LONDON: A narrative of an intrinsic link between Islam and violence is promoted by a small minority of extremists dividing our society into us versus them, resulting in increasing wars, violence and terrorism with massive humanitarian catastrophes across the globe. To confront this menace that is plaguing the Islamic world, a real life example of Islam’s peaceful message must become the narrative in our societies.
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Photo: File)
At a time when the rest of the world is going through an era of globalisation, technological innovation and exploration beyond our galaxy, the Islamic world is faced with division, destruction and death.
From Afghanistan to Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia all the way to Nigeria, civilians of the Islamic world are ruled by terror. The true essence and narrative of Islam to live in peace and harmony with each other has lost its significance and the extremists are capitalising on the fears of the people in these countries to divide people along sectarian, racial, linguistic and geographic lines to rule.
This reality has played into the hands of the not so well-informed or not so well-intentioned right-wing governments in the western world, whose leaders like Donald Trump are lost in translation without any concrete solution for a major threat facing our generation suggesting bombing or dividing these already small Islamic nations into even smaller countries comparable to little islands or provincial level states.
Centuries old divide and rule politics of colonial powers has been used by dictators, religious leaders and nationalists in the Islamic world to divide people to the smallest level of differentiation based on race, language, faith and even gender. This divisive narrative has attracted global power-brokers to take advantage of the situation on the ground in Muslim countries and achieve their regional and international goals, turning the divisions among people into a snow-ball that tramples everything in its way even those who first used it to their advantage.
This menace can only be stopped and must be stopped by Muslims themselves. It is imperative and the duty of every Muslim leader, politician, theologian and civil society leader to change the narrative of violence, division and terror imposed on the people in the light of Islam to that of peace, unity and harmony.
In a world with over 1.5 billion Muslims, the fight against terrorism and radicalism is not a military one but an ideological one. While we are free to have resentments about what happens in the world around us, it is the expression of this resentment that can be constructive or destructive for the society.
In the case of Muslim youth extremism, they are indoctrinated to use violence as opposed to non-violence through active propaganda and narratives by religious extremists, state sponsors and sometimes global biased media.
To counter this violent narrative, the solution lies in the revival of the true teachings of Islam and the narrative of non-violence promoted by one of the greatest Islamic leaders of 20th century Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan), Islam’s true Non-violent Mujahid, warrior and revolutionary.
Born in 1890 to parents from an Afghan tribe, Bacha Khan walked shoulder to shoulder with Mahatma Gandhi, preached social harmony and freed over a billion people (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir and parts of Afghanistan) through passive resistance from the British imperial rule.
The narrative of a violent struggle by extremist groups to free Muslims from tyranny has failed and instead resulted in anarchy, invasion of Muslim countries, more suffering, greater division among Muslims and a cause of immense defamation to the religion of Islam.
Violence has never been a solution for the misery of humankind and Bacha Khan rightly said “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.”
On 20th January, a group of young militants linked with Taliban stormed a university in the Pak-Afghan border region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and killed around 21 students, teachers and innocent civilians. The attack was not on any ordinary university but one named after the world’s non-violent Mujahid, Bacha Khan.
The attack on Bacha Khan University showed the fear of terrorists as Bacha Khan’s philosophy of non-violence is the complete antithesis of the violent ideology propagated by Taliban, Al Qaeda and Da’esh.
The attackers on the university were young radicalised Pakistani Taliban, who probably grew up with the same divisive narrative and violent narrative left by the colonial powers and utilized by politicians to divide and rule the people, which has taken a U-turn to haunt the very people who promoted it.
Writing for Pakistani newspaper ‘DAWN’, Suleman Akhtar commented on the attack on Bacha Khan University saying “We radicalised our children. We got them guns, trained them, and called them national heroes. We sang songs of national pride and glory. Once they had learned how to shoot, and their target became us, we called them the enemy.”
