Jamhuriyat Ki Haqeeqat
By Dr Javed Akbar Ansari
Maktab Al-Burhan
496pp.
[NO ISBN LISTED]

A work of scholarship by Dr Javed Akbar Ansari, with contributions from other intellectuals, Jamhuriyat  Ki Haqeeqat is a history of democracy from Grecian times to this day. The first two chapters are devoted to the Western concept of democracy, followed by the Islamic theory and practice of statecraft, as defined by Allama Dr Iqbal.

In fact, as the dedication to the book says, the 500-page tome is an interpretation of Dr Iqbal’s views, encapsulated by him in these words: “Jamhuriyat ke Iblees hain arbaab-i-siyasat [Politicians are the devils of democracy].”

Since the book is a critique as well as history of democracy, the author obviously begins with Greece and dwells at length on the impact that Greek ideas had on modern European thinkers. The problem with Urdu is that it has a literary orientation and is shockingly poor in other subjects, with the exception of religious issues — where, over the last two centuries, the ulema have developed Urdu to a level that leaves nothing to be desired.

In fact some of Urdu’s finest writers happen to be religious scholars. However, where social sciences are concerned, Urdu is nowhere in the picture. The book under review testifies to the problem I am talking about, because the translations by Dr Ansari are literal and awkward.

A scholarly treatise attempts to present the history of democracy as well as critique it

In fact, 90 percent of the scholars quoted by Dr Ansari are Western. They wrote in English and in other European languages. The terms they used came to them naturally and conveyed ideas in the context of the times they lived in and the culture and civilisation they belonged to.

Even a word such as capitalism is variously translated into Urdu. For instance, ishtiraki sarmayadarana inquilab [communist revolution] or ishtiraki sarmayadarana riyasat [communist state] are terms translated from English, in which they would make sense but seem to lack true meaning in Urdu.

This is not author Ansari’s fault, but points out Urdu’s translation parameters. Similarly, Karl Marx’s belief that roosi dehi shirakatdaryan [Russian rural cooperatives] will gradually turn into ijtimai sarmayadaaryaan [collectives] must have profundity when translated from German into French and English, but the translation into Urdu is more than awkward.

The disadvantage for the reader is that Dr Ansari has chosen to write the book in Urdu and not English. In fact, going by the contents of the book and the English terms he has used repeatedly and the authors — mostly Western — he has quoted, English would appear to come naturally to him.

For that reason, I believe Dr Ansari should have written the book in English, in which case the book would have had a larger international readership, provoking a response from Western scholars and generating a healthy academic controversy.

Maulana Maududi, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) founder, obviously wrote in Urdu and therefore the criticism Dr Ansari makes of his writings is devoid of the ‘crafted’ and cumbersome translations one finds in Dr Ansari’s handling of Western scholars all along the book.

Another point that deserves to be noted with interest is that, in Dr Ansari’s denunciation of sarmayadarana nizaam [capitalism] one can smell a whiff of the now-forgotten global rhetoric of communist dogma.

Since the book is a critique as well as history of democracy, the author obviously begins with Greece and dwells at length on the impact that Greek ideas had on modern European thinkers. The problem with Urdu is that it has a literary orientation and is shockingly poor in other subjects, with the exception of religious issues — where, over the last two centuries, the ulema have developed Urdu to a level that leaves nothing to be desired.In fact some of Urdu’s fi nest writers happen to be religious scholars. However, where social sciences are concerned, Urdu is nowhere in the picture.

The first two chapters of the book are basically informative in nature; it is from chapter three onwards that the author presents the Islamic view of the state and dwells on the shirk and kufr he finds in the infidel’s theory and practice of statecraft.   

On a different plane, with my apology to the reader, the first two chapters make a student of political science like me remember his university days, with forgotten phrases coming alive — “and the life of man nasty, brutish and short” (Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes); someone enclosed a piece of land and called it his own and “found others foolish enough to believe him” (Rousseau); the “right to life, liberty and property” (John Locke), and John Austin’s definition of legal sovereignty: “If a determinate human superior, not in the habit of obedience to a like superior receives …” ( I can still rattle this off). Well, I must end my childish nostalgia over meeting old friends and return to Dr Ansari’s magnum opus.

The book is a harsh critique of Maulana Maududi’s  philosophy and policies, with chapter 10 devoted to the Jamaat chief’s “stasis and entropy” (“a state of disorder, confusion and disorganisation”) and dwells on what author Ansari calls the JI chief’s khamoshiyan and kamzoriyan, which can be roughly translated into English as ‘silence on given issues’, and ‘weaknesses’.

Maududi’s ideology and the methods he chose for its realisation have, according to Dr Ansari, little relationship with Pakistan’s society, ignored the various Islamic movements over a thousand years of the Subcontinent’s history, and ran counter to the views of giants like Ibne Khaldun, Al Mawardi and Shah Waliullah.

The book challenges Maududi’s view of Western civilisation as a way of life based on materialism, devoid of any moral values and devoted to pleasure and lust. This attitude, according to Dr Ansari, runs counter to the views of both conservative thinkers — such as the Deobandi and Barelvi ulema — and modernists such as Maulana Mohammad Ali and Dr Iqbal, who recognised and lauded the positive aspects of Western civilisation, and believed Muslims had to learn from the West in many ways.

Yet, in spite of his strong denunciation of the West, Maududi believes Muslims must make full use of modern scientific ideas and tools, which he thinks are God’s gift to mankind.

There is, however, something bewildering for the reader, because there is a striking similarity between Maududi’s wholesale denunciation of the West and Dr Ansari’s views of the West in the first two chapters.

However, the contents of chapter eight, written by Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Hafiz, are perhaps the most radical in the book. The learned writer avers that just as there cannot be Islami kufr [Islamic apostasy], there cannot be Islami jamhuriyat [Islamic democracy]. Things which are Islamic do not need an ‘Islami’ prefix, for you don’t say ‘Islami haj’, ‘Islami namaz’ or ‘Islami jihad.’  The writer also disputes the Islamic validity of voting.

Some brief points regarding the book:

According to the book, a person who is ‘secular’ is a ‘dehri’ (page 78), which means an atheist. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was secular all along but he wasn’t an atheist. Similarly, Dr Iqbal supported Ataturk’s abolition of the Caliphate, suggesting that the Turks had made an effective use of the Islamic tradition of ijtehad.

The Ottoman caliphate, Dr Iqbal said, “had long become a symbol of Muslim statehood in name only… The religious doctors of Islam in Egypt and India, as far as I know, have not yet expressed themselves on this point. Personally, I find the Turkish view perfectly sound.” (Quoted in the book Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State by Tarek Fatah.)

Karl Marx actually criticised the Paris commune, saying French society wasn’t fully ready for a commune of that nature, though he did partly welcome the commune, as written by the author.

Then, the book’s views about China need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

 The writer is Dawn’s External Ombudsman

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 26th, 2024

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