To most Pakistanis and to those who have been associated with various Islamic political outfits in countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Syria and Malaysia, Abul Ala Maududi is to 'Political Islam' what Karl Marx was to Communism.

Both western and South Asian historians have described him as one of the most powerful Islamic ideologues of the 20th century, whose ideas and writings went on to influence a vast number of Islamic movements in the Muslim world.

For example, the well-known British journal, The New Statesman, in its July 2013 issue, suggested that the impact of Maududi's ideas can be found in modern Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood (first formed in Egypt) and similar outfits across the Muslim realms, all the way to the more aggressive postures of men like Osama Bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda and once the most wanted terrorist in the world.

Ambitions and achievements

In Pakistan, Maududi is mostly remembered as an Islamic scholar who founded the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). But he also still remains a controversial figure here. To the left and liberal segments, he is remembered as the man who let the US use JI (during the Cold War) to undermine leftist and progressive politics in Pakistan, whereas many Islamic parties opposed to the JI once went on to declare him to be a religious innovator who attempted to create a whole new sect.

Also read: Maududi’s Children

He arrived in Pakistan from India as a migrant and scholar with the ambition to turn what to him was a nationalistic abomination into becoming a 'true Islamic state' based on the laws of the shariah.

Maududi had formed his party in 1941 like a Leninist outfit in which a vanguard and select group of learned and 'pious Muslims' would work to bring an 'Islamic revolution' and do away with the forces of what Maududi called modern-day jahiliya (socialism, communism, liberal democracy, secularism and a faith 'distorted by innovators').

To that end, he began to lay down the foundations of what came to be known as 'Islamism' — a theory that advocated the formation of an Islamic state by first 'Islamising' various sections of the economy and politics so that a fully Islamised polity could be built to launch the final Islamic revolution.

Maududi's theories in this context attracted certain segments of Pakistan's urban middle-classes and was also adopted by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which tried to jettison the process through a 'jihad' within Egypt.

Not only did Maududi and his party face resistance from leftist groups, it also entered into a long tussle with Ayub Khan's secular/modernist dictatorship (1958-69), and with the ZA Bhutto regime, which was based on populist socialism (1971-77).

Maududi was also taken to task by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, which accused the JI of creating a separate Muslim sect called 'Maududiat'.

Explore: Parliamentary democracy, caliphate and Islamists

Nevertheless, Maududi's ideas were eventually adopted by General Ziaul Haq, who had pulled off a successful military coup in July 1977 and then invited Maududi to help him shape policies to help make Pakistan a 'true Islamic country' run on 'Nizam-e-Mustafa.'

The course charted by Zia eventually mutated into becoming a destructive and highly polarising legacy that the state, politics and society of Pakistan has been battling with till this day.

But the irony is that none of what went down in the name of faith and 'Islamisation' during and after the Zia dictatorship was witnessed by the ideologue who had first inspired it, because Maududi passed away in 1979.

Not an all-out conservative — Maududi's existential journey

In all the noise that Maududi's career as a scholar, ideologue and politician generated, what got lost was the crucial fact that unlike most of today's Islamic scholars and leaders, Maududi did not emerge from an entirely conservative background.

His personal history is a rather fascinating story of a man who, after suffering from spats of existential crises, chose to interpret Islam as a political theory to address his own dilemmas.

He did not come raging out of a madressah, swinging a fist at the vulgarities of the modern world. On the contrary, he was born into a family in the town of Auranganad in colonial India that had relations with the modern and enlightened Muslim scholar, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

Syed Ahmed Khan was one of the earliest architects of Muslim Nationalism in India — a nationalism that attempted to create a robust Muslim middle-class in India that was well-versed in the sciences, arts and politics of Europe, as well as in the more rational and progressive understanding of Islam. It was for this very purpose that he formed the MAO college (later known as Aligarh University).

 The Aligarh University that was formed by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to modernise Muslim education in India.
The Aligarh University that was formed by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to modernise Muslim education in India.

Syed Ahmed convinced Maududi's father, Ahmed Hassan, to join the college against the wishes of Maududi's conservative paternal grandfather.

Incensed by the fact that his son had begun to wear 'Western clothes' and play cricket, Hassan's father pulled him out of the college and got him lectured by various clerics and ulema on how he was going against his faith by 'being overwhelmed by western lifestyle.'

Hassan soon renounced everything that had attracted him at the college and became extremely conservative and religious. When Maududi was born (1903), Hassan pledged not to give his son a western education.

So Maududi received his early education at home through private tutors who taught him the Quran, Hadith, Arabic and Persian. At age 12 Maududi, was sent to the Oriental High School whose curriculum had been designed by famous Islamic scholar, Shibli Nomani.

Read on: Mistaking Maududi for Mao

Apart from teaching Islamic law and tradition to the students, the school also taught Mathematics and English. Maududi then moved to an Islamic college, Darul Aloom, in Hyderabad. But he had to cut short his college education when his father fell sick and he had to travel to Bhopal to visit him. In Bhopal, the young Maududi befriended Urdu poet and writer, Niaz Fatehpuri.

Fatehpuri's writings and poetry were highly critical of conservative Muslims and the orthodox Muslim clergy, and on a number of occasions, various ulema had declared him to be a 'heretic.' But Fatehpuri soldiered on and had already begun to make a name for himself in Urdu literary circles when he met Maududi.

Inspired by Fatehpuri's writing style, Maududi too decided to become a writer. In 1919, the then 17-year-old Maududi moved to Delhi, where for the first time he began to study the works of Syed Ahmed Khan in full. This led to the study of major works of philosophy, sociology, history and politics by leading European thinkers and writers.

