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An Appraisal of Some Aspects of Maulana Sayyed Abul Ala Maudoodi’s Life and Thought

Maryam Jameelah

Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi (1908 – 1979) is the best-known modern Muslim writer and activist and his books, both in their original Urdu and in translation are probably more widely read in all countries than any other contemporary Muslim author. As founder of the Jama’at-e-Islami in Lahore in 1941, he is unique among Muslim scholars in that he was also a man of action who, through his political movement, strived to the limits of his mental and physical strength to implement into practical life all that he wrote. In similar Islamic organizations and movements not only in Pakistan but throughout East and West, the impact and influence of Jama’at-e-Islami can clearly be observed.

Maulana Maudoodi was carefully reared by devout parents in an atmosphere steeped in piety. However, after the death of his father during his teens, when he was exposed to outside Western influences, he became more and more critical of traditional orthodoxy. He grew steadfast in his conviction that in entirely fresh and bold reinterpretation of Islam was essential according to the requirements of the present time. In an autobiographical passage of his book, Musalman aur Maujuda Siyasi Kashmakush (“Muslims and the present Political Struggle”) (1938 – 1938), he wrote:

I can say that as far as I was concerned, there was no attraction for me in Islam as practiced by the over-all Muslim society. The first thing I did after developing a sense of criticism and research was to throw off that soul-less religion which I had inherited from the past. If Islam were really the religion which was being practiced by Muslims, I would have perhaps joined the ranks of irreligious free-thinkers and atheists, for I do not cherish in the core of my heart the slightest inclination towards that “Nazi philosophy” that simply for the sake of national interest and existence, I should have remained entangled in the meshes of ancestral worship.

But the thing that warded me off from plodding the path of atheism or joining any other social cult and re-converted me again to Islam was my self-study of the Quran and the life of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him. This revealed to me the real value of humanism. This acquainted me with that conception of freedom which is beyond the imagination of even the greatest liberal or revolutionary. This presented to me a glorious plan of individual conduct and social justice the like of which I have never seen before. I found in it the scheme of life balanced par excellence in the entire natural order from the tiniest structure of an atom to the physical laws of the celestial system. All this convinced me of the fact that the Islamic order was the Creation of the Thinker who had created the earth and heavens on the basis of Justice and Truth.

I am thus a converted Muslim. I have re-embraced this Faith after making a searching and critical examination of all its aspects. I am convinced that there is No Other Way for the prosperity and progress of mankind…1

In contrast to his father and pious ancestors who included some of the leading Sufis and mystics of the sub-continent, after years of private studies at home under the guidance and direction of his father and after his death, intensive self-education with the help of some short-term private tutors, followed by a career in journalism, single-handedly and entirely on his own, he decided to start a movement for Islamic revival. “When Allah had blessed me with unshakable self-confidence in my mission, I began to call others to the Truth and for this purpose I started my monthly journal, Tarjuman ul Quran in 1933”2

Maulana Maudoodi’s teachings demanded a bold, direct re-interpretation of Quran and Sunnah, freed from all unhealthy accretions from the past. He presented to the people his Call all alone, all by himself, unwilling to acknowledge, much less submit to any other “spiritual authorities revered by the ‘ulama and Sufis of his day”. He is later quoted as having said that he was glad he did not receive his education at a madrassah because his mind remained free from the shackles of traditional thought. Although he had respected the great jurists, the traditionalists who collected Hadith, the theologians and Mujaddidin of the past, and frequently quoted their views to support his own in his Tafhim ul Quran (1941 – 1972), he did not regard their decisions as final. He did not subscribe to the orthodox view that the great Traditionalists who compiled the Hadith collections had necessarily done everything humanly possible to complete and finalize their task. He thought that, even today, Muslim research scholars could still revise and improve upon the work they had done in this field. In launching his Islamic movement in the Indo-Pak sub-continent, his aim was not mere patch-work reforms, much less did he intend to attempt any restoration of traditional Islamic civilization as it had existed in the pre-colonial days. His goal was a total revolutionary break with the medieval past and its so-called Muslim society which had strayed so far from the true Islam. In its place, he strove to build a new and better universal order under the exclusive sovereignty of Almighty Allah and His Divine laws, found in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet.

