The triumphant story of Badshah Khan, nonviolent Muslim freedom fighter inspired by the example of Mahatma Gandhi. Khan raised the world’s first nonviolent army from the fierce Pathans of North India during India’s struggle for independence from Britain. His extraordinary life proves that nonviolence can be followed by those who have a tradition of violence, that it can work effectively against ruthless repression, and that it has a natural place in Islam.Amazon.com Review
Abdul Ghaffar Khan didn’t have to struggle. Having been born into wealth and privilege, he could have cooperated with the British colonialists and lived the good life. But the violence endemic to his Pathan society, in which honor demanded that no wrong go unavenged, drove him to seek an alternative that could express the true spirit of Islam. Ghaffar Khan found this path in Gandhi’s movement of nonviolence, and in one of the most remarkable social transformations in history, he turned a people known for their fierceness into the largest army of nonviolent soldiers the world has every seen. The Khudai Khitmatgar (servants of God, or Red Shirts, as the British called them) united in the cause of nonviolent revolution, fighting the British with passive resistance and noncooperation. Although the price they paid under savage British suppression was enormous, they never buckled. They won the honor of all India, and Ghaffar Khan became known as the Frontier Gandhi. Ghaffar Khan also paid an enormous personal price, ultimately spending over half of his life in prison, first under the British and then under the Pakistanis, who squelched his call for a free Pathan homeland. Nonviolent Soldier of Islam a biography by the great spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, keeps Ghaffar Khan’s spirit alive, a beacon for all who believe in freedom, dignity, and peace. –Brian Bruya
Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: A Man to Match His Mountains
5 thoughts on “Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: A Man to Match His Mountains”
All the Amazon reviews for this book below perceive Abdul Ghaffar Khan superficially, only from the angle of the non-violent doctrine and rural Islamic philosophy he preached, rather than any practical political accomplishments and impact on history and his society that may have been made by him – or the lack thereof. High ideals are fine, except that they are a little ephemeral as far as practical reality is concerned – unless they help achieve something effective and concrete. And sadly this is what this otherwise good and simple man failed to do. Living in the same society as he did, I will focus on him from the angle of Pashtun social realities and issues, unlike the other foreign reviewers who are just content with the usual wishy-washy praise of his non-violent Islamic ideals. It must also be kept in mind that Eknath Easwaran is a pacifist Hindu thinker, and so has written this book mainly from the viewpoint of highlighting his pacifist aspect above all else. Which is true, since Ghaffar Khan’s pacifism was largely Hindu inspired, but for Pashtuns he is basically a politician and cultural figure, and pacifism is just a facet of his character, albeit a key one. 20th century Pashtun political history is an obscure issue but still crucially important, inspite of its failed and forlorn character. I consider this book as perhaps the most useful introduction so far for the foreign reader, of the man at the centre of it – and I rate it at five stars because there are only a handful of books worth the name on the international level that deal with his doings, and this one is about the story of the man himself. Ghaffar Khan aka Badshah (or Bacha) Khan was a towering figure mainly because of his personal qualities of head and heart – infinite patience, steely determination and simplicity. He himself belonged to the Hunnish origin “Khan” Pashtun landowning class. He is acclaimed by most Pathans (Pashtuns) as being the father of their “nationalism”. He founded a simple rural political-cum-cultural-cum-religious movement in the countryside to “dignify” Pashtuns and their culture and language and free them from first British and then Pakistani rule. They were known as “Red Shirts”, the name being derived from their uniformed cadres and were first affiliated politically with the All India National Congress of M.K.Gandhi and later merged into and then broke with many other Pakistani groupings (when they couldn’t dominate them). They were finally turned into a formal political structure of their own by 1986, which came to be dominated by his late son and daughter-in-law, and is now very much their family concern, a “lucrative” political party in the hands of his grandchildren and their in-laws and other cronies. They now use his image and “philosophy” to keep their fortunes alive. He was the key regional ally of Gandhi in his non-violent independence struggle for India. His position on Pakistan was varied and inconsistent. He had earlier tried vainly to oppose the dissolution of the Turkish Caliphate in the 1920s. All these activities earned him long spells in jail. But his anti-British stance didn’t stop him from getting his sons elitist British educations and properties in Britain, as well as good political positions and alliances in later Pakistani governments.