Maududi is said to have spent about five years reading books and essays authored by famous European philosophers, political scientists and historians, and he emerged from this vigorous exercise a man who claimed to have found the reason behind the rise of the West (and the fall of Muslim empires).

By now, he had also begun to write columns for Urdu newspapers. In one of his articles, he listed the names of those European scholars whose works and ideas, according to him, had shaped the rise of Western civilisation. The scholars that he mentioned in his list included German materialist philosopher, Hegel; British economist, Adam Smith; revolutionary French writers, Rousseau and Voltaire; pioneering evolutionist and biologist, Charles Darwin and many others.

With this article, he began to shape a narrative through his columns in which he emphasised the need (for Muslims) to study and understand Western political thought and philosophy and to 'master their sciences.' He said that one could not challenge anything that one did not understand.

Look through: Political Islam: Theory and reality

It was also during this period that Maududi began to exhibit an interest in Marxism. At age 25, he became an admirer of the time's leading Marxist intellectual in India, Abdul Sattar Khairi, and then befriended famous progressive Urdu poet, Josh Malihabadi.

By the early 1930s, Maududi was living the life of a studious young man and journalist who also enjoyed watching films in the newly emerging cinemas of India and listening to songs. He married an independent-minded girl, Mehmuda, who was educated at a missionary school in Delhi, wore modern dresses and owned her own bicycle! There was no bar on her to wear a burqa.

  The young Maududi (1927)
The young Maududi (1927)

Despite all this, Maududi did retain some link with his past as the son of a very conservative man. In his quest to revive the lost tradition of Muslim intellectualism, he had also come close to India's main party of Sunni Deobandi Muslims, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (JUH).

But at the same time, he also expressed admiration for the political and spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Though he never joined Gandhi's Indian National Congress (INC) himself, he did urge other Muslims to join it in his articles. He also authored biographies of Gandhi and another Congress ideologue, Pundit Malaviya.

Maududi was greatly dismayed by the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, and he blamed Turkish nationalists for it. When INC began to talk about an 'Indian Nationalism', something snapped in Maududi.

He had devoured every book on Western philosophy and history, but when the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the hands of Turkish nationalists, Maududi realised he had been highly underrating the power of modern nationalism all this time. This was one European concept he was not too familiar with.

Disenchanted by the Congress' Indian Nationalism and JUH's alliance with the party, Maududi retreated to the life of a husband who spent most of his time with his family, books, the occasional film and classical and semi-classical songs performed on stage.

See: Why are matters of faith beyond discussion?

In 1938, he bumped into Manzoor Nomani, a prominent Islamic scholar, who admonished him for distancing himself from his father's legacy, for not having a beard and living the life of a rudderless Muslim.

Already disappointed with the way the concept of nationalism was taking root in the minds of the Hindus and Muslims of India, Maududi retired back to his library, but this time to study Islam.

He now emerged with the theory that it wasn't really the greatness of modern Western thought that had been entirely responsible for the rise of European political power, but it was due to lack of conviction of the Muslims to practice their faith in the right manner that had triggered their fall and made room for European powers to enter.

In 1937, he vehemently attacked the INC's nationalism, accusing it of trying to subjugate the Muslims of India, but by the early 1940s he was being equally critical of Jinnah's All India Muslim League and of Muslim Nationalism.

He declared the League to be 'a party of pagans' and 'nominal Muslims' who wanted to create a secular country in the name of Pakistan.

Explore: Political Islam: An evolutionary history

Maududi's vehement attacks could not stop the sudden momentum that the League gained in 1946 and that helped it form an independent Muslim country in 1947.

In another ironic move, Maududi decided to leave India and head for a country that to him was an abomination and abode of nominal Muslims and the jahiliya. He began his political career in Pakistan in 1949, and it lasted on till 1979, when he passed away from illness in a US hospital. His funeral in Lahore was attended by thousands of admirers.

The many Maududis

Writing in the 'Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought', Irfan Ahmed suggests that there was not one Maududi but many.

By this, he meant that as a scholar and ideologue, Maududi's views were often derivatives of phases in his existential journey; one that saw him depart from the conservatism his father had tried to impose upon him and wholeheartedly embrace the freshness of European philosophical and political thought.

Maududi then bounced between Indian Marxism and the anti-colonial stances of Gandhi and Deobandi ulema (JUH), before settling for a quiet urban middle-class family life. But incensed by the rise of Muslim Nationalism, Maududi finally found his calling in the project of interpreting Islam's holy texts in a political light, and emerging with a complex theory that we now call Political Islam (aka 'Islamism').

Elements of organisational Leninism, Hegel's dualism, Jalaluddin Afghani's Pan-Islamism and various other modern political theories can be found in his innovative thesis, and that's why his thoughts not only managed to appeal to modern conservative Muslim movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and populist youth outfits such as the Islami Jamiat Taleba, but even the mujahideen who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan all the way to the more anarchic (if not entirely nihilistic) ways of men such as Osama Bin Laden.

But the question is, had Maududi been alive today, which one of the many Maududis out there would he have been most comfortable with?



Border clashes
19 May, 2024

Border clashes

THE Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier has witnessed another series of flare-ups, this time in the Kurram tribal district...
Penalising the dutiful
19 May, 2024

Penalising the dutiful

DOES the government feel no remorse in burdening honest citizens with the cost of its own ineptitude? With the ...
Students in Kyrgyzstan
Updated 19 May, 2024

Students in Kyrgyzstan

The govt ought to take a direct approach comprising convincing communication with the students and Kyrgyz authorities.
Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...