Abdul Ghaffar Khan: Peace-Maker from the Heart of Islam
by Tenzin Rigzin
Announcing a World-wide Movement to Honor the Legacy and Teachings of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Baacha Khan, Badshah Khan, Frontier Gandhi, Fakhr-e-Afghan “The Pride of Afghans” Badshah Khan devoted his life to justice, liberty, & peace—for eight decades he struggled unceasingly for freedom, literacy, and human rights through non-violent means.
Ghaffar Khan was one of the greatest humanitarians in the 20th century—a non-violent soldier who fought peacefully and persuasively for human dignity, universal education, and sustainable prosperity. Khan, a practitioner of nonviolent social change, transformed his society. But few people have heard of him-even in the part of the world where he lived and worked and strived for peace, independence, and the dignity of the people. Examples from Khan’s life and teachings are catalysts to promote inter-community/inter-faith harmony, brotherly love, and cultural acceptance.
This is a call to human rights organizations, educational and cultural establishments, peace institutes, foundations, and individuals: to join forces and co-create and coordinate opportunities to explore and promote the teachings and philosophy of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, one of the greatest peace-makers in the twentieth century. Khan was a Muslim who drew his inspiration for non-violence and human rights from his deep faith in Islam. Today his message is integrally international and truly required.
Badshah Khan’s philosophy offers viable peaceful alternatives—practical solutions to ease the volatility and hostility that often characterize today’s international relations. The events and activities proposed by this project will focus on Khan’s nonviolent, proactive, socially involved, democratic, and spiritually dynamic indefatigable life’s examples. The formats of the programs will vary from place to place: seminars, presentations, workshops, lectures, videos, skits, dramatic performances, conferences, school curricula, discussion groups, writing and/or art exhibitions, teach-ins, lectures, panel discussions at mosques, churches, temples, schools, or community centers. This letter is intended to initiate connections with colleagues and generate commitment, participation, ideas, and enthusiasm to begin the processes of developing the programs and projects that will propagate the noble, humanitarian, profoundly important and essentially contemporary message of Badshah Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
The life’s teachings and legacy of Baacha Khan provide a unique historical opportunity to bridge the widening gulf between the Western world and the world of Islam. These programs to honor the eternally valid teachings of Ghaffar Khan-a true “son of the soil” will help promote harmony and brotherhood among the peoples of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It is imperative to revive, restore, and propagate the ideals and inspirations of Baacha Khan as models that can create an atmosphere of understanding and peace. These goals will be furthered by launching this international project to rediscover and disseminate the treasures of Khan’s teachings—his philosophical ideals and practical concepts for peace, development, and democracy. The results of these collective international efforts will strengthen the processes of regional and global peace and enhance inter-community understanding and dialogue. This project offers opportunities, at this appropriate time in world history, to elevate Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy to the respected and appropriate level among the greatest peace makers in the world.
The Abdul Ghaffar Khan initiatives will be implemented by local people in communities across the world-Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia—India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and also Thailand. Malaysia, and Japan. The structure of each individual program emerging from these international collaborations will be modified to be locally appropriate.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a very religious man who drew inspiration and validation from the Qu’ran and the life of Mohammed (PBUH) to support his non-violent and compassionate activism. He was an untiring social reformer and supporter of education who established schools, self-help organizations, and literary and publishing endeavors. He worked unceasingly for democracy and human rights. In the recent biography, The Pathan Unarmed, the author, Mukulika Banerjee “found that Ghaffar’s pacifism grew out of his concept of jihad, or holy war, because nonviolent resistance ‘offered the chance of martyrdom in its purest form, since putting one’s life conspicuously in one’s enemy’s hands was itself the key act’.”
The struggles, teachings, and sacrifices of Baacha Khan confirm his stature as a universal figure—a person to stand shoulder to shoulder in the pantheon of the greatest peace-makers in history. Unfortunately, due to competitions between the super powers and international and regional hostilities, history has not done justice to this noble person. Khan’s endeavors for the cause of tolerance, peace, democracy, human rights, and nonviolence offer culturally appropriate and universalized keys to solving today’s international controversies and culturally laden quarrels. The story of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the humanist and advocate of human dignity who offered peaceful solutions to conflict, has been sadly neglected. He deserves his place among the distinguished leaders of the century, not only in the Muslim world, but internationally.
More than two decades of violence in Afghanistan: first, the CIA-ISI supported Mujahideen fighting the USSR, then the protracted era of rivalries and brutality between contesting war lords, followed by the cruel intolerance of the Taliban, nurtured a culture of violence among the peoples of Afghanistan, the bordering North-West Frontier Province, and the Balochistan region of Pakistan. Violence was sanctified through the misuse of Jihadi concepts. The “Afghan Jihad” left a legacy of drugs, guns, and violence in northwestern South Asia, which still poses a potent threat to regional and global peace. The two-decades long Jihadi indoctrination of the youth of Pakistan has seriously undermined efforts of the moderate, progressive, and secular forces to maintain the social equilibrium and promote peace in the society. The conservative, fundamentalist approach was in part inspired by the massive curriculum project undertaken in the early 1980’s by the University of Nebraska (USA), which stressed the promotion of militarized Jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. These American generated textbooks that venerated violence of the mujahideen, were disseminated in NWFP among other areas. Their long-term impact remains a factor. On the other hand, envisioning the Badshah Khan program offers multiple opportunities that speak to the heart of peace and human dignity.
During the past few years a reconciliation process has been going on in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Significant steps have been taken to ease the tensions between the two nuclear rivals. Among many initiatives, in December 2004 the Chief Minister of West Punjab, Parvaiz Elahi, visited East Punjab to attend the World Punjabi Conference. Groups of journalists traveled across the border to promote the “movement of people”. The Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi, Aziz Ahmed Khan attended the programme in East Punjab, along with the West Punjabi Chief Secretary, Kamran Rasool. The event focused on education: Mr. Elahi helped to lay the foundation stone of the World Punjabi Centre at Punjab University. Additionally, among other initiatives, a bus service is being opened between Pakistani Kashmir and Srinagar.
Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, under pressure from the international community, have also taken a new turn and there are signs that the two countries may coexist in peace in the future. There is a momentum to create a trade route between Afghanistan and India across Pakistan. These negotiations will hopefully lead to the eventual opening of trade and more congenial relations between Pakistan and India.