It must be admitted that states or certain elements within states in the Islamic and non-Islamic world who sponsored the use of terror against others to gain strategic advantage proved to be fatal for all. The use of terror as a military or political tool is a double-edged sword, which can cause as much damage to self as to the enemy. Through our experience and a simple risk-benefit analysis of using extremists as a foreign policy tool against neighbors and nations far away shows that such actions result in catastrophic consequences for people at home.
While growing up as a child in the land where Bacha Khan walked and hailing from the same Afghan tribe as the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, it was Bacha Khan’s philosophy of non-violence taught by my parents that sowed the seed of a key moral principle of ‘Do No Harm’ in my mind, coupled with the teachings of Islam “And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind (Qur’an, 5:32).”, which became the foundation stone of my life’s journey to graduate as a medical doctor to save lives rather than take lives.
Just like me, Bacha Khan inspired the death-defying Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a champion of girls’ education. In a speech to the United Nation on forgiving her attackers, Malala said “This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.”
Another great personality is the King of Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan, an Indian global megastar and philanthropist. In an article, Shah Rukh Khan wrote “I have been taught my religion by my six-foot-tall, handsome Pathan ‘Papa’ (Father) from Peshawar, where his proud family and mine still resides. My first learning of Islam from him was to respect women and children and to uphold the dignity of every human being. I learnt that the property and decency of others, their points of view, their beliefs, their philosophies and their religions were due as much respect as my own and ought to be accepted with an open mind.”
Unlike what we see in popular media, Malala from Pakistan, Shah Rukh Khan from India and I, from Afghanistan/Britain took a totally different journey in life compared to the extremists associated with our religion, people and geography. The sole reason for this is the example of a great role model in the image of Bacha Khan who we could associate ourselves with and reject the narrative of violence as the only option.
A descendant of Afghan kings who ruled from Persia to Bay of Bengal, his land known as the ‘Graveyard of Empires’, his religion linked to terrorism and his tribesmen described by Winston Churchill as “The tribesmen are among the most miserable and brutal creatures on earth. Their intelligence only enables them to be more cruel, more dangerous, more destructible than the wild beasts,”
For Bacha Khan to raise among such violent descriptions and renounce violence in all its shapes and forms was beyond belief for friends and foes alike. Bacha Khan’s legacy is no less than a miracle.
We need to make Bacha Khan the role model for every single Muslim and even non-Muslim in this world. It is our moral responsibility to recognise him just like Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and convey the message of Bacha Khan to our children in schools, universities and promote it on global platforms.
While Africa can look up to Mandela, Far East to Dalai Lama, America to King and India to Gandhi for inspiration, where do Muslim youth look for inspiration in a rapidly evolving and highly globalised world?
For his struggle, Bacha Khan was imprisoned, tortured and demonised for two third of his life in jails both under the British Empire and Pakistan. It is said that one of out of every three days of his life was spent in jail surpassing the time that Nelson Mandela (27 years) spent in jail.
Despite the hurdles, Bacha Khan never resorted to violence and always reminded us that Islam and non-violence are not separate from each other by saying “There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan (Pashtun) like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca.”
Bacha Khan termed non-violence as ‘Jihad’ and the ‘Weapon of the Prophet’.
Bacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar (servants of God) movement was the biggest non-violent mobilisation of Muslims in the world to educate people, eliminate violence, preach tolerance and serve the society.
He might have been born and buried in a fixed geography, ethnic group and religion but his teachings and struggle was for all of humankind.
From Kabul to Lahore and all the way to Delhi, Bacha Khan can be the bridge and unifying figure for the region to establish peace. From Delhi to Baghdad, Damascus, Ankara, Beirut, Gaza, Tripoli to Mogadishu, Bacha Khan can be our inspiration for peace and inspiration for Muslim youth like Mandela, Gandhi and King.
At a time when extremism, terrorism and islamophobia is spiraling out of control affecting the entire world, a narrative based on the teachings of Bacha Khan can become the savior of our communities and prevent the clash as well as the collapse of the Islamic civilisation.
Dr Mohammad Hotak
President of British-Afghan Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Chairman at MAIH Group & Afghan Council of Great Britain
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the CSABUSINESS.