Peace Through Justice in the Holy Land: Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Spiritual Jihad

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Jan 3, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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We seem to be entering a utopian era of “final solutions”, each of which engenders its opposite and destroys the finality of its predecessor. The advent of the sole superpower and its secular globalization was to end history. Instead it universalized its opposite in a heightened awareness of the transcendent and the sacred uniqueness not only of the human person but of every community, culture, and religion.

Just as the First World War was to end all war forevermore, the war against all evil was to eliminate terrorism from the face of the earth, even if it meant the elimination of entire states.  The result may be the beginning of a new era of asymmetric warfare wherein evil will thrive on its own repression. The “wretched of the earth” will become pawns of those who want to create the “utopian Islamic state”, certainly the mother of all oxymorans, in order to “liberate” the world by subjecting every person, every community, and every religion to the totalitarian dreams of Westernized elites in the Global South committed to destroy their Northern counterparts.

In the Holy Land secular fundamentalists under the guise of either religion or nationalism or both are mirroring each other in their extremist conclusion that survival requires the elimination of the other. Meir Kahane was right that the only way to create and maintain a pure Jewish state is to expel all Arabs from historic Palestine. Arabs are right that the only answer to such extremism is to eliminate the extremists. And both are moving from the fringes toward mainline political correctness in their own communities.

The logic of such final solutions by either Jews or Muslims derives from the exclusivism inherent in the idea of the sovereign state, particularly of a sovereign state based on an exclusivist perversion of divine revelation, i.e., of religious fundamentalism. The State of Israel in its present perversion is no better than the “utopian Islamic State” of the Hisb al Tahrir, who will fight to the death for the world government of a resurrected Islamic Caliphate.

The escalation of the confrontation in the Second Intifada was triggered by Sharons invasion of the temple Mount in September, 2000, backed by a thousand riot police. This was immediately understood by the Palestinians as a brazen claim of Jewish sovereignty over sites that are sacred to all three of the world monotheistic religions. The response was terrorist retaliation by suicide bombers and in January, 2002, by the “martyrdom” of the first woman bomber. The counter response by most outsiders is that ԓthey are both snakes.

How does one avoid becoming a snake when the evil all around drives one to multiply it in a rising crescendo of hatred? How can one expect ordinary human beings to rise above their own trauma in order to develop the spiritual perspective necessary for any truly final solution, i.e. for a solution that does not consist in a never-ending cycle of desperation, hatred, and murder, and eventually in another holocaust? How does one develop this spiritual perspective, and, more importantly, act upon it?

The first way is perhaps the most difficult for people caught in the heart of the web of evil. This is to be aware that there is a higher plan or coherence in what seems like the incoherent evil of chaos. Students of chaos theory have found clear evidence that in every field of study, from biology to the study of black holes, the descent of order into apparent chaos always precedes the birth of a new order because this pattern is inherent in all of creation.

For human beings with an instinct to seek security and stability for survival, the insecurity imposed by evil seems to have no conceivable purpose, especially when the evil seems interminable. In order to conceive that there can be the potential of good purpose arising from the web that evil persons spin, one should consider the analogy of the ant on the carpet.

Since Cain, the son of Adam, killed his brother, Abel, human beings have struggled to understand evil. If God created humans in His likeness, which is a basic belief of all three of the world monotheistic religions, why do we see so much evil in the world.

Through the Qur’an, Allah has made clear three principal reasons, and the third is the greatest of them all. First, individual persons are evil because they have the free will to do and be whatever they want. Otherwise they could not choose good, in awareness that this is the Will of Allah. Also there would be no merit in doing good if they could not choose its opposite.

But why does God permit people to choose evil? Why does He permit Israeli police to prevent Palestinian women in labor from crossing the enclosures that imprison Palestinian towns in order to get to the hospital? Why does He permit Israeli bulldozers to level entire neighborhoods and cause people to sleep out in the open because they never know when a bulldozer will crash through their house in the middle of the night. Why does He permit Israelis to take 80% of the available water for the illegal settlements that make up twenty percent of the population? Why did he permit Golda Meir and others to deny that there has ever been a Palestine and to claim therefore that Palestinians do not exist and that the first European Zionists occupied an empty land? Why must the Palestinians be deliberately humiliated in every conceivable way, and why do Americans condemn the younger generation for retaliating in the only way they know how, by throwing stones at occupying settlers and soldiers? And why does He permit suicide bombings of innocent civilians?

