By Maria Khan, New Age Islam
23 September 2015
The noted New Delhi-based Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and members of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality (CPS), of which he is the head, were recently in the USA for a two-week visit (from August 26 to September 8, 2015). The Maulana had been invited by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to felicitate him. In the course of this visit, CPS members participated in a number of programs in Washington D.C. and Wallingford, Pennsylvania before attending the ISNA convention.
On August 27, the Maulana and CPS members visited the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington D.C. The USIP is an institution established by the US Congress to increase the nation’s capacity to manage conflicts without violence. Part of its mission is providing analysis, education and resources for peace-building. The Institute’s Religion and Peace-building team hosted a roundtable conversation with the Maulana to discuss Islam and peace. After a welcome note by USIP’s director of the Rule of Law Centre, Colette Rausch, the program began with the release of the Maulana’s most recent book The Age of Peace, which was introduced to the audience by Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director for the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances for ISNA.
Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
In his opening remarks, the Maulana explained that in The Age of Peace he has discussed the nature of the modern age and the changes brought about by it, because of which people can achieve their goals by opting for peaceful means. The freedom to do what one wants without harming others and the numerous opportunities for work opened up in the present age have made it needless to resort to violence. It is unawareness of the opportunities presented by the modern age that has led some extremists to choose violence as a means to attain their goals.
The brief introduction to the book was followed by an interactive session. Sheherazade Jafari, the moderator of the roundtable, asked the Maulana to elaborate on his idea of ‘peace without conditions’. Many people speak of peace with justice—that is, insisting that if they do not get justice, they would not be ready for peace.
According to the law of nature, the Maulana explained, first of all peace has to be established without laying down any conditions. This is because peace opens up tdoors to opportunities. By availing of these opportunities, one can achieve everything one wants, including justice. Justice, therefore, cannot be bracketed with peace. Peace can only provide a base for achieving justice, and not justice itself. So, according to the Maulana, firstly, one has to establish peace for the sake of peace and then in the peaceful atmosphere that ensues one can work towards achieving one’s goals.
Another question came from Arsalan Suleman, Acting U.S. Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who asked how the extremists groups that cited examples from the life of the Prophet and his companions to justify their deeds, should be dealt with. The Maulana answered that the Prophet was born in a tribal age, which was an age of violence. Due to this age factor, the tribal chiefs who were opponents of the Prophet tried to involve him in war at several occasions. However, the Prophet tried to manage conflicts. It was because of his efforts at avoidance that wars happened only briefly and were reduced to skirmishes. Therefore, the Maulana stressed, war is not an Islamic teaching. Rather, the Prophet had to engage in war only out of compulsion. Peace is, accordingly, the rule in Islam.
The next day, the Maulana had a meeting with officials of the United States Department of State (DoS). The conversation there centered on the method of work of the CPS and its role in conflict-resolution and peace-building. The Maulana gave the example of his mission’s efforts in Kashmir where he has been working since 1968. Maulana’s writings, which present the peaceful teachings of Islam, have been disseminated on a large scale among the people of Kashmir, and this has helped decrease militancy there. Since violence begins from the mind, peace, too has to begin from the mind. The Maulana said his method of transforming people towards the culture of peace is based on re-engineering the mind. Bringing about a change in the way of thinking is the way of rooting out the problem of violence.
On August 29, the Maulana delivered a talk at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Centre in Sterling, Virginia. He spoke on ‘Contemporary Intellectual Challenges for Muslims’. ADAMS’ Centre President Syed Moktadir and Dr. Sayyid Syeed were among those who attended the talk.
The Maulana began by explaining that challenges are a part of life. One should not consider a challenge as arising due to an ‘external conspiracy’. Rather, difficulties, both physical difficulties and intellectual problems, are part of this world. There are two kinds of challenges: crippling and non-crippling challenges. It is a crippling challenge that is a problem. Otherwise, a challenge is a booster for a community as it serves as a shock treatment, which, in turn, enhances one’s creativity. It is one’s response to challenges that determines one’s success in dealing with them. Chapter Yusuf of the Quran tells us that the right kind of response is one based on Taqwa, or God-consciousness. When the Prophet Joseph was offered the position of administrator of the country by the then king of Egypt, he accepted the offer without confronting the political authority of the king. This non-political response is, the Maulana said, the best response when faced with challenges. One should not try to fight with the challenges or give a negative response, but, instead, accept them with a positive mind.
There is a Quaker study and retreat centre located in Wallingford where the Maulana and the CPS team stayed during their stay in Pennsylvania. The centre, called Pendle Hill, was established in 1930 to foster peace, spirituality, and social equality. The CPS group visited the centre and interacted with the Pendle Hill community. The Maulana spoke here on spirituality as the link between God and man. Later in the day, Pendle Hill’s Director of Education, Steve Chase, and Director of Advancement, Anne Harper, came over to interview the Maulana on his work related to Islam. A point that figured in the discussion was the goal of Islam, which the Maulana explained was to develop an individual along positive and spiritual lines. The Quranic word for this process is Tazkiyah. Since this is basically a peaceful aim, one that can be attained only in a peaceful environment, violence and war are naturally outside the scheme of things of Islam.
During the team’s ten-day stay at Wallingford, several individuals and groups came to meet and interact with the Maulana, among them being members of the movement founded by the Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, members of the Positive Thinkers’ Club based in New Jersey, and Anuttama Dasa, who serves as ISKCON’s International Director of Communications.
The Maulana and the team travelled to Chicago on September 4 to participate in the 52nd annual ISNA convention. The CPS USA had set up a stall at the convention to distribute Maulana’s books, mainly The Age of Peace and Quranic Wisdom.
On the convention’s second day, the Maulana was presented the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the 18th Annual Interfaith Unity Banquet. The award recognized Maulana’s decades-long work in presenting Islam according to the contemporary idiom and developing an ideology of peace based on Islam. The program was attended by David N. Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Azhar Azeez, President of ISNA, Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive Director of ADAMS, and Naeem Baig, President of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). At the event, Dr. Sayyid Syeed urged the audience to read and discuss The Age of Peace. In his acceptance speech, the Maulana said that peace could be achieved only by following the law of nature. The law of nature is based on tolerance. If you want to establish peace, you will have to tolerate other human beings.
The Maulana spoke on ‘Dealing with Extremism in the Muslim Community’ on September 7, the third and last day of the convention. In his address the Maulana said that in the seventh century there was a peace agreement at Hudaybiyyah between Muslims and their opponents. The treaty gave peace and freedom, which the Prophet and his companions availed of in favour of Dawah or preaching. The result was that they were able to spread their mission in large parts of Arabia and its adjacent areas. The Maulana noted that at the time of the Prophet, the Hudaybiyyah Agreement had led to limited and local freedom for the Muslims for a few years. However, today we were living in the age of Hudaybiyyah, as everyone in every part of the world enjoys freedom to carry out his or her activities without being violent. In the conditions we live today, one is free to make progress in both religious and secular domains. The Maulana cited ISNA and the educational movement initiated by Brother Fethullah Gülen as two examples of organizations that are peacefully carrying out religious work in the United States without facing any restrictions. When one can successfully achieve one’s goals peacefully, there is no need at all for violence. Thus, the Maulana stressed that those who adopt violent methods need to be made aware of the great scope opened up by the modern age to attain goals solely by peaceful means.
New Delhi-based Maria Khan is a member of the CPS