Ad­vo­cate of non vi­o­lent Is­lamic re­vival­ism in In­dia-Pak­istan

Born in 1903 in In­dia, Abul A’la Maw­dudi was a scholar and mu­fas­sir, who gave ef­fort to re­vive Is­lam and pro­moted ‘ji­had’ with­out phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, rather ad­vis­ing self-de­fense

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Portrait - ABUL A’LA MAW­DUDI: HAKAN ARSLANBENZER - IS­TAN­BUL

Cul­tural as well as po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence in the Is­lamic world has been a key de­bate for Is­lamist thinkers since the first day of Western colo­nial­ism in lands with a Mus­lim ma­jor­ity. Modern Is­lamic re­vival­ism did not be­gin af­ter the col­lapse of the Ot­toman Empire. Rather, that was just a junc­ture that di­vided Mus­lim thinkers into dif­fer­ent sects ac­cord­ing to their fo­cus. Af­ter the Ot­toman Empire col­lapsed and the Caliphate was an­ni­hi­lated, some Mus­lim thinkers and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers tended to pro­duce a new po­lit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing of Is­lam, while many oth­ers chose to join na­tion­al­ist move­ments.

Bri­tish colo­nial rule in In­dia gave a ma­te­rial cause for Mus­lim ac­tivism. Though Mus­lim crowds were not well or­ga­nized and did not have wide-rang­ing po­lit­i­cal en­ti­ties like modern po­lit­i­cal par­ties to rep­re­sent them and pow­er­ful armies to de­fend their home­land from in­vaders, they were in­ter­ested in the chal­leng­ing ideas of Is­lamic re­vival­ists. As a re­sult of the ab­sence of a re­li­able Mus­lim po­lit­i­cal power and armed forces dur­ing oc­cu­pa­tion, Mus­lim re­vival­ist move­ments tended to bring forth their ac­tivist na­ture in re­ac­tion to the im­pact of Western cul­ture.

It is also an in­ter­est­ing point that many re­ac­tionary Mus­lim thinkers and ac­tivists had re­ceived a Western ed­u­ca­tion, while some acted as mod­ernist re­formists un­til some break­ing point. Mawlana (“Our Friend”) Abu’l A’la Maw­dudi was one of the well-ed­u­cated In­dian Mus­lim young men un­der the heavy im­pact of Western cul­ture and phi­los­o­phy be­fore he be­gan prop­a­gat­ing new ideas for a com­plete po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural sys­tem of Is­lam.


Mawlana Abu’l A’la was a mem­ber of a no­table fam­ily in south-cen­tral In­dia. He was born Sept. 25, 1903, in Au­rangabad, Hy­der­abad (now Ma­ha­rasthra) as the youngest of three sons of a lawyer, Mawlana Ah­mad Hasan. He was named af­ter one of his re­mote an­ces­tors, Abu’l A’la, who lived in the 16th cen­tury. Maw­dudi’s fam­ily his­tory goes back to Harat, Afghanistan. One of his great grand­fa­thers was Maw­dudi Chishty, the sheikh of the Chishtiyya Sufi or­der. Abu’l A’la’s mother was a mem­ber of a Tur­kic fam­ily orig­i­nat­ing in Cen­tral Asia.

Abu’l A’la was home ed­u­cated un­til age 11 to pro­tect him from any Western in­flu­ences. His fa­ther taught him Urdu, Per­sian, Ara­bic, logic, fiqh (Is­lamic law) and ha­dith. He joined a for­mal school in 8th grade. He was obliged to leave school in 1915 be­cause of his fa­ther’s poor health and be­gan work­ing to help his fam­ily’s liv­ing.


In 1919, Maw­dudi moved to Delhi where he stud­ied Ger­man and English to read Western phi­los­o­phy, so­ci­ol­ogy and his­tory. Mean­while, he worked as the ed­i­tor of a weekly newspaper, “Tac,” which was pub­lished by peo­ple close to the Congress Party. The Bri­tish govern­ment in In­dia shut the newspaper down be­cause of an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by Maw­dudi that crit­i­cized colo­nial rule.

Dur­ing the 1920s, Maw­dudi acted as a jour­nal­ist with crit­i­cal ideas, par­tic­u­larly against Bri­tish rule. He worked for sev­eral pe­ri­od­i­cals in­clud­ing al-Jamiah, the of­fi­cial gazette of the Jamiat-i Ulama, (As­so­ci­a­tion of Mus­lim Schol­ars), where he worked as ed­i­tor-in-chief from 1924 to 1927.

Abu’l A’la lost his faith in the Congress Party and its Mus­lim al­lies as the party gained a Hindu iden­tity through­out the 1920s. Be­sides, he was a mem­ber of the Caliphate Move­ment, which failed af­ter the Turk­ish Repub­lic an­ni­hi­lated the Caliphate in 1924, which was the ex­act date when the Hindu-Mus­lim con­flict arose se­verely.


In 1928, he re­turned to Hy­der­abad dis­il­lu­sioned with Western civ­i­liza­tion and In­dian pol­i­tics. In Hy­der­abad, Maw­dudi be­gan work­ing as ed­i­tor-in-chief for the “Tar­ju­man al-Qu­ran” (In­ter­preter of the Holy Qu­ran), which would be the main medium scat­ter­ing his views around Mus­lim In­dia. In 1933, he pub­lished his first book, a col­lec­tion of writ­ings about the moral side of ji­had, sa­cred war in Is­lam. Though he wrote a book on ji­had, Maw­dudi never ac­cepted vi­o­lence as a means for Is­lamic pol­i­tics. He thought of ji­had as self-de­fense. Ji­had, ac­cord­ing to Maw­dudi’s point of view, could only oc­cur to pro­tect un­armed civil­ians who could not pro­tect them­selves from at­tacks.