Terrorism by Palestinians against Jews is very distant for Americans, unless they have Jewish relatives, and terrorism by Israelis against Palestinians, to the extent that Americans are aware of it at all, is dismissed as confusing or simply as a fact of life in the real world.

For Americans a greater question is why did God permit fanatics on September 11th to kill thousands of innocent people in cold blood, and to do it in the name of Islam against America? Is this all because God merely wants us all to have free will?

The second explanation revealed in the Qur’an for the existence of evil is that we are here to be tested. Allah tells us, “I will test you by means of each other”, that is, the greatest tests will be by other human beings. But, one may ask, at what point does such testing exceed the bounds of compassion inherent in an All-Merciful God? We are told that God tests those whom He loves. But why doesnt He love us a little less?

There is a third, still greater reason for what we perceive as unmitigated evil. This can be understood perhaps best by the analogy of the ant slowly creeping across the beautiful Persian carpet. The carpet is decorated with elaborate designs and symbols of AllahҒs attributes, a beautiful work of art. But, the ant knows nothing about all this. The vision of the carpets creator is beyond the ant’s comprehension.

In the plan of Allah, we are better than ants, because we have been given divine revelation and a higher power of reason. We have been told through divine revelation that there is a grand design for the universe and everything in it. We can never understand it fully, because we are not God; we did not create the universe. But, Allah has sent prophets to every people since the beginning of time with messages, culminating in the Quran, to tell us that He is closer to each one of us than are our own jugular veins and that we and the most distant galaxies are all part of a purposeful grand design beyond our comprehension.

This is why we must be told, ina ma’a al usri yusra, “with difficulty comes ease,” or “out of apparent evil can come good.” We should look for it and be thankful, if we can.

But, what good could possibly come from Osama bin Ladens attack on the leading symbols of America’s material power, or from Sharon’s exploitation of this terrorism to oppress Palestinians even further by annihilating any possibility of Palestinian self-governance in what has become a giant concentration camp all in the name of an alleged promise to modern-day Jews from God

Osama bin Laden’s claim that Islam justifies what happened on September 11th is exactly what one would expect from a beast of the Anti-Christ, the massiah al dajjal. According to the hadith of the Prophet ( ), the Anti-Christ will claim that water is fire, so we should avoid it, and fire is water, so we should drink it.

This is a metaphor or simile for good and evil. Osama bin Laden asked us to embrace his crime of incinerating thousands of innocent people by fire as the only way to bring about justice in the world. And Ariel Sharon, whose evil career included the massacre of hundreds of innocent people in Sabra and Shatila twenty years ago, justifies his exclusivist vision and ethnic cleansing for the Land of Eretz Israel as the only way to bring justice to the Jews.

From the diplomacy of all the prophets, beginning with Abraham ( ) in the West, and including the Lord Buddha in the East (according to Surah al Tin 95:1 as interpreted by Yusuf Ali in a footnote excluded from the Saudi version), and especially from the diplomacy of the last prophet, Muhammad ( ), we know that violence is not the only means to justice, though the just war of the jihad al saghrir is sometimes necessary to defend human rights against aggression. Osama bin Laden is asking us to rely solely on human effort, to submit to his plan, which denies the power of Allah. Osama bin Laden and Ariel Sharon are truly ants, albeit dangerous fire-ants, but we now know that people like them are here in our midst, and that they are only a prototype for more to come. They have been foretold, and we have been warned.

Perhaps the purpose of such evil is to shock Jews into a realization that their religion is being stolen by secular Zionists from the spiritual Zionism that has and always will be the hallmark of authentic Judaism. Perhaps the purpose of Osama bin Ladens evilly perverted life was to wake the worldҒs Muslims up to the attempted theft of their religion and to wake all Americans up to the elemental fact that there is no security in material power, not even in the greatest economic and military power in all of human history.

These two realizations have had a paralyzing effect on concerned Jews all over the world, and on every aspect of American life. But they also are a wake-up call for American policy-makers, and especially the policy advisers in the Washington think-tanks, to understand the causes of global alienation, desperation, and violence, so that they can appreciate the need to transform America from its image of a national-security state beholden to amoral and immoral special interests into a global leader of peace through justice.

At best, America reminds one of an enormous, blind elephant trampling everything in its path underfoot, while trumpeting good will toward all. Perhaps the elephant needs to open its eyes.

