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The Malevolent but Useful Gaze of Eurocentric Scholarship
A SYSTEM OF LIFE, MAWDUDI AND THE IDEOLOGISATION OF ISLAM. By Jan-Peter Hartung. London: Hurst, 2014. Pp. 367. ISBN: 9781849042482

The year 1937 was an anxious one for Muslims in British India. Congress Party governments were in place in seven of the eleven provinces, rejecting any power sharing with the Muslim League and treating non-Hindus with indifference. In the United Provinces (UP) for example, Muslim boys were ordered to salute Gandhi’s portrait. The police looked the other way during attacks on mosques and Muharram tazias. In the Central Provinces (CP), new educational policies were introduced that closed down schools based on the Urdu medium, made the Hindu hymn Bande Mataram compulsory and required pupils to wear the dhoti. Jinnah captured the anxiety perfectly - “we do not want to be reduced to the position of the Negroes of America”. An exception was the province of Punjab, with a Muslim prime minister from the empire-loyalist Unionist Party, but tension and disunity was in the air there too, because of opposition from the Muslim League and the street protests of the Khaksar movement. In May 1937, Muhammad Iqbal, residing in Lahore and no friend of the Unionists, suggested a separate federation of Muslim provinces in the north-west and north east of India to the Muslim League’s leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Territorial nationalism was beckoning but no one had a vision of the opportunities this provided. Apart from the eleven provinces under British rule, there were the indirectly governed princely states, some of whom, like Hyderabad, had become centres of Muslim culture and scholarship. In 1937, its ruler the Nizam, indulged in a great act of pomp and show to celebrate his Silver Jubilee that was out of place given the majority Hindu population’s resentments. In 1937 too, a thirty-four year old writer and journal editor-publisher based in Hyderabad, Syed Abul A’la Mawdudi, travelled to Delhi for his marriage. A compilation of his writings, Tazkirah Maududi (edited by Khalil Ahmed Hamidi et al. and published by Idara Ma’arif Islami, Lahore, 1986, in three volumes) includes an account of what passed on the return journey:

...in my compartment there was a famous Hindu [Congress] leader, Dr Khere. There were also many other Muslims. I observed that in speaking to Dr Khere, the Muslims were behaving like a subservient people would to a dominant one. I found this sight unbearable. Believe me, when I reached Hyderabad I lost sleep for nights. I kept thinking, ‘my Lord, what is to be the fate of Muslims on this land’. ( Tazkirah, Vol.1, p.859)…The precarious condition of Muslims at present and the dangerous future that lies ahead makes me think that the next twenty years will be decisive for the fate of Islam in this land. If we do not stand up in resistance in a few years we will not find any corner for succour....these days there is turbulence in my mind that precludes me from thinking calmly. I have returned from Delhi with my breast aflame and am continuously pondering, ‘What is it that I can do? (Tazkirah, Vol.3, p.859)

Abul A’la took on the challenge, pitching himself into years of frenetic scholarship and activism in spite of continuous bouts of ill-health from a kidney ailment. The combative response was in keeping with his character and similar to his sense of responsibility after the murder of Swami Shraddhanand in 1926 at the hands of a Muslim. This episode had greatly demoralised the community, particularly after Gandhi’s remark that “Islam was born in a context in which it exercised power by the sword, and today this remains the sword”. Abul A’la responded to the need of the hour in a practical way within his capabilities - writing a refutation to Gandhi which was to form the basis of his first book, Al-Jihad fi al-Islam.

Abul A’la’s literary output from 1937 and the years immediately following included a two-part essay indicting the Congress, Muslim League and Khaksars, ‘Muslims and the Present-day Political Tussle’ (1938); ‘The Political System of Islam’ (1939); the two-part essay, ‘Revival and the Renaissance of the Religion’ (Tajdid wa ihya ad-Din) (1940-41); ‘Four foundational terms in the Qur’a’n (1941); ‘Islam and Ignorance’ (Islam aur Jahilihiat) (1941). Added to this was a layer of organisational work, marked by his relocation from Hyderabad to Pathankot in East Punjab in 1938 to participate with Muhammad Asad in the Darul Islam project. Between 1939 and 1941 he addressed student gatherings in Lahore (to the Inter-Collegiate Muslim Brotherhood and Islamia College, where he also took on a lectureship in 1940), Amritsar (MAO College), Peshawar (Islamia College), Lucknow (the Nadwatul ‘Ulama Darul Uloom) and the Aligarh Muslim University. In August 1941 he launched the Jamaat Islami. In February 1942 his monthly journal, Tarjuman ul-Qur’an, began serialising a commentary on the Qur’an, Tafhim ul-Qur’an. Abul A'la was also interacting and collaborating with scholars young and old. Among the former was the brilliant Maulana Sadruddin Islahi, freshly graduated from Madrasatul Islah in Saraimeer, Azamgarh; the latter included Aziz Hindi, the firebrand leader of the hijrat to Afghanistan after World War I. Events beyond Hindustan (he rarely used the term ‘India’ in these years) also pointed to uncertainty and chaos. Spain faced a civil war and there were street clashes in Paris and London between Fascist sympathisers and the Left. Germany had become a racialist state and just annexed parts of Czechoslovakia, raising questions on the treatment of minorities and the fate of smaller nations. Palestine was under martial law to suppress the ‘Arab Revolt’ and further east, Japanese troops were in action in China. It was in this local and global context that Abul A'la took up the challenge of charting a course for his community and co-religionists. His religio-political concepts took specific shape in the 1937-42 period and Hartung correctly focuses on Mawdudi’s thinking in these years.

The author recognises that Abul A’la’s arguments “would always remain within the confines of the authoritative texts of Islam, first and foremost the Qur’an as the unquestionable basis of any certainty” (p. 18) and that “Din, for Mawdudi, is a complete system of life (nizam-i zindigi), including all of its faith-related, intellectual, moral and practical aspects” (p.98). He states that Abul A’la’s motivation was to “develop an alternative societal framework in which man’s khalifa could practically be realised” (p.122) and that for him Islam was “a holistic system” (p. 194). Hartung is not off the mark in judging that “Maududi aimed at establishing an Islamicate possibility of salvation in this world” (p.83). He discusses the hukumat-e Ilahi concept in Abul A’la’s writings with relation to Hegel’s notion of the ‘ethical state’.