There was a time during my early childhood when I myself acquiesced in the traditional orthodox religion and conventionally followed it but when I gained discretion, this dormant practice of “We follow whereupon we found our fathers…” (Quran 2:17) struck me as completely meaningless.3

However he could not escape the impact of the Islamic historical experience. The mujaddidin who exerted the most influence upon the youthful Maudoodi’s developing thought were Ibn Taimiya (14th century) and above all, the Arabian puritan, Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab (1703 – 87). Like both these predecessors, the Maulana fully shared their unrelenting antagonism against Sufism in its developed form in favour of a rational exposition of the Faith in contemporary idiom to attract modern youth. These aspects of the Maulana’s thought are most evident in his Towards Understanding Islam (1932) and Khutbat (1938). The dynamic revolutionary fervor of the Sikh convert, Ubaydullah Sindhi (d.1944) and especially Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s fiery orations in the weekly Al-Hilal also inspired him.

Quran ki Char Bunyadi Istalahat (The Four Basic Qur’anic Terms) which the Maulana wrote in 1941, bears a striking affinity to Kitab al Tawhid by Sahikh Muhammad bin Abd al Wahab in its strong condemnation of reverence for saints and their tombs as tantamount to Shirk (associating partners with God) and idolatry. Here the Maulana seeks to prove that although the four Qur’anic terms, Ilah(God), Rabb(Lord), Din(faith) and Ibadat(worship) were well-understood by the Arabs to whom the Quran was first revealed, their original meanings gradually lost their force and comprehensiveness to later generations. He wrote:

As centuries passed, the real meaning of these terms as understood during the period of Qur’anic revelation suffered changes until ultimately their broad connotations became extremely limited and ambiguous.4

After presenting his reasons for this change in meaning, he concludes:

The result was that it grew very difficult for people to get at the real message of the Quran…5

Explaining the catastrophic consequences of this misunderstanding, he explained:

This being the case, is it any wonder that through the centuries-old mist that has come to pervert the true meanings of the four terms in question, more than three-fourth of the teachings of the Quran, or rather its true spirit thereof, have become obscured and this is the main cause of the defects we see in the beliefs and conduct of the present-day Muslims. It is therefore of utmost importance to have a complete understanding of these Qur’anic teachings and of their most important ideas; one should know as essential to being a good Muslim what these terms really mean.6

One whose acquaintance with Islam is limited and without knowledge of ijma’ or the consensus of Muslim learned opinion by which Almighty God Himself, in Quran and Hadith, promised to spare the Ummah or Muslim community as a whole from ever falling into error, might conclude from this that the true meaning of the Quran was lost to a great majority of Muslims for centuries until at last the Maulana was able to rediscover it and penetrate to its heart in the present age. Such re-interpretations of Quran arise from the irresistible attraction for certain Muslim scholars, writers and activists of prevailing philosophies and political ideas currently popular.

Like his contemporary, Shaikh Hasan al Banna (1906 – 1949), the founder of al-Ikhwan al Muslimun in Egypt, Maulana Maudoodi’s attitude towards modern science, technology, industrialism, mechanization and economic development was quite uncritical. He thought these were positive and healthy achievements which should be welcomed by all Muslims and adopted as soon as possible. Like Shaikh Hasan al Banna, Maulana Maudoodi distinguished between westernization and modernization, urging his followers to reject the former with its imperialism and moral waywardness but to adopt the latter as a common heritage of all mankind without delay. In a discussion at home with Mian Tufail Muhammad7 during the spring of 1984, I asked him if the Jama’at-e-Islami favoured modern science with all its consequences and applications, high-technology, industrialism and economic growth for Pakistan and he quickly replied at once: “In all these fields we Muslims must be the leaders!” This view is reminiscent of that of Shaikh Hasan al Banna who regarded the establishment of heavy industry in Egypt as a religious duty. On this subject, Maulana Maudoodi also agreed with Allama Iqbal (1876-1938) who had declared in his lectures on the The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1928) that in adopting the latest modern scientific techniques, the Muslims are only reclaiming their rightful heritage, unaware of the vast difference between the sciences as developed under Islamic civilization and science as we know it today. Like most modern Muslims, the Maulana regarded modern science as pure, neutral and value-free, the universal inheritance for the future welfare for all humanity, while the author views it as the exclusive domain of the West, the supreme “value” in modern life, determining almost everything we think and do.

