On the night of April 21, 2021, the world not only lost an eminent thinker and a compassionate guide but one of the most ardent advocates of peace. Padma Vibhushan awardee Maulana Wahiduddin Khan was an intellectual giant and an erudite scholar who devoted his life in pursuance of principles of peace.
His lifelong and unswerving commitment to peace was based on his underlying belief that “Peace cannot be sacrificed for anything whilst everything can be sacrificed for peace.” Wherever he went, he highlighted how “peace is the summum bonum” (Latin for ‘greater good’) and a prerequisite to everything beneficial in the world.
The Maulana was an embodiment of simple living and high thinking. As his grandson, I got an opportunity to observe his modest lifestyle very closely. He had freed himself from all sources of distractions and dedicated himself to his mission. Those who met him at his New Delhi residence were often surprised by the austerity of his Sufi lifestyle.
Each day, he used to get up at the break of dawn and sit under a tree in his balcony, which he referred to as his ‘Spiritual Corner.’ He used to sit there for hours and ponder over the marvels of nature. This experience was a means for him to immerse himself in the glory of his Creator and to decipher hopeful life lessons and everlasting inspiration from the magnificence of God’s creations.
A lifelong learner
He remained a lifelong learner and always encouraged the spirit of inquiry and curiosity. He held that fostering the spirit of inquiry was the bedrock of intellectual development. His bjective mind exacted lessons from simple, everyday events and, he shared them in the form of meaningful spiritual principles in his unforgettable and powerful baritone.
Maulana had extensive travel experiences, which he penned in the form of travelogues. I had the fortune of accompanying him to various conferences and seminars in India and abroad. The last time he travelled to the UAE was on the invitation of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.
At this time, he was still recovering from surgery, which he had undergone a few months ago in New Delhi. Despite a weak and frail body, he decided to honour the invitation and visit Abu Dhabi to attend the second annual assembly of the Forum.
At this Conference, he was conferred with the first Sayyidina Imam Al Hasan ibn Ali Peace award by the Forum for his lifelong contribution to peacebuilding. I vividly recall the last meeting that took place between the Maulana and Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah in Abu Dhabi, where the Maulana said in a very emotional voice, “Insha Allah, we shall now meet in Paradise.” A stunning silence followed this dialogue, as the aura of the two giants filled the room.
As a young schoolboy, I was once sitting with him when he asked me if I would like to know the formula of success. I eagerly nodded. He said it is a three-point formula and wrote the following: First is ‘Education,’ second is ‘Education,’ third is ‘Education,’ and in the end, ‘again Education.’
Means of strengthening character
He believed that acquiring education was not a means of outperforming one another in the material world. It was a means of strengthening character and becoming a responsible member of society. Such a society, which is an aggregate of virtuous individuals, becomes the first unit of a peaceful nation.
The Maulana viewed education as the foundation stone of a nation. He laid great emphasis on its importance in shaping minds. He used to recall how in 1938, after the demise of his father, he was enrolled at a traditional Islamic seminary, Madrastaul Islahi at Sarai Mir (Azamgarh), to receive religious education.
But upon his graduation, he realised that he needed to augment his learning in modern disciplines. He then took it upon himself to engage in self-study and did not leave any stone unturned to acquire knowledge. He often shared how he used to be the first to enter the city library and the last to leave, sometimes even the only one to read books locked up in dust-laden and untouched sections of the library.
His quest for knowledge started from his birth village called Badhariya (near Azamgarh) and took him far and wide.
On every topic, the Maulana derived guidance from the Quran and the Hadith. His writings and speeches aimed to present this guidance in the modern idiom. Through his voluminous works, he interpreted and reinterpreted the teachings of Islam to discover the Prophetic ideology of peace and dispel the notion that Islam is a religion of violence.
Maulana’s writings focused on removing the veil of misinterpretation that surrounded religious teachings, spiritual upliftment of individuals, and establishing peace in society. He was a peace-loving pragmatist whose relentless efforts transformed the minds of thousands of youths across the world.
Unceasing optimism and wisdom
Maulana became an orphan very early in life. Losing his father at a tender age was a big turning point. From then on, he faced various difficult circumstances in life, yet he never gave up. His unceasing optimism and wisdom stemmed from his profound understanding of the Quranic teachings.
If anyone came to him with a problem, he would quote the following verse of the Quran, “So, surely with every hardship, there is ease” (94:5-6) and advise him not to get dictated by a daunting situation or to succumb to despair and disappointment.
He used to say that after every untoward experience, one must stand back up, learn from it, and revive hope while remaining patient and steadfast. And soon, one shall see that the tides of time turn favourable.
For me, the Maulana was far more than a grandfather. He was a spiritual guide, an anchor, and a guiding compass who always pointed me to see in the right direction. His passing away has deeply saddened his well-wishers, the world over, who looked up to him as a visionary, guide, and mentor.
It has been an overwhelming experience to be in the middle of such an outpouring of love and respect, and as his family, we are deeply grateful. While he is not physically with us anymore but his teachings shall serve as our guide for times to come.
The Maulana envisioned a world where positive and spiritually awakened individuals would thrive in peace and harmony. As we make efforts in this direction, let us hope and pray that we can collectively usher in an era of peace where opportunities can flourish for all to unfold potential for the betterment of human civilisation.
Raamish Siddiqui is a lawyer, author and Islamic thinker. Twitter: @raamishs