As the old colonial order was coming to an end in the 1940s, thinkers like Malek Bennabi and Abul A’la in the maghreb and mashriq of the Muslim world respectively recognised the window of opportunity for far-reaching societal transformation. This did not come to pass, and as we now know, the experience with the territorial nation state project has not been a happy one, whether in Algeria or Pakistan. There is a resurgence of interest in alternative futures, and some of this intellectual ferment is captured by S. Parvez Manzoor’s review, ‘The Intractable Sovereignty: the Impasse of Secular and Islamist Political Theory’, in The Muslim World Book Review ( Spring 2014). Even Ali Allawi, a statesman not enamoured by the activities of Islamic groups in his homeland Iraq, states that “the demand for an Islamic state is fundamental to the future of Islam and the appropriate government for Muslims” ( Crisis of Islamic Civilisation, Yale, 2009; p. 158). Hartung’s work is therefore timely, and ought to be read alongside Talal Asad’s Muhammad Asad Between Religion and Politics and Hallaq’s The Impossible State, Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament (Columbia University Press, 2013).

Hartung also provides a valid critique of Abul A’la’s patriarchal attitude towards women. Some of his essays in Tarjuman highlighted the inequities they faced, such as the scandal of having to renounce their religion in order to obtain a divorce. The journal published no contributions from women in the 1930s and 40s, though it included an appreciative but critical review of the lectures delivered by the Turkish novelist Khalda Edibe in Delhi, describing her as a person “with the faith of a mujahid, utterly devoid of any trace of disbelief or impiety in her thinking, with a love of Islam as it ought to be in a true Muslim woman” (Vol. 7, No. 5 ). Tarjuman also published in full the decree on the rights of spouses issued under the authority of the Begum of Bhopal – a Muslim woman who was head of state in the principality in the mid-1930s. It seems that by the 1940s Abul A’la became more opposed to a role for women in public life, which coincided with his criticism of the Muslim League for not committing itself to an Islamic polity. Abul A’la was further irked with the League because of the steps it had taken to appoint women as spokespersons and provide them a role in its committees. He cited this as a specific example of the League’s emulation of “western ways” (Vol.16, No. 1, February 1940). His book Purdah was translated into English in 1946. Hartung confirms the limitations of this tract, first documented by the Welsh Muslim anthropologist Merryl Wyn Davies (see Inquiry Magazine, October 1985). It appears that Abul A’la relied on the writings of a Soviet endocrinologist, Anton Nemilov, to strengthen his case that women’s hormonal changes made them more emotionally and physically vulnerable. Nemilov’s own references were then cited by Abul A’la as primary sources, when these would not have been available in rural East Punjab.

Hartung is sharp too in his observation that the heirs of Mawdudi’s legacy did not continue where he had stopped but rather “considered his groundwork sufficient enough for them to not reinvent the wheel” (p.259). He presents his own efforts as “the result of over fifteen years of critical engagement with Mawdudi’s intellectual world, on and off” (p.8). Abul A’la himself adopted a critical attitude and wielded a sharp pen when evaluating illustrious figures of the past or contemporary religious and political leaders and would therefore not have objected to a critical gaze being directed at his own contribution. Hartung’s years of interest, however, do not seem to have been a labour of love. Even his oft-repeated acknowledgement of Abul A’la as a ‘systematic mastermind’ is a double-edged one, where ‘systematic’ is contrasted with being ‘concrete’ (p.138). In spite of his many correct readings of Abul A’la’s ideas, the outcome remains very much in the tradition of Western academe: on the one side is intellect, and on the other, at best, dogma, narrow literalism and primitive fundamentalism, and at worse, chicanery and hypocrisy. A ‘Critical Mawdudi Studies’ project ought to have been initiated by those scholars and institutions within the ‘Abode of Islam’ with an empathy for the subject, but unfortunately this has not come about. Instead, Abul A’la’s writings from the 1940s have been conferred canonical status and reprinted fifty or sixty years later without an evaluative preface to explain the context and challenges of the times when the author expressed his views!

The first part of this review is a critical assessment Hartung’s scholarship: the setting up of value-laden schemas, then used to pigeon hole Abul A’la’s work; an Eurocentrism that sees Western influences everywhere; a cynical view of human sincerity and altruism; a breathtaking misuse of secondary sources in order to maintain a consistent narrative. The second part considers the theme of the ‘Islamic state’ and the scope for studies to extend Hartung’s work.

Hartung’s schemas

Hartung offers a classification of religious practice as either a matter of personal piety or ‘other worldliness’, proffered as mutually exclusive categories. He claims that Abul A’la was unable to appreciate spirituality:

...there was only little room [in his agenda] for a rather inward oriented piety” (p.68).

...Mawdudi had conveniently ignored the role of man's unconditional love, or enrapture (mahabba, or ishq) as a complementary aspect of ‘ibada. [Again] Maududi's deliberate disregard of the emotive level of the relationship between God and man, which suggested a more egalitarian relationship as lovers, may be linked to his particular bipolar view of history...for him, the relationship between God and man had to have a strong societal relevance, and therefore the more intimate relationship between lover and the beloved appeared largely unsuitable as the basis for his idea of Islam as a ‘system of life'....an individualist approach to ‘ibada, following – to use Weberian terminology – an ‘ethics of ultimate ends’ (Gesinnungsethik), would nothing but weaken the role of Islam as a socio-political force (p.95-96.)

There is strength of feeling in Hartung’s words, not in keeping with dispassionate scholarly discourse: that Abul A’la “conveniently ignored” and had a “deliberate disregard” of the emotional appeal of faith. Perhaps German-heritage, SOAS-based orientalists have a probe to read the secrets of the heart?