In the 1980’s and 90’s, the violence-prone Jihadi organizations were recipients of huge institutional, financial, and moral support from internal and external sources. Contrarily, the moderate and peace-loving people in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been without a well-funded forum or international support to promote peace and non-violence. Fortunately, at this juncture, Pakistan has a unique opportunity in the form of Baacha Khan to build a durable peace with India and Afghanistan, given the high degree of respect that Baacha Khan receives in both India and Afghanistan. The model of his life and his philosophy offer grounded and relevant examples to cultivate peace and prosperity. Through this initiative Pakistan can show the world a face of home-grown peace and universalism.
Baacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar Movement—a non-violent reformist anti-colonial organization- was an ally of the Indian National Congress before partition. In his personal capacity, Baacha Khan was a close associate of Gandhi-ji, which makes Baacha Khan an even more revered figure in the eyes of the Indian masses. Baacha Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgar’s place in the history of the anti-colonial freedom movement is based more on their immense sacrifices rather than simply their association with Gandhi.]
In view of his tremendous struggle and personal ordeals for freedom, Baacha Khan was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest Indian civil award. Similarly, in Afghanistan Baacha Khan is still considered a non-controversial and highly respected figure, both at the government and public levels. The Afghani people conferred on Abdul Ghaffar Khan the title “Fakhr-e-Afghan” (The Pride of Afghan).
Concept: to coordinate and encourage a series of international events, programs, curriculum materials, posters and art, pamphlets, and publications to explore the life and teachings of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, one of the greatest practitioners of nonviolence and humanitarians in the twentieth century. This initial notification is designed to enlist support for the project and to generate discussion about strategies and methodologies that will further the efforts to educate the world about Abdul Ghaffar Khan—Frontier Gandhi. Baacha Khan’s life exemplifies intercommunity harmony and dedication to social justice. The anticipated world-wide dissemination of the message of Badshah Khan will be accomplished by coordinating and collaborating with organizations and individuals who share a common vision and commitment. These connections will be utilized to mobilize international awareness about one of history’s most inspiring yet forgotten heroes. In collaboration with colleagues in India, Pakistan, and the USA, this letter of inquiry is sent by Yvette C. Rosser, from the Observer Research Foundation. Please send ideas, constructive comments, and suggestions to: YvetteRosser at yahoo.com
Vision: to boost peace efforts, create better understanding between countries and cultures, enhance peaceful conflict resolution strategies, and encourage the time-tested tools of nonviolence for fighting oppression, domination, and subjugation. The Baacha Khan Trust, Gandhi Peace Foundation (GPF), Observer Research Foundation, (ORF), Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), the G M Syed Memorial Committee, and other foundations and organizations that join the effort, will work together to rediscover the universal teachings and philosophy of the greatest Muslim peacemaker, Baacha Khan. This program will document, archive, and disseminate his message of nonviolence, peace, and sustainable socio-economic development by encouraging a series of seminars, conferences, and other events and publications that will educate the world about the life of Badshah Khan. This project will conduct research and help coordinate multiple programs in collaboration with peace and cultural organizations and other interested stakeholders throughout the world.
1. To collect scattered materials about the person and teachings of Baacha Khan and Khudai Khidmatgar Movement; compile, document, and disseminate this valuable information in different languages throughout the world. These assets belong to the entire humanity will not be allowed to remain in the dustbin of history.
2. To run an advocacy campaign for making the message of Baacha Khan a part of the curricula and educational systems world-wide, particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
3. To present the life and struggles of Baacha Khan as one of the best models of achieving political freedom, democratic liberties, and mobilizing people for socio-economic development and positive change.
4. To provide impetus and guidance for multiple programs that will offer effective platforms to promote the forces of peace, moderation, and non-violence, which will empower the people to raise their voices against religious extremism and political violence.
5. Highlighting Baacha Khan’s cosmopolitan outlook, based on the fundamentals of his Islamic faith, will help to reduce and eliminate religious, cultural, and ethnic conflicts among different groups in South Asia and also promote international, inter-cultural harmony.
Initially we are seeking to create contact with knowledgeable groups and individuals that can offer their expertise and cooperation as we create international networks that will work together to bring out Khan’s message of peace and service to a world-wide audience. We seek the involvement of committed groups, organizations, and individuals who will work locally to institute this global program in their communities. The overall strategic goal of the programme is to promote an environment of dialogue, based on non-violence, through the use of the philosophy of Baacha Khan, whose teachings and methodology provide a functional semblance of the particular and an inspiring and practical answer to the universal.
Initial strategy: archive and assemble a collection of Baacha Khan’s stories and quotations. Compile a selection of quotations on a wide variety of topics and vignettes from his life that will teach by example—a paragraph or short story about each. These “sound bites” will be quotes, short narratives, facts, and data that describe the humanitarian, spiritual, consistent, loving, and very spiritual life and philosophy of Badshah Khan. These quotes and stories will explain why, at this moment in the world’s history, Khan’s message offers a special key to international peace and prosperity that is trans-culturally transformative.
The materials won’t dwell excessively on how many decades Baacha Khan was incarcerated under previous autocratic Pakistani regimes. They will focus on the positive side of his life. His work with the people, his accomplishments, his unflagging moral strength and humanitarian spirit, and particularly, where he drew his inspiration and what sustained his vision. Stories and quotes from Badshah Khan will be collected and assembled in a variety of accessible and useable formats.
In the first phase, we will develop the program’s contents along with methods and models for the seminars, conferences, and presentations. Basic strategies will be developed so that the program can be applicable and accessible in a variety of situations. We will gather and develop materials, such as video footage, booklets, flipcharts, handouts, informative and engaging educational curriculum—useful items designed for easy distribution. Many of the materials will be made available on the Internet. Needed materials will be provided to cooperating institutions, foundations, and NGOs in countries around the world. All materials will be translated into regional and international languages.
The structure of the presentations or seminars will be modified to suit culturally specific situations depending on location. However, the content will be faithful to Khan’s perennial, universal philosophy of peace, compassion, and social work. The purpose of the programs will be firmly rooted in Badshah Khan’s unfailing commitment to nonviolence and social upliftment. He framed his work in the context of his religious beliefs, which confirmed the equality of all human beings. The message of Badshah Khan is vitally relevant to all the inhabitants of today’s fractious, turbulent world.
