Quaker Universalist Conversations

Religion and Violence

Badshah Khan and Sayyid Qutb

People in the traditions of Christianity and Islam have partial experiences of both violent and peaceful conducting of conflict. Neither is perfect. Neither community is clean or clear from bad motives, fringe renegades and duplicity. Yet both communities have internal resources for motivating people to action for equality and justice.

From deep in the tradition of Islam, here are two influential leaders, each of whom found a religious approach to the conduct of conflict, yet each of whom advocated very different paths. Who do we declare is the face of Islam?

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan by British India (British India) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Badshah Khan (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) was a political and spiritual leader of the Pashtun tribe in the North-West Frontier province in what is now Pakistan.

Khan was a colleague of Gandhi of India, drawn by Gandhi’s ability to submit his will to God. He led an army of 100,000 men into a nonviolent struggle against the British Raj, using powerful spiritual disciplines from within Islam to oppose the British in colonial India.

He redirected his people away from violent tribal loyalty and honor revenge traditions and into the Indian freedom movement, following his understanding of the all-knowing, irrefutable will of God in the words of the Koran.

Sayyid Qutb, By The original uploader was أحمد.غامدي.24 at Arabic Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Egyptian Sayyid Qutb (Ibrāhīm Ḥusayn Shādhilī Sayyid Quṭb) was an influential Islamic intellectual with profound influence on political Islam, framing that movement as more than a struggle for reform.

He advocated carrying forward a perpetual war against evil, which encouraged the adoption of violent means by others, including students Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

His journey toward a strident nativism during World War II began during his schooling in the United States, during which he concluded that the American and British were all parts of a loathsome materialist western civilization, without heart or conscience. Rejecting this culture, he proposed Islam as an all-encompassing political system to replace it.

He replaced national loyalty with pan-Islamic loyalty. He opposed Islam not to Christianity, but to capitalism and western democracy. He sought to spread true freedom and equality through following his understanding of the all-knowing, irrefutable will of God in the words of the Koran.

Who then do we understand as the face of Islam in the world?

Lamb's War icon
Christian leaders have had comparable influences arising from following their understanding of the all-knowing, irrefutable will of God in the words of the Bible. Who do we understand as the face of Christianity?

We recognize that we are part of a universal human condition. The dilemma we face is the lack of a clear religious understanding for how to conduct conflict in our tradition. We use our religious traditions to confirm and support our commitments and decisions made on prior grounds.

This is not only a problem for Christians and Muslims. It is a human problem arising out of whatever tradition we embrace.

Is this assessment true to your experience and reflection? Perhaps the present is different from the past. Perhaps, the nonviolent path and the violent path are validated by current conditions.


Resources

John Calvert, Sayyid Qutb and he Origins of Radical Islamism (2013)

Reviewed by Richard Phelps for the Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2011 • Volume 18: Number 2).

James Toth, Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual (2013)

Sayyid Qutb: a Conversationwith James Toth,” from ISLAMiCommentary: A Forum for Public Scholarship.

Eknath Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match His Mountains (1999)

Image Sources

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, by British India (British India) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sayyid Qutb. By The original uploader was أحمد.غامدي.24 at Arabic Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

Mr. Spears’ remarks raise a very difficult issue facing the US. He has described different approaches that would be helpful in our national debate on religious vs secular solutions to pressing problems. Thanks.

In my view, non-violent conflict resolution is the premier and often only real way to resolve conflict.

Regardless of what conclusions various religious trends and leaders say—keep in mind that Christians have the “Just War Theory” as well as a pacifist stance—no matter what the conclusions are, based on the experiences of these leaders, the non-violent approach has proved to be the most effective and long lasting.

Violence begets more violence as is evident in the Mid East as we speak—until it devolves into the inhumane massacre and destruction of human lives and spirits that we are witnessing right now.