Hartung also draws a distinction between the ‘guidance-oriented’ and ‘governance-oriented approaches of Muslim activism:

While the ‘guidance-oriented’ grassroots approach of the TJ [Tablighi Jamaat] was considered merely an offer to deviant Muslims to return to the ‘Straight Path’ and thus increase their chances of salvation in the Hereafter, Mawdudi’s ‘governance-oriented’ approach, aiming the preservation of the state-supportive ideology, could not allow for any leniency (p.150-151)

The first approach is tolerant and sympathetic of the ebb and flow of religiosity in the individual; in contrast, ‘governance-oriented’ means emphasis in directing affairs of society and access to the levers of power. There is no reason to consider the guidance and governance-oriented approaches to be mutually exclusive. Anyone who has attended a session of Jamaat Islami activists would not fail to notice the emphasis placed on muhasabah (self-appraisal) and checklists to remind members of moral integrity and truthfulness, modesty, and punctuality in performance of the obligatory prayers. In a bizarre interpretation, Hartung considers the ‘guidance-versus-governance’ dichotomy “can be applied to the argument between [Maulana Amin Ahsan] Islahi and Mawdudi” (p.231). This is because, in his view, Maulana Islahi’s emphasis was on “individual purification” rather than transformation of the political system (p.230). Hartung then proceeds to describe the Maulana as a “long-term foe”. The reality is that Maulana Islahi was as adamant on the social and political role of Islam as Abul A’la. This can be seen in his Qur’anic commentary Tadabbur-i Qur’an, in particular the verse “...We sent aforetime Our messengers with clear signs and the Balance, that men may stand forth in justice, and we sent down iron...” (57:25). For Maulana Islahi, ‘iron’ symbolised a system of governance. The two men had their differences, but Hartung exaggerates this to depict a sort of enmity. When Maulana Islahi resigned from the Jamaat Islami in 1954, his wife continued her membership!

Hartung also proposes an ‘individual man’ versus ‘generic man’ classification, the former implying diversity and individuality, and the latter a levelling of human variety. He repeatedly associates Abul A’la with the concept of ‘generic man’:

Mawdudi’s interpretation of two aspects of God, an active one as lord (rabb) and a passive one as deity (ilah or ma’bud), establishes although it is hierarchically structured, an exchange relationship between man and the divine … In contrast to the much maligned Sufi who perceives the relationship as much more personal, intimate and egalitarian, in Mawdudi’s approach there is little space for individualistic approaches... man is considered not in his multifarious individuality but rather as a single agent, [and so] there can only be one kind of response to God (p.100)

Mawdudi’s conception of Islam as a ‘system of life’, as well as his understanding of ‘man’ in a generic way, were therefore systematic tools to prevent the ‘ulama from claiming an exceptional role for themselves. If, according to his anthropological understanding, all human beings are endowed with the same reason and called upon by God to use it for a better comprehension of the text of the revelation then the interpretations of the ‘ulama were potentially as fallible as those of any other man (p.103)

...the personal suffix –hum [in the Qur’anic phrase la-yastakhlifanna hum f’il ard, to make them khulafa on earth], which God has used in His address to man, refers clearly to a collective that He will establish as khalifa on earth ....consequently , by creating a congruence between individual and collective interest, individualism is dismissed (p.107-108)

Thus, while thinkers like Ibn Khaldun held a quite empirical view of man, i.e. to accept the wide variety of individuals within humanity, Mawdudi was operating with a single individual in whom the deputyship of God’s Messenger and man’s deputyship of God on earth would ultimately fall (p.111)

It is commonplace to think of ‘generic man’ particularly when writing in a theological or even sociological register. Hartung does not refer to other aspects of Abul A'la’s thinking that convey due recognition of individuality and different human natures. He often used phrases such as apni zameer ko tatolye (probe your own conscience) and ‘seek the fatwa from your own conscience (zameer)’ when imparting advice. His wife recounts that early in their marriage he left her some important choices: “I will never compel you to observe purdah. You read for yourself and come to a decision using your own thinking whether women should observe purdah or not” (Tazkirah, Vol.3, p.182).

Hartung also conveys Abul A’la as anti-Sufi and anti-Shia. To make his point, he cites Abul A’la’s Tajdid wa ihya ad-Din (1940-41), but then fails to place it in context. The passage in Tajdid from which Hartung draws his conclusions is this:

...the idols of the polytheists have been abandoned, but instead, those upright servants who had devoted their entire lives to end man’s servitude of man, and replace this with servitude of God, have themselves been raised to godhead. Instead of bowing to idols, there are fateha, ziarat [shrine visits], niaz [offerings], nazar, ‘urs, sandal, charhao [shrouding of tombs], nishan [banners], ‘alm [ensigns], ta’ziya...an entire mythology has emerged not dissimilar to that of the idol worshippers. An entire mythology has emerged relating to these venerable personalities – their birth and death anniversaries, presence and absence, miracles...the only difference is that the polytheists refer to godly avatars, devtas, incarnation, progeny of Allah, while here they are adorned with terms such as ghaus [redresser], qutb, awiliyya, ahl-ullah...(Tarjuman ul-Qur’an, Vol. 17, Nos.4-5, p.23)

Like many other twentieth century Muslims seeking progress and upliftment of their societies, Abul A’la’s opposition was to practices of shrine-worship, monasticism and the attribution of miracles to holy men, rather than decrying spiritual elevation and gnosis. In fact, Abul A’la took pride in his Chishtiya heritage and never covered it up. Hartung seems unaware that Abul A’la was indebted to at least one teacher with a sufi disposition, the remarkable Maulana Abdus Salaam Niazi, who it is said visited the khanqas, listened to qawalis, and earned his living as a scent-maker. During the 1920s, after fajr prayers and before starting his day’s work as editor of the bi-weekly Muslim, Abul A’la would drop by the Maulana’s home. If it so happened that a lesson was not possible, the call would come, ‘Sayyid badshah, today I am not up to it’ - the salutation a reference to Abul A’la’s Chishtiya links (see Mard-e Azad by Harun Ar-Rashid, Tarjuman ul-Qur’an, May 2004).

