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Book Review
"Nonviolent Soldier of Islam"

Book - Nonviolent Soldier of Islam

Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan - A Man to Match His Mountains

By Eknath Easwaran

Nilgiri Press, 1984, 1999
Available on

Book review by Abdul Rahman Rahmani.

 A new chapter in the history of Afghanistan and Pakistan is about to be written by young Pashtuns across the border between the two countries. If truly understood, this chapter will completely change the face of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s politics through nonviolent methods. Thousands of Pashtuns gathered for a Pashtun Spring or Pashtun Long March in Islamabad in early 2018 to seek peace in their villages through nonviolent protest, a protest that continues in several Pashtun populated areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Pakistan, Pashtuns are calling upon Pakistan Army to stop supporting terrorists. For the first time, people are burning Taliban’s offices in FATA. They shout out that there is no difference between good and bad Taliban.

At the same time, in Afghanistan, in Helmand province the so called, ‘center of gravity of the Taliban’ people gathered for a hunger strike to call on the Taliban to stop terrorist activates in their villages. Some Helmandi women are calling on the Taliban to allow them to go to schools. In the east of Afghanistan, people in Khost and Paktia provinces, the so called, ‘home of Haqqani Network leaders’ passed a law through a tribal Jirga (meeting) that if anyone dare to ban the children including girls from school should be fined with 5000AF ($80). In west of Afghanistan, in Farah and Herat provinces people are demonstrating in support of Helmandi hunger strikers.

To understand the emergence of these nonviolent movements in Pashtuns areas, it is important to read Eknath Easwaran’s book, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan - A Man to Match His Mountains, because, the history of these nonviolent movements, a history that few people in the world especially Western countries are aware of, is covered in the book. It is also important to note that this history was not appreciated by the British-Indian government prior to the India-Pakistan partition in 1947 and it is not appreciated by Pakistani army today. Will this new era of nonviolent protests be appreciated and supported by the West? Unfortunately people in the West have known Pashtuns through their honor code revenge which is conducted through violent methods. Few people appreciate a nonviolent Pashtun but here is the history of that heroic Pashtun leader, Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan.

Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan - A Man to Match His Mountains is a 274-page book on the life and achievements of Pashtun nonviolent leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Eknath Easwaran authored the book and it was published by Nilgiri Press in California in 1999. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Badshah [King] Khan was born in 1890 in Utmanzai village in Peshawar, within the Mohmmadzai clan of Pashtun society. Khan, The Frontier Gandhi, [1] as some scholars called him, was a member of India’s congress before the India-Pakistan partition by the British in 1947. He was a religious figure, social reformer, an educator, and a politician. His nonviolence adaptation of Islam is characterized as the first Islamic nonviolence movement after Prophet Mohammad in the 7th century.

The book analyzes the life, times and struggles of Badshah Khan, emphasizing his formal role in the freedom movement and the adoption of nonviolence in Islam - and most importantly in Pashtun society. [2] The year 1919, when Khan was 29 years old, is worth discussing because this particular year shaped his future politics. The year 1919 was a major blow for the British in India because two major events happened. First, Afghanistan asked the British for independence causing the third Anglo-Afghan war which eventually led to Afghanistan’s independence from British influence. Second, the British-Indian government was afraid that Indian activists such as Gandhi and Khan would learn from Afghan leaders, prompting them to ask for independence. As a consequence, the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act (Rowlatt Act) was enforced, a British law that banned social and political activities in India. This act shaped Khan’s first political move. “On April 6, Khan held a protest meeting at Utmanzai, Peshawar attended by more than 50,000 people. In the rural areas of the Frontier, this was the first political meeting with such a large number of participants that was convened to express solidarity with the all-India issue.” [3] After that, Khan continued as a social reformer building schools and promoting education for many years.

