Today is the death anniversary of the great Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Pashtun and Muslim non-violent freedom fighter who fought for India’s freedom during the 1930s-40s.
In a month where the two other great pacifists of the 20th century are remembered, namely his friend Mahatma Gandhi on January 30th (death anniversary) and Martin Luther King Jr on January 15th (Birthday), Khan’s anniversary hardly gathers any attention whatsoever.
But, tragically, on this day, it is getting attention for all of the wrong reasons, because it was on this day that the Taliban decided to attacked a university that is named after him, located in the village of his birth, Charsadda (formerly known as Utmanzai, in what was then British India), in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the north western part of Pakistan that is a majority Pashtun area. In doing so, they have killed at least 60 people. On this day, the entire school had gathered to remember his legacy of peace and non violence. They had planned to recite poetry in his honor. And then, the nightmare happened.
The irony couldn’t be any more heartbreaking. The man who spent 80 years of his life struggling against injustice and oppression without ever using violence and who dedicated his life to cleansing all forms of violence from Pashtun society, being attacked even in his death by the very same Pashtun people (Taliban) whom he worked so so hard to uplift and inspire. 80 years. So much suffering. But he never gave up.
I am truly heartbroken by these news. I woke up just like the Pakistani people who also woke up this morning ready to celebrate the legacy of their beloved Khan. I have been carrying my hero in my heart today. And they were going to do the same, but they ended up getting killed instead. The injustice is infinitely sad.
Back in the 1940s, during the Bihar riots between Hindus and Muslims, Khan once said In a speech to Bihari villagers during his tour to bring peace to the area, “India seems an inferno. My heart weeps to see our homes set on fire by ourselves.” His words have a timeless and haunting echo. He would have said the same thing today.
I finish by sharing these words that Khan himself spoke many years ago, during his struggle for the freedom of India. He was specifically speaking about his people, the Pashtuns. The words have always touched me but now they carry an even deeper and sadder meaning. I don’t know if it possible to have a more profound meeting of beauty and pain when his words are truly understood together with what has taken place today :
“I have one great desire.
I want to rescue these gentle, brave, patriotic people from the tyranny of the foreigners who have disgraced and dishonored them.
I want to create for them a world of freedom, where they can live in peace, where they can laugh and be happy.
I want to kiss the ground where their ruined homes once stood, before they were destroyed by savage strangers.
I want to take a broom and sweep the alleys and the lanes, and I want to clean their houses with my own hands.
I want to wash away the stains of blood from their garments.
I want to show the world how beautiful they are, these people from the hills, and then I want to proclaim “Show me, if you can, any gentler, more courteous, more cultured people than these.”
What cuts at my soul the most is when he says “I want to wash away the stains of blood from their garments.”
Because indeed, today, the garments are stained with blood.
And to the children and teachers who passed away today, and the ones who were hurt, and the families, I have no words… Only sadness, only sadness….
But we look to you, baba, because you never ever lost hope. And neither can we. You taught us that Islam is love.
And that, we will never forget