Remembering Maulana Wahiduddin Khan


Remembering Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

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The demise recently of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, founder of the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality, marks a big loss for the intellectual world. The Maulana was a world-famous personality. He authored dozens of books, that played a key role in introducing him to intellectual circles in India and abroad.
I had the good fortune of seeing the Maulana closely and gaining an understanding of the man. I worked with him for a while. In 1997, I was appointed as assistant editor of his Urdu monthly magazine Al-Risala, in the course of which I got the opportunity to be in his intellectually-stimulating company. I attended programmes in which he participated and also got the chance to discuss many different issues with him. Along with this, I did a deep study of his writings—he was one of the most prolific Muslim writers of contemporary times. For a long time, I was an enthusiastic reader of Al-Risala, which consisted essentially of essays by the Maulana. In this way, I can say that I was able to get a fair understanding of both the Maulana’s personality and his thought.
From being in the Maulana’s company I learnt a great deal. At that time, I was confused and distressed about my future—specifically, my economic conditions. I felt I was at a crossroads. I did not know if I should focus on trying to secure my economic future or give priority to my studies and my intellectual development. Being in the Maulana’s presence helped me to choose the latter course, a choice which I now regard as having been the right one.
Being in the Maulana’s company also made me realize that I lacked a great deal on account of not knowing English. The Maulana encouraged me to learn English on my own (just as he had done, being like me, a product of a traditional madrasa education). I worked on this, just as the Maulana had.
Another great benefit of being in the Maulana’s company was that I came out of the blind alleys of poetry and literature and began to focus on my intellectual development, which was something that the Maulana greatly stressed.
All these great benefits I received by observing the Maulana at close range and by acting according to his guidance and advice to some extent. At the same time, though, I wanted the Maulana to guide me as to which topics, themes, books and authors I should focus on for the stage of my intellectual life that I was then at. But the Maulana had nothing to advise me other than to suggest that I should completely immerse myself in his Al-Risala literature! He wanted such a sincere and devoted worker of the Al-Risala movement who would rise above their own needs and concerns and were driven with the enthusiasm to give up their all for the movement. Very quickly, I realized that I could not come up to this standard.
That said, I must acknowledge that the Maulana had many unique virtues. There were many things about his personality that one could learn from. The dictum of simple living and high thinking was something that he sought to live by. He was very particular about the proper use of time. He would carefully measure every moment and spend it accordingly. He would express remorse if time was wasted. Another of his virtues was his enthusiastic devotion to study and intellectual development. He was thoroughly devoted to his mission. The Maulana would maintain his composure even in the face of big tragedies. He advised that one should never get affected by external conditions. He had an awake, alert and active mind. Often, when he got a useful or insightful thought, he would note it down in a diary, and later, it would take the shape of an article. Yet another great virtue of the Maulana was that he would listen very attentively to his critics and then would very patiently and clearly express his views. He would never lose his composure when faced by someone who criticized his views.
The Maulana is now no longer in our midst. When he was alive, he influenced many people, Muslims as well as others. Many of his views were really the need of the hour. But some of his ideas made him unpopular among some Muslims, so much so that they critiqued and opposed even some of his very constructive suggestions. As a result, they ignored his valuable advice and services.
The Maulana repeatedly stressed the role of submitters to God as being to invite others to God. He underlined the fact that goodwill for others and working for peace-building was essential for the task of inviting people to God. The Maulana was aware of the challenges of communalism and the havoc created by hate in the name of religion and community. He repeatedly stressed that Muslims should make efforts to promote peaceful dialogue with individuals, groups and organizations that appeared to be antagonistic to Muslims and Islam in order to promote positive change in thinking. One of his greatest services was to seek to promote understanding, good relations and reconciliation between Muslims and others. He made very sincere efforts in this regard, but, sadly, some Muslims misunderstood this. Unfortunately, his services in this regard were not adequately availed of by Muslims. Many even grossly misunderstood his intentions.
Now that the Maulana has gone, the future of his Al-Risala movement is uncertain. One limitation of the movement was that it appeared to revolve around just one personality. A movement that is centered on the thoughts of a single person is unlikely to be sustained for very long after that person’s departure. Had the Maulana been able to nurture in his lifetime a strong team of socially-engaged, spiritually-oriented intellectuals among his students and disciples to take forward his mission after him, things might have been different.
The Maulana is now no longer in our midst, but his legacy lives on, but a good portion of his precious wisdom can still be accessed in the form of his writings. It is a great blessing that a great number of his books are freely downloadable from the Internet, from the website of the Centre of Peace and Spirituality that he had founded (