Khan, a social reformer who built schools and promoted education for many years, published a journal titled The Pashtuns published in May 1928. This was the first publication that covered a “variety of subjects including politics, Pashtuns’ patriotism, Islamic history, Indian-British affairs, social problems, and most of all, gender issues.” [4] Nagiria, a woman, wrote in the first issue of the journal, “Except for the Pashtun, the women have no enemy. He is clever but is ardent in suppressing women… O Pashtun, when you demand your freedom, why do you deny it to women?” The journal soon became a popular Pashto journal with a circulation of more than 3,000 copies each month.

In November 1929, Khan organized Khudai Khidmatgars, Servants of God, or Red Shirt Movement which eventually became the main political organization (30% of Indian congress by the time of partition). The idiosyncrasy credit of the organization goes to Khan who focused his organization on Pashtun unity and getting rid of British imperialism through nonviolent methods. From a warfighting perspective, it was a unique organization because “Volunteers were organized and drilled in military fashion, given military ranks, and uniforms.”4 If “war is violent clash of interests,” [5] nonviolent struggle is a war of interests with different methods and characteristics as Khan stated, “Nonviolence, whether political, social, or personal, is a battle, an unflagging engagement of will against tyranny using the weapon of fearlessness, love, and faith.” [6]

Khan’s leadership style had a great impact on the people’s morale throughout history of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I personally admired Pashtuns because of the bravery through their honor code of Pashtun Wali which advocates Badal or revenge. Therefore, I have always thought Pashtuns as ruthless and pitiless toward their enemies. Khan proved me wrong and will prove everybody wrong who thinks Pashtuns as such. For example, through his unique leadership style Khan not only proved that Pashtuns can be nonviolent, but also mixed Islam and Pashtuns’ social norms to obtain this goal. Khan knew Pashtuns’ critical vulnerabilities, therefore, exploited them: first, he knew that a Pashtun’s word cannot be broken. Even his enemy can count on him to keep his word at the risk of his own life. Therefore he asked each member of his organization to take an oath. So, nonviolence became the heart of the oath and of the organization. It was directed not only against the violence of British rule, but against the pervasive violence of Pashtun life. Second, he used Islam to strengthen his movement, to bring about prosperity in the society, “I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on the earth can stand against it.” [7] This dual approach, mixing Islam with Pashtuns’ tradition toward nonviolence proved Khan’s unique leadership within the region.

In comparison to Khan’s movement, the Pashtun Long March is also using two different languages: the language of peaceful Islam and the language of Pashtuns’ tradition through nonviolent methods. They are proving that Pashtuns were nonviolent and will remain nonviolent. What remains as a concern is that will these nonviolent movements be supported by the international community? This is a fundamental question, because all parties involved in the Afghan war believe that military victory is not possible in Afghanistan. The only option remains is peace dialogs and negotiations through a process that will require a regional and international consensus along cooperation in the areas where the Taliban have influence over the population. In the Western countries those areas considered as Pashtuns’ dominance. Now, those Pashtuns dominance are becoming the areas where nonviolent movements are held and where people call on the Taliban to stop violence. If the international community looks after a key to success in Afghanistan, that key is current nonviolent movements, which if supported, will twist the history of violence to nonviolence in Afghanistan once and for ever.