In the 1930s, Maw­dudi crit­i­cized both the In­dian na­tion­al­ist move­ment that worked for a united In­dia to be freed from the Bri­tish colo­nial­ism and sec­u­lar Mus­lim sep­a­ratism led by Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah.


In 1941, Abu’l A’la Maw­dudi es­tab­lished the Ja­maat-i Is­lami in La­hore to­gether with 75 Is­lamic schol­ars and in­tel­lec­tu­als. They elected him pres­i­dent of the Ja­maat-i Is­lami. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cen­ter was moved to Pan­thakod in 1942. The or­ga­ni­za­tion held a mas­sive congress in 1945 with about 800 del­e­gates from all over the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent. Maw­dudi de­clared the prin­ci­ples of the Is­lamic po­lit­i­cal move­ment at that congress.

Af­ter the par­ti­tion of Pak­istan from In­dia in 1947, Ja­maat-i Is­lami re-or­ga­nized it­self as two branches in Pak­istan and In­dia. Maw­dudi stayed in La­hore, Pak­istan, as the nat­u­ral leader of Pak­istan Ja­maat-i Is­lami.

Maw­dudi made great ef­forts to es­tab­lish Pak­istan as an Is­lamic state de­pend­ing on Is­lamic laws and pol­i­tics, which was de­nied by the sec­u­lar govern­ment led by Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah. Maw­dudi and many other Ja­maat-i Is­lami lead­ers were ar­rested in 1948.


Thanks to mas­sive re­ac­tions against the op­pres­sion by the sec­u­lar govern­ment of newly found Pak­istan, Maw­dudi was re­leased in 1950. In 1951, he moved to Karachi, where he met rep­re­sen­ta­tives of other Is­lamic po­lit­i­cal move­ments to de­clare the prin­ci­ples of the Is­lamic state to be founded in the fu­ture.

Maw­dudi was ar­rested again in 1953 be­cause of his writ­ings against the Ah­madiyya sect, which he sug­gested were heretics. The Ja­maat-i Is­lami leader was sen­tenced to death, which is sim­i­lar to death sen­tences given to Is­lamic lead­ers all over the world in the modern pe­riod. How­ever, again many peo­ple re­acted against this cruel res­o­lu­tion, and the case was re-opened, and Maw­dudi was ac­quit­ted.

Dur­ing the 1950s, Maw­dudi made speeches for an Is­lamic con­sti­tu­tion. He vis­ited East Pak­istan (now Bangladesh) to tell his ideas to the peo­ple. Some his­to­ri­ans think that Ja­maat-i Is­lami and its leader in­flu­enced the 1956 Con­sti­tu­tion of Pak­istan since the con­sti­tu­tion in­cludes open ref­er­ences to the Holy Qu­ran and the Sun­nah (praxis of Prophet Muham­mad).


Maw­dudi’s of­fi­cial in­flu­ence was not long last­ing since Gen­eral Ayub Khan an­ni­hi­lated the con­sti­tu­tion and re­pressed Ja­maat-i Is­lami af­ter a mil­i­tary coup in 1958. Maw­dudi would be ar­rested sev­eral times in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, Maw­dudi and Ja­maat-i Isla- mi re­gained sig­nif­i­cance in cen­tral pol­i­tics. Zia’ul Haq ex­e­cuted Zul­fiqar Ali Bhutto and raised Maw­dudi to the level of se­nior states­man and used some of his ideas for the so­called Is­lamiza­tion of Pak­istan.

On the other hand, af­ter 1971, Maw­dudi left the lead­er­ship of Ja­maat-i Is­lami and con­cen­trated on schol­arly works, in­clud­ing his long in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Holy Qu­ran, namely “Tafhimu’l-Qu­ran” (Mean­ing of the Holy Qu­ran). He writes about the Qu­ran:

“The Qur’an is ... a book that con­tains a mes­sage, an in­vi­ta­tion, which gen­er­ates a move­ment. The mo­ment it be­gan to be sent down, it im­pelled a quiet and pi­ous man to ... raise his voice against false­hood, and pit­ted him in a grim strug­gle against the lords of dis­be­lief, evil and in­iq­uity ... it drew every pure and no­ble soul, and gath­ered them un­der the ban­ner of truth. In every part of the coun­try, it made all the mis­chievous and the cor­rupt to rise and wage war against the bear­ers of the truth.”

Ac­cord­ing to Abu’l A’la Maw­dudi’s con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion, the tra­di­tion is cor­rupted and “true Is­lam” has been for­got­ten. Mus­lims should re­turn to the Holy Qu­ran to reaf­firm and re­al­ize true Is­lam. This point of view is very com­mon in Is­lamist cir­cles all over the world now. Maw­dudi has had great in­flu­ence on Is­lamic move­ments in many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Turkey. His “theo-democ­racy” is a de­tailed ex­am­ple of non-vi­o­lent re­li­gious trans­for­ma­tion in the Is­lamic world.

Maw­dudi died on Sept. 22, 1979, in Buf­falo, New York, in the U.S. where he was stay­ing for health rea­sons. His body was re­turned to Pak­istan, and over a mil­lion Mus­lims at­tended his fu­neral four days af­ter his death.

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