The charge of being ‘anti-Shia’ is also an exaggeration and an illustration of Hartung passing judgement based on limited research. For example, he seems unaware that in the 1930s Abul A’la contributed articles to the Shia religious journal Rehbar. Writing in Tarjuman in 1933 Abul A’la stated that it was inconceivable that he would “ever have invited the majority to place a large sect [i.e. Shia] of Islam outside the pale” given his commitment to “calling for unity on the basis of principles presented in the glorious Qur’an” (Tarjuman ul-Qur’an, Vol. 2, No.1, p.21-24). Three years later, in 1936, he called on Aligarh University to adopt an approach that would be inclusive of different madhabs by focussing on commonalities:

Advice of Shia ‘ulama should be sought to establish the extent to which Shia students can participate in this educational approach. If they wish they can devise their own scheme but it is preferable, as far as possible that differences of a secondary nature should be given limited room and future generations of different sects educated on the basis of Islam’s common principles and foundation. (Tarjuman ul-Qur’an, Vol. 8, No.6, p.54-74, 1936)

When the Jamaat Islami was formed in 1941, among those present was one Muhammad Baqar from Sialkot, reflecting the support of a Shia Muslim for the venture. Abul A’la retained a non-sectarian attitude throughout his public career. He participated in joint Sunni-Shia meetings in the 1960s to commemorate events such as the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. While delivering a public lecture, his reference that “Ali was in the right” led to some objections. Maududi’s reply was unequivocal and he cited Imam Abu Hanifa in support of his stand (Tazkirah, Vol.3, p.547).

Hartung’s schema includes a classification of exegetical approaches. He proposes a dichotomy between those who perceive the Qur’an as “a coherent text”, while for others it is “a vast reservoir of scattered meaning, presented in various ways and each time in different words” (p.90). Hartung considers Abul A'la’s Tafhim amongst the latter, because the Qur’an served

primarily as a supplier of terms and concepts of such a generality that they could serve as axioms for his [Abul A’la’s] conception of Islam as a self-contained and self-sufficient system. Those terms and concepts were not necessarily found in a contextualised reading of the Qur’an, as suggested by the classical mufasssirun… (p.90).

Hartung does not name these ‘classical mufasssirun’. Surely the search for generality in the Qur’an assumes the presence of internal consistency or coherence? Hartung belittles Abul A’la in comparison with the ‘classical’ Islamic scholars: “With his Deobandi ijaza and his connection to leading ‘ulama, he was able to pose [sic] as an ‘alim himself” (p.19); he belonged to a group of “innovative religious laymen” (p.34); “Mawdudi had first to dabble [sic] as a theologian” (p. 84); “Mawdudi, whose own proficiency in Arabic was the most mediocre...” (p.282, n. 120); he cited references to classical Arabic commentaries “to appear [sic] as someone well acquainted” (p.284, n.6); he had “poor knowledge of Islamic fiqh” (p.297, n. 437). Abul A’la was attacked by the ‘ulama of the Jamiat Ulama Hind in 1938, not for an inadequate command of Arabic or false claims to learning, but because he opposed their support of the Congress Party. His questions, such as their position if an elected Parliament in secular India made rulings contrary to the shari’a, discomfited them no end.

Hartung presents a detailed and laboured discussion on the term jahiliyya, with a similar suggestion that Abul A’la’s understanding of the term was a rupture from ‘his predecessors’:

In view of the early Arabic meaning of jahil, it was Ignaz Goldhizer who understood jahiliyya as a time of savageness, but not as a weakness of character or ignorance...the term jahiliyya as used in the Qur’an refers then in the first place to the moral principles of those who were opposed to the Prophet and the young proto-umma....Mawdudi’s conception...differs from the majority of his predecessors insofar as he understood this term now exclusively in a typological manner and not any more, even remotely, as an epochal designation...Mawdudi constrained his concept of jahiliyya even further when he moved it close to the antagonistic concept of unbelief (kufr)... the de facto equation of jahiliyya with kufr – the latter being a term that, unlike the former, is inseparably linked to legal effect – is a clear indication that, on the one hand, ‘Islam’ for Mawdudi was not just one of a number of possible choices, nor was it only the best of all choices, but it was the only choice to be considered legitimate (p.64-70)

In Hartung ’s assessment, Abul A’la had a black-and-white interpretation of the concept of jahiliya and kufr because of his limited Qur’anic scholarship in comparison to ‘ the classical Islamic scholars’. Abul A’la, however, was a far more subtle thinker then he is given credit for, as is evident from this note from Tafhim:

Take for example the word kufr that the Qur’an has used as a comprehensive term for a variety of states of lack of belief. In some cases, it means determined disbelief; sometimes outright denial; in other instances, ingratitude and heedlessness to blessings; it can mean not abiding by one or more requirements of belief; it can be the profession of faith but refutation in practice; in some places kufr is the rejection of something in particular...(Tarjuman ul-Qur’an, Vol. 20, No. 1, p.11, February 1942).

Hartung is also completely silent about Abul A’la’s condemnation of takfir, the act of intolerance par excellence:

Only God knows the reality of whether or not there is iman in a heart. You can only see the outward; and if a person expresses Islam outwardly, then you have no right to declare him kafir and deal with him in that manner.

