Internationally-renowned Islamic scholar based in New Delhi, 91 year-old Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has been working for decades to promote peace and dialogue between Muslims and others and is still actively engaged in the cause. In this interview, he explains why:
Q: Even after so many years, you continue to write on issues related to Islam, peace, non-violence and interfaith and inter-community dialogue with great passion, seeking also to counter extremism in the name of Islam. What drives you?
A: In 1967, I started my mission of peace in New Delhi. At that time, a Delhi-based Muslim magazine wrote an article critical of me, bearing the title ‘A Lonely Voice’. However, in the past 40 years, my way of thinking has been adopted by thousands of people in India as well as abroad; these people have become part of my peace mission. This positive experience is my driving force. I am certain that a person can deny everything else but he cannot deny his own nature. Thus, those who, after reading my writings, discover the truth cannot afford to deny it any more. This fact has been proved true in the past, and, with God’s help, it will be proved correct in the future on a greater scale.
Q: You are more than 90 years old now. Given your age and also given how serious the situation today is, someone else might have given up all hope for a better, more peaceful world. He might have turned cynical and bitter. He might have lost all interest in these issues that you have been working for—peace and inter-community harmony and so on. He might have felt that trying to transform others and the world is pointless. But not you! What continues to inspire you to be so engaged in seeking to promote peace and to counter extremism, including and especially among Muslims?
A: My confidence is based on a verse of the Quran which says that a believer always has an option of one of two goods: the good of the Hereafter or the good of both the present world and the Hereafter (9:52). I am hopeful of both the good of this world and that of the Hereafter. In such a situation, I do not need to fall prey to frustration. I am hopeful of the good of the Hereafter because my mission is based on the Quran and Sunnah, the practice of the Prophet. As far as the good of this world is concerned, I am hopeful of it because many people have abandoned their violent ways and have come to the path of peace after becoming familiar with the ideas laid down in the literature of our Centre for Peace and Spirituality.
Q: Terrorism engaged in by self-styled Islamic groups seems to be becoming even more devastating. Almost every day now there is a terrorist attack by such groups somewhere. Given this, what makes you continue to be hopeful about peace, including and especially among Muslims and between Muslims and others?
A: My hopes are based on nature. I believe that radicalized Muslims are misguided. They wrongly consider their violent acts as Islam. This thinking of theirs is based on a wrong, ‘jihadi’ interpretation of Islam. In comparison to this, I present an interpretation of Islam based on dawah (inviting people to God). Thousands of Muslims all over the world have corrected and reformed their thinking after reading my writings, because they found them in accordance with their inner nature. This phenomenon has created hope in me in that I believe that others, too, can similarly be changed along peaceful lines. I continually make an effort to change the minds of people. From past experience, I can say that when people’s minds are addressed, they abandon violence in favour of peace.
Q: It is said that several Muslims have been radicalized through the Internet. What practical measures do you suggest for countering this and for bringing Muslims to actively work for peace and harmony?
A: Spread of peaceful literature and dissemination of peaceful ideas on the Internet alone can counter the radicalization that is seen among Muslims today. De-radicalization will take place in the same manner as radicalization has taken place, that is, through the spread of ideas. There can be no other way. Misleading interpretations of Islam have been uploaded on websites on a large scale. A similar pattern will have to be followed with regard to the peaceful interpretation of Islam. There is enough matter in the literature of our Centre for Peace and Spirituality for doing this work.
Q: I’m not sure if this is the case, but I think it might be: why is it that many people are more easily swayed by negative propaganda, propaganda directed against and critical of others, than by positivity? Why do protest movements—directed against this or that government, country, community etc.—often seem to find more sympathizers that movements working for a positive cause, like world peace, harmony etc? Do you think this attraction for negativity/hate rather than positivity/love is inherent in human nature or do you think it is a result of wrong social conditioning (and, therefore, something that can be changed)?
A: The basic reason for this is that many people cannot do a wise analysis of events. Negativity is the price to be paid for not being able to engage in a wise analysis of events. Because people do not wisely analyze the situations that present themselves, they easily become negative about trivial issues and then take to complaining and protesting. This is a worldwide phenomenon, not specific to Muslims alone.
Q: What message do you have for people who, seeing the violence that’s happening across the world today, including in the name of Islam, might feel despondent and helpless and might lose hope about prospects of peace?
A: There is no room for hopelessness in this world. All problems are due to wrong planning, and they can be overcome through right planning. The right way is to determine the root cause and make people aware of it. The violence among Muslims seen in the present age is a result of their unawareness of the importance and effectiveness of peaceful methods. Once this unawareness is removed, they would become peaceful. For example, during the Second World War, Germany and Japan had been violent nations. When they incurred losses, they developed a rethinking and have today become entirely peaceful. The same holds true for Muslims.
I am also seeing all the violence happening today. But I do not develop helplessness. Rather this situation led me to analyze the problem. I understood the root cause for the violence, and began to inform people about how to reform themselves. Through this approach, I have been able to help transform many people along peaceful lines. I think this method of changing people’s way of thinking needs to be made more popular.