The Maulana only condemned science as used for destructive purposes during war-time. He did not believe science could be destructive during peace-time. Once during the summer of 1968, during a conversation after dinner at his home, at the height of the controversy over his banned book opposing birth-control, I asked him what he thought should be done about the population explosion and the over-population of so many countries in Asia and Africa? He replied: “They could melt the ice-cap on Antarctica with atomic explosions and settle large numbers of surplus people there, they could send them out into space or else transport ice-bergs from the North Pole to water the deserts in the Middle East, but tragically Western scientists only think of atomic energy for atom bombs.” I asked him what about the effects of such measures on the environment but he was confident about science could also solve any of those problems. And yet, far from it being neutral and value-free, it is modern science rather than the erring state that is the source from which springs the atheism, secularism and materialism against which Maulana devoted his whole life struggling in Pakistan.

Maulana Maudoodi’s esteem for modern science as a Muslim leader fortunately did not result in a naturalistic interpretation of the Holy Quran. On the contrary, he opposed all such naturalistic commentaries especially those of modernists like Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1819 – 1898) and his admirers. In his Tafhim ul Quran (1941 – 1972), he accepts the reality of supernatural phenomena like angels, jinn as well as all the divine miraculous happenings and never attempts to explain any of these away, contrary to so many other modern Muslim writers.

As a Puritan, considerations of aesthetics were not given any importance by the Maulana and the Islamic Movement. He tended to consider Beauty as frivolous luxury of the wayward and idle rich. The traditional Muslim heritage in the field of sacred art, as patronized by the monarchs during a major period of Islamic history, were repeatedly condemned by the Maulana in his Short History of the Revivalist Movement in Islam (1940) as “Satanic” and “ungodly”. The buildings comprising the headquarters of the Jama’at-e-Islami at Mansoora in Lahore are modern and functional, their architectural style entirely determined by utility without any embellishments. Unless it be for propaganda purposes, such Islamic Movements as al Ikhwan and the Jama’at have never regarded artists or artistic endeavour with favour. Nevertheless rising literary personalities in the movement are not lacking. Here is the artistic result upon one Pakistani writer sympathetic to the Jama’at, where the imprint of the Maulana’s thought can clearly be seen:

Abdul Khatib is an Urdu novelist and short-story writer…winning wide acclaim for Islamic circles in the Indo-Pak sub-continent. His second novel, The City of Stars, also received wide recognition. It was described as the first novel in Urdu written from the perspective of the Islamic movement. The story is a tribute to those Islamic activists who strive in a hostile and problem-ridden environment to make Islamic values dominant in every walk of life. The novel discusses the prevailing ethos of modernizing industrial societies, the hero, Dr Jamal, a research scientist, mobilizes the labourers to fight for the introduction of Islamic changes in industry. The novel ends on an optimistic note for the success of the Islamic workers despite the conspiracies hatched by the industrialists… Abdul Khatib’s work displays a deep understanding of Islam and Muslim problems…8

According to Syed Asad Gilani,

The Modern age is an age of inventions, technology and discoveries. In this age, the inventions and political, economic and social changes have created perplexing problems of human life. The new demands of life require modern solutions in the light of Islamic teachings. The old-fashioned ulema or religious scholars, who are produced by the traditional madrassah, suffer from a limited intellectual horizon restricted to the old books of Hanafi Fiqh. Thus they are unable to solve current problems… Islam which is a complete system of life for every age and a permanent guidance for all mankind is now being considered defamed and archaic. The ulema through their rigid attitude have assured the intelligentsia that conservatism is the true religion and orthodoxy the true conservatism. Thus Islam is considered as lacking in guidance for the modern problems by the ulema who claim to be its representatives. Maulana Maudoodi upheld Islam and presented it as a truly complete system of life. On the one hand, Maudoodi has the honour of comprehending Islamic studies deeply and on the other, he is fully aware of modern thought. Hence he has attracted those who wanted to seek the guidance from Islam for modern problems.

