In classical Islamic jurisprudence, the world is divided into two sections, the world of Islam and the world of conflict. Yet we know that this definition is far too simplistic if we know anything about the world. The world of Islam is full of conflict–one need only comment on the civil warfare in places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya, to name a few countries to point out that Islam itself has not managed to be a religion of peace. And it is not as if other religions, or even the absence of religion, has brought about any peace in the world–witness the lack of peace of Communist regimes towards their own citizens, whom they kill with reckless abandon, or the conflicts between different sects or religious groups or ethnicities or political parties and ideologies or any of the other reasons why people fight. There is a great desire for peace in this world, but the best we can manage is an absence of outright warfare, often accompanied by a sullen and hostile silence.
I was reminded of just how common the longing for peace is by an interaction I had early this morning with a friend of mine  from Jordan. For some reason, he thought it would be good at 4AM or so to send me a lot of questions involving why there is so much conflict in the world. I am not sure what conflicts led him to wonder this–he is someone who is at least reasonably sensitive to events in the world and one cannot help but feel oppressed by conflict when one deals with the Middle East and its goings on. At any rate, I must admit that I do not know the motives that led this person to send me a message about peace, but it did seem at least in his mind that peace with God in some fashion was a prerequisite for genuine peace with others. This is a good start, and normally I would wish to follow this thread , but today I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss something that is a bit counterintuitive, and that is why it is necessary that all of us, no matter where and who we are, live in a world of conflict. What is the upside of conflict, something we are desperate to avoid or resolve however we can?
Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said that the line between good and evil cuts within every human heart. At its base, the existence of both good and evil between every person requires that there will be conflict of some kind. There is no escape from this conflict. If we seek to make any change in our life, there will be conflict from those parts of us that desire the comfort of remaining in our existing habits. If we resist any thought, any longing, any urge within us, there will be conflict within us. To the extent that we choose to do what is right, we will put ourselves in conflict with those who do wrong. To the extent that we choose to do what is wrong, we will put ourselves in conflict with those who do what is right. That is to say nothing of conflict because of different personalities or opinions in matters that do not involve wrong or right, or the conflicts we get in because of our identities or families or choice of friends or spouses, or conflict in the spiritual realm. There is no escaping conflict. Our character and our conduct and our context absolutely guarantee that there will be a substantial amount of conflict in our lives, regardless of whether we live well or poorly.
Having amply demonstrated the fact that conflict cannot be escaped, though, it remains to be demonstrated that conflict is itself desirable under certain circumstances. To be sure, many of us engage in conflicts that are undesirable and unwelcome and that harm ourselves and others. That cannot be denied. Yet some of the conflicts that we have mentioned are, at least in theory and potentially in practice, good conflicts. For example, any change made in our lives will be the result of some sort of discontent with the way things are. The conflict that we have with the world around us can lead us to make changes within ourselves, requiring internal conflict, at least for a while, until such point as we can make a new equilibrium that hopefully results in us being in a better place. This is not only true of areas of personal development–habits such as financial discipline and so on–but areas of moral growth, the creation of art and the imagination and recombination that leads to invention. We are motivated by discontent to make the world and ourselves better.
We may see, then, that there are two sorts of peace, one that is desirable and that is undesirable. A peace where all thoughts and behaviors are brought into harmony with God is desirable, but we rebel against that instinctively because of our corrupt human nature. We see the misery in the world that results from sin and folly, but we are not always as alert to the large quantity of both that exists inside of ourselves, and when we are, we often find ourselves powerless to do more than lament it and to promise greater though inevitably ineffectual efforts against it. The other sort of peace is a peace to be avoided, and it is the peace of death. So long as we remain active in opposition to the corruption and decay around us and within us, and in pursuit of longings and in search of growth and improvement, we are prevented from this peace which is offended and bothered and roused to action by nothing, a peace which is akin to and preparatory for death. So long as we live between these higher and lower forms of peace, we will be in some sort of conflict. May we use it for good, seeing as all too much of conflict is wasted on what is not good.
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