Pakistan Christian Post
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan heads the New
Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality
Q: Religion can be a blessing. But it can also become a curse, if it turns
into fanaticism and disrespect for others. I appreciate your efforts in trying
to present an understanding of Islam so that it is a blessing in people’s
lives. I’d love to hear more about how are presenting Islam so as to highlight
its commitment to peace and justice.
A: People often confuse between a religion and its followers, or those who
claim to be its followers. They often conflate Islam with Muslims. I repeatedly
stress that Islam and Muslims are two very different things.
foremost source of knowledge about Islam is the Quran. The next source is the
Hadith, from which we learn about aspects of the Prophet’s life. Now, according
to my study, people generally refer to some battles that the Prophet fought,
and on that basis say that Islam is a religion of war, of violence. But here
one needs to differentiate between the basic principles of Islam and those
aspects that were a result of temporal or time-related factors, factors that
were a result of that particular historical period or age.
started his mission in the seventh century C.E... At that time in Arabia, the
culture was tribal. It was seeped in tribal conflict and violence. Now, due to
this particular age-specific or time-related factor, the Prophet was sometimes
compelled to engage in war. But war itself is not an Islamic teaching. In fact,
the Prophet sought to minimize war. Actually, he fought no full-fledged war as
such. They were basically skirmishes.
this context one also needs to reflect: What is the real goal of Islam? It
isn’t to conquer territories or capture political power. The real goal of Islam
is to prepare individuals, to purify them—or what in Arabic is called tazkiyah.
According to my study, the only goal of Islam is to purify people, to prepare
them as positive personalities and to help them avoid negative thinking.
Q: In your writings, you call for a more contemporary understanding and
application of the teachings of Islam. That seems to suggest that the Quran is
to be understood and interpreted in a contextually-relevant manner.
religions have their origins in a particular social and historical context and
are shaped in a particular way in order to meet certain social needs, among
other things. For example, maybe the Prophet allowed for men to marry more than
one woman in order to protect widows. But times and circumstances change. And
so, to what degree do you think the Quran is final and sacrosanct, or can it be
interpreted in the light of the contemporary social context?
A: The Quran is a relatively small book, and it contains relatively few
legal rules. Only a few things have been declared as unlawful in the Quran—such
as, for instance, wine, pork and adultery. There’s an important Islamic
rule—that anything that is not declared as unlawful is lawful. So, that means
that there’s great room for openness. And there is the facility of Ijtihad, of
evaluating and rethinking rules and regulations and developing new ones in the
light of new conditions, in accordance with new needs, changed circumstances
and the requirements of the age.
Q: What are your views on interfaith dialogue?
A: I believe interfaith dialogue is a very important process. For dialogue
to be useful and meaningful requires true understanding and acceptance of the
other. In this process of seeking to understand the other, if you discover that
you have some differences with them—and there are bound to be differences since
they are part of Nature and so it is but natural that you will find them—the
best way is what the Quran says: “To you your religion, to me mine.” (109:6) it
means to follow one religion and to respect all.
We at the
Centre for Peace and Spirituality are all for interfaith dialogue. We regularly
participate in interfaith get-togethers. Such dialogue is a must. But one must
be clear that dialogue is not meant for debating. Rather, dialogue is meant in
order to interact and grow in mutual learning. One must remember that
differences in the religions cannot be eliminated—whether through dialogue or
other means, including war. These differences will remain. But interfaith
dialogue can help us greatly in enabling us to live together harmoniously
despite our differences.
Q: You are a great proponent of dialogue with what some Muslim extremists
might call Kafirs. What is your understanding of the term Kafir?
A: There’s great misunderstanding about this term. Literally, the word
Kafir means one who refuses or denies. But, unfortunately, people take it to be
equal to non-Muslims. This is incorrect. People generally think that someone
who isn’t a Muslim is a Kafir, or that all non-Muslim are Kafirs. But this is
wrong. According to Islam, every person is simply what is called in Arabic
Insaan, a human being. The Quran refers on many occasions to people as Insaan.
Q: What is the method or approach of your Centre for Peace and
Spirituality? How is your work reflected in the lives of people?
A: Our focus is the individual. The mind is the centre of activity of the
individual, and so, if you want to bring about a transformation of a person,
his or her mind must change. We focus on changing people’s minds, from
negativity to positivity. We stress the need for people to change their way of
Now, consider this fact: Our world is a world of many, many
differences. Everywhere you go there are differences—religious, social,
cultural, personal, and so on. Unskillful handling of differences causes people
to become negative, and that leads to hate, to extremism, to violence, and even
to war, terrorism and suicide-bombing. The root cause of all this lies in the
mind, in a certain way of thinking. So, what we are doing is to try to
re-engineer people’s minds on positive lines. We try to make them realize that differences
are part of Nature, that differences simply cannot be eliminated.
to eliminate differences, but that’s just impossible. The Quran gives us very
valuable guidance in this regard. It stresses sabr, which means patience. That
is one of the greatest Islamic teachings. Patience means that one shouldn’t try
to eliminate differences, but, rather, avoid getting agitated and worked up
about them. It means to avoid getting entangled in wrangling about differences.
created us human beings with great potentials, many of which lie dormant within
us. To activate these dormant potentials we need patience, we need dialogue, we
need exchange, we need to relate with each other positively. It is this process
that leads to Tazkiyah, to becoming a purified personality
brief, is our way of seeking to re-engineer people’s minds and to help them
live with differences positively.
entirely non-political work. Our approach is on transforming individuals. If
individuals are transformed in this way, society gradually gets transformed as
well. We don’t organize big rallies or public speeches—the stage-activism sort
of thing. Instead, we focus on publishing literature and organizing small
meetings to help re-engineer people’s minds on spiritual, positive lines.
Q: You say that nonviolence is the way to succeed in all spheres of life.
How did you arrive at this understanding?
A: I was born in a family that had a Gandhian tradition. My elder
brother, Iqbal Ahmed Suhail Sahib, was a great admirer of Gandhiji. He used to
wear Khadi, and when I got married, he made me wear Khadi, too! He used to take
Gandhiji’s teachings and explain them to us along with wisdom from the Quran.
So, from an early age onwards, I learnt about Gandhiji. So, that’s one factor
in shaping my understanding of nonviolence.
factor was the Partition and the horrible violence that happened then. It made
me passionate about working for peace in the country. I dedicated myself to
peace-work, which was also one of Gandhiji’s major concerns. Later, I went on
to establish the Centre for Peace and Spirituality, whose purpose is to promote
peace in society and in the world and to nurture spirituality in individuals.
spirituality are interlinked. You can’t have one without the other. We are
trying to promote both together. Unless there is peace you cannot do anything
constructive. So, peace and spirituality—these two are our major focus.
Q: What is your aim in life?
A: God is my aim. The greatest truth is God, and we have to seek God, to
attain Him. There is no bigger reality than God. But to realize God it is
necessary that we be peaceful and that our environment be peaceful, too. So,
for spirituality we need to work for peace as well.
in life is to work for peace and spirituality in the world. Working for
developing spirituality within and a peaceful environment without go
together—that’s part of the process of realizing God. And positive thinking is
the basis of both, of spirituality and peace. The way to God is through
positive thinking and working for peace in the world.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and