We will emphasize the creation and distribution of school and community-based curriculum for various age groups… in a variety of forms depending on the circumstances. We will also co-create films and children’s books that will be translated into languages, such as Sindhi, Balochi, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, French, German, Spanish, English, etc. Other materials will also be developed and translated, such as art books, CDs, videos, etc. This project will focus primarily on the works of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, not his sorrows. Though in his efforts he experienced many trials and tribulations, this program will emphasize his triumphs among his people. Though his repeated incarcerations and torture—inquisitions by consecutive non-democratic autocratic authorities—will not be ignored, the main focus will be on his message of brotherly love and peace.
1. Formation of a Coordination Committee of participating individuals and organizations that will plan program activities in further detail and prepare a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) giving definition to work-distribution and responsibilities.
2. Identification of places (cities, towns, and villages) in which the events are to be held and resources, organizational persons, and presenters for events, conferences, and/or seminars in different countries.
Saleem Shah from the SDPI suggested that “apart from big cities we should have seminars type activities at Red Shirts strongholds like Charsada, Swabi, and Mardan. Such meetings should be presided over by ‘old red shirt activists’. We also need to collect oral history and such occasions are great opportunities to do it.” Saleem Shah also suggested that the events be presented in the Provincially Administrated Tribal Areas (PATA) because the local people “need a lot of education on peace as they were brain washed towards violence during Afghan war”.
3. Collection and preservation of available materials and resources about Baacha Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, including film footage and video clips, photographic and textual documentation, and ethnographic information. Methods and models will be developed for the proposed seminars, conferences, workshops, and presentations. Basic educational materials will be made available to schools, including CDs, handouts, booklets, videos, classroom activities such as role playing, and other curriculum materials. These will be given to cooperating institutions, foundations, and NGOs in communities cosponsoring the project. The Badshah Khan materials will be translated into local languages-they will be free if cost and accessible.
4. Working with cooperating institutes and foundations in selected places around the world to organize seminars/conferences/meetings emphasizing peace-building and respect for cultural diversity.
5. Preparation (translation and dissemination) of peace literature, based on Baacha Khan’s teachings, in Pashto, Urdu, Sindhi, Balochi, and international languages.
6. Publication of reports on the progress of the project and documents describing the details of the on-going international events.
7. Preparation of Audio/ Video format of program events, where possible.
The envisioned project is designed to rediscover, compile, and disseminate the teachings and life’s examples of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. It will be universally inspirational—a multi dimensional and far reaching project. It will contain an inherent capacity to create a metamorphosis within individuals and societies. The various components will be designed and distributed as productive, positive dynamic tools to promote, encourage, and teach about methods to achieve and sustain peace, human dignity, and justice. This program contains a spiritual message from the heart of a devout Muslim, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. During his long profoundly productive life he drew from the essential core of his faith a deep and transformative devotion to nonviolent social upliftment, political and personal freedom, responsibility to humanity, justice, and equality. Follow-up workshops and interviews will gauge the results and the impact of these efforts.
Intentionally, one of the parallel purposes of this project is to provide an international space there the world of Islam and the Western world can meet in a mutually familiar environment conducive to community cooperation and constructive conversation. Additionally, this effort will serve as a salve to help heal the animosity and violence rampant between certain sects and communities in some Muslim countries. This program has one central mission: To educate the world about Khan’s example as a model of service, brotherly love, and human rights—which he wove into a modern, pro-active, multi-dimensional mosaic, intertwined with ancient cultural expressions from his tribal heritage and his Islamic beliefs combined with an integral understanding of democratic principles and human rights.
Were it not for the hegemonic and forcefully destructive interventions of the “great powers” who brought communal violence and militarized politics to the region, the teachings of Baacha Khan would be as well known as Mahatma Gandhi’s. That is one of the main missions of the project…. to spread the name and the teachings of Badshah Khan. It will be done in such a way that it will be accepted and respected in the Muslim world and expand the horizons of both critics and apologists all over the planet.
Please note that this document is not a proposal for funding. It is intended to create connections and explore possibilities and generate suggestions and strategies. Badshah Khan’s teachings and life’s examples can help the world at this troubled time. Just as the teachings and life of Mahatma Gandhi have helped humanity in recent decades—influencing peace and human rights activists—so too at this critical juncture in world history, the life of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan can help guide humanity towards peace and social responsibility.
This planned acknowledgement of Badshah Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgar (Red Shirt) Movement, as pioneers of peace, is decades overdue—but it is a big step forward to remember such a great man. We anticipate that people around the world will work together to share and promote his teachings. It is the need of the hour to counter extremists through such positive thinking and action, while also recognizing the brave and unsung heroes of the people. It is true that the most important contribution of Badshah Khan was cultivating the culture of nonviolence and secular ideas in the hearts of Pashtoons, that could otherwise be accomplished only by prophets and saints. Khan’s movement—that is still alive within the ranks of his followers—has several dimensions. Khan was active in launching literary movements, reforming culture, opening schools, publishing literary and political newspapers and journals, involving women and minorities in politics, introducing modern means of politics such as political parties, and the concept of voting to ensure democracy. He was also the pioneer of establishing the first NGO, Tehriki Islahi Afghana (Afghans Reformation Movement), with the basic objective of reforming culture, traditions, and religion. All of these dimensions are related to educating people and promoting harmony, peace, and a civilized society. Through these programs featuring the philosophy of Badshah Khan, many issues of contemporary importance will be explored.
“It is only a matter of time before his (Khan’s) special light will begin to shine in many corners of the earth. For his contribution to the legacy of nonviolence has special significance today, when so many countries of the Islamic world are torn by violence. Just as Gandhi reminded Indians of their long-forgotten legacy of truth and nonviolence, it has been given to Badshah Khan to perform the same great service for Islam. His life is a perfect mirror of the profound values of love, faith, and selfless service embedded in Islam since its inception. His nonviolent “army of God” stands as a beacon to all Muslims who seek an alternative to the self-destructive violence of our times.”