There is a great emphasis on honouring the religious bond. There is severe disapproval if it is severed, because the person who is enacting takfir is in reality applying the scalpel on the rope which Allah has placed to bind Muslims to make them one nation (qaum). The trend of cutting the habl-Allah over any sort of incident will end up with the whole ummat muslima scattered...This is the reason that God-fearing and cautious persons of learning have always been extremely wary of takfir. (Tarjuman ul-Qur’an, Vol. 8, No. 5, p.2, 1936)

Hartung is also unaware that concepts such as jahiliyya emerged from the collegiate atmosphere at Pathankot and rather than being one person’s ideas, reflected a mood of the times. The first writings on the subject of jahiliyya were not Abul A’la’s, but those of his young protégé, Sadruddin Islahi:

In the first jahiliyyat that existed at the advent of Islam at least man was allowed to remain known as man. But let us applaud today’s ‘religion’ of jahiliyyat and congratulate its audacity and boldness for dispensing with even this fig leaf of honour. Darwin’s ummat – now spread across every nook and cranny on the face of the earth – has utterly rejected the distinction of humanity. They would now refer to themselves as animals and insist on being referred to thus. It is deemed that humanity is a meaningless term; morality is subservient to matter; the mind and reason is in servitude of desires of the self....Look at this new jahiliyyat: it does not accept that the order of this universe requires a wise and intelligent Causer. The rationalism, of which it is so proud, regards creation an act of blind nature that has no foreknowledge, no objective, no thought... [as if] this glorious workshop has come into being without a great Author and is functioning without one; [as if] numerous new creations with new designs have come forth from living matter in skilful evolution by itself; [as if] an amazing creature like man emerged from insects through the struggle for existence, natural selection and survival of the fittest.... (from an article by Sadruddin Islahi, ‘Ma’arka Islam wa Jahiliyyat’, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, Vol.12, No. 6, p. 47-49, 1938)

The Mawududi ‘school’ had a wide intellectual horizon and was not deferential in its encounter with western ideas.

Orientalist Eurocentrism

Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who bridged Western and Eastern intellectual heritages, was well-aware of the confluences and convergences between traditions. He observed that “nothing is foreign which is founded on the bed-rock of human nature” (in his A Cultural History of India during the British Period, 1931). It is a sentiment also well expressed by Parvez Manzoor – “the life of the mind knows no logical or ideological apartheid”. In the Eurocentric point of view, however, the traffic of ideas is very much one way. Hartung has an imaginative eye for discerning the impact of Western sources in shaping Abul A’la’s thinking:

Mawdudi moved well within the confines of the – Western dominated - contemporary discourse on science as the only acceptable means to generate truths (p.69)

Mawdudi, who must certainly have got a whiff of that Nietzschean spirit that was around at the time, acknowledged the necessity of disciplining man in his pursuit of personal pleasure and benefit by rational principle (p.71)

Mawdudi’s discussion of the derivation of ethical maxims...reveals how he creatively absorbed [sic] Western philosophical and political thought (p.120)

Hartung is at his most condescending in this observation,

...Maududi having performed a kind of ‘Copernician Turn’, something that, in consequence, would almost credit him with the aura of an Enlightenment thinker, a distinction which he would most probably have liked a lot. (p. 88)

He then adds, “Such a comparison, however, appears to be a little too far-fetched”. Hartung acknowledges in his book’s introduction that “various friends and colleagues kindly agreed to read and critically commented upon the draft in various stages of its genesis, some more than once”. Perhaps these reviewers did not proceed beyond p.87 to point out such back peddling.

Hartung also seems to write-off originality in recent Muslim intellectual history:

..the renewed emphasis on man’s rationality in the thinking of the scholars of the so-called ‘salafiyya’ movement in North Africa and the Bilad al-Sham at the turn of the twentieth century which clearly took place under the direct influence of Western post-enlightenment thought” (p.106)

This is limiting the development of independent and logical thinking to the western experience. Even as a schoolboy Abul A’la could have given Hartung a lesson or two on the long-standing tradition of experimental sciences in the Muslim world: when thirteen years old and living in Bhopal, he wrote an essay that included a description of electric eels and citing the work of the thirteenth century Persian scholar Al-Qizwini, Aja'ib al-makhluqat for this information (Tazkirah, Vol. 1, p.150-158).

Rather than likening Abul A’la’s Tafhim to Shah Waliullah’s tradition of making the Qur’an more widely accessible through translation and commentary, Hartung finds a

resemblance between Mawdudi’s and an Evangelical approach to Scripture – just by the way – [that] may not be just accidental, given the legacy of increasing Muslim-Christian learned encounters due to the massive presence of especially Presbyterian missionaries in the subcontinent since the early nineteenth century (p.87)

So the catalyst for Qur’anic scholarship has been the example provided by the Presbyterians!

A cynical view of human sincerity and altruism

In the Christianity-infused Eurocentric perspective, ‘good’ men eschew politics. S. Parvez Manzoor states it succinctly, “The state, being the outcome of the Original Sin, is at best a necessary evil, and politics, to the extent that it incarnates the sheer struggle for power, is bound, in Christian terms, to be the realm of the devil by definition” (review article cited earlier, p. 10). Hartung is a child of this ethos. He portrays Abul A’la’s concerns for his community as the pursuit of personal ambition:

...Mawdudi himself joined in the fierce competition over clientele [sic] (p. 18)

....That Mawdudi had never explicitly denounced the widespread allegation that he wanted to be seen as the ‘Rightly Guided’ saviour...(p.83)

...it must have played well into Mawududi’s hands...(p.101)

Amongst his most damaging allegations is the charge that Abul A’la betrayed Iqbal’s cause for his own self-serving ends:

In reality, however, Mawdudi could have barely be bothered about Iqbal’s vision for the waqf at Pathankot. While on the surface [sic] he apparently [sic] agreed to Iqbal’s suggestion to establish a model educational institution with a defined curriculum to train the new Muslim elite for India, in reality he did what overseers of awqaf have frequently done throughout history, namely to utilise it for one’s own ends. Iqbal’s death only one month after Mawdudi’s arrival at Pathankot would therefore not have been unwelcome [sic], as it must certainly have relieved Mawdudi of the pressure of justifying his activities to Iqbal. (p. 187)

Hartung does not explain that Iqbal’s vision was to set up an academic and research institution that could bring together experts in religious studies and modern sciences to work on aspects of fiqh and Islamic law (see Muhammad Arshad’s Islami riyasat ki taskhkil-e jadid, published in Lahore, 2011). Moreover, it was Iqbal himself who suggested to Choudhry Niaz Ali, the benefactor who had made his estate at Pathankot available, that both Muhammad Asad and Abul A’la should be associated with the venture. Abul A’la grieved at Iqbal’s demise and his letter to one of Iqbal’s close friends makes moving reading:

...After Muhammad Ali [Jauhar], this is the second great blow that has befallen Muslims and in my view it is a greater blow than the first. We do not know what God deems but the loss of its best personalities at a time when they are most needed seems to be a consequence of the Muslim community’s irresponsibility and unworthiness.