Moreover, Allah has blessed him with the ability to perform Ijtihad and sound religious understanding, fully capable of finding Islamic solutions to modern problems in the light of Quran and Sunnah, a perfect obedience to Allah’s law and His messenger’ example. Here is one outstanding example of his Ijtihad.

When the loud-speaker (sound amplifier system) was first introduced into the Indo-Pak sub-continent, it created much enthusiasm among the youth bur despondency in the hearts of the ulema. The ulema gave their verdict that it was unlawful in Islam, Maulana Ashraf Thanvi (d.1943) also gave his verdict that the use of this innovation in the mosque is not valid according to the Shari’ah…”9

All genuine spiritual guides realize that the development of man’s inner life depends on preserving sobriety, tranquility, serenity, peace and quiet in every place of worship surrounded by natural or man-made beauty. The loud-speaker not only amplifies but also grossly distorts the human voice, thus destroying the beauty of Adhan and Qur’anic recitation and transforming beauty into ugliness. The ulema thought that the introduction of the loud-speaker polluted the dignity, honour and sanctity of the mosque, turning places of worship into dens of raucous noise, turmoil and vulgarity, a source of perpetual torture for the entire populace of the mohallahs. They predicted that if the loud-speaker was introduced, people would hate to reside near any mosque because of the nerve-shattering noise.

Maulana Maudoodi did not agree. In1937, he issued the following Fatwa which declared:

When we think over this problem of an Islamic verdict about the use of the loud-speaker in the mosque, we welcome to the conclusion that the use of this instrument in Salat (prayer) is quite valid. This instrument does nothing except make the natural voice louder. As we have subjugated this instrument in this age, so it is basically futile to search for the Islamic verdict in the collections of Hadith or books of Fiqh (jurisprudence). According to the principles of declaring a thing lawful or unlawful under the guidance of Shari’ah, this instrument is lawful beyond any doubt. Its use is unlawful in raising the voice of evil and immorality; but its use as to raise the voice of virtue is quite valid. To use this source which is endowed by Allah for raising the Divine voice high is absolutely lawful. It will be strange that the disbelievers may use their technology to make the sound of evil louder but believers hesitate to use it in the voice of goodness.

The reason to reiterate this not that I am very much interested in the loud-speaker. My only purpose is to change the attitude of the Muslims here towards modern technological inventions which are pure in origin. But their way of using them as adopted by Western rebellious civilization, is impure. All things which are subjugated to us by Allah are certainly pure. They are meant to be used according to Allah’s law. But here is double injustice to modern technology. The people who have Allah’s law with them do not master or promote technology. Those who do are the followers of the Devil.

“This debate took place during 1937 when most of the then known ulema were pronouncing their verdicts against the use of the loud-speaker. But Maulana Maudoodi presented his Fatwa with detailed arguments why it is lawful. Nearly fifty years have passed since then and now there is hardly any mosque without a loud-speaker. It is used to serve every religious meeting. This is only one example of Maulana Maudoodi’s thought is his philosophy of history which he views as perpetual battlefield upon which the angelic forces of Islam and the Satanic evils of the Jahiliyah or pagan ignorance struggle for supremacy. He believed that the true Islamic history came to an end with the fall of the Rightly Guided Khilafat of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and ‘Ali and the establishment of the Umayyid dynasty by Mu’awiya. In his Urdu book, Khilafat and Monarchy (1966) he attempts to answer the question in details to why the Muslims declined and what was the cause of this decadence. The Maulana thought that the ideal period of Islamic history endured for only a few years after the Holy Prophet died. According to this book, the decline of the Muslims had already set in as early as Uthman’s rule, less than fifteen years after the demise of the Prophet. After the establishment of the monarchy, although the rulers were Muslims, the state was no longer Islamic in any genuine sense. Thus the book reaches the conclusion that all the Muslim monarchs throughout more than twelve centuries of Islamic history were usurpers, their rule illegitimate and thoroughly un-Islamic. All the evils and calamities that have taken place during the history of the Muslims are blamed on the monarchy. Like so many Orientalists and indigenous modernists, the Maulana thought that the ulema and the Sufis were to a large extent responsible for the decadence, stagnation and decline of Muslim society. Khilafat and Monarchy provoked a strong condemnation from almost all the Sunni ulema in Pakistan at the time of publication, although it was welcomed by a few Shi’ah leaders. In this book, the Maulana paints twelve centuries of Islamic history pitch-black with few redeeming features. He tries to show how this decadence resulted in the loss of the political independence of the Muslims and the total domination of the West.

