Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born on Feb 6th, 1890 in the Peshawar Valley of British-controlled India. At the age of twenty, Ghaffar Khan founded a village mosque school, and began his revolutionary work against British colonial control with what his contemporary Mohandas K. Gandhi was calling “constructive programme”. He worked tirelessly for independence and self-rule, forming a close relationship with Gandhi.

Ghaffar Khan formed the Khudai Khidmatgar, “Servants of God”, which grew to include 80,000-100,000 people. Some consider this to be the first nonviolent army . . . and the Servants of God remain one of the largest examples in history of a sustained, ongoing, nonviolent organization. The Servants of God faced the brutal and violent repression of the British with indomitable will. One time, Ghaffar Khan asked Gandhi why his Pashtuns were staying committed to nonviolence despite the repression at a time when many Hindus were losing their nerve and falling back on violence. The Mahatma said, “We Hindus have always been nonviolent, but we haven’t always been brave.” Gandhi’s point was similar to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, that “nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people”, and that the Pashtuns, for all of their complex and often violent history, had cultivated the bravery and courage necessary for waging nonviolence.

Ghaffar Khan was called by several nicknames and honorifics, including “Badshah” or “Bacha” which means “King of Chiefs”, and “The Frontier Gandhi”. He was arrested, beaten, exiled and held under house arrest for much of his life. He died at age 97 in Afghanistan, where he is buried. Despite the heavy fighting at the time, both sides of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the communist army and the mujahedeen, declared a ceasefire to allow his burial. Two hundred thousand people joined his funeral procession to honor his life’s work. As Michael Nagler points out in an article on Badshah Khan, the remarkable efforts of the Frontier Gandhi should be known to us all as a jaw-dropping example of a Muslim peacemaker devoted to nonviolence.

Read more on Wikipedia:

Read Michael Nagler’s essay on Badshah Khan, including the six myths of nonviolence busted by Khan’s work:

Read this excellent article by Tim Flinders:

For a deeper read, try Eknath Easwaran’s biography of Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: A Man to Match His Mountains:

Photo: Public Domain

This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.


Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times.