger to get in the way when he wants to move forward?”
Anger is something which increases when opposed by an equal force, but diminishes rapidly when the other side retreats. Think of road rage as an example: someone does something really stupid on the road and makes you mad, but then suddenly they lift their hand up in immediate apology. Instinctively your anger level crashes and you approach near-calm. On the other hand, if that other driver starts to shout and swear back, then you are more than likely to go even more insane with rage. Or at least that’s what I do.
So as the Peacemaker you then go back to the other party Y and say the exact same thing you claimed that Y was saying about X and then once Y realises that the feelings are being reciprocated, we’ve started to get over the first two hurdles of anger and pride. And you’ve done so not necessarily by lying because as Muslims we mustn’t go straight to completely untrue statements but rather the stretching of the truth: of course they regret being in acrimony because every Muslim should regret that whether they realise it or not, and of course they love each other, and sure, they might not have told you right then but you can add silently to yourself in brackets, “He loves you and he just told me that as well (about 2 years ago).” Sure, it’s sly but it’s not the worst thing in the world you could have said as per the Prophetic narration above, hence we call it a “white lie”. In the Sharī‘ah, this is called tawriyah and not kadhib (outright lying).
So the anger is dealt with but now both X and Y need to be spoken to so that the conditions are created for a chance meeting to set reconciliation in motion hopefully with an apology to one another. Apologies will flow once anger is gone, reason is realised, and light can be seen at the end of the long, dark tunnel. No-one wants to remain in the dark and if an apology - that amazing super glue of life which can just about repair anything – is going to bring us back to light, then people will go for it. We just need to remove all further obstacles.
What needs to be said? We need to remind each party that the remaining major threats of envy, ambition and greed will not help in finding a workable solution to the problem. Reconciliation or islāh is only needed because two parties want their full rights or complete justice. Unfortunately, justice isn’t going to solve this problem – there will have to be some kind of sacrifice from both parties to reach something agreeable. You cannot be greedy here and want your full right even though this might not technically be greed because your rightful share is what you deserve, but we’re not going to get what we deserve today.
And you certainly shouldn’t be taking advantage of the situation due to your ambition and be wanting even more than you started off with. You’re here not to profit from your relationship but to ensure that each party is living smoothly and in peace with what they have. Trying to get more at the expense of the other is naturally going to cause argumentation, and living in a time when the days are too short even for love, how can there be enough time for argumentation!?
As for envy, then this is just silly talk from people who are losing their minds in the midst of madness. And you need to frankly remind them of that. Envy is a disease where one wishes harm for the other party as opposed to being impressed and happy for the good position of the other person and then trying one’s best to achieve the same without any decrease for the other. And people in general don’t wish harm for others, and even more so from those who have a territorial or national or family or relationship reason to love each other more.
Hence, bringing people out of anger and unreasonable behaviour with gentle advice and reminding will make them aware of the fallacy of such thoughts and obstacles as mentioned above.
And then for the final act: somehow get the now prepped and advised X and Y in the same room by “coincidence” or “chance”, and now that anger has gone, pride is absent (because no-one had to lose face and show “weakness” in making the “call for peace”), you’ll hopefully see the start of what all good people just want to do: live in peace.
One of the truly amazing things about this process is that even after a few minutes if both parties realise that they never spoke to you as the Peacemaker about the other in a loving way etc and it was all one big trick, it won’t damage the peace, because that’s the way people are. Deep down we long for normality and we are well able to laugh off other peoples’ devious attempts to bring us back to that normality and realise the harm that we were causing each other. People are just grateful that they can civilly talk again!
So the religious imperative is clear and no Muslim should need any further reminding of the excellence and virtue of sacrificing their time to achieve such a noble objective. But the question still remains, what are some of the factors and tips to keep in mind to help us both personally avoid such scenarios and indeed help others to help themselves out of conflict at a more emotional level?
May God Almighty give us all the will and patience to continue to bring peace. Āmīn.