The author takes issue with much of this analysis. Although she agrees with the Maulana that the Khilafat Rashidun most completely implemented Islam as well as the Hadith which declares the Sahabah or Companions of the Holy Prophet as the best generation of Muslims, the fact that the monarchs who followed them were inferior to them in faith and practice by no means proves that none of them had any merits as Muslims at all. It was during this period of “decadence” that the territory of Dar ul-Islam expanded its boundaries from Spain in the West and to China in the East, and traditional Islamic civilization crystallized into its characteristic forms. Without the generous patronage of these monarchs, none of the achievements of the gifted Muslims in philosophy, the sacred sciences or the arts could have been possible. These same much maligned monarchs with their own financial resources constructed numerous mosques of great beauty, madrassah or religious schools, universities where all education was free, dispensaries and hospitals which gave the public free medical attention, free hospices and inns for students and travelers, and charitable institutions of many kinds. They always respected the Shari’ah and enforced Islamic laws. When they lapsed in their religious obligations and courageous ulema called them to account for misdeeds, they humbly repented and obeyed the Shari’ah.

The transition from Khilafat Rashidun to the monarchy was inevitable and unavoidable. The writer has searched the Quran and collections of authentic Hadith and could not find anything there which conclusively proves that hereditary succession is in itself always unlawful in Islam. Daud (David) and Sulaiman (Solomon) were both genuine Prophets, yet the Quran never condemns them because they were also kings who, even after their prophethood, kept their kingdoms. In every age but the present one, all over the world, East and West, throughout history, the universal traditional form of government has always been the monarchy. Hence the rule of the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Seljuks, the Mamluks, the Safavids, the Mughals and especially the Ottoman Turkish Khilafat were completely legitimate. Far from terminating after the Khilafat Rashidun, barely three decades after the Prophet’s death, Islamic history continued without interruption straight down to 1924, when Kemal Ataturk abolished the Khilafat. In more remote areas of the Muslim world not under direct Ottoman control, Islamic history did not come to an end until the onset of European colonial rule during the 19th century. Even after achieving political independence, the contemporary history of the post-colonial nation-states in North Africa and western Asia are only an expanded history of the West and have nothing to do with Islam.

The gradual decline of the Muslims, by a natural process of ageing, was also inevitable and could not be avoided due to the increasing distance of time from the period of the Quranic revelation. However, the Muslims did not fall prey to Europe because of their much-maligned “decadence” and “stagnation” or even internal discord, but only because they constituted a normal traditional civilization which western expansionism devoured like an uncontrolled malignant growth capable of destroying even the most healthy body. Nor was the doom of the Muslims, faced with this abnormal monstrosity, in any way unique. All non-Muslim, whether primitive Australian Bushmen or the highly civilized Chinese suffered the same fate as the entire world was plundered and exploited. None of the traditional or aboriginal peoples anywhere on earth could successfully avoid or resist it.

Maulana Maudoodi believed that the revival of Islamic government depended upon the establishment of a truly democratic republic in his native Pakistan. To his last days, he was convinced that the restoration of western-style democracy in Pakistan would provide the most fertile soil favourable to Islamic revival and a true Islamic state.

Certainly, if faced with tyranny and oppression under a totalitarian dictatorship or, on the other hand the personal individual liberty enjoyed under a democracy, any sane Muslim would choose to live in democracy. Yet it must be remembered that the democracy which permits a Muslim so much more freedom to practice his personal faith, also encourages the uninhibited growth of every kind of evil.

Our natural preference for democracy over dictatorship must not blind us to the fact that Islamic democracy, and Islamic republic or an Islamic constitution are no less misnomers than the so-called “Islamic socialism” under Bhutto which Maulana Maudoodi so strongly denounced. The democracy which began in ancient Greece, to be revived in England, France and America almost two thousand years later, had absolutely nothing to do with Islam. In all their history until colonial times, this was wholly alien to the experience of any Muslim people.