Many of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s writings can be freely downloaded from the website of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality which he heads. See www. http://cpsglobal.org/books/mwk/english
Of these writings, Political Interpretation of Islam, The Age of Peace, Islam and World Peace, The Dawn Over Kashmir, Peace in Kashmir, How to Establish Peace in the Holy Land, The True Jihad, The Ideology of Peace, Islam and Peace, Islamic Fundamentalism, Manifesto of Peace, and Non-Violence and Islam focus particularly on issues related to promoting peace and to countering extremism in the name of Islam.
For writings of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in other languages, see http://cpsglobal.org/books/mwk/
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Q&A With Maulana Wahiduddin Khan on Islam, Muslims, Interfaith Relations & Peace
Q: I have heard Muslims privately refer to people of other faiths, even those who may not have ever harmed them in any way, as ghayr qaum, kuffar, etc.—in a very demeaning manner. Why do they do this?
A: Those Muslims who refer to others as kafir or ghayr muslim are committing a sin. This is because according to the Quran and Hadith, all persons are children of Adam, which makes all human beings blood sisters and blood brothers to each other.
Q: Do you think that it’s the law of action and an equal and opposite reaction at work here: that because many Muslims look down at people of other faiths and wrongly brand them as ‘infidels’, others have a negative opinion of them?
A: Muslim militancy is the sole reason for others’ critique of Muslims. If Muslims abandon their violence, people will have no problems with them at all.
The problems Muslims are facing today are a result of their own wrong planning, a planning that goes against nature. The world in which we live is governed by a law, which may be called the divine law or the law of nature. Right planning is that one’s planning should be just in accordance with the law of nature. On the contrary, wrong planning is when one’s planning is based on one’s desires and does not take into consideration the law of nature. For example, in the present age Western nations have achieved dominance. Muslims considered this a threat to themselves and began to fight against these nations. They continued this struggle at the cost of great sacrifice to themselves. Everyone is aware that this step by Muslims yielded no result at all. The reason is that it was based on wrong planning.
The Quran states a law of international life in these words: ‘Lord, sovereign of all sovereignty. You bestow sovereignty on whom You will and take it away from whom You please’ (3:26). In the recent past, Muslim empires, such as the Mughal and Ottoman empires, came to an end. This happened according to the international law mentioned in this Quranic verse. Muslims should have accepted it and re-planned the affairs of their community. Had Muslims done this, Muslim history of recent times would have surely been different.
There is great wisdom behind the above Quranic law regarding international life. That is, it helps in maintaining and continuing the process of development. Muslims, in their long period of rule, could not take the world beyond the agricultural age. When the European countries gained dominance, they helped the world enter the industrial age. It was now time for Muslims to understand the new changes and draw benefit from them. However, because of their unawareness, Muslims began to fight, leading to total failure.
The reason Muslims are facing problems today is because of non-acceptance of modern changes. The new changes were brought about from God and had to be welcomed. But Muslims wrongly regarded it as ‘zulm’ or oppression and began to fight against it. Thus, Muslims’ problems today are a result of wrong planning.
Q: Some Muslims who, upset about the terrorism that self-styled ‘Islamic’ groups continue to commit in the name of Islam, are embarrassed to be seen as ‘Muslim’ by friends from other communities, apprehensive that they may discriminate against them just because they have a Muslim name even though they are against the terrorism that’s happening in the name of Islam. Sometimes, they downplay their Muslim identity because they think that others may not accept them.
What advice would you have for such people?
A: Their fear lies within and has no existence outside of themselves. Such people should completely free their mind of this thinking. They must be convinced that these terror acts are not truly inspired by Islam but are done by some misled Muslims. I travel in India and all over the world and have no such fear because I have completely disowned the violent acts of Muslims.
Q: According to some, the US-led invasion of Iraq played a major role in the rise of the terrorist outfit ISIS. Do you agree?
A: In history there has always been room for more than one interpretation. My explanation is that in the present times, Muslims have reacted to colonialism. All Muslim leaders reacted to colonialism, and none gave the Muslim masses a positive lead in the face of colonialism. Thus, various kinds of negative activities took root among Muslims, ISIS being one such example. The blame in this matter does not go to the US or UK. Rather, it goes to Muslim leaders.
Q: While you rightly condemn Muslim extremist groups for the violence they are engaging in, what is the reason that, if I am not mistaken, you do not critique the violence engaged in by others (and which, as in the case of the invasion of Iraq, for example, by the US-led coalition, or Afghanistan by the then Soviet Union, may have contributed to Muslim militancy)?
A: The US is an established state, while the violence being perpetrated by Muslims is not done by Muslim states but by ‘non-state actors’. An established state has the right to take military action in its national interest. But so far as non-state actors are concerned, they have no right to take up any violent action or to initiate war. Non-state actors can only engage in peaceful action. Non-governmental organizations should do work only within the peaceful sphere and should not adopt a violent course of action.
Q: Zakir Naik is in the news these days. A major criticism is that he finds fault with and denigrates other religions. What do you feel about this approach of his?
A: This approach is undoubtedly un-Islamic. This is debate activism, while Islam believes in peaceful dawah activism. In this matter, what needs to be asked is why aggressive kind of debates have gained popularity these days. It is because of the kind of mindset Muslims have developed as a result of certain historical conditions. Debaters prevalent among the Muslims are feeding their defeatist mentality, due to which they have become popular among the masses.