Islamic Studies Muslim Nonviolence
Jeffry R. Halverson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0189


Nonviolence is the principled and strategic abstention from violence to bring about political or social change. The concept is most commonly associated with Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Leo Tolstoy, and other non-Muslim figures. Muslim activists, scholars, and leaders are seldom, if ever, counted among these venerable modern saints. However, Muslim nonviolence is a growing and influential phenomenon on a global scale. Although rooted in Islam’s sacred texts, especially the Qur’an, the historical genesis of the concept coincides with its development elsewhere in the early 20th century. Proponents of nonviolence are found within the Sunni, Shʿia, and various mystical and heterodox branches of Islam. Muslim nonviolence also exists in both religious and pragmatic nationalist forms. Religious forms of Muslim nonviolence approach the sacred texts of Islam through a range of interpretive methods. Broadly speaking, these interpretive strategies place a special emphasis on the Meccan surahs of the Qur’an over the later Medinan surahs. In keeping with other components of Islamic thought, the Prophet Muhammad is also upheld as a moral exemplar for Muslim nonviolence and various interpretive strategies are employed to address his well-documented and celebrated participation in warfare.

General Overviews

The number of studies devoted exclusively to the concept of Muslim nonviolence is small. In many cases, nonviolence is grouped into broader discussions of peace in Islam, as in Funk and Said 2009 and Huda 2010, although the two concepts are not synonymous. Most of these studies were published since 2000, which indicates the subject has only garnered significant attention in the 21st century. The earliest study, Paige, et al. 1993, is a short edited volume containing brief entries tying nonviolence to other issues, such as women and interfaith relations. Abu-Nimer 2003 is the next notable addition and provides a more rigorous exploration of the subject in terms of theory and practical applications. Jahanbegloo 2010 and Pal 2011 explore the subject from spiritual and apologetic perspectives. Most of these works provide profiles of Muslim theorists, including those listed in Works by Sunni Theorists and Works by Shʿia, Sufi, and Heterodox Theorists.

  • Abu-Nimer, Mohammed. Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam: Theory and Practice. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.

    Situates the study of Islam within the field of peace studies, where it is often neglected, and highlights the theoretical and practical aspects of nonviolence in Islamic thought.

  • Funk, Nathan C., and Abdul Aziz Said. Islam and Peacemaking in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2009.

    An edited volume within the field of peace studies that rigorously examines Islamic conceptions of peace, conflict, and peacemaking, focusing on the Middle East and “Western-Islamic” tensions.

  • Halverson, Jeffry R. Searching for a King: Muslim Nonviolence and the Future of Islam. Washington, DC: Potomac, 2012.

    A comprehensive study of Islamic conceptions of nonviolence through the lens of narrative that profiles five modern advocates from different sectarian and cultural perspectives.

  • Huda, Qamar-ul, ed. Crescent and Dove: Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2010.

    An edited volume with contributions from scholars and peacebuilding practitioners about building a culture of nonviolence and peace and the best strategies to do so.

  • Jahanbegloo, Ramin. “Is a Muslim Gandhi Possible?” Philosophy & Social Criticism 36.3–4 (2010): 309–323.

    A journal article by an Iranian philosopher calling on Muslims to learn from the experience of thinkers and activists such as Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Maulana A. K. Azad.

  • Paige, Glenn, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, and Sarah Gilliatt, eds. Islam and Nonviolence. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1993.

    An edited volume with contributions from international Muslim activists and leaders, including Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia and Chaiwat Satha-Anand of Thailand.

  • Pal, Amitabh. “Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011.

    An apologetic study of nonviolence in modern Muslim societies, including Kosovo, with attention to the historical roots of Muslim nonviolence and interpretations of the sacred texts.

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