When I survey the whole of Hindustan, there is not one individual to whom one could turn to for guidance. There is darkness everywhere; the one candle that was flickering is no longer. What really pulled me to Punjab was Iqbal’s personality. I thought by coming here and being near him, I would gain from his guidance and under him (inn ki rehnuma-i mai) do whatever I could for the betterment of Islam and Muslims. Now I feel alone in an ocean storm. The heart is utterly broken…Brother, you were with him in his last moments; if he left any words of advice for me, then please let me know…(Tazkirah, Vol.1, inside back cover)

This heartfelt sorrow is completely at variance to the image of duplicity and manipulation presented by Hartung. However, it seems that Abul A’la is in good company, because the illustrious Uthman ibn Fudi (Shehu Dan Fodio) is similarly charged by Hartung for seeking worldly advantage:

Ibn Fudi employed the latter's [al-Maghili al-Tilimsani] modification of the mujaddid hadith ...according to which 'at the head of each century God sends a scholar to the people [yursal allah 'aliman li'l-nas] to renew for them their religion'. This variant reading of the mujaddid hadith, along with the time of Ibn Fudi's appearance, corresponded well with apocalyptic promises widespread in Hausaland, which is why it is conceivable that Ibn Fudi was even seen as the 'Rightly Guided One' (al-mahdi), although he seemed smart enough not to put forward this claim himself. On the other hand, Ibn Fudi is said to have employed the accepted Prophetic saying about twelve rightly guided successors of the Prophet before the Hour and, by conveniently omitting the important part that 'all of them will be from the Quraysh', he styled himself explicitly the last righteous leader before the advent of the mahdi (p.77).

Dr Usman Bugaje, an expert on Dan Fodio, is unequivocal in rejecting Hartung’s depiction, and also provides an excellent assessment of such orientalist mindsets:

Admittedly he [Shehu] discussed the issue of the Mahdi. Having taken over the whole of Hausaland within five or so years and now knocking on the doors of the Borno Empire to the east, many suggested that he may be the expected Mahdi. Shehu rose to dismiss the speculation. He not only rejected the claim but explained that the hadith on the Mahdi indicated that he would come from the Quraysh, and that as he was very African he could not be the one. Shehu in fact said that those who were interested in the Mahdi should look towards the east well after he was gone. He thus prepared the ground for the appearance of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi in the Sudan, who so declared himself in 1881 in Aba Island on the Nile near Khartoum. It is clear that Shehu was too modest and humble to succumb to these kinds of frivolous pursuits for fame, even when the ground was ripe because of the astonishing success of his jihad. Western scholarship continues to find it difficult to believe that someone can be selfless. They keep looking for some ulterior motives and too often read their own minds into their subjects of study.

Misuse of Sources

Hartung’s work is further flawed by the misuse of source material or their selective use to bolster his prejudices. He blunders in erroneous reading of the texts. He states that “the widespread practice of slavery had apparently been sanctioned in the Qur’an”, referring to Surah Al-Nahl (16:75) and Surah Al-Nur (24:32) (p.290, n. 294). These verses, however, refer to ‘abd in the context of servititude to the Divine, and not of man to man. He also claims that in the times of the Medinese caliphate “all public offices are the prerogative of man only” (p.292, n.345). Presumably he is unaware that the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab appointed a woman to oversee the market of Medina.

A further example, that would be amusing if not for its import, is when Hartung seeks to convey the impression that Pathankot was to become some sort of quasi-military camp of storm troopers:

“Be it the Boy Scouts or the Wandervogel – blue prints for the ‘political camp-culture....[these] focussed on not only on moral education alone, but combined it also with physical, including hygiene education...It seems as if Mawdudi, like so many others at that time, was considerably inspired by these developments and in consequence his initial organisational efforts resulted in the establishment of the proto-JiI [Jamaat-e Islami] as a camp community...(p.184)

Hartung then quotes from the July 1938 issue of Tarjuman ul-Qur’an:

...the objective of this enterprise [at Pathankot] or movement is to make India once again the abode of Islam and preparing Muslim youths for this objective through knowledge, conduct and sports [sic]

For a start, Abul A’la did not use the term ‘India’, but always ‘Hindustan; secondly Hartung blunders by reading the word ‘sport’ when the original Urdu text had ‘spirit’ transliterated! A better translation would be:

..this institution’s or this movement’s purpose is to remake (az ser-e nau) Hindustan as the abode of Islam and to prepare Islamic youth with respect to knowledge, character and spirit for this purpose (Tarjuman, Vol. 12, No.5, p. 3)

The misreading of ‘spirit’ for ‘sport’ fitted in with Hartung’s preconception of Pathankot as a camp in the Boy Scout tradition!

Hartung’s account of the crisis of East Pakistan in 1971 is poorly researched, polemical and an exercise in character assassination. It begins with bold assertions that “there is little indication that religio-political movements like the JiI [Jamaat Islami] has had much impact on the Muslims in Bengal...the slight impact that organisations like the JiI made in Bengal may have rather to do with the extraordinary relevance of the Bengali language for the identity of the Bengali Muslims to whom the Urdu-based tradition of Mawdudi and his followers must have appeared rather alien” (p.236-237). Hartung seems unaware of the reformist Faraidhi Movement founded by Haji Shariatullah, that challenged the British plantation owners and Hindu landlords from the 1850s onwards. This was a religio-political tradition the Jamaat could draw on a century later. Among its first activists in the mid-1940s was a madrassa teacher, Maulana Abdul Rahim of Barisal, who together with Khurshid Ahmed Butt, a government official posted from West Pakistan, and two other members of the Jamaat, established an office in the Neel Khaith area of Dhaka in March 1948. Hartung also fails to appreciate the extent to which Urdu was a Bengali language. Maulana Abdul Rahim, for example, was bilingual in Urdu and Bangla. Urdu was widely spoken in Dhaka and on one occasion, while giving a speech to a congregation a the mosque in Siddiq Bazaar, the audience called on him, “Urdu kaho” – speak in Urdu – because he had started off in Bangla (see Jamat-i Islami Mashriqi Pakistan, Aghaz, Marahil, Mushkilat, p.37).