To illustrate this point, let me provide some history from the book. Through couching, teaching, guidance, and promoting nonviolent, Khan proved that Pashtuns can become an example of nonviolent people that could not be compared to any nonviolent people in the globe. For example, on May 13, 1930, just a year after the formal organization of Khudai Khidmatgars, 800 British troops, a regiment of Indian cavalry, and numerous other guns surrounded the headquarters of Khudai Khidmatgar in Utmanzai and commanded the Pashtuns to go down into the street and take off their red uniforms. They refused. The British commissioner drew his revolver and held it to the chest of one of the Pashtuns. “Remove your clothes!” [8] “Saheb, it is impossible,” replied the Khudai Khidmatgar. “The trousers of a Pashtun cannot be taken off as long as he is alive.” [9] A rifle struck him across the head and he fell unconscious. His clothes were stripped from his body and he was beaten. One by one, other volunteers received the same treatment. None fought back, nor did they run away. Finally the village was clear. There was no volunteer left to arrest. “Any more Red Shirts!” bellowed the commissioner provocatively. It was too much for one old villager named Abbas Khan. He was not a Red Shirt. What had he to do with these radical reformers? But arrogance like this could not be borne. He went to his home, doused a shirt in some red fluid, put it on – still wet – and ran back into the street. “Here is a Red Shirt!” the old man barked into the face of the British commissioner. [10] Pashtun pride won out. After this incident, all poor volunteers dipped their ordinary clothes in brown or chocolate colored dye to become Red Shirt volunteers increasing the movement to 100,000 volunteers by the time of Partition in 1947. “The British feared a nonviolent Pashtun more than a violent one,” [11] Khan wrote later, “all the horrors the British perpetrated on the Pashtuns has only one purpose: to provoke them to violence.” “I congratulate you,” [12] Gandhi, departing Pashtuns’ land, in May 1938, in referent power of Khan, said, “I shall conclude with the prayer that Frontier Pashtuns may not make only India free, but teach the world... the priceless lesson of nonviolence.” [13]

Khan was presented with several awards and honors by different countries. By the end of his life, Khan was advocating a free land for Pashtuns calling on international community to give them Pashtunistan because he predicted that, the Pakistan army would use Pashtuns as proxy troops in India and Afghanistan. Therefore, in 1985 he was arrested by Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's government and put into prison at the age of 93. His prediction is proving to be so right because the Taliban, who most of them are Pashtuns, has been used by the Pakistani Army for more than 20 years. Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan died on January 20, 1988, at the age of 98. He asked to be buried in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where at the time, was a place of intense warfare between the Mujaheddin and the Soviets. Both sides announced a ceasefire for the funeral. In death, as in life, there were great setbacks to Khan’s goal for peace. [14]

In conclusion, current protests provide an opportunity for the international community to step up and provide support for the movements because just as young Khan, these current movements are led by young Pashtuns such as Manzoor Pashteen who are determined to put an end to 20 years of history between the Taliban and Pakistani army, who is using the Taliban as a proxy to kill innocent people especially Pashtuns. I believe that same as Khudai Khidmatgars who eventually got rid of British through nonviolent movements, if Pashtuns’ ongoing protest continues, it will force the Taliban to distance themselves from transitional Jihadi groups and Pakistani army and enter the peace negotiations that have been initiated by the Afghan government. It will force Pakistani army to stop proxies in Afghanistan and Pashtuns’ tribal areas. It will also provides the international community an opportunity to listen to long suffering Pashtuns, a nation that has been the victim of the front line violence for more than four decades, lost thousands of lives including women and children, and their children has been abandoned from schools.

Abdul Rahman Rahmani holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Philosophy from Kabul University, is an Afghan Army aviation pilot, and the author of the book, Afghanistan: A Collection of Stories. Rahmani is currently a student at Expeditionary Warfare School, Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. The conclusions and opinions expressed in this article are his alone and do not reflect the official position of the Afghan National Army, the Ministry of Defense, or the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

He can be followed on Twitter at:

End Notes:

[1] M. S. Korejo.

[2] Eknath Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: a Man to Match his Mountains. Nilgiri Press. United States. 1999. p.1-13.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Eknath Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: a Man to Match his Mountains. Nilgiri Press. United States. 1999. p.112.

[5] Warfighting (MCDP 1). Headquarters United States Marine Corps. Washington DC. 1997. p.3.

[6] Eknath Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: a Man to Match his Mountains. Nilgiri Press. United States. 1999. p.199.

[7] Ibid. p. 123.

[8] Ibid. p. 125.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. p. 125-127.

[11] Ibid. p. 134.

[12] Ibid. p. 155.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. p. 223.



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