We live in times fraught with intolerance and bigotry. The life and teachings of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi, seem more relevant than ever before.
Ghaffar Khan or "Bacha Khan" (meaning "King Khan" in Pashto) was one of the pillars of Indian resistance against the British, who continuously fought against injustice and worked for social uplift. His commitment to non-violence was absolute and he held that till his last.
The commitment stemmed from a deep understanding of Islam and its tenets. Khan always maintained that Islam (which literally means peace) is a religion of non-violence and tolerance.
Bacha Khan dedicated his life to teaching and spreading the message of tolerance and non-violence. He always maintained that the concept of non-violence was deeply ingrained in the Quran and is also a weapon for jihad or "holy war". He was right.
The word “jihad” means “spiritual struggle within oneself against sin”. It connotes struggle against injustice and can be attained in many ways, sometimes without even lifting a finger. According to Islam, if one just feels outraged by injustice, without taking any physical action, even the very thought is a manifestation of jihad. Such is the encompassing meaning of the word.
|Ghaffar Khan or "Bacha Khan" was one of the pillars of Indian resistance against the British. [Photo: Scroll.in]
When Bacha Khan founded Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God), the organisation played a key role in opposing the British police and army through non-violent means. He used to tell its members: "I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and 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.”
And his followers didn’t betray the message of their leader. Despite the heavy-handed and brutal repression of the British (the massacre at Qissa Khwani Bazaar (the storytellers’ market) in Peshawar in 1930 is a case in point), his followers stuck to his ideals of non-violent opposition.
Not knowing how to tackle the situation, the British intensified their repression. Abdul Gaffar Khan was often thrown in prison and tortured, but the Pakhtun leader never blinked in the eye of adversity. According to some estimates, Khan spent every one day out of three of his life behind bars. Besides, he strove to inculcate the universal values of education, self-respect, and self-reliance in his own community, the Pakhtuns, as well as the wider humanity.
Quite understandably, his message found resonance with several other world leaders of the period, including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr of the US, and Nelson Mandela. No wonder, biographies and documentaries abound about Frontier Gandhi’s life-long ideals of peace and non-violence - Non-violent Solider of Islam by Eknath Easwaran; Ghaffar Khan: Non-violent Badshah of the Pakhtuns by Rajmohan Gandhi; Teri McLuhan’s documentary The Frontier Gandhi - Badshah Khan, A Torch For Peace.
In the present times, when intolerance and violence seek to take deep roots in our society and country, Bacha Khan’s teachings and life remain more relevant than ever before. He was a strong votary of the idea that change need not come from the barrel of the gun, it can start from within too.
It is about time the world learns from the struggles of this great man.