Hartung claims that “Mawdudi’s sympathy for the concerns of the Bengalis, even for those few of the Bengal cell of the JiI-P [Jamaat Islami Pakistan] was feigned [sic]” (p.237). No evidence is provided for this extraordinary and damaging allegation of duplicitous conduct. He also states that Ghulam Azam, general secretary of the Jamaat in East Pakistan, “accused Mujibur Rahman and his followers of apostasy” (p. 238). Again, Hartung does not provide the evidence. He also demonises Matiur Rahman Nizami, a leader of the Jamaat’s student wing at the University of Dacca: “recruiting mainly from its student wing, the Islami Chatra Sangha (ICS), the JiI [Jamaat Islami] began to openly form various paramilitary forces...the high command over these irregular forces was allegedly entrusted to Matiur Rahman Nizami , a leading ICS activist. All the paramilitary forces became subsequently involved in heinous atrocities...” (p.238). Hartung is wrong in implying there were no dissenting voices within the Jamaat and ICS to the policy of supporting the Pakistan army and the militias it had created. The principle of collective responsibility has prevented these voices from making themselves heard in the years to follow. The ICS President at Dacca University, Sayed Shah Jamal Chawdhury, for example, was detained by the Pakistan army in 1971 because he questioned its actions.

Hartung’s account relies on Enayetur Rahim, who served as head of the Awami League in the United States in 1971-72. Hartung cites the more evenly balanced work of Sarmila Bose, but only a journal article written in 2005 and not the book she published in 2011 after much field work in Bangladesh (Dead Reckoning, Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War). Hartung takes a partisan position on the crisis, seeming to unquestionably accept a Bangladeshi nationalist’s interpretation of events. He ought to know that there were no angels in the violence of those years:

The ‘demonisation’ of the enemy also involves concealing or minimising ‘monstrous’ acts committed by one’s own side...the killing of pro-liberation professionals by pro-[Pakistan] regime death squads in the dying days of the war stands out as one of the worst crimes of the conflict. Yet brutalisation and elimination of those with a different political viewpoint seemed to be the hallmark of nationalist Bengalis too, as evidenced by numerous instances during the year and afterwards”. (Sarmila Bose, p.166-167).

Hartung’s simplistic treatment sacrifices historical veracity for the maintenance a narrative in which Abul A’la, and those influenced by him, are authoritarian, intolerant and prone to violence. He also joins the dots to link Abul A’la’s ideas developed in the 1940s with the “radical Islamist groups” emerging in Egypt in fifty years later:

The most important term which [Sayyid] Qutb is likely to have inherited from Mawdudi, and which, in its radicalised form, was soon to take a prominent place in the thinking of especially violence-prone Islamists in the aftermath of Qutb, is without doubt the concept of ‘jahilliya’...(p.200)

Not unlike Mawdudi, [Sayyid] Qutb called on the righteous Muslims to withdraw themselves from the jahili society and to form themselves into the very vanguard that, after having gathered enough strength, would eventually lead the way... (p. 215)

Umar Abd al-Rahman [the blind Egyptian Shaikh serving a life sentence in the United States on charges relating to the World Trade Center 1993 bombings] kept the Mawdudian and Qutbian terminology very much alive. For instance, he frequently used the term ‘jahiliyya’ to denote the state of absence of Islam...(p.219)

The connections are farfetched. It is like joining the dots between the Enlightenment and the Atlantic slave trade or the Holocaust because of Immanuel Kant’s ideas on chattel slavery and race-mixing (see Robert Bernasconi’s essay, When the Real Crime Began, in: Hannah Arendt and the uses of History, Berghahn Books, 2007).

Why an Islamic State?

The silver lining in Hartung’s scholarship is the opening it provides for a reconsideration of the project of an Islamic State:

Since his [Abul A’la’s] state was not to be a territorially defined state, but rather a trans-territorial ‘ideological’ one or, in Hegelian terms, ‘the actuality of the ethical idea’, Mawdudi’s prime concern had to be the preservation of its ideological purity. (p.149)

For thinkers like Hegel and his true epigones, a revolution was first of all a process of intellectual reflection in which ‘the spirit’ becomes ‘certain of itself’ and, thus, man develops a moral worldview...Mawdudi would have fully agreed with this (p.164)

There is certainly a similarity between Hegel’s view that the State is ‘the Divine Idea that exists on Earth’, or ‘the actuality of the ethical idea’, and the notion of hukumat-e Ilahi (governance by Divine Law). Abul A’la was familiar with the German philosopher and proposed many terms in Urdu to help in an understanding of his concepts: aql-e kulli for ‘world reason’; jan-e jahan for ‘world spirit’; ruh-e mutlaq for ‘absolute idea’; jadli ‘aml for the dialectical process; jadli maddiyaat for dialectical materialism; da’awa, jawab-e-da’awa and marhab for theses, anti-thesis and synthesis respectively. Hartung is also correct in stating that Abul A’la rejected the Hegelian framework because it had no room for prophethood. Hartung’s insight can serve as a starting point for further study, for example the evolution of the term hukumat-e Ilahi in twentieth century Muslim history of ideas, and its mutation to ‘Islamic state’, either in the sense of an ethical entity or a territorial one. The Ottoman collapse after the Great War was a watershed in this regard, prompting new ideas in a world without a khalifa. Among the first responses was the essay Islamlashmak by the Ottoman noble Syed Halim Pasha, which had been translated into Urdu in Hyderabad with the title Khuda ki badshahat – Kingdom of God. Pickthall, also based in Hyderabad, made extensive references to Prince Halim’s ideas in his Madras lectures of 1926, published as The Cultural Side of Islam. When Maulana Musleh Sehsarami launched Tarjuman ul-Qur’an in Hyderabad in November 1932, his inaugural article, entitled Mazhab aur Hukumat (Religion and Governance), noted that

Religion is just another term for governance by Divine laws (hukumat-e ilahi). Shari’at means the corpus of laws that are a necessary requisite for such governance. All world religions harbour similar objectives and this is the purpose of every religious book. Up to today, the Hindus hum the tune of ‘Ram, Ram’ but the greater idea that it once encapsulated has been erased and ‘Ram, Ram’ is now understood as ‘Hindu Raj’. The Christians in church pray ‘Our Heavenly Father, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’. One wonders what they mean, but from the words themselves we understand that goodness should prevail and whatever man does, openly or in private, conforms to the commands of God.