Let us now review Badshah Khan’s accomplishments – and those of his successors – for those are what really count in the historical long run. What is there visible to us that he has achieved for his people through his struggle and philosophy? Nothing but a vague demand for some sort of a “Pashtun nation” of sorts that even its proponents very conveniently refrain from defining exactly – and some sort of “unity” for the Pashtun ethnicity divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That was never really elaborated upon either. First of all, he desired Pashtun political union with India, after it became independent; later, he toned that down and would give the impression of wanting total Pashtun independence; otherwise, he would only demand Pashtun provincial autonomy within Pakistan; and many a time, he swore fealty to Pakistan’s integrity! He is also known for his advocacy of Afghanistan as the “real” Pashtun state, and that is where he now lies buried. In the end, he merely wanted to change Pakistan’s Pashtun province’s name from NWFP to the more realistic “Pakhtunkhwa”. That was the nature of his ever efflusive politics. No doubt he talked about some vague Pashtun independence and national self-determination, but avoided really important issues like improving and reforming their cultural quality. Otherwise he was just a popular rustic social figure, wearing the rude homespun cotton garb of a village simpleton who gave his society nothing of particular merit other than going around from village to village drinking green tea with the men and extolling the virtues of rustic Pashtun goodness and their good old rough Red Shirt camaraderie. Now let us see what effect this influence of his has had. When we look at the Pashtun society in 2006 and compare it to what it was in 1930 – at the height of his movement – we see no real changes in it at all: their dirty mud caked village roads and stinking ramshackle bazaars are the same, their rich, exploitative landowning upper and noveau riche classes, who use their educational skills and government jobs to enable their legendary corruption, plunder and pelf (and who are the local comprador dependents of US global imperialism) – are the same; the great masses of the Pathan populace are boorish vicious tribesmen and illiterate peasant artisans, cultivators and daily wagers, little better than animals in any respect, going around swathed in their rough stone age felt sheets and caps and turbans, working with much the same equipment in their fields as they did 3000 years ago in the days of their Gandhara predecessors, and living likewise: the open drains by the roadside and walls serve as the men’s public urinals. The only notable differences between Gandhara and now are that there are some dilapidated roads, vehicles, electricity and various other trappings of modernity that were introduced here by British influence; and lately Pashtuns have been inundated with cell phones, in an unnatural and despicable mix that I call “neolithic globalism” – and Badshah Khan or his marvellous legacy are certainly not responsible for that. (It is because of the folly and misdemeanours of the modern world that we see the likes of backward Bedouin sheikhs sporting chunky Rolex watches and Rolls Royces, and medieval Pathan ruffians of all hues – and other such “natives” – having undeserved free access to the latest electronic gadgets and vehicles, and taking them for granted. Sad paradoxes indeed). The modern state institutions that exist in the Pashtun areas under Pakistani rule are those bequeathed by former British rule, and they exist merely as a modern verneer beneath which things go on here as they have been doing for thousands of years. With these institutions existing just as rubberstamps, the real decision making power lies with informally constituted tribal councils made up of “elders” and “influentials” and “notables” at the local level, extending all the way up. Bribery, patronage and coercion and are considered normal business procedure. Nobody pays taxes, and smuggling constitutes trade. Gun running, narcotics and counterfeiting are traditional lucrative sources of income here. Merit doesn’t exist. People tend to settle all disputes personally owing to police and government ineffectiveness in such a society, and given the extreme and proud Pashtun temperament – often end up using guns whatever the nature of the problem. Grasping, greed, jealousy and lawless behaviour are customarily extolled as being “manly”. “Insults” have to be avenged – often by death – and so many things are regarded as insults, that normal people elsewhere can’t even imagine: for instance, asking someone to remove his car parked wrongly behind yours can be regarded by him as insulting, and among most Pashtuns in general such incidents are the norm because of their lack of adherence to and cynical disregard for proper procedure and manners is so universal as they haughtily dismiss all such procedural “fuss” as being beneath strong, clever men. Even someone overtaking another person’s car is often regarded by the one being overtaken as an insult… Pashtun fracticide, treachery and tribal disunity are unparalleled and legendary. Extreme religious fervour has always been the norm in this claustrophobic society. Its conventions are extolled and enforced ruthlessly. Marriages are all arranged. Women are still bought and sold in marriage deals. Polygamy is considered normal and even a prestigious aspiration. Pashtun society is infamous for its sub-human and extreme cultural attitudes regarding its women and their rights. Afghan tribesmen use the Pashto word “kaddah” for wife which literally means “baggage” or “belongings”. Women are made the cornerstone of a twisted all-pervasive male “code” of feudal-tribal “honour” that rules day to day Pashtun living, involving senseless butchery, blood feuds, duels and land and money grabbing. What is more, the women willingly and “proudly” accept their place in all this too, may I inform those shocked western and other liberals who read this! (After all, it is they who make sure to pass on these noxious traditions to their sons).
