Few people, both inside and outside the Muslim world, know anything about Abdul Ghaffar “Badshah” Khan. No, he isn’t a hotshot cricket player or a renegade Afghan warlord. Khan, a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, was a proponent of Islam-centered nonviolent resistance to injustice whose ideas and achievements are being noticed as stories of a fractious Afghanistan, tribal Pushtun customs, and violence in the name of Islam fill the news. Working alongside Gandhi to liberate South Asia from British colonial rule, Badshah Khan (affectionately known as the “Frontier Gandhi“) spent his 98-year life proving that the highest religious values of Islam are deeply compatible with nonviolent conflict resolution, even against heavy odds. From the tribal Pushtuns, Khan assembled the world’s first and largest non-violent army in the 1930s, the 100,000-strong Khudai Hidmatgars (“servants of God”). “That such men, who would have killed a human being with no more thought than they would kill a sheep,” recounted Gandhi, “should at the bidding of one man have laid down their arms and accepted nonviolence as the superior weapon sounds almost like a fairy tale.” “I cited chapter and verse from the Koran to show the great emphasis that Islam had laid on peace,” said Khan of his discussion with a skeptical Muslim. “I also showed to him how the greatest figures in Islamic history were known more for their forbearance and self-restraint than for their fierceness. The reply rendered him speechless.” Could Badshah Khan’s tactics work in modern-day conflicts in the Muslim world – Palestine, Kashmir, or Chechnya? Perhaps nonviolence isn’t relevant in an age of smart bombs and cruise missiles, but the answer won’t be certain unless someone tries it.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.