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Maulana Wahiduddin Khan: The advocate of religious harmony who told Muslims to relinquish Babri claims

The 97-year-old was a towering personality not just in India or among Muslims in the country but throughout the Islamic world and was known for his Gandhian views.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: April 23, 2021 2:40:39 am
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan advocated peaceful coexistence in a multi-ethnic society which won him thousands of admirers, but also provoked the hardliners or a section of the Muslim community.

“All his life he said what he really believed in. He did not care about what people would say or how they would react. So some people liked him so much, some people did not like him but it did not deter him. He kept on saying what he really believed in.”

This is how Zafarul Islam Khan remembers his father, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, the noted Islamic scholar, spiritual leader and author who died of Covid complications on Wednesday. He was 97.

Khan was a towering personality not just in India but across the Islamic world. Known for his Gandhian views, he advocated peaceful coexistence in a multi-ethnic society, which won him thousands of admirers. But his views also provoked hardliners or a section of the Muslim community.

For instance, his views on the Ayodhya dispute, asking Muslims to relinquish claims over Babri Masjid site, riled many.

In 1993, he wrote in an article: “The issue of Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid has turned into one of life and death for the Muslim community. The tragic event of December 6 gave a serious jolt to the conscience of the country. What was deplorable was that it made a mockery of the promises by the leaders of the Ram Mandir movement. Given all these factors, the destruction of the mosque was not simply the demolition of a structure; it was akin to the negation of an entire history.”

But he advanced a three-point peace formula, which he said could solve the problem provided the Hindus, Muslims and the government abided by it. He said the “movement launched by the Hindus should be stopped at Ayodhya”.

“Assurance to this effect could take the form of a written declaration signed by all the four Shankaracharyas and by responsible people belonging to those Hindu organisations involved in the mandir-masjid movement. This should expressly state that after Ayodhya’s Babri mosque no mosque’s right to continued existence will ever again be challenged by the Hindus…”

On their part, he said the Muslims should preserve a strict silence on the issue of Ayodhya. “If the protection of the Babri Masjid was their responsibility, they have now discharged it by the sacrifices they have made. Now they have reached a point where there is very little else that they can do. As such, Muslims should consciously resolve to distance themselves entirely from this issue. Till now they have been forced to take up this cause, but henceforth they should leave it to the conscience of the nation,” he said.

The government of India, he said, should pass the Places of Worship Act in 1991, maintaining the status quo as on August 15, 1947, in order to guarantee the security of all places of worship.

He also embarked on a peace march through Maharashtra along with Acharya Muni Sushil Kumar and Swami Chidanand after the Babri Masjid demolition.

In 2003, he wrote another article saying it is time Muslims must bring to an end all violent activities and devote their energies to achieving a two-point formula of education and dawah. “Education will bring their succeeding generations into line with modern standards, and dawah work will provide them with a global mission through which they will be able to chalk out a proper line of action for themselves,” he wrote.

His son Zafarul Islam Khan said, “Millions in India and other countries admired him for what he said. He basically wanted to bring people together, to forget past acrimonies, to start a new life…forgiving was very important to him… that is what he preached.”

Khan was a known peace activist. Earlier this year, the Narendra Modi government honoured him with the Padma Vibhushan. On Thursday, Modi tweeted: “Saddened by the passing away of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. He will be remembered for his insightful knowledge on matters of theology and spirituality. He was also passionate about community service and social empowerment. Condolences to his family and countless well-wishers. RIP.”

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A recipient of Padma Bhushan and Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna Award, Khan authored some 200 books, including a commentary and translation of the Quran in English, Hindi and Urdu. He edited a weekly publication of Jamiat Ulema Hind in the 1960s before starting his own venture Al-Risala in 1976. His book ‘God Arises’ is part of the curricula of universities in over six Arab countries.

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