Badshah Khan’s life-long commitment to nonviolence, justice, and human dignity must be included in Social Studies classes across the globe—in North America and Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and especially the Subcontinent. Programs will be created to fill niches wherever connections are made with groups committed to hosting programs or disseminating information in their communities. Culturally sensitive curriculum materials of various formats will be made available according the circumstances of the particular program. Khan’s message and teachings, as personified by his life’s efforts, were certainly not intended exclusively for Islamic communities. Khan’s model and methods can lead the planet towards peace and sustainable prosperity and intercommunity harmony.
The deeds and life of Badshah Khan are familiar among only a small group of informed people. Even in Pakistan, he is almost unknown and his heroic actions and ethical stance have not been used as positive examples to inspire the people. In the educational system and the popular and state-controlled media, Khan has been portrayed in a negative light for over five decades. Sometimes people in West Punjab and other places in Pakistan complain that “Baccha Khan is inseparably attached with Pakhtun nationalism and notions of Pakhtun supremacy.” He is remembered for his opposition to the Two-Nation Theory and considered to be anti-Pakistani. His contributions to literacy, democracy, and inter-communal harmony are irrelevant to nationalistic Pakistani propaganda.
Khan was born is what is now Pakistan and shares the religious faith of the vast majority of the citizens. It is essential that the programs be promoted extensively there—in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Quetta, as well as smaller cites, such as Multan and Chitral—wherever there is interest, especially in villages where small traveling programs could take his message of peace and brotherly love to far-flung districts. Khan’s ideas can be disseminated universally, finding receptivity. They are appropriate and will be welcomed in the most obscure and remote regions as well as in highly industrialized urban locales.
The first military government of Pakistan banned Khan’s organization and confiscated the possessions of his followers. His ideas have been suppressed and shunned since Pakistan’s inception. He has been purposefully excluded from Pakistani textbooks. Paranoia about Pakhtun separatism has somewhat diminished in recent years. Tactfully and assertively, these programs on Abdul Ghaffar Khan must in no way allude to ethnic fissiparousness or the controversial autonomy of Pakhtunkwa.
Under the colonial British government, Badshah Khan spent more time in jail than did Mahatma Gandhi. Ironically, Khan spent more time in jail under the military governments of independent Pakistan, than he did under the colonial regime. In both cases, he was imprisoned because he was a advocate of freedom and democracy. Now is the time to honor his philosophy and legacy and spread his ideas of peace and prosperity.
In Pakistan these programs will bring Pakhtun (Pashtun/Pathan) narratives into the mainstream of Pakistani historiography and popular culture. This proposal will hopefully find resonance with the current Pakistani leadership that is striving to present a more secular face and at the same time, trying to keep the smaller provinces appeased and loyal. In order for this project to be acceptable to the Pakistani leadership it must be framed as a uniquely Pakistani solution to an international problem. General Musharraf is under pressure from the international community to promote secularism and educate Pakistanis to shun extremism. Ghaffar Khan used the fundamentals of Islam as validation for his philosophy of nonviolence and universalism. In this context, these proposed programs are politically correct in contemporary Pakistan. If promoted appropriately, this effort would be in tandem with Pakistan’s present-day international and domestic priorities.
Today, the circumstances are ripe that a message of brotherly love and international peace should come from Pakistan’s past to a wider international audience. Khan was a devout Muslim who employed the words and deeds of the Prophet (PBUH) to validate his message of brotherly love, equality, compassion, peace, justice, and service. Badshah Khan explained,
“There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed 1,400 years ago by the Prophet all the time when He was in Mecca.”
“Badshah Khan was a devout Muslim whose surrender to God was rewarded by a divine wisdom to act rightfully. Khan derived deep inspiration from the Koran and based his life on Prophet Mohammed’s universal principles of love (muhabat), service to humanity (amal), and faith (yakeen). His lifelong reform work, the constructive programs, and the nonviolence of the Khudai Khidmatgars can be best understood in light of the underlying Islamic and universal ethics. Khan’s nonviolence was spiritual, based on Islam’s “Sabr” (tenaciously holding on to a righteous cause without revenge or retaliation) just as Gandhi’s nonviolence was based on Hindu principles of Ahimsa and Advaita. Khan’s life is also an example of faith-based transformation of two kinds - his own “qutb” or divine analytic wisdom which awakened true faith in him and his reformation of 100,000 belligerent Pushtuns into nonviolent God’s servants.”
Prasanna Vengadam developed the strategy for the website that promoted the presentation about Khan at the World Parliament of Religions in Barcelona. She emphasized that it is essential to focus on Khan’s spirituality, including his ideas about jihad. “Khan’s spirituality represents true Islam [….] from the very recent past. The role of Islam in his life, his constructive reform programs grew out of his spiritual development, his unparalleled leadership in nonviolence and the KKs, his ability to reach out and bridge between Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus is a great story to tell. Another aspect to highlight is that, independently of Gandhi, he chose nonviolence. There is a misconception that Gandhi influenced him into nonviolence. That’s what is so remarkable of Khan. He was very independent in his spiritual development and didn’t subjugate to the teachings of the mosques, but as a true Muslim—only to Allah. He made his own careful interpretations of Islam and when he doubted himself, he did the ‘chilla’ or the fast, for an inner revelatory experience. Then he never doubted himself. It is important to project Khan as a man who exemplified true Islam (submitting one’s self to Allah) and a great proponent of peace, versus a token example of nonviolence in the Muslim world.”
To initiate the process of planning this project, two foundations in New Delhi, India were consulted, the Gandhi Peace Foundation (GPF) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), both responded favorably. The SDPI (Sustainable Development Policy Institute) in Islamabad, Pakistan is enthusiastic about the project and has offered valuable suggestions. Scholars and leaders and activists in the West who have been contacted, are keenly interested in helping to promote and organize this project. At this initial stage we must communicate with organizations and foundations in South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, East Asia, and the western hemisphere—to share ideas about this project, and importantly, to determine interest. After establishing connections, the core project will provide materials and ideas to support efforts to hold Badshah Khan events wherever there is an interest and commitment. (Please send suggestions and references.)
The Baacha Khan Trust in Peshawar, as well as many Pashtuns in the NWFP, are supportive of these plans to hold seminars on Badshah Khan. Abdul Ghaffar Khan is the antithesis of the dreaded Taliban, who were also Pakhtuns. These programs will promote Badshah Khan’s ideas as positive, proactive alternatives to extremism. This effort will highlight the progressive and democratic and spiritually dynamic aspect of the unflagging determinism of the Khudai Khidmatgars, a formidable group of heroes and heroines whose bravery and ideals have largely been ignored not only in Pakistan, but in the history of the world.
