In today’s troubled world, it is often by looking back through history that we can find diamonds in our collective human history, diamonds that seem to offer our present world exactly what it needs in its time of turmoil. One such diamond is none other than the legendary Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988).
Born in 1890 in a small village named Utmanzai in the North Western Frontier Province of British India (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan), deep in the Pashtun heartland, this man went on to accomplish something absolutely unique in recorded history, something that even his close friend and spiritual ally Gandhi himself could not say he had achieved: the founding of ‘The servants of God’. It is a nonviolent army that, at its peak during the 1930s, was 100,000 soldiers strong.
They said it was impossible. The fierce Pashtuns never let an offense go unavenged, lived and breathed by the code of ‘Badal’ (revenge), oftentimes resulting in conflict between families that would go on for generations. They valued their guns and swords more than they valued their own selves. Led by Gandhi, they would never be able to join the rest of India’s nonviolent struggle against British colonial rule. Yet there they were, these brave men and women, facing down the bullets and violence of the British Raj without even so much as a flinch. It was pronounced a miracle by Gandhi.
A miracle that happened because of the love Ghaffar Khan had for his people. When your passion leads you to walk over 25 miles a day to visit all of the 1,000 villages in your province over a period of 3 years (1915-1918), that passion turns into love inside the hearts of the people that you are selflessly trying to serve.
It was later, in 1929, that the Khudai Khidmatgar, the servants of God, were born.
Inspired by the Islamic principle of ‘Sabr’ (patience), which is counseled throughout the Quran, Khan’s speeches were full of fire:
‘I am going to give you a weapon that even the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it. When you go back to your villages, tell your brethren that there is an army of God, and its weapon is ‘Sabr,’ patience. Tell your brethren to join the army of God. If you exercise patience, victory will be yours.’
Anyone could join, provided that they took the following oath:
“In the name of God who is Present and Evident, I am a Khudai Khidmatgar.
I will serve the nation without any selfinterest.
I will not take revenge (badla) and my actions will not be a burden for anyone.
My actions will be nonviolent.”
One Khudai Khidmatgar recalls:
“The British used to torture us, throw us into ponds in wintertime, shave our beards, but even then Badshah Khan told his followers not to lose patience. He said: ‘There is an answer to violence, which is more violence. But nothing can conquer nonviolence. You cannot kill it. It keeps standing up.’ The British sent their horses and cars to run over us, but I took my shawl in my mouth to keep from screaming. We were human beings, but we should not cry or express in any way that we were injured or weak.”
When it seems that Islam cannot make the headlines without any violence, let us reclaim the narrative and share the story of our own Muslim peacemaker who struggled against tyranny and oppression for over 80 years, and spent 30 years in jail for the cause of peace, without ever, ever lifting up a weapon.
“Today’s world is traveling in some strange direction. You see that the world is going toward destruction and violence. And the specialty of violence is to create hatred among people and fear. I am a believer in nonviolence and I say that no peace or tranquility will descend upon the people of the world until nonviolence is practiced, because nonviolence is love and it stirs courage in people.” (1985)
This article was written by Joey Belmondo.