Although Islamic polity recognizes the equality of all men and women before the law and the brotherhood of all believers in the mosque without discrimination because of race, nationality or social position, even the Khilafat Rashidun was very different from democracy as understood today. In his Arabic work al Fitnat ul-Kubra, the Egyptian scholar, the late Dr Taha Husain (1889-1973) pointed out that the Khilafat Rashidun was unique in the entire history of the world and cannot be compared to any other form of government past or present.

Concerning the Western democracies today, their most striking drawback is the complete absence of any moral fiber in this system. Although human rights and civil liberties are upheld at least on paper there are no objective standards of right or wrong, good or evil, beauty or ugliness. The critic will ask what sort of people are to be elected? Certainly everyone thinks they should be capable; but are they morally suitable as well? What kind of people are those who elect their political representatives? Do they uphold sound moral and human values and hence elect those who are willing to make personal sacrifice for the welfare of their people? Only too often those who are elected are scoundrels who can spend most extravagantly on the election campaigns or else demagogues who can fling abuse at their rivals or offer the most alluring promises (never intended to be fulfilled) to the public. Does this create any sympathy or compassion for the weak or unfortunate? Obviously it does not and cannot. It is nothing less than the tyranny of the majority – which can be a majority of only one. The vulgarity and frivolity of the masses at the lowest level are inseparable from the modern election campaign – a triumph of quantity over quality. In this way it is quite possible – even probable – for the dregs of humanity to capture power. It cannot be forgotten that in Germany, in 1933, Adolf Hitler became the head of state by popular vote in a free and fair election. Yet Maulana Maudoodi was convinced beyond doubt that the Pakistanis could be properly educated to reform and purify the elections to make them sober, clean, fair and just. He believed that, in the national elections like ordinary politicians, ultimately the people would vote them into power and in this way a revival of a true Islamic state modeled after the Khilafat Rashidun would take place.

When fifty-one is tantamount to a hundred percent and where the number of votes rather than the worth of the voters is decisive, how can majority rule be reconciled with Islam? In such an elected Parliament, anything can be voted for and made lawful, or unlawful. Virtually no taboos, no traditions or religious sanctions are sacred. All of them can be violated and abolished. Where the majority rules, and the people are sovereign, no sin need remain sin, no crime need remain a crime; even Divine Scripture can be defined by democratic vote. Thus adultery, fornication, homosexuality, gambling, the most obscene pornographic literature and films and abortion on demand in these western democracies are completely legal acts. Tomorrow even incest may be voted through Parliament and considered as innocent behavior. In his Urdu book Tanqihat (1939) Maulana Maudoodi pointed out how, under secular democracy in the absence of religious authority, Prohibition (1919-1933) could not be enforced in America even after it was included as an amendment to the American Constitution, “Prohibition” was regarded by the people as a joke, until their universal indulgence in illicit drink compelled this law to be repealed. These darker aspects of Western democracy did not escape the attention of Maulana Maudoodi who explicitly referred to them in his Tafhim ul-Quran (1941-1972). Yet, during his late life, Maulana Maudoodi spent all his time and energy in politics, hoping for the revival of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. After the promulgation of an Islamic constitution, proclaiming the Shari’ah as the supreme law of the land, he firmly believed that democracy could be made truly Islamic. Tragically, the question was ignored as to how the Shari’ah can be enforced in a democratic country when most of the people want none of it.

How to establish an Islamic state in the modern world interested Maulana Maudoodi more than anything else. Politics was central to his thought. Every aspect of Islam, including even its forms of worship, was given a political colouring. So long as it conformed to what he regarded as the moral and religious injunctions of Islam, he believed that active participation in politics was genuine Ibadat or worship. In his Khutbat (1939) he holds bad government responsible for the evil in the world. If the bad governments could be overthrown by an Islamic revolution and replaced by wise, virtuous and God-fearing rulers, then humanity would enjoy a truly just society. The question remains unanswered as to why so many present-day governments are so corrupt.

The Islamic political order, dependent upon supreme loyalty to a common Faith, cannot be reconciled with the sovereignty of the modern nation-state at the mercy of the super-powers. So long as these conditions persist, one cannot be optimistic about the Islamic political revival.