This discussion document is designed to make contact with organizations who can offer expertise and support. This pervasive and persuasive proposal about Badshah Khan, an idea whose time has come, will highlight the philosophy of a devote Muslim, who drew from Islam’s sacred scriptures to support his path of nonviolence and humanitarianism. To help guide the project, the following questions were developed by Mr. M. Raza in Peshawar. Please contribute your suggestions and strategies or additional questions. While developing this project we will use a methodology that engages and investigates the following guidelines, some of which are discussed below:
1. VISION: What is the vision of promoting the teachings and ideas of Baacha Khan?
2. GOALS: What are the ultimate goals of the project?
3. OBJECTIVES: What are the specific objectives that the project intends to achieve?
4. ACTIVITIES: What is the list of activities corresponding to each objective in the project?
5. METHODOLOGY: How are we going to achieve the goals and objectives?
6. BENCHMARKS: How we measure our success in achieving the objectives?
7. TIMELINE: What is the time line for each activity and the whole project?
8. MONITORING and EVALUATION: How are we going to evaluate our success and achievements?
9. IMPACTS: What this project is going to achieve in the long and short run and who are the beneficiaries?
10. PARTNERS: Interested partners will reach an MoU for executing the project.
11. ASSUMPTIONS: What are the assumptions up on which this project is planned?
12. BUDGET: What are the total costs and prospective donors?
Anticipated Results—The programme is expected to:
1. Strengthen the peace process in the Indian, Pakistani, and Afghani region.
2. Revive the message of a non-violent Muslim reformer—a bridge between the Muslims and the West.
3. Add to peace assets of humanity, strengthen peace efforts of peace organizations around the world.
4. Change the militant outlook of significant numbers of the population and establish Baacha Khan as a symbol of non-violent struggle for achieving political ends and socio-economic development.
5. Reactivate and rejuvenate the moderate and liberal forces in South Asia and the world to effectively and peacefully counter the forces that consider war as the ultimate recourse for achieving political ends.
Assumptions—The program is based on the following assumptions:
1. Interested participants will provide financial, logistical, and intellectual support for the project(s).
2. Resource persons, once contacted and recruited, will be available for coordinating specific activities.
3. The governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India, and other nations in the world, will be supportive to allow movements of presenters/ resource persons without hindrance or delay.
4. Material/ resources about Baacha Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgars - textual, audio-visual and oral materials - are scattered in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India—these will be collected and compiled.
Time Action—The programme is scheduled for one year, starting from the date of funding; however, depending upon the availability of funds, it can be further expanded to establish ‘Baacha Khan Peace Centers’ in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other regions of the world. (Timeline for each activity will be determined after the collaborations are established and the programs are in the planning phase.) Ideally, the first event will be held in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on January 20, 2006, this commemorative event at Khan’s gravesite on the anniversary of his passing, will symbolically launch the series of international programs.
Budget—Approximate budget for the program will be created after the components of the project are identified and detailed. The budgets will be submitted at that time.
Suggested Methods to Overcome Hurdles in Producing Badshah Khan Programs in Pakistan:
“Abdul Ghaffar Khan is not a respected name for many Pakistanis outside of his home province. The level of hatred and contempt for Khan among elder generations, who heard little but sensationalized propaganda about him from despotic rulers, is significant. To an outsider, it may seem surprising that a man and an entire movement who fought bravely and truthfully could be so successfully demonized. However, this kind of aggressive ignorance towards good people who profoundly challenge society is not found only in Pakistan. ‘Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it,’ advises a traditional Arabic saying. These are fighting words, appreciated by anyone who engages in the struggle to make our world a more peaceful place in which to live.”
These international seminars, conferences, and teach-ins on Badshah Khan will undoubtedly elicit positive responses, especially in India and the West. However, there are some questions concerning the viability of presenting these conferences in Pakistan. There are serious reservations that must be considered when advancing this proposal in the Pakistani context. In this capacity, we must address some realities that are not encouraging. Khan is lovingly known as ‘Frontier Gandhi’ in India, and is respected and revered in India and elsewhere. But when implementing these conferences in Pakistan, we must consider how he is perceived by the authorities, especially in Punjab.
Khan is deeply respected by the secular democrats in NWFP, but not by everyone. Outside NWFP, Abdul Ghaffar Khan is more often seen as a person who opposed the idea of Pakistan and actively fought against it. Even after independence, Khan nonviolently defied the autocratic nature of the Pakistani state and was repeatedly jailed. He spent many of his last years in exile in Afghanistan. If created and promoted in an appropriate manner in Pakistan, this idea could be extremely welcome. We will consult with possible conference organizers and sponsors in Pakistan, to determine how the state is likely to respond to the proposal. One route to overcoming possible opposition to the program is to emphasize that Khan used examples from the Qu’ran to explain his ideas and strategies. He profoundly believed that nonviolence was integral to the teachings of Mohammad. It is important to note, in the context of the possible outcome of this program, that Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s effort to promote nonviolence among the hill tribes was highly challenging.
It was suggested that in Pakistan, these proposed conferences on Abdul Ghaffar Khan could be presented in the context of a broader program that expounds the ideals of the democratic and secular leaders from the early days of Pakistan. This would include M.A. Jinnah, who is respected all over Pakistan, and especially revered in Punjab. He stood for a secular and democratic state—a modern and forward looking Pakistani state, with religion playing a subsidiary role.
Placing the programs about Badshah Khan in the context of the history of Pakistan’s moderate period, would facilitate getting clearance from the current Pakistani establishment. Among Pakistani hardliners, Abdul Ghaffar Khan certainly raises many eyebrows and conservatives would ask, why this interest in him now? This may be especially true considering the recent, but localize unrest in NWFP in late 2004. The Pakistani editions of the proposals must be creatively and cautiously designed so as not raise the suspicion of the “agencies”. Though these above cited objections may be controversial, they are important to consider in order to move this proposal further, particularly regarding it acceptance among Pakistani authorities.