Now that Americans, including Jews both in Israel and America, have seen such evil, perhaps they will look to the only ultimate source of salvation from it, which are God and his prophets. Perhaps Muslims and Jews increasingly will understand what one may call functional Islam, which is the shift in thought and action from cruelty to compassion and from hatred to love as the essential core and grand paradigm of all religions. Then we will be able to ask forgiveness for our past indifference to divine guidance. Perhaps this is the grand design on the beautiful carpet over which we have been creeping unawares. Allahu ёalim wa Allahu akbar. Itha jaa nasru Allahi wa al fathu, wa ra’aita al nassa yadkhuluna fi dini Allahi afwajan, fa sabbih bi hamdi rabbika y astagfirhu, inahu kana tawwaba. Surah al Nasr 110:1-3. When the help of God comes and victory, and you see people entering the religion of God in great numbers, then celebrate the praises of your Lord, and pray for his forgiveness, for He is ever an acceptor of repentance.

The Jewish Call

The great spiritual leaders of the world have long perceived that justice in the Holy Land is the pivotal issue in the modern world. Perhaps the greatest such leader was Abraham Isaac Kook, who was Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 to 1935. He taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves. The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins.

Although the fundamentalist Gush Emunim, who have established fanatical settlements deep into the West Bank, invoke Rebbe Kook as their mentor, they make the sacrilegious error of turning his spiritual teaching into a call for secular nationalism of the most extreme kind. Abraham Isaac KookԒs entire life bespoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of Gods love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind. “For the basic disposition of the Israelite nation”, he asserted, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.”

Universally recognized as the leading spokesman of spiritual Zionism, Rabbi Kook went to Jaffa from Poland in 1904 to perfect the people and land of Israel by bringing out the ԓholy sparks in every person, group, and ideology in order to make way for the advent of the Messiah.

This was the exact opposite of “secular Zionism”, which resulted from the assimilationist movement of 19th century Europe, compounded by the devastating blow of the holocaust to traditionalist Jewish faith. Thus alienated from their own culture, and vulnerable to modern nationalist demagoguery, a growing portion of the Jewish nation came to elevate control over physical land to an ultimate value and goal.

As a Lurianic Cabbalist, committed to the social renewal that both confirms and transcends halakha, Rebbe Kook emphasized, first of all, that religious experience is certain knowledge of God, from which all other knowledge can be at best merely a reflection, and that this common experience of “total being” or “unity” of all religious people is the only adequate medium for God’s message through the Jewish people, who are the ғmicrocosm of humanity.

“If individuals cannot summon the whole world to God”, proclaimed Rebbe Kook, “then a people must issue the call”. The people must call out of its inner being, as an individual of great spiritual stature issues the call from his inner being. For a whole people to proclaim the name of God as an expression of its being - this is found only among the Jewish people - whose commitment to the oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications - and whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light Ņ by bearing witness to the Torah in the world. This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the “song of God”. It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Solomon’s Song of Songs.

But he warned, again prophetically, “that, when an idea needs to acquire a physical base, it tends to descend from its height”. In such an instance it is thrust toward the earthly, and brazen ones come and desecrate its holiness. Together with this, however, its followers increase, and the physical vitality becomes strikingly visible.Ӕ Each person then suffers: The stubbornness of seeking spiritual satisfaction in the outer aspect of things enfeebles oneӒs powers, fragments the human spirit, and leads the stormy quest in a direction where it will find emptiness and disappointment. In disillusionment, the quest will continue in another direction. Ņ When degeneration leads one to embrace an outlook on life that negates ones higher vision, then one becomes prey to the dark side within. The spiritual dimension becomes enslaved and darkened in the darkness of life.

Rebbe Kook warns that the irruption of spiritual light from its divine source on uncultivated ground yields the perverse aspect of idolatry.  It is for this reason that we note to our astonishment the decline of religious Judaism in a period of national renaissance.  The love of the nation, he taught, or more broadly, for humanity, is adorned at its source with the purest ideals, which reflect humanity and nationhood in their noblest light,  but if a person should wish to embrace the nation in its decadent condition, its coarser aspects, without inner illumination from its ancient, higher light, he will soon take into himself filth and lowliness and elements of evil that will turn to bitterness in a short span of history of but a few generations.  This is the narrow state to which the community of Israel will descend prior to an awakening to the true revival.

By transgressing the limits, Rebbe Kook prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust. But this will merely precede a revival. As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.

Always following his warning was the reminder of Gods covenant. In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God. It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation.  We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation. Ņ Our people will be rebuilt and established Ņ through the divine dimension of its life. All the builders of the people will come to recognize this profound truth. Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: “Let us go and return to the Lord! And this return will be a true return”.