In short, Pashtun society is a lowlife jungle society in every sense of the word, at a time in history when all should know and do better. It is stuck in a time warp. All this is what Badshah Khan (and now his brood) endorsed and glorified as the “Pashtun nation’s precious cultural identity”, a situation to protect and be proud of. His non-violence was mostly a tactic for political activities against the British, and later the Pakistani administrations. And not all of this was non-violent either, if one cares to read about the Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre of 1930 and the Baburra massacre of 1948, where he got hundreds of his uniformed cadres slaughtered as they were preparing for confrontations. No doubt the reader will come across gushing, over-reverent Pashtun views regarding him. (An example is a Pashtun’s Amazon review for the 1998 edition of this book, on a separate webpage). But these are worthless tinsel, the bombastic rigmarole typical of the blustery and exaggerated Pathan mentality and “public morality” that they show to others, especially foreigners. You can ask me instead about what Badshah Khan & Co. accomplished. I belong to the same provincial district as the Badshah Khan family, called Charsadda, and my family is even distantly related to theirs.
So honestly, what did this man achieve in his society that merits such a fuss? His successors are nowadays typical Pakistani politicians, who run an opportunist business venture of a party devoted to robbery and thuggery. That is what characterises Pakistani politics nowadays. Not only have things not changed in Pashtun society, but they have in fact taken a turn for the worse since America revived and equipped Islamic fundamentalism here to counter the USSR in the 1980s. Whatever little cosmetic good 100 years of British rule did the Pashtuns in Pakistan has now been effectively wiped out by that. Badshah Khan could not give his people what their British “oppressors” had given them, and he merely created a cheap circus troupe, a cheerleading carnival performing in red uniforms for the benefit of bored peasants and later, corrupt politicians. Although he himself definitely had a strong character, with a deep sense of genuine personal committment and he suffered greatly for his rustic nationalist causes, that alone amounts to nothing on the real level as he had nothing significant to offer and improve his society with other than calling for some ephemeral nationalist unity based on a decidedly decrepit culture. If Pathans honestly realise that, then there might be some hope for change in their dark lot. If not, then they should happily keep Badshah Khan as their icon along with their pathological, medieval state of being for as long as they exist. It is indeed sad to see how the exaltation of the lowest common denominator factor pervades all affairs of life globally nowadays – whether that means praising rarified ideals, or eulogising inferior and bad culture among other things. After 9/11, these negative potentials become very clear indeed.
Rating: 5 / 5
Nonviolent Soldier Of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man To Match His Mountains is the powerful written biography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan — a great 20th Century Islamic figure who worked with the legendary peacemaker Gandhi to amass history’s first nonviolent army of 100,000 men. Khan’s leadership in revealing how great numbers of unarmed men and women can successfully stand against injustice, stop the self-perpetuating cycles of revenge fueled violence, and help to change history, bringing inspiration to future generations, is a profound example for what is so badly needed today both with in Islamic communities and with respect to the interactions of Islamic and non-Islamic peoples today. A impressively descriptive saga of Khan’s life and work, Nonviolent Solider Of Islam is very strongly recommended and timely reading.
Rating: 5 / 5
This book really demonstrates how you can incorporate non-violence into every aspect of your daily life. This brought me to a new sense of understanding about the world, its people and our conflicts, and how petty or large ones can be avoided and not escalated.
Particularly relevant is how Khan came from the Pathans, or tribe with a reputation of violence which covers much of Afghanistan, and so much in the news today. Khan however raised history’s first “non-violent army” of 100,000 men form the ruthless Pathan tradition, and who through non-violent means courageously stood up unarmed against injustice.
Read this book, it is truly outstanding, and preferably after having read “Gandhi The Man” by the same author – Eknath Easwaran.
Rating: 5 / 5
I am so impressed with Badshah Khan to the point of being overwhelmed with admiration. One reason is his breadth of vision and his tolerance. At one point Gandhi asked Khan if his English sister-in-law had become a Muslim, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan replied that he did not know: “Why should not a husband and wife adhere each to their respective faiths?” (p.145) I long for this kind of tolerance in the world!
The book is an amazing story of success and failure. Khan and Gandhi succeeded nonviolently in bringing independence to India. The failure lies in the facts that: 1) Neither one of them wanted to see the partitioning in to two nations, 2) their dreams of a united Hindu-Islamic nation turned into a nightmare, 3) they both envisioned a nonviolent nation and that has turned out to be a far-fetched notion. Yet, Khan & Gandhi proved that non-violence can work, as proven again by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.
As the author notes, probably no other leader suffered so much for the cause of peace and nonviolence as did Khan. No, not even Gandhi or even Mandela. I think we have in this book the profile of THE most amazing man in world history!! And the fact is that he is probably known by far less than one percent of the world’s population.
Rating: 5 / 5
I love everything Eknath Easwaran writes and this book exceeded my expectations. The stories and information are priceless – buy this book if you want to know about the life of Badshah Khan.
Rating: 5 / 5