Funding: After we develop this preliminary proposal, we will apply for funds from international foundations in Europe and the Middle East, and in the USA, including but not limited to the US Institute for Peace (USIP) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and The Open Society Institute (OSI). At this stage, we seek collaborators who will visualize programs and models that can be implemented to spread Khan’s message widely. Program planners and coordinators will need to seek local funding to support these activities in various locations throughout the world. The organizers will create posters and cards to highlight Khan’s life and sayings, pamphlets, booklets, CDs, video clips, skits and plays will be created for the project… the creativity will carry this effort forward. Informational, educational, literary, and artistic materials will be made available free of cost where possible -simply to “get out the word”.
Badshah Khan’s philosophy offers viable peaceful alternatives—practical solutions for the volatility and hostility that often characterize today’s international relations. This proposed series of international events will focus on Badshah Khan’s nonviolent, proactive, socially involved, democratic, and spiritually dynamic indefatigable life’s purpose. The formats of the programs will vary from place to place and may include seminars, presentations, workshops, lectures, videos, dramatic performances, conferences, school curricula, writing or art exhibitions, and teach-ins at mosques, churches, schools, or community centers.
“My religion is truth, love and service to God and humanity. Every religion that has come into the world has brought the message of love and brotherhood. Those who are indifferent to the welfare of their fellowmen, whose hearts are empty of love, they do not know the meaning of religion.”
—Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
The 9/11 tragedy in the United States and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, in the apparent views of the antagonists, vindicated theories of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’. The established mind-set among the powerful on both sides of the political/cultural divide between the Western world (particularly the USA) and the world of Islam exalts violence as the ultimate means to settle disputes. This development has created a perception among the general public in the Muslim world that the US is bent to humiliate and defeat Islamic centers of power. Hence the assumption that the only response to such an effort is to resist the perceived threat by violent means - promoting the call to Jihad. The support in the ‘war against terrorism’ offered to the United States by several undemocratic nations in the Muslim world notwithstanding, the militant groups and organizations receive sympathies and support from these regimes and a large segment of the Muslim population are sympathetic to the jihadis. In dire contrast, the anti-war, peace-loving, pro-democracy forces [of Pakistan] have been marginalized and disempowered. Regardless of the lack of international support, they continue their efforts to create an environment that supports dialogue and enhances understanding between nations and among cultural groups.
There is a legacy of mistrust and violence that has plagued the region comprising Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Pakistan and India have been at logger heads since independence from the British in 1947. The two countries have fought four open wars and many proxy wars in each others’ countries. South Asia, host to a billion human beings, is beset by a population explosion, extreme poverty, and low Human Development Indices. Added to this scenario is the fact that a huge portion of their national resources are poured into non-development, military sectors.
Similarly, the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have remained strained since Pakistan’s inception. This led the two countries to fall in the big powers’ rivalries, as pawns for countering hostile moves in the Cold War. The recent flowering of democracy in Afghanistan is a powerful inspiration for other nations in the region. More than two decades of violence in Afghanistan: first, the CIA-ISI supported Mujahideen fighting the USSR, then the protracted era of rivalries and brutality between contesting war lords, followed by the cruel intolerance of the Taliban, gave birth to a culture of violence among the peoples of Afghanistan, the bordering North-West Frontier Province, and the Balochistan region of Pakistan. Violence has been sanctified through the misuse of Jihadi concepts.
The Afghan Jihad left a legacy of drugs, guns, and violence in northwestern South Asia, which still poses a potent threat to regional and global peace. The two-decades long Jihadi indoctrination of the youth of Pakistan has seriously undermined efforts of the moderate, progressive, and secular forces to maintain the social equilibrium and promote peace in the society. The conservative, fundamentalist approach was in part inspired by the curriculum project by the University of Nebraska that promoted militarized Jihad.
During the past few years a reconciliation process has been going on in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Significant steps have been taken to ease the tensions between the two nuclear rivals. The first initiative was the establishment of the Delhi-Lahore bus service in 1999. Among many recent initiatives, in December 2004 the Chief Minister of West Punjab, Parvaiz Elahi, visited East Punjab to attend the World Punjabi Conference. Groups of journalists traveled across the border to promote the “movement of people”. The Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi, Aziz Ahmed Khan attended the programme in East Punjab, along with the West Punjabi Chief Secretary, Kamran Rasool. The event focused on education: Mr. Elahi helped to lay the foundation stone of the World Punjabi Centre at Punjab University.
Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, under pressure from the international community, have taken a new turn. There are signs the two countries may coexist in peace in the future. There are initiatives to create a trade route between Afghanistan and India across Pakistan. Afghanistan has requested the government of Pakistan to permit a trade route, which would allow access to Indian commodities. These negotiations will hopefully lead to the opening of trade and more congenial relations between Pakistan and India.
In the 1980s and 90s, violence prone Jihadi organizations received huge institutional, financial, and moral support from internal and external sources. Contrarily, moderate and peace-loving people have been without a well-funded forum or international support to promote peace and non-violence in the region. Fortunately, at this juncture, Pakistan has a unique opportunity in the form of Baacha Khan to build a durable peace with India and Afghanistan, given the high degree of respect that Baacha Khan receives in both nations. The model of his life and his philosophy offer grounded and relevant examples to cultivate peace and prosperity. Through this initiative Pakistan can show a face of humanitarian universalism to the world.
Baacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar Movement—a non-violent reformist anti-colonial organization - was an ally of the Indian National Congress before partition. In his personal capacity, Baacha Khan was a close associate of Gandhi-ji, which makes Baacha Khan an even more revered figure in the eyes of the Indian masses. Baacha Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgar’s place in the history of the anti-colonial freedom movement is based more on their immense sacrifices rather than simply their association with Gandhi. In view of his tremendous struggle and personal ordeals for freedom, Baacha Khan was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest Indian civil award. Similarly, in Afghanistan Baacha Khan is still considered a non-controversial and highly respected figure, both at the government and public levels. In Afghanistan the people conferred on Abdul Ghaffar Khan “Fakhr-e-Afghan” (The Pride of Afghan).“
The following questions were developed by Mr. M. Raza in Peshawar to help guide the project. Please contribute your suggestions and strategies or additional questions.
