Internationally-renowned Islamic scholar based in New Delhi, 93-year-old Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has been working for decades to promote peace and dialogue and is still actively engaged in the cause
As quoted by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, “In this world, unity is achievable only by learning to unite in spite of differences, rather than insisting on unity without differences. For their total eradication is an impossibility. The secret of attaining peace in life is tolerance of disturbance of the peace.”
I think we’re heading towards that. With information becoming more and more accessible, it’s easier for people to identify with people and cultures they previously thought had nothing to do with them.
We have to realise now that two different cultures don’t have to fight to determine which one is “right”. Rather, we should start understanding the beauty of diversity (which we cherish in nature but not yet fully in human cultures).
There is nothing wrong in diversity of opinions. In fact, this is a positive quality that has many advantages. The beauty of the garden of life is enhanced if the flower of unity is accompanied by the thorn of diversity.
We all must work together to establish a culture of peace and mutual respect. Hate and violence can only be conquered when more and more people start holding love and peace in their hearts.
The Muslim scholar, preacher of nonviolence, Wahiduddin Khan is a modern example of India’s Muslim holy men who embody the “middle path” of Islam. Often seen dressed in a simple white robe, accented by his shaggy yet flowing grey beard and a large pair of black-rimmed glasses, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan visibly reflects the message that he teaches to his followers. A popular writer, speaker, and recipient of numerous humanitarian awards in India and abroad, he is a vocal champion of spiritual reform and nonviolence in Islam, actively engaged in what he calls the “true jihad.” He believes that Jihad begins not with fighting the enemy in battle but overcoming your own ‘nafs’.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is one of the most respected Intellectuals on Islam. He has an extensive knowledge of Islamic religious literature, stretching across ideologies within the religion. He is one of those rare reformers and scholars trying to interpret the texts by their spirit rather than mere letter.
A very noble and knowledgeable man, who always prefers to engage in peaceful and intellectual debate and discussion instead of mocking and ridiculing other people or their faiths. He always brings a new dimension to the debate whenever interpretation or application of Islamic law is considered.
He always is supportive of a positive contribution to society, and does not indulge in instigating violence. He seems like a breath of fresh air in the otherwise currently suffocating air.
He is thoroughly learned in various points of view in the subjects he explores. When he comes up with unique and original points of view, they are backed up with evidence and argument.
I have found that his tone in conversation and in writing is always scholarly. He presents his opinion in a straightforward way. He discusses ideas while never targeting individuals thus comes out as an unassuming person with his criticisms.I think his attitude sets a great example to follow, not only for ordinary individuals but also for scholars in the Islamic world.
He must be one of the most prolific Muslims who could bring enough effective mutual understanding that even some Muslims could not do. Foremost, I appreciate his thinking for enriching the world, especially Islamic world.
He has adopted peace as the mission of his life. Known for his Gandhian views, he considers non-violence as the only method to achieve success. Khan’s conception of nonviolence is perhaps best articulated in his treatise Islam and Peace. Growing up at the height of India’s independence movement, he had great admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and expressed these sentiments in his book. For instance, he writes,
“Our greatest need is to fulfill Mahatma Gandhi’s mission … after political change we have to bring about social change in our country through Gandhi Andolan, that is, a nonviolent movement.”
Nonviolence, he states, begins in the mind of an individual, which is the basic unit of human society, and must be cultivated through a long and laborious struggle. This struggle (jihad) consists of many levels, but the most important is education and the development of the mind.
He writes that “to make a nonviolent world for a peaceful society, there is only one way, and that is by using educative method[ s] to convert people’s thinking from violence to nonviolence, and to enable them to see the solution to matters of controversy through peaceful means” and that “it is from such intellectual awareness alone that a nonviolent world and a peaceful society can be constructed.”
Nonviolence, he assures his readers, is completely in keeping with the teachings of the Qur’an. Pointing to chapter 2, verse 205, Khan states that God does not love fasaad, a term he interprets to mean violence, or any action that “results in disruption of the social system, causing huge losses in terms of lives and property.” He also refers his readers to the Qur’an’s emphasis on patience (sabr) above any other virtue, noting that “patience implies a peaceful response or reaction, whereas impatience implies a violent response.”