And at this time, prophesied Rebbe Kook, who always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the plan of God, the brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], and of Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion [and turn] the darkness to light.

The Islamic Call

If Rebbe Kook was the greatest spiritual leader of the twentieth century among Jews, this role among the Muslims was played out in history by Abdul Ghaffar Khan. If Rebbe Kook was the spokesman for divine guidance in the pivotal area of the Holy Land, where the three continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa intersect, Abdul Ghaffar Khan was the spokesman in the so-called “pivot of Asia”, the homeland of the Pathans. This area is now known as northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, where the great empires of Russia, China, and British India collided throughout the 19th century and well into the twentieth, and where in the twentieth-first century the sole superpower is orchestrating a balance of power among rival claimants in order to create or maintain a stabilized vacuum.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a master of the three jihads, the two mentioned in the ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad, namely, the jihad al akbar or greatest jihad to harness one’s nafs or unruly self; the jihad al saghrir or lesser jihad to apply physical force in defense of human rights; and the jihad al kabir or great jihad, mentioned in the Qur’an, which is the intellectual effort to bring the wisdom of tradition to bear on the current issues of conscience everywhere in the world.

Abdul Ghaffar was known as the Badshah Khan, or Khan of Khans, because he was also a master of yet a fourth jihad, the spiritual jihad to transform entire nations in the course of battle against oppression by applying spiritual power at the level of interaction among communities and nations.

He gained fame at an early age by building a network of schools to counter the destructive blood feuds among his people’s clans and with other tribes. He preached the Qur’anic message that evil can be overcome only by personal transformation, and then, and only then, by structural changes to defective political and economic institutions.

Ina Allaha la yughayru ma bi qaumin hata yughayruu ma bi anfusihim (Surah al Rad 13:11). Verily, God does not change a people’s condition unless they change their inner selves.

Thalika bi-ana Allaha lam yakun mughayran ni’matan anamaha ґala qawmin hata yughayruu ma bi anfusihim (Surah al Anfal 8:53). This, because God would never change the blessings with which He has graced a people unless they change their inner selves.

He taught that personal transformation can come only from awareness and loving awe of God, known in Qur’anic Arabic as taqwa. This makes possible and even irresistible ones loving submission to the divine mission entrusted to oneself and to all of humankind. Both awe and loving commitment reside in the human heart, that is, they are not purely intellectual. The human person consists of the jism or material body, including the brain, the nafs or mind as the decision-making power, and the ruh or spirit, which has resided in the presence of God from before the creation of time and space.

The Badshah Khan’s principal contribution to spirituality was his teaching that the power of the spirit resides not only in the individual person but in entire communities and that this power in the right circumstances can triumph over all opposition. His life as a leader of the war-like Pathans and as probably the twentieth century’s greatest Muslim mujahid or warrior, is recounted in Eknath Easwaran’s book, A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, Nilgiri Press, 1984, 240 pages.

Mahatma Gandhi stated that without Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Badshah, his own liberation mission against British occupation of India could never have succeeded. The Mahatma taught that passive resistance by the weak is weakness, but non-violent resistance by those who have proven themselves through armed combat in reliance on spiritual power can be stronger than any opposing force, because this force, which Gandhi called satyagraha, is not passive and can be irresistible.

In the spring of 1930, the inhabitants of Peshawar protested the British occupiers’ closing of the Badshah’s schools and the arrest of some of the Badshah’s lieutenants in his well-organized and well-disciplined army of non-violence. The entire populace declared a general strike and thousands of supporters massed in the town center, the Kissa Khani Bazaar.

The British troops fired at the crowd, which refused to leave. More volleys ensued, but the Badshah’s followers, who had been trained in his army of spiritual power, the Khudai Khidmatgars, stood their ground as one front row fell to the bullets only to be followed by another front row of people who moved up to replace them. According to the account of this decisive battle by Gene Sharp of Harvard, “When those in the front fell down wounded by the shots, those behind came forward with their breasts bared and exposed themselves to the fire, so much so that some people got as many as 21 bullet wounds in their bodies”.

According to the official view, “this state of things continued from 11 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon” (Easwaran, pp. 122-123). When some of the elite Indian troops in the British army refused to fire any more, they were hand-cuffed, and imprisoned, and one was sentenced to banishment in an overseas penal colony for life.

The impact of this daring battle of non-violence was so great in Britain that some historians say it spelled the death-knell of the entire British Empire.

