Three Apostles of Non-Violence

An introduction to the religious thinking of Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Authored by: Anna Hamling

The Routledge History of World Peace Since 1750

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138069138
eBook ISBN: 9781315157344
Adobe ISBN:


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The twenty-first century, with its disturbing level of violence, needs the teaching of strong and charismatic leaders such as L. N. Tolstoy, M. Gandhi and Abdul Ghaffar Khan, each of whom professed visions of a non-violent world and searched for the possibility of peace between nations, religions, communities, families, and themselves in the twentieth century. This chapter examines and compares their religious teachings of non-violence and analyzes the extent to which their non-violent thinking (as a strategy to achieve peace) was successful in practice. Lev Nikolaevicz Tolstoy (1828–1910, Russia), Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948, India) and Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890–1988, Pakistan) had the capacity—either through their writings or through their actions—to change the course of history by transforming the idea of violence into a constructive peace-building experience. Here, I focus on the similarities in understanding the concept of non-violence by all three thinkers and some of their actions that transformed the lives of millions of their followers. How did all three thinkers and activists inspire others to believe in Truth and practice non-violence? To what extent did Tolstoy influence Gandhi’s thinking on non-violence and how did Abdul Ghaffar Khan become inspired by both of his predecessors? This study examines only the most relevant parts of their teachings to serve as a bridge in initiating intercultural dialogue in the contemporary world. Non-violence did not only mean the absence of war for these three thinkers; it meant giving people the opportunity to live together in peaceful coexistence through the creation of diverse communities that tolerated individual differences.

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