Perhaps for those living in the charmed world of Hyderabad, a kingdom the size of France, with its own currency and a Muslim ruler doing much for religious causes, the project of a society founded on Islamic principles may have seemed within grasp. By the time Abul A’la purchased Tarjuman from Maulana Musleh in March 1933, there was already an editorial line and vision to follow. The term Islami state first appeared in his article in Tarjuman later that year, similar in scope to Hegel’s ‘ethical state’ idea:

... No river, no mountain, no sea, no language, no race, no colour, no goldmines can intrude the sphere of Islam and separate one Muslim from another. Every Muslim, be he a citizen of China or Morocco; be he black or white, Hindu or Arab, Thai or Persian; be he the subject of one government (hukumat) or the member of the Muslim community of another – all are dwellers (shehri) of the Islami state, foot soldiers (sipahi) of the Islamic army and warrant the protection due under Islamic law. Never ever in the shari’at Islamia has one Muslim been apportioned fewer or greater rights than another in matters of worship, social dealings, economic affairs because of ethnicity (jinsiat), language or territoriality (wataniat)….(Vol. 3, No. 1, October-November 1933)

The sentiment was not Abul A’la’s alone. In 1934, Muhammad Asad published his influential Islam at the Crossroads, where he noted,

We believe that Islam, unlike other religions, is not only a spiritual attitude of mind, adjustable to different cultural settings, but a self-sufficient orbit of culture and a social system of clearly defined features.

The idea that Islam provides a basis for building an equitable social order seemed a natural and logical expression of the faith. It was not a South Asian idea - Asad had yet to set foot in the subcontinent when he wrote this passage. By 1946-47, both Abul A’la and Asad were presented with the fait accompli of Pakistan, with its defined borders and non-Muslim minorities. Both men also delivered lectures on Radio Pakistan, seeking somehow to convince the populace that there was now an opportunity to build a different type of society by striving for an Islamic state. Now a citizen of Pakistan, Asad’s broadcast included the following appeal:

The ultimate goal behind our demand for an independent Pakistan was the building of a free society in accordance with our own concepts of life and of social behaviour. We – the Muslims of Pakistan – had a definite vision before us; the vision of an equitable society ruled by the principles of Islam, in which all men and women of goodwill, whatever their creed or race, might find all the justice and well-being that is possible of attainment on earth. It is for this that the Muslims have suffered and struggled for years; and it is for this that they were prepared to undergo many more sufferings (‘Calling All Muslims’, 1947).

The assumption was that given dedication and time, the modern state could be converted to an Islamic state. Talal Asad has argued that Abul A’la and his father were making a category error in using the word ‘state’ in Islamic State in the same breath as the modern, bureaucratic nation-state with its paraphernalia of unified educational, security and other systems:

For pre-modern princes it was the loyalty of nobles, generals, and governors that mattered, not that of ordinary subjects. In fact the prince had far less effective power over his subjects than the government of a modern state has – partly because of the greater bureaucratic, informational, and technological means at the latter’s disposal and the greater social and geographical impediments facing the former, but also on constitutional grounds... the authoritative norms for public behaviour were not determined by the historical Muslim forms of rule as they now are by modern state law; communities of jurists, who were independent of the government (professionally and financially) determined them (Talal Asad, Muhammad Asad Between Religion and Politics).

For these reasons, Wael Hallaq (in The Impossible State, Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament) prefers to use the term ‘Islamic governance’ because “there never was an Islamic state. The state is modern...to resort to such usage as ‘Islamic state’ – as an entity having existed in history – is not only to indulge in anachronistic thinking but also to misunderstand the structural and qualitative differences between the modern state and its ‘predecessors’, especially what I have called Islamic governance” (p.49). He adds:

On the whole, and despite the inescapable cruelties of human life and its miseries (which obviously are not the preserve of pre-moderns only), Muslims, comparatively speaking, lived for over a millennium in a far more egalitarian and merciful system and, most importantly for us, under a rule of law that modernity cannot fairly blemish with critical distraction. Nor did Islamic governance know anything like the scale of surveillance generated by the modern state’s police and prison systems. These, so normalised and a matter of fact today, would have been horrifying to Muslims as spectres of domination and cruelty. (p.110)

What is to come of Maulana Mawdudi’s legacy of a political project? On the one hand, there is the option of abdicating the political sphere for reasons. For Dr Fazlur Rahman, ‘the ideologues of Islamic State proclaiming political sovereignty of God had confused the religio-moral and political issues’. It would please many if Islam is confined to personal piety and spiritual upliftment, with no place in the world for its polity or governance. He took up the challenge in the 1940s at a watershed moment for the Muslims of Hindustan. Kalim Siddiqui used to speak eloquently to student audiences in the 1980s on the need for Muslims to produce their own conceptual tools for the reordering of Muslim societies i.e. epistemic endeavours. This will be a worthy way of moving onwards from the legacy left by Abul A’la Mawdudi. Given the chaos and conflicts, the 2010s may be another watershed moment for the ummah. For Hallaq, “a creative reformulation of the Shari’a and Islamic governance may be one of the most relevant and constructive ways to reshape the modern project, one that is in dire need of moral reconstitution” (p.172, n.15). What are the other options on the table?

M A Sherif
April 2014

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