This is a reply to the enlightening article on the blog muslimmatters.org [link] on the subject of Muslims living in secular Western societies. While the issues raised were engaging and highly relevant, the presentation of the thought of Syed Qutb and Syed Maududi was over-simplified and far from accurate.
Contributing to the Dialogue
This is not a rebuttal, refutation or response to the article by my teacher and shaykh Yasir Qadhi, but an informed contribution to the discussion he helped jumpstart.
The founders of the contemporary Islamic movements, including Hasan al-Banna, Syed Qutb and Abul A‘la Maududi are among the most misunderstood personalities in modern times- and that doesn’t exclude Muslims. The Al-Qaeda hysteria and the global chaos caused by terrorism, both real and imagined, both individual and state-sponsored, has rendered a sound understanding of Islamic religion, history and thought extremely challenging if not impossible. This preoccupation keeps leading to outlandish conclusions that we have all heard all too often, and attempts to link contemporary violence to Qutb, Maududi, al-Banna, or even to earlier figures such as Muhammad b. Abdulwahhab, Ibn Taymiyyah and others.
I believe it is more than obvious, from the thoughts, writings and works of these figures, that there is no need to theorize whether they would have agreed with contemporary extremist tendencies or not. The answer is resoundingly clear to all those who have any rudimentary familiarity with their life work.
The prolific and abundant writings and speeches of Maududi, for instance, clearly reveal his mainstream, gradual approach to Islamic work and his rejection of violence and extremism. His magnum opus al-Jihad fi’l-Islam is a nuanced approach to the understanding of the misunderstood concept of jihad (which badly needs to be translated into English). Incidentally, that book was written ~ 1929 in response to a violent incident which occurred in India involving a misguided Muslim who took the law into his own hands.
Anyone can read Maududi’s 400-plus work in English- Islamic Law and Constitution and realize that far from presenting a naïve and simplistic view of Islam and kufr, he proposes real and substantial solutions to integrate Islamic law within the fabric of Pakistani law and society, in a gradual and peaceful way.
His analysis of the Islamic political system is that it is neither an absolute theocracy nor an absolute democracy without limits, but rather, in his own words, “a theo-democracy,” “divine democracy,” or a “Democratic Caliphate.” Incidentally, in that vein he was endorsing what the poet Muhammad Iqbal called “that spiritual democracy which is the ultimate aim of Islam.”
Maududi is somewhat different from other thