Maulana Wahiduddin Khan visits the US

By Maria Khan

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and members of Centre for Peace and Spirituality (CPS) were on a two-week visit to the United States from August 26 to September 8, 2015. The Maulana had been invited by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) for felicitation for his work on Islam. CPS participated in a number of programs in Washington D.C. and Wallingford, Pennsylvania before attending the ISNA convention. 
 
On August 27 the Maulana and CPS members went to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington D.C. The USIP is an institution established by Congress to increase the nation’s capacity to manage conflicts without violence and part of its mission is to provide analysis, education and resources to those working for peace. The Religion and Peacebuilding team of the center hosted a roundtable conversation with the Maulana to discuss Islam and peace. After a short welcome note by USIP’s director of the Rule of Law Center Colette Rausch, the program began with the release of Maulana’s most recent book The Age of Peace, which was introduced to the audience by Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director for the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances for ISNA. In his opening remarks, the Maulana explained that in The Age of Peace, he has discussed the nature of the modern age and the changes brought about by it, through which he has shown that today anyone can achieve one’s goals by opting for peaceful means. The freedom to do what one wants without harming others and the numerous opportunities for work opened up in the present age have made it needless to resort to violence. It is unawareness of the opportunities presented by the modern age that has led some extremists to choose violence as a means to attain their goals. The brief introduction to the book was followed by a session for questions and comments. Sheherazade Jafari, the moderator of the roundtable discussion, asked the Maulana to elaborate on his idea of ‘peace without conditions’. Many people speak of peace with justice, that is, if they do not get justice, they would not be ready for peace. However, according to the law of nature, the Maulana explained, first of all peace has to be established without laying down any conditions. This was because peace opens up the doors to opportunities and by availing of these opportunities, one can achieve everything one wants including justice. Justice, therefore, cannot be bracketed with peace. Peace can only provide a base for achieving justice, and not justice itself. So, according to the Maulana, first one has to establish peace for the sake of peace and then in the peaceful atmosphere that ensues, one can work towards achieving one’s goals. Another question came from Arsalan Suleman, Acting U.S. Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who asked how the extremists groups which used examples from the life of the Prophet and his companions to justify their deeds should be dealt with. The Maulana answered that the Prophet was born in a tribal age, which was an age of violence. Due to this age factor, the tribal chiefs who were opponents of the Prophet trued to involve him in war at several occasions, however, it is on record that the Prophet tried to manage conflicts. It was because of his efforts at avoidance that wars happened briefly and were reduced to skirmishes. Therefore, the Maulana stressed that war is not an Islamic teaching, rather the Prophet had to engage in war only out of compulsion. Peace is therefore the rule in Islam. 
 
The next day, August 28, the Maulana had a meeting with officials of the United States Department of State (DoS). The conversation here centered on the method of work of Centre for Peace and Spirituality and how it had been instrumental in resolving conflicts and bringing peace in society. The Maulana gave the example of his mission’s efforts in Kashmir where he has been working since 1968. Maulana’s writings, which present the peaceful teachings of Islam, were disseminated on a large scale among the people of Kashmir due to which today militancy has decreased tremendously. Since violence begins from the mind, peace, too has to begin from the mind. The Maulana said his method of transforming people towards the culture of peace was based on re-engineering of the mind. Bringing about a change in the way of thinking was the way of rooting out the problem of violence. 
 
The Maulana delivered a talk at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling, Virginia on August 29. The topic for the speech was ‘Contemporary Intellectual Challenges for Muslims’.  The Maulana was introduced to the audience by Imam Abdur Rafaa Ouertani as the author of Al-Islam Yatahadda (God Arises in English), a book widely read in the Arab and Muslim world because it presents the teachings of Islam in the light of the scientific discoveries of present times. ADAMS’ Center President Syed Moktadir and Dr. Sayyid Syeed were among those who attended the talk.
 
The Maulana began by explaining that challenges are a part of life. One should not consider a challenge as arising due to external conspiracy. Rather, the Quran says that man was created difficulties, which includes both physical difficulties and intellectual problems. There are two kinds of challenges: crippling and non-crippling challenges. It is crippling challenge that is a problem, otherwise, a challenge is a booster for a community as it serves as a shock treatment which in turn enhances one’s creativity. One’s response to challenges was what determined success in dealing with them. Chapter Yusuf of the Quran tells us that the right kind of response was one based on taqwa, or God-consciousness. When the Prophet Joseph was offered the position of administrator by the contemporary king of Egypt, he accepted the offer without confronting with the political authority of the king. This non-political response is, the Maulana said, the best response when faced with challenges. One should not try to fight with the challenges or give negative response, but accept them with a positive mind. 
 
There is a Quaker study and retreat center located in Wallingford where the Maulana and the CPS team were residing during their stay in Pennsylvania. The center called Pendle Hill was established in 1930 to foster peace, spirituality, integrity, and equality in society. CPS visited the center of September 3 and interacted with the Pendle Hill community. The Maulana spoke here on spirituality as the link between God and man. Later in the day, Pendle Hill’s Director of Education Steve Chase and Director of Advancement Anne Harper came over to interview the Maulana on his work on Islam. A point that figured in the discussion was the goal of Islam, which the Maulana explained was to develop an individual along positive and spiritual lines. The Quranic word for this process is tazkiya. Since this is basically a peaceful aim, one that could be attained only in a peaceful environment, violence and war were naturally outside the scheme of things of Islam. 
 
During the ten-day stay at Wallingford, several individuals and groups came to meet and interact with the Maulana, among them were members of the movement founded by the Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, members of the Positive Thinkers’ Club based in New Jersey, and Anuttama Dasa who serves as ISKCON’s International Director of Communications.
 
The Maulana and the team travelled to Chicago on September 4 to participate in the 52nd annual ISNA convention. Center for Peace and Spirituality, USA, had taken a stall at the convention to distribute Maulana’s books, mainly The Age of Peace and Quranic Wisdom. 
 
On the second day of the convention, the Maulana was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 18th Annual Interfaith Unity Banquet. The award recognized Maulana’s decades-long work in presenting Islam according to the contemporary idiom and developing an ideology of peace based on Islam. The program was attended by David N. Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Azhar Azeez, President of ISNA, Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive Director of ADAMS and Naeem Baig, President of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). At the event, Dr. Sayyid Syeed urged the audience to read and discuss The Age of Peace. In his acceptance speech, the Maulana said that peace could be achieved only by following the law of nature. The law of nature is based on tolerance. If you want to establish peace, you will have to tolerate other human beings.
 
The Maulana spoke on ‘Dealing with Extremism in Muslim Community’ on September 7, the third and last day of the convention. 
 
In his address the Maulana said that in the seventh century, there was a peace agreement at Hudaybiyah between Muslims and their opponents. The treaty gave peace and freedom which the Prophet and his companions availed of in favour of dawah or preaching. The result was that they were able to spread their mission in large parts of Arabia and its adjacent areas. The Maulana noted that at the time of the Prophet, the Hudaybiyah Agreement had led to limited and local freedom for the Muslims for a few years, however, today we were living in the age of Hudaybiyah, as everyone in every part of the world enjoyed freedom to carry out his or her activities without being violent. In the conditions we live today, one is free to make progress and advancements in both religious and secular domains. The Maulana cited ISNA and the educational movement initiated by Brother Fethullah Gulen as two examples of organizations which are peacefully carrying out religious work in the United States without facing any restrictions and hurdles. When one can successfully achieve one’s goals peacefully, there remains no need for extremism, violence and suicide bombing. Thus, the Maulana stressed that those who adopt violent methods need to be made aware of the scopes opened up by the modern age.
 
The question and answer session followed Maulana’s talk. While addressing a person’s question on implementing Shariah law the Maulana said that according to Islam, Shariah law cannot be brought in force by means of legislation. Rather, the method in this regard is to first prepare the society to accept Islamic teachings. When they develop acceptance for the injunctions of Islam, it is only then can the Shariah law be enforced. Without preparing the society, speaking of implementing the Shariah was akin to putting the cart before the horse. The Maulana referred to a Hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari in which Hazrat Ayesha says that in the beginning the verses of the Quran pertaining to heaven and hell were revealed. This helped in preparing people’s minds by instilling in them the fear of God and the sense of accountability.  When the society was prepared, commands prohibiting wine and adultery were revealed. Hazrat Ayesha then comments that had wine and adultery been prohibited before the preparation of the society, people would have certainly refused to comply by them.