Those heirs of the Maulana who belong to the Jama’at and who nevertheless remain optimistic in this regard need only turn their gaze upon Pakistan’s nearest neighbor to see their program manifested in the flesh. Indeed, Iran under Imam Khomeini has closely approximated to the implementation of Maulana Maudoodi’s and Shaikh Hasan al-Banna’s concepts of an Islamic state, except that it is Shi’ah.

The Maulana’s writings and speeches thinly concealed the most intense scorn and contempt for all other religions, especially Hinduism. Convinced that Islam alone leads to salvation, he viewed Hinduism as nothing better than pagan idolatry. In an atmosphere saturated with communal hatred and perpetual communal disturbances which took such a heavy toll of life and property, it is quite understandable that he could have no respect for a tradition externally so different. The Maulana thought that true Islam was never firmly rooted in India and castigated in his writings the Muslim kings for their failure to send out professional missionaries to conduct a massive propaganda campaign to evangelize the countryside and convert all the Hindus to Islam. During a personal conversation with the Maulana at his house during an evening in the summer of 1970, I told him I thought the numerous Sufi saints in the country, which included many of his own ancestors, were proof of the spiritual strength of Islam in India. I also asked him if he did not believe that hatred between Hindus and Muslims was deliberately sown by the British in introducing the previously unknown concepts of communalism and nationalism in their policy of divide and rule. I added that when the power of the Muslim rulers in India was strong, these communal disturbances were almost unknown, and that Hindus and Muslims, before the English arrived, appeared to be quite capable of living side-by-side together in relative harmony and peace. The Maulana remained silent and did not answer. Then I asked him why he hated Hindus so much. To that he replied bitterly: “You don’t know them!”

In his effort to attract the modern mind of the Pakistani intellectuals the Maulana did not hesitate to apply western terminology and modern idioms in current use liberally in defining his conceptions of Islam. To him, Islam was a “revolutionary ideology” and a “dynamic movement”, the Jama’at-e-Islami, was a “party”, the Shari’ah a complete “code” in Islam’s “total scheme of life”. His enthusiasm was infectious among those who admired him, encouraging them to implement in Pakistan all his “renaissance”. As the supreme Divine ideology, he felt it imperative to prove to young intellectuals why Islamic ideology is superior to any man-made ideology, which involved many spirited polemics against Capitalism, Fascism, Socialism and Communism. The critic may argue that such a comparison might well have the opposite consequences to what was intended; and that, instead of proving Islam’s superiority, this only drags Islam down to the same level.

Nevertheless, Maulana Maudoodi was never a materialist; his inner faith was firm; his convictions, even under the most severe harassment and persecution, remained unshaken. He always preached and never failed to practice the most meticulous observance of all the religious duties and obligations of Islam. Even when seriously ill, he never missed a single obligatory prayer or fast. He performed Hajj and Umrah several times. In keeping his word, not even his enemies could accuse him of treachery. In all his personal dealings, financial or otherwise, he was scrupulously honest and always lived throughout his life within his means. His integrity of character was beyond reproach. In pursuit of what he perceived as his mission, he was totally sincere and so completely dedicated that he spent all his time, energy and resources to this end, even to the point of destroying his health and risking his life.

But although he himself never lacked his own special kind of inner spiritual life, this did not receive emphasis in his literary or political work. It was always the outward aspects of the Shari’ah pertaining to life in the world – the political, social and economic reconstruction of the Muslim community according to Islam as he re-interpreted it – which were most compelling for him. Above all, he was a man of action, never out of sight from the public. Seclusion and mysticism he abhorred. He considered the contemplative life as worse than useless and most aspects of Sufism today as no better than pagan superstitions.

The never-ending fascination with the externals of the Shari’ah for the Maulana in relation to the modern world, as a means to solve modern social problems, deeply affected his presentation of even the essentials of Ibadat or Islamic worship. Thus in Towards Understanding Islam (1932) and in his Khutbat (1938) he compares the Adhan to the bugle which summons police or soldiers to duty, congregational prayers in the mosque to military drill, fasting during Ramadan to a “refresher course” that annually exercises the Muslims in self-dicipline and self-control, and which promotes sympathy for the poor and hungry. The totality of the Five Pillars of Islam was seen as a “training course”, which teaches all Muslims to fulfill their duties, obligations and responsibilities. Man’s life on earth is described as an “examination”, and, on the Day of Reckoning, Allah will judge every human soul in his Divine “court”.