Khan embodies what Muslims traditionally call a zaahid in Arabic. The term refers to a person who renounces or withdraws from worldly things. This designation is appropriate not only in reference to Khan’s ascetic piety, but perhaps more so for his renunciation of violence. For Khan, Islam offers the world an ideology of peace. Islam, he teaches, always seeks a state of peace, because all that Islam aims to create — spiritual progress, intellectual development, character building, social reform, education, and above all missionary work (dawa) — can only be achieved in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Every teaching in Islam, he asserts, is based on the principle of peace, and any deviation from that principle is a deviation from Islam. For, as the Qur’an states, “God guides all who seek His favour to the paths of peace and leads them out of the darkness into the light” (5: 16).
During a discussion which was held as part of an International Conference in 2015 he was asked that, “What do you consider to be the principal teaching of your religious tradition? What has impelled you to serve your religious tradition for much of your life that one can’t simply attribute to the fact of your being connected to it by accident of birth?”
He replied: I was born in a Muslim family. My education and my upbringing were on traditional lines, but when I reached maturity I developed doubts. I discovered I was a seeker. I became dissatisfied with the version of Islam that I had experienced in mosques, in madrasas and in Muslim society. It was a very painful period for me. I then decided to study about religion, about philosophy, about spirituality, to discover the answer that would address my nature.
At this juncture, I read some of Swami Vivekananda’s works, including his letters. In one of his letters, Swamiji mentions Islam in very shining words. This kindled my mind. It was one of the factors that helped me re-study Islam.
After a long study of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad and other relevant literature, I discovered that Islam was my choice, and not something that I believed in by having been born in a Muslim family. So, I’m a Muslim by choice, and here Swami Vivekananda was my benefactor. He gave me a very important clue at a time when I was searching for the Truth.
I am a very rational person. I try to reason out everything. And because of this mindset of mine, I became dissatisfied with the prevailing version of Islam and with the existing Muslim society. But after a long study, I discovered that there is a big difference between Islam, on the one hand, and Muslims, on the other. Before this, I had conflated the two. Later, however, I realized the difference between them.
If you want to know what Islam is, you must distinguish it from Muslims. You have to gauge Muslims in the light of Islamic teachings, and not vice versa.
In the course of my study, I discovered that there are two basic tenets in Islam. Firstly, that man should make God his sole concern. And secondly, that one should have well-wishing for the whole of humankind.
These two are the basic tenets of Islam. And these two, I discovered, addressed my nature. In this I found my Creator. Also, I found the purpose of my life. I understood why I was settled on this planet, why God created me. All these questions were answered.
So, I can say that I am not a Muslim by birth, but by choice, and that Swami Vivekananda is my benefactor. I can say that in this regard Swamiji is my spiritual guru.
PEACE IS THE ‘GOAL OF HIS EXISTENCE’
Peace for him is not just an academic subject. It is the goal of his existence. He is a born pacifist, and leading a peace-loving life has always been a source of great spiritual solace for him. It is his aim to spread the ideology of peace throughout the world to usher in an era of global peace.
According to him peace could be achieved only by following the law of nature. The law of nature is based on tolerance. If you want to establish peace, you will have to tolerate other human beings. It has been rightly said that “Man is a rational animal” and also that “man is an explanation-seeking animal.” Both these sayings convey the same point: that man derives mental satisfaction from his actions only when the goals at which they are aimed have been established as right by rational argument. Attempting to evolve a complete ideology on the basis of peace is indeed as important a goal as peace itself, and vice versa. Both are interdependent. The one cannot exist without the other.
ABOUT ‘INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE’
For dialogue to be useful and meaningful requires true understanding and acceptance of the other. In this process of seeking to understand the other, if you discover that you have some differences with them—and there are bound to be differences since they are part of Nature and so it is but natural that you will find them—the best way is what the Quran says: “To you your religion, to me mine.” (109:6) it means to follow one religion and to respect all.
There are three types of dialogue. The first is ‘Debate’, that is, when someone wants to win by showing or proving his or her theology’s superiority. In his opinion this actually is no dialogue at all. It even kills the spirit of dialogue and makes people either scream in anger or be silent. The second is the ‘Search for unity’. This means that you try to unite all religious doctrines by seeking to eliminate their differences. But by this people also deny their own identities and the distinguishing thoughts, understanding and behaviours that characterize their lives and communities. Nature, traditions and social structures are never uniform and cannot pretend to be. The third form of dialogue is ‘Intellectual partnership’. In this case, we learn from and about each other, and even about ourselves by being shown a mirror from another perspective. This is the only genuine way of dialogue.
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