1. VISION: What is the vision of promoting the teachings and ideas of Baacha Khan?
2. GOALS: What are the ultimate goals of the project?
3. OBJECTIVES: What are the specific objectives that the project intends to achieve?
4. ACTIVITIES: What is the list of activities corresponding to each objective in the project?
5. METHODOLOGY: How are we going to achieve the goals and objectives?
6. BENCHMARKS: How we measure our success in achieving the objectives?
7. TIMELINE: What is the time line for each activity and the whole project.
8. MONITORING & EVALUATION: How will we evaluate our achievements?
9. IMPACTS: What this project is going to achieve in the long and short run and who are the beneficiaries?
10. PARTNERS: Who are interested partners and what is the method of reaching an MoU for
executing the project.
11. ASSUMPTIONS: What are the assumptions up on which this project is planned?
12. BUDGET: What are the total costs and prospective donors.
Please send “brainstorming” or inspirational ideas in response to the above guideposts and this preliminary proposal to:
. Foundations, institutions, or organizations committed to the process of hosting a program on the legacy of Badshah Khan, please send your contact information and your vision.
The Baacha Khan Trust in Peshawar has for many years recognized the need for a movement such as this. In 2004, they developed a proposal for a “Year if Peace” (copied below). Interest in Badshah Khan is international and certainly predates these current efforts. Please see the following related proposal from the Baacha Khan Trust in Peshawar, Pakistan:
“The Baacha Khan Trust is a not-for-profit, non-government organization working for socio-economic development, peace building and promotion of human rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The legacy of the Trust provides a strong foundation for marking 2004 a ‘Year of Peace’ in the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is faced with momentous challenges in terms of peace and stability.
“The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan resulted in more than two-decade old war, promoting a culture of war; proliferation of sophisticated weapons in private possession; drugs and religious extremism. Pakistani society in general and the Northwestern Pakistani region in particular saw the negative impacts of the war in Afghanistan. The Afghan war and drug money strengthened extremist religious groups, which acted as non-state actors promoting a myopic foreign policy agenda of certain states in the region. Although, this extremist course of action resulted in tragic consequences for many innocent people yet the forces of extremism are not ready even now to abandon the extremist course.
“In this scenario, Baacha Khan Trust plans to mark the year 2005 as a ‘year of peace’ in the Pakistan and Afghanistan region, which shall have significant impacts on changing the public perception about extremism, stressing the importance of peace and non-violence in conflict resolution and tolerating diverse viewpoints in a democratic spirit. More significantly, it will discourage state and non-state actors who use war, terrorism and extremism as a tool to achieve political objectives.
“Baacha Khan Trust would hold a series of seminars and conferences comprising of distinguished personalities, intelligentsia, and opinion leaders working for peace, democracy and human rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The ‘2005 - A Year of Peace’ project would streamline and institutionalize the peace building aspirations and efforts of the peace-loving masses and peace activists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The project activities would culminate in an international conference on the ‘ Relevance of Baacha Khan’s Philosophy of Non-violence in the 21st Century’ to be held in Peshawar.”
—end of Baacha Khan Trust “2004 Year of Peace” proposal-
Ahmad, Eqbal. Confronting Empire: Interviews with David Barsamian. South End Press, 2000.
Banerjee, Mukulika. The Pathan Unarmed, Oxford University Press 1996.
Bakshi, S. R. Abdul Ghaffar Khan: The Frontier Gandhi (Indian Freedom Fighters Series, 27) Oxford University Press, 1994.
Cerrina, Jean Akhtar. Abdul Ghaffar Khan, (for young readers) XLIBRIS CORPORATION, 2003.
Eknath, Easwaran. Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match His Mountains. Petaluma: Nilgiri Press, 2000.
Gandhi, Rajmohan. Ghaffar Khan - Nonviolent Badshah of the Pakhtuns, New Delhi, Penguin/Viking, 2004.
Hussain, S. Iftikhar. Some Major Pukhtoon Tribes Along the Pak-Afghan Border. Area Study Center Peshawar and Hanns Seidel Foundation, Univ. of Peshawar, 2000.
Khan, Abdul Ghaffar. My Life and Struggle. Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1969.
Khan, Abdul Ghaffar. Khudai Khidmatgar and National Movement: Momentous Speeches of Badshah Khan, S.S. Publishers, 1992.
Korejo, M.S. The Frontier Gandhi: His Place in History, Karachi, OUP, 1993.
Meyer, Karl E. “The Peacemaker of the Pashtun Past”, New York Times, Dec 7, 2001.
Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan: A Centennial Tribute, Har-Anand Publications (ISBN: 8124101701), 1995.
Pyarelal. A Pilgrimage for Peace: Gandhi and Frontier Gandhi among N. W. F. Pathans, Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1950
Radhakrishnan, N. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan: The Apostle of Nonviolence (Champions of nonviolence), Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, New Delhi, 1998.
Ramu, P. S. Badshah Khan: Indo-Pakistan Relations (Foreword By Sadiq Ali) (ISBN:8185396043) S S Publishers, 1991
Shah, Sayed Wiqar Ali. Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism: Muslim Politics in the North- West Frontier Province 1937-1947. Islamabad: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Tendulkar, Dinanath Gopal. Abdul Ghaffar Khan: Faith is a Battle, Gandhi Peace Foundation, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, India, 1967.
Woolston, Heather. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Badshah Khan) http://www.peacemakersguide.org/articles/peacemakers/Badshah-Khan.htm
Zutshi, G. L. Frontier Gandhi: The fighter, the politician, the saint, National Publishing House, Delhi: 1970
Excerpted from: http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1268431
In 1929, [Khan] helped found the Khudai Khidmatgar movement (which eventually had numbers estimated as high as 100,000). The movement (meaning “servants of God”) was a populist-nationalist movement that encompassed his ideas of social reform, unity, independence, and nonviolence. Members (who wore red garments-hence the other name for the group: the “red shirts”) were organized not unlike an army, with leaders and subgroups and training (for organizational purposes, not as imposed hierarchical structures)-only this was an army of unarmed men-and women, something unheard of at the time.
Besides giving up all one’s weapons, each member had to take an oath that, among other things, swore to serve mankind in the name of God, reject any means of violence, and dedicate at least two hours each day for social work. Equality of all people under God (it was a religious-based movement, as he felt it had a basis in the Qu’ran and the life of the Prophet), including non-Muslims and women and children, was an important part of the movement.
While Gandhi’s movement espoused nonviolence and civil disobedience as policy and as a means to overcome oppression, the nonviolence of Ghaffar Khan’s movement was far more at the core of the belief system. While others in the greater movement for the independence accepted the possibility that violence and even an army would be needed (at least in the future), the Khudai Khidmatgar denied any justification for the use of force.
