The Abraham Federation: A Non-Violent Strategy of Satyagraha for Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
On November 18, 1938, ten months before Hitler started World War II by invading Poland, the Mohatma Mohandis K. Gandhi, published an article in the journal Harijan (The Untouchables) presenting the policy of spiritual power through non-violence (satyagraha) for the Jews of Germany. The English translation was copyrighted and made available in 1987 by the Navajian Trust. Much of his reasoning Gandhi borrowed from the Badshah Khan from the Pushtun area of Pakistan and Afghanistan, who led the non-violent movement of Muslims against the British occupation of India.
This strategy could be and should be adopted by both Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land, as detailed in my article, “Peace Through Justice in the Holy Land: The Spiritual Jihad of Satyagraha,” published in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org in the spring of 2002 before its articles were preserved electronically. This was republished on January 3, 2006, for electronic retrieval under the title “Peace through Justice in the Holy Land: Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Spiritual Jihad.”
If Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, as I have described in great detail in many of my writings over the past twenty years, was the greatest spiritual leader and advocate of satyagraha during 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 some well-meaning American strategists are attempting either to orchestrate a balance of power among rival claimants or to impose a much hated central government 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, and in a number of books published since then.
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 Palestinian to reject counter-productive suicide bombings and equally useless symbolic defense of their own dignity by lobbing handmade rockets across the northern Gazan border into Israel. Wisdom would require rejection of the two-state solution of two sovereign states facing each other like two scorpions in a bottle. Wisdom would suggest the development of a model Abraham Federation based on spiritual power to address the high priority issues of Jerusalam, the Israeli settlements, the return of the dispossessed, and water as major tasks in building peace, prosperity, and freedom through compassionate justice. 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 money is based on the value of real assets rather than on the negative value of debt, and so thatcredit 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, http://www.cesj.org inclu,ding 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. 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 a people’s 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.
This policy of spiritual power through non-violence as the high road to peace, prosperity, and justice clearly applies to the Palestinians in Gaza at the beginning of 2009 during the current repeat of the British policy toward the Pushtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan some eighty years earlier. As indicated in my article in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org on January 12, 2009, entitled “Arab Extremists’ Logic Calls for Annihilation of Arabs in the Holy Land,” the alternative may be a Nakba rivaling even the Nazi holocaust against the Jews, which has hitherto been unrivaled in all of human history.
As I wrote in this article on January 12th, “It is precisely when there appears to be no humanly possible solution that we need to look for higher purposes than mere survival and freedom. Throughout the history of civilizations and even of individual persons, whoever focuses only on the self-serving goals of survival or freedom will either die or become enslaved, because these are negative goals. Palestinians will choose to die to the last man in preference to a life of slavery. This gives them moral power, but more powerful still is the spiritual power of the non-violence pursuit of an Abraham Federation by both Arabs and Jews. History is shaped by the creative pursuit of peace, prosperity, and freedom for every person and every community and of all humankind through truth and justice, which the Qur’an teaches is the purpose of being.
This approach of satyagraha applies even more strongly to the Jews, who by following a strategy of crimes against humanity carried out over the period of an entire lifetime in the Holy Land have turned the Jewish nation into the most threatened and threatening people on earth.
The leading advocate of this strategy of non-violence for the Jews was the Mahatma Gandhi, just as the Ghaffar Khan was for the Muslims. Writing at the beginning of the holocaust, even before most people knew or even suspected what was brewing, Gandhi wrote:
“Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question.
“My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.
“But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?
“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.
“The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French. If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colorable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.
“But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province.
“But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both? Or is England drifting towards armed dictatorship and all it means?
“Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible, and terrifying it looks in its nakedness.
“Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected, and forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need feel helpless or forlorn. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, Musalmans, or the Hindus, though, as a matter of fact in essence, He is common to all as the one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to feel helpless. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily underground will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions or sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France, and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind can be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hand of the tyrant. For the god-fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.
“It is hardly necessary for me to point out that it is easier for the Jews than for the Czechs to follow my prescription. And they have in the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa an exact parallel. There the Indians occupied precisely the same place that the Jews occupy in Germany. The persecution had also a religious tinge. President Kruger used to say that the white Christians were the chosen of God and Indians were inferior beings created to serve the whites. A fundamental clause in the Transvaal constitution was that there should be no equality between the whites and colored races, including Asiatics. There too the Indians were consigned to ghettos described as locations. The other disabilities were almost of the same type as those of the Jews in Germany. The Indians, a mere handful, resorted to satyagraha without any backing from the world outside or the Indian Government. Indeed, the British officials tried to dissuade the satyagrahis (soldiers of non-violence) from their contemplated step. World opinion and the Indian Government came to their aid after eight years of fighting. And that too was by way of diplomatic pressure not of a threat of war.
“But the Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than Indians of south Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany. They are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organized world opinion behind them. I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them in nonviolent action, the winter of the despair can in the twinkling of an eye be turned into the summer of hope. And what has today become a degrading man-hunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. It will be then a truly religious resistance offered against the godless fury of dehumanized man. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted that latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow-Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire.
“And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it in the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblican conception is not geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the good will of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart, who rules the Jewish heart. They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them. They will find world opinion in their favor in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.
“I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.
“Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home, including Palestine, not by aggression but by loving service.
“A Jewish friend has sent me a book called The Jewish Contribution to Civilization by Cecil Roth. It gives a record of what the Jews have done to enrich the world’s literature, art, music, drama, science, medicine, agriculture, etc. Given the will, the Jews can refuse to be treated as the outcaste of the West to be despised or patronized. They can command the attention and respect of the world by being man, the chosen creation of God, instead of being man who is fast sinking to the brute and forsaken by God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution of non-violent action.”
The parallels of Gandhi’s advocacy of spiritual power are clear for both the Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land today.