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Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Badshah Khan (1890-1988) was a Pathan political and spiritual leader known for his non-violent opposition to British rule during the final years of the Empire on the Indian sub-continent. Few individuals of greatness are as little known to the Western World as this lifelong pacifist.

Ghaffar Khan was a Pathan (or Pushtun) and was educated in a small school run by Christian missionaries. Although a devout Muslim for his entire life, his childhood was in sharp contrast to his contemporaries. Education as a means of social advancement remained a dominant theme throughout his life.

Ghaffar Khan’s goal was a united, independent, secular India. To achieve that end, he founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (“Servants of God”) during the 1920’s. The Khudai Khidmatgar was based on a belief in the power of complete non-violence. Its members vowed: “I shall never use violence. I shall not retaliate or take revenge, and shall forgive anyone who indulges in oppression and excesses against me.” Also known as the “Red Shirts”, the organization recruited over 100,000 members and became legendary in opposing (and dying) at the hands of the British controlled police and army. Through strikes, political organization and non-violent opposition, the Khudai Khidmatgar was able to achieve some temporary success and came to dominate the politics of the North West Frontier Province (now a part of Pakistan) from 1930 until 1947.

Although Ghaffar Khan was a champion of woman’s rights and non-violence, he became a hero in a society dominated by violence and machismo. Notwithstanding his liberal views, his unswerving faith and obvious bravery led to his recognition as the Badshah Khan – the “khan of khans”. Throughout his life, he never lost faith with his non-violent methods or with the compatibility of Islam and nonviolence. He viewed his struggle as a Jihad with only the enemy holding swords.

Ghaffar Khan died in Peshawar in 1988 and was buried in Jalalabad (Afghanistan). Although he had been repeatedly imprisoned and persecuted, tens of thousands of mourners attended his funeral. A cease fire was announced in the Afghan war to allow the funeral to take place. He had been awarded the Bharat Ratna – India’s highest civilian award – a year before his death.