The nonviolence he advocated was a matter of deep religious faith that this was the way to live one’s life. He said it “affects all our life, and only that has permanent value” and the movement must “be what our name implies-servants of God and humanity-by laying down our own lives and never taking any life” (http://www.wcfia.harvard.edu).
From: Reclaiming the Great Khan for History by Dennis Myers, March 8, 2002 SPARKS TRIBUNE
“That the Pathans with their brutal culture could so easily adapt to nonviolence - and succeed at it! - mystified Ghaffar Khan himself. “I started teaching the Pathans nonviolence only a short time ago,” he told Gandhi. “Yet in comparison the Pathans seem to have learned this lesson and grasped the idea of nonviolence much quicker and much better than the Indians…How do you explain that?” Gandhi responded, “Nonviolence is not for cowards. It is for the brave, the courageous…
“The Pathans’ territorial gains were lost in negotiation - India was partitioned and Pakistan created. In the ensuing years, though he lived until 1988, Ghaffar Khan vanished from view, expunged from the history he did so much to make.
“t all seemed written on water,” his biographer Eknath Easwaran wrote of the way this magnificent story was erased from our planet’s history. Gandhi and King are remembered; Ghaffar is forgotten. Since the beginning of the Afghan war (the Pathan region straddles the Pakistan/Afghan border), in spite of Ghaffar’s direct relevance to present events, I have seen only one mention of him in U.S. journalism, a New York Times essay by Karl Meyer - and it referred to Ghaffar as a pacifist. Even in Pakistan, Ghaffar’s role in national history has been diminished and trivialized.
“As Timothy Flinders wrote in the after word to Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, a biography of Ghaffar Khan, ‘True nonviolence did not issue from weakness but from strength.’ It was a matter of the powerful voluntarily withholding their power in a conflict, choosing to suffer for the sake of a principle rather than inflict suffering - even though they could. The obliteration of Ghaffar Khan from history has two consequences. Those of us in the west are robbed of a history that would conquer our stereotypical view of Islam. And the heroic example of Ghaffar Khan could have given Muslims an alternative to those leaders who appealed to their worst instincts.”
>From the “The Milli Gazette”:
By Damon Lynch
Two Islamic Soldiers
When Khan was talking of people whose hearts are empty of love, he was signifying something more than an intellectual or rational struggle. These are absolutely necessary, of course. However, he was talking of a demanding spiritual struggle, of taming forces that can overwhelm us with their intensity: burning anger, seething resentment, and jealous hatred, just to name a few.
“It is my inmost conviction that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabbat [work, faith, and love] and without these the name Muslim is sounding brass and tinkling cymbal,” Khan said. He would have fully agreed with the Buddha’s statement, “Hatred can never put an end to hatred. Love alone can.”
To talk of love in a time of war may seem preposterous and hopelessly idealistic, but this is what Khan and others like him did during their lives, and they were on the front lines. They did this not as part of a post-war reconciliation process, but in the thick of devastating conflict. They went through tremendous suffering fighting tyranny, and despite this they never clamored for revenge. Instead, they called on us to undertake a war within the mind, so that our highest aspirations will be better reflected in our daily realities.
Spirituality itself is nothing other than the interplay between humanity’s very highest aspirations and the demands of daily living. With it is an awareness of a dialogue that takes place deep within our minds, urging us to make wise choices, based not on often-tempting short-term satisfaction, but lasting goodness. To be spiritual is to reflect these aspirations in one’s thought and actions, very often an arduous and sometimes thrilling undertaking. Spiritual people engage in this noble duty with a sense of purpose; often failing, they pick themselves up after their inevitable mistakes, and encourage others to do the same by their own example. Spirituality is why Gandhi said to a world focused primarily on the external, “Turn the searchlight inwards.”
Reforming and Revolutionizing Religion
Religion is the social manifestation of spirituality, the attempt to take the lessons of spiritual traditions and give them institutional status. People are not equal in their spiritual inclinations. We learn from others by example. Spiritual truths, by their very nature, are difficult to communicate. When spirituality is institutionalized into a system of religious thought, and when structures are erected to promote that thought, the very essence of that thought is often lost. Lessons are codified into rules, experiential discoveries transformed into hardened declarations of fact, and questioning and innovation is replaced by a mass of customs and institutions.
Religion may have spirituality for its heart, but all too often creeds and dogmas have been its clenched fist. Throughout history religion has been used to fervently justify staggering levels of violence and social decay. It may often seem that religion is doomed to perpetual failure, trafficking mystery posed as unchallengeable fact, rationalizing authoritarianism, and at best acting as a battered ambulance for the wounded and distressed.
Perhaps Tagore had this in mind when he continued his discussion on crowd psychology by saying, “Therefore I do not put my faith in any new institution, but in the individuals all over the world who think clearly, feel nobly, and act rightly, thus becoming the channels of moral truth. Our moral ideas do not work with chisels and hammers. Like trees, they spread their roots in the soil and their branches in the sky, without consulting any architect for their plans.”
For religious believers, Tagore’s observations, however accurate they might be, are not an excuse to give up the fight to make their religious institutions relevant to contemporary needs. Without significant structural reform and changes of focus, religious institutions will continue, by and large, to pose a threat to genuine peace. Their spiritual basis must be manifested in their institutional outlook. Religious institutions should be participatory, where members and formal representatives are partners in exploring their inner and outer worlds together—all interested parties right there on the edge, participating and learning from one another. The great ambassador of the unity of religions, Swami Vivekananda, made the point powerfully: “[Y]ou must remember that freedom is the first condition of growth. What you do not make free, will never grow. The idea that you can make others grow and help their growth, that you can direct and guide them, always retaining for yourself the freedom of the teacher, is nonsense, a dangerous lie which has retarded the growth of millions and millions of human beings in this world. Let men have the light of liberty. That is the only condition of growth.”
For skeptics of religion, the Khudai Khidmatgars are not evidence justifying religion. They can point out, truthfully, that just as religious believers hold fast to wildly diverse opinions on violence and nonviolence, so do the nonreligious. They can argue that religion is not necessary to practice nonviolence. Yet skeptics must acknowledge that r