with the Jesuit scholar Father Victor Edwin (who teaches Islam and
Christian-Muslim Relations at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, a Jesuit centre
in Delhi) I met Maulana Wahiduddin Khan twice in March 2016, in New
Delhi. In this article I would like to present a portrait of this great Islamic
scholar who is internationally recognized for his engagement in efforts for
peace and interfaith understanding. He has been awarded many peace prizes,
including the Demiurgus Peace International Award (under the patronage of the
former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev), the Padma Bhushan, the Rajiv Gandhi
National Sadbhavna Award and the National Citizen’s Award. A recent book, The 500
Most Influential Muslims of 2009 by Georgetown University, Washington DC, has
named him “Islam’s Spiritual Ambassador to the world.”
Khan was born on 1 January 1925 and grew up in Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh, India).
He was educated in a traditional Islamic seminary, the Madrasatul Islah
in Sarai Mir. Afterwards, he gained modern knowledge through self-study. His
brothers had studied in secular, Western-style institutions in the 1940s, and
members of his family were engaged in India’s independence struggle. So, the
young Wahiduddin found himself exposed to many questions about religion,
politics, society and his own future. Highly influenced by Gandhian ideals, he
stood for non-violence, peace dialogue and peace.
In 1970, he founded the Islamic Centre in New
Delhi, and in 2001, the Centre for Peace and Spirituality. The Islamic Centre
publishes a monthly journal in Urdu called Al-Risala, while the journal Spirit
of Islam contains his articles in English. He has translated the Quran into
Urdu, with versions in English and Hindi, and has authored over 200 books on
Islam, Prophetic wisdom, spirituality, and peaceful co-existence in
multi-ethnic societies, including The Prophet of Peace: The Teachings of
Prophet Muhammad, Jihad, Peace and Inter-Community Relations in Islam, The
Ideology of Peace, and The Age of Peace. Even at the present age of 91, Maulana
Wahiduddin Khan is actively engaged in scholarly work, interacting with people
with people and engaging with groups working for interfaith and peace efforts.
invited Father Victor Edwin and me to his house in New Delhi. As his
granddaughters Maria and Sufia (who are graduates in Islamic Studies) led us up
the stairs to his living room, I already felt happy and blessed to be welcomed
so openly at his home—I, a “stranger”, a “foreigner”, having grown up in a
completely different context and following another religion, too.
I asked the
Maulana how he understands interfaith dialogue. There are three types of
dialogue, he replied. The first is debate that is when someone wants to win by
showing or proving his or her theology’s superiority. The Maulana says that
this actually is no dialogue at all. It even kills the spirit of dialogue and
makes people either scream in anger or be silent. The second is the search for
unity. This means that you try to unite all religious doctrines by seeking to
eliminate their differences. But by this people also deny their own identities
and the distinguishing thoughts, understandings and behaviours that characterize
their lives and communities. Nature, traditions and social structures are never
uniform and cannot pretend to be, the Maulana says. The third form of dialogue
is intellectual partnership. In this case, we learn from and about each other,
and even about ourselves by being shown a mirror from another perspective.
This, the Maulana says, is the only genuine way of dialogue.
the Maulana says, many Christians are sceptical of Islam and do not listen to
its wisdom and see its beauty. Many Muslims, on the other hand, he says, have
developed a certain arrogance and are not interested in others anymore. But the
Maulana wants to remind us of something that Jesus says: to love our
neighbours, and even to love our enemies! Solidarity and harmony in
religiously-plural societies are possible if we not only love only people of
our own faith communities but also those who do not belong to our religion or
subscribe to our way of thinking.
to the Maulana, Islam seeks to establish peace and bring people together. Yes,
some Muslims got lost on the way and began to take to the course of violence.
But people should follow the path of peace that Moses, Isaiah, Jesus and
Muhammad and all the other prophets have shown: “Those are the ones whom God has
guided, so from their guidance take an example.”(Quran 6:90) The key is never
to be extreme in your religion, but to believe in the goodness and justice of
God. Interfaith dialogue brings people together to talk about their lives and
become partners, working on this in the spirit of God, who is there for the
entire humanity, even if we may understand God differently. We might learn to
see a different face of God’s grace in the other’s eyes.
we do this?
explains this by invoking something that Jesus teaches us: that man shall not
live by bread alone. The Maulana says (in a video podcast) that for him this
means that although bread is just baked flour, in the eyes of a believer it can
become more than bread: we could call it “bread-plus”. That is, he or she will
be able to see the deeper spiritual lesson in everything. When a believer eats
food, he will not simply engage in the act of eating. Rather, he would also
think about all the many processes in nature that help in the production and development
of food. This would engender profound thankfulness to God for creating so many
beneficial things for human beings. In this way, a believer would try to see
the spiritual in every material event, causing him to develop
God-consciousness. Accordingly, he would exist not only at the physical level
but would be nourished at the spiritual level also. This is how a believer
converts “bread” into “bread-plus”, or the material into a non-material or
understanding the spiritual character of things, we see things and people who
are with us as gifts from God. God nourishes us, makes our environment and life
beautiful, gives us love and wisdom, which we cannot produce out of ourselves.
Water not only quenches our thirst, it also freshens and cleanses us. In hot
weather, a glass of water can cool us down. It becomes “water-plus”. Likewise,
two persons are not only two, but a community, if they come into contact. They
become a community, “people-plus”. The ones, who see the “plus” in life, will
I was very
inspired by a great Muslim scholar sharing his view of Biblical stories and
sayings of Jesus, and even asking Father Victor Edwin and me to share our
opinions on his camera. This was the dialogue we talk about all the time! The
Maulana went further and asked Father Edwin to pray for all the Muslims in the
room who had come to hear the Maulana speak before they started to offer their Namaz
everybody prayed—to God, the One and Only!
say exactly what was on other peoples’ minds—the other Christians’ and the
Muslims’—but I’m sure God heard and knows. Many people came to us afterwards
and the whole room was filled with conversation, and I realized: Yes, God had
brought us together! This was “dialogue-plus”!
Sophia Schafer is a student of theology in