Unfortunately, almost no Muslims nowadays remember the Badshah Khan, and the politically correct line among those who do is that he was a traitor to Pakistan. He opposed the British partition of India into competing Muslim and Hindu states, because he said that this would lead to repeated holocausts in future generations. Together with the Mahatma, who was assassinated for opposing the partition, the Badshah Khan insisted that the wisdom of traditional Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam called for a great post-colonial effort to embrace interfaith harmony. This can come, he urged, only from mutual understanding and cooperation, as a solution to the hatreds that would inevitably follow the exclusivist framework of competing state sovereignties. And he called for the federalization of Pakistan into autonomous provinces as a counter to the temptations and pressures toward dictatorship that might result from efforts to centralize all authority at a single level of human community. As a devout Muslim, he rejected the Western vision of state sovereignty as the highest and ultimate power in the universe.

The Badshah Khan was a modern “saint”, just as was Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook, and they both called for a universal vision to address regional and local problems. They both opposed the exclusivism that infected their co-religionists and could bring only misery to everyone concerned and potentially to the entire world. They both called for the establishment of models of conflict resolution and cooperation in what seemed to be impossible circumstances. And they both suggested that such cooperation can become realistic only in the crisis of extreme circumstances when it appears to be impossible.

What is their message for the Holy Land today? Certainly the strategy of non-resistance would have no effect on Ariel Sharon, any more than it would have against Stalin or Hitler. But what affect would satyagraha or spiritual power wisely applied have on Americans, who have considerable influence on their own government and in turn on the course of events in the Holy Land?

Wisdom would require that a shift from counter-productive suicide bombings to spiritual power address first of all the highest priority issues of Jerusalam, the Israeli settlements, and the return of the dispossessed. The framework must be an effort to overcome exclusivism in solving each of these problems. No sovereign country should have the right to exclusive control of Jerusalem. The right of return must be acknowledged and implemented incrementally only in the course of economic development adequate to absorb those, probably relatively few, who want to return. And the right to live anywhere in the Holy Land must be accorded to all Jews and Muslims, but should not be permitted as a tactic to assert exclusive sovereignty over a future purely Jewish state.

The most decisive of all efforts must be the development of economic institutions that recognize sovereignty as the inherent human right of the individual person, so that access to the fruits of technology need not come from the redistribution of wealth from the top down but from expanding access to credit and to the resulting power of capital ownership from the bottom up. By broadening access to wealth during the production process rather than by redistribution afterward, political power is diffused upward rather than downward from the already powerful. This requires only a change in financial institutions so that credit is based not on past wealth in an imagined world of scarcity, but on the collateral of future wealth to be produced by broadly owned capital in a world of unlimited resources and potential.

A strategy of satyagraha would have to based on a vision of both economic and political democracy, which means that it would have to be profoundly revolutionary. This world is beyond the vision of most present-day Muslims, who are mired in an intellectual dead-end that focuses on an agrarian past, when wealth was produced by human labor, instead of on an industrial and post-industrial future, where wealth is produced almost entirely by tools, including the multinational corporation. The possible future envisioned by an effective strategy of satyagraha has been spelled out with a wealth of accompanying documents by the Center for Economic and Social Justice on its website,, including the position paper entitled “The Abraham Federation”.

This interfaith think-tank bases its vision on the wisdom of all religions, including the verses of the Qur’an: Wa tamaat kalimatu rabbika sidqan wa ґadlan (Surah al Anђam 6:115). The word of your Lord is perfected in truth and in justice.

Wa min ma khalaqna ummatun yahduna bil haqqi wa yaґadilun (Surah ) And among my creations is a community that is guided by truth and applies it in justice.

God tells us in the final Revelation, however, that evil can be overcome only by personal transformation, and then, and only then, from structural changes to political and economic institutions.

Ina Allaha la yughayru ma bi qaumin hata yughayruu ma bi anfusihim (Surah al Rad 13:11). Verily, God does not change menђs condition unless they change their inner selves.

Thalika bi-ana Allaha lam yakun mughayran ni’matan an’amaha ґala qawmin hata yughayruu ma bi anfusihim (Surah al Anfal 8:53). This, because God would never change the blessings with which He has graced a people unless they change their inner selves

The ultimate requirement of the strategy taught by the greatest Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders of the twentieth century is a common recognition that all persons and all religious communities share the same access to a power that has transcended every person, every nation, and every empire since the beginning of history. God has the ultimate sovereignty, but He exercises this through the individual person, who has the free will to respond. It is our responsibility as Muslims, Jews, and Christians in America to participate in the governance of our nation and of the world through our political, intellectual, and spiritual activism, recognizing that the best Planner is Allah.