The use of such metaphors in describing Islamic worship is tantamount to the great philosophical error or our time – Reductionism. Although these descriptions contain some truth in a simplistic sense, this is Reductionism in the sense of explaining the highest in terms of the lower and the most sublime in terms of the least. Since the Maulana repudiated Tasawwuf, as Sufis have always understood it, and all esoteric aspects of faith, such a limited and superficial presentation is certainly Reductionism – that is, describing Islam as far less than it really is.

Unlike other modernists, Maulana Maudoodi was uncompromising and very strict in upholding all the essentials of Shari’ah with which he would tolerate no tampering or alteration. He and the Jama’at-e-Islami never failed to uphold the necessity for Purdah for women including the face-veil. Although himself a liberal in many ways, in his view of women, he was staunchly traditional and orthodox. In the midst of the fiercest opposition under Present Ayub Khan, he led the fight against birth-control and the National Family Laws Ordinance enforced in 1961 under Martial Law, which was contrary to the Shari’ah on matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance in so many ways. The Maulana rightly predicted that the enforcement of the un-Islamic law in Pakistan would threaten the Muslims of India with the loss of their own personal laws. Nobody in the country was bolder than Maulana Maudoodi in combating the Qadhiani heresy which in 1953 resulted in his arrest, imprisonment and death sentence. The activism of Maulana Maudoodi and the Jama’at was no less decisive in bringing about the downfall of Ayub Khan and Bhutto. It cannot be denied that Maulana Maudoodi’s activism and that of the Jama’at successfully acted as restraint on the worst excesses of Secularism, westernization and despotic dictatorial regimes. Had this activity never taken place, the plight of Pakistani society might be no better than in Kemalist Turkey.

It should be clear to the reader at this stage how far from the truth are those who have attacked Maulana Maudoodi as a “fanatic Mullah” who wanted to turn the clock back in Pakistan to the Middle Ages. In his definitive book on Shaikh Hasan al-Banna’s movement, The Society of Muslim Brothers (1969), the American scholar, Professor Richard P. Mitchell, described al Ikhwan al-Muslimin in Egypt as a modernizing force. The same is equally true regarding the Maulana and the Jama’at.

The life and thought of Maulana Maudoodi only proves that even the most devout Muslim can hardly participate in the mainstream of the modern world without being deeply affected by it, anymore than one can immerse oneself in water without becoming wet. Like his contemporary, Shaikh Hasan al-Banna, Maulana Maudoodi attempted the implementation of orthodox Islam with modern western methods, never realizing how mutually irreconcilable they are.

The present age can rightly be described as a period subject to the predominance of Western philosophical thought and learning. The Western outlook concerning the nature of man and the universe prevails all over the world. The dominance of western culture, education, science and philosophical thought has become so pervasive and universal that even the points of view of the most devout and sincere Muslims fighting against it in the Islamic movement turn out, on close examination, to be themselves deeply influenced by the West. Indeed they are themselves, to a significant extent, Western in their approach, methods and even their interpretation of Islam, consequently losing much of their effectiveness to oppose it.

The tragic paradox of the life and thought of Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi was his subconscious acceptance of the very same Western ideas he dedicated his entire life to struggling against.


  1. “While Green in Age: Maulana Maudoodi’s Childhood”, Muhammad Yusuf, The Universal Message, Islamic Research Academy, Karachi, September 1980, pp.5-6
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. The Four Basic Qur’anic Terms, Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi, translated by Abu Asad, Islamic Publications Ltd., Lahore, March 1979, p.6
  5. Ibid., p.7
  6. Ibid., p.8
  7. Mian Tufail Muhammad succeeded Maulana Maudoodi as the Amir of the Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan.
  8. “Challenge to Modernism”, Arabia: The Islamic World Review, England, July 1984, p.88
  9. Maudoodi: Thought and Movement, Syed Asad Gilani, Mansoora, Lahore, 1978, pp.191-195

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