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Two Islamic soldiers - iii 
By Damon Lynch

When Khan was talking of people whose hearts are empty of love, he was signifying something more than an intellectual or rational struggle. These are absolutely necessary, of course. However, he was talking of a demanding spiritual struggle, of taming forces that can overwhelm us with their intensity: burning anger, seething resentment, and jealous hatred, just to name a few.

"It is my inmost conviction that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabbat [work, faith, and love] and without these the name Muslim is sounding brass and tinkling cymbal," Khan said. He would have fully agreed with the Buddha's statement, "Hatred can never put an end to hatred. Love alone can."

To talk of love in a time of war may seem preposterous and hopelessly idealistic, but this is what Khan and others like him did during their lives, and they were on the front lines. They did this not as part of a post-war reconciliation process, but in the thick of devastating conflict. They went through tremendous suffering fighting tyranny, and despite this they never clamored for revenge. Instead, they called on us to undertake a war within the mind, so that our highest aspirations will be better reflected in our daily realities.

Spirituality itself is nothing other than the interplay between humanity's very highest aspirations and the demands of daily living. With it is an awareness of a dialogue that takes place deep within our minds, urging us to make wise choices, based not on often-tempting short-term satisfaction, but lasting goodness. To be spiritual is to reflect these aspirations in one's thought and actions, very often an arduous and sometimes thrilling undertaking. Spiritual people engage in this noble duty with a sense of purpose; often failing, they pick themselves up after their inevitable mistakes, and encourage others to do the same by their own example.

Spirituality is why Gandhi said to a world focused primarily on the external, "turn the searchlight inwards."

Reforming and Revolutionizing Religion
Religion is the social manifestation of spirituality, the attempt to take the lessons of spiritual traditions and give them institutional status. People are not equal in their spiritual inclinations. We learn from others by example. Spiritual truths, by their very nature, are difficult to communicate. When spirituality is institutionalized into a system of religious thought, and when structures are erected to promote that thought, the very essence of that thought is often lost. Lessons are codified into rules, experiential discoveries transformed into hardened declarations of fact, and questioning and innovation is replaced by a mass of customs and institutions.

Religion may have spirituality for its heart, but all too often creeds and dogmas have been its clenched fist. Throughout history religion has been used to fervently justify staggering levels of violence and social decay. It may often seem that religion is doomed to perpetual failure, trafficking mystery posed as unchallengeable fact, rationalizing authoritarianism, and at best acting as a battered ambulance for the wounded and distressed. 

Perhaps Tagore had this in mind when he continued his discussion on crowd psychology by saying, "Therefore I do not put my faith in any new institution, but in the individuals all over the world who think clearly, feel nobly, and act rightly, thus becoming the channels of moral truth. Our moral ideas do not work with chisels and hammers. Like trees, they spread their roots in the soil and their branches in the sky, without consulting any architect for their plans."

For religious believers, Tagore's observations, however accurate they might be, are not an excuse to give up the fight to make their religious institutions relevant to contemporary needs. Without significant structural reform and changes of focus, religious institutions will continue, by and large, to pose a threat to genuine peace. Their spiritual basis must be manifested in their institutional outlook. Religious institutions should be participatory, where members and formal representatives are partners in exploring their inner and outer worlds together--all interested parties right there on the edge, participating and learning from one another. The great ambassador of the unity of religions, Swami Vivekananda, made the point powerfully: "[Y]ou must remember that freedom is the first condition of growth. What you do not make free, will never grow. The idea that you can make others grow and help their growth, that you can direct and guide them, always retaining for yourself the freedom of the teacher, is nonsense, a dangerous lie which has retarded the growth of millions and millions of human beings in this world. Let men have the light of liberty. That is the only condition of growth."

For skeptics of religion, the Khudai Khidmitgars are not evidence justifying religion. They can point out, truthfully, that just as religious believers hold fast to wildly diverse opinions on violence and nonviolence, so do the nonreligious. They can argue that religion is not necessary to practice nonviolence. Yet skeptics must acknowledge that religion was not some kind of optional attachment for potent nonviolent movements like the Khudai Khidmitgars; it was integral. When religion identifies, names and connects forces within the mind and society that contribute to peace and justice, it can be an empowering moral force. Skeptics as well as believers can learn from the universal spiritual insights these nonviolent movements and their religions have to offer, even as they discard the rituals, ceremonials, dogmas and creeds.

The Task Ahead
Abdul Ghaffar Khan is not a respected name for many Pakistanis outside of his home province. The level of hatred and contempt for Khan among elder generations, who heard little but sensationalized propaganda about him from despotic rulers, is significant. To an outsider, it may seem surprising that a man and an entire movement who fought bravely and truthfully could be so successfully demonized. However, this kind of aggressive ignorance towards good people who profoundly challenge society is not found only in Pakistan. "Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it," advises a traditional Arabic saying. These are fighting words, appreciated by anyone who engages in the struggle to make our world a more peaceful place in which to live.

Stakes at the moment are high indeed. Millions of Afghans are on the brink of starvation, and many are surely dying, an entirely avoidable tragedy. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and while its current leadership is not extreme, it is not inconceivable that extremists could seize power, and decide that they ought to give Americans a dose of their own nuclear medicine. Likewise, there are sure to be many in the Islamic world who fear the use of nuclear weapons by either side.

"The present-day world can only survive the mass production of nuclear weapons through nonviolence," Khan said not long before his death. "The world needs Gandhi's message of love and peace more today than it ever did before, if it does not want to wipe out civilization and humanity itself from the earth's surface."

Selected Bibliography
Ahmad, Eqbal. Confronting Empire: Interviews with David Barsamian. South End Press, 2000.

Eknath, Easwaran. Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match His Mountains. Petaluma: Nilgiri Press, 2000. Can be ordered at 

Hussain, S. Iftikhar. Some Major Pukhtoon Tribes Along the Pak-Afghan Border. Area Study Center Peshawar and Hanns Seidel Foundation, Univ. of Peshawar, 2000.

Khan, Abdul Ghaffar. My Life and Struggle. Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1969.

Shah, Sayed Wiqar Ali. Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism: Muslim Politics in the North- West Frontier Province 1937-1947. Islamabad: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Yousaf, Mohammad. Silent Soldier: The man behind the Afghan Jehad. Lahore: Jang Publishers, 1991. 

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