Easwaran, “A man to match his mountains: Badshah Khan, nonviolent soldier of Islam”

“If we are on the road to ruin, it is because we have neither the true spirit of religion, nor the true spirit of patriotism nor love for our nation… A great revolution is coming and you haven’t even heard about it! (p. 108)”

Behram Khan, a famous Muslim, Pathan, and octogenarian, spent much of his life trying to influence his people to do better for themselves. Among his achievements is the Pathan Youth League, an organization that fought for educational, political and social reforms. The role of women was a key issue for the League. Khan believed women were essential to gaining freedom through nonviolence.
Khan also started a literary journal in the Pakhtu language. Apparently no such journal existed, and Khan wanted to raise the spirits of the Pathans, and their pride in their own language. The journal was innovative and cutting edge, as it openly questioned purdah, a custom of denying equality to women. Khan affirmed that the purdah had never existed in the past, and should not exist now.
These and many other of Khan’s accomplishments were directly influenced by his following of Gandhi. In fact, it was after a trip to see Gandhi that Khan really took up preaching tolerance. Khan attended a speech of Gandhi’s in which people were heckling him. Gandhi gracefully handled the situation by laughing and moving on. Gandhi’s teachings touched Khan deeply. They showed him that violence and quarrelling were keeping his people divided.
With this new attitude, Khan gave a monumental speech outlining the “petty vices that had crippled his people (p. 108).” He spoke of the value of patriotism, and how other, more prosperous areas he visited were full of men and women ready to serve. That was a problem with his people, for not even the men desired to be leaders. Later, Khan stated “We look only to our self-interest and let the country go to the devil! (p. 109)” Then he talked about sacrifice, and the fact that ‘no man is an island,’ although the men of his country seemed to believe that.
This criticizing but inspirational speech had a deep impact on the people. It inspired the start of an army of trained, professional, nonviolent soldiers led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Behram Khan’s son. Easwaran, the author, stated that this was the world’s first professional nonviolent army, although he may have overlooked the Hindu one in India. Perhaps this statement was no mistake though. Perhaps Easwaran’s bias toward Khan and his movement caused Easwaran to be a bit deceitful in his description. At any rate, the Khudai Khidmatgars, “the Servants of God,” was a ‘completely voluntary’ army that opened schools, undertook humanitarian projects, and did other things for the public good.
This idea seems like a wonderful thing – an example for all Muslims. Unfortunately the divisions between the people that Khan spoke of in his speech are much too deeply rooted for a simple solution. I believe every little bit helps, though, even if the effort seems futile. Nothing changes without change, obviously. Khan fought for change, which makes him honorable in my view. He traveled to many countries and observed the many facets of Islam. This allowed him to understand better the differences between the followers of Islam, which hopefully would lead to tolerance.
The things Khan spoke of, though, such as women’s rights and equality, go directly against many Muslims’ beliefs. If a person is a rigid follower who believes what he believes without consideration for other evidence or ideas, he will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to influence. This, I think, is the main problem with matters of religion. The central message of most religions is love, and to treat others as you would like to be treated – but those same people seem not to strive to understand others as they would like to be understood. Until that changes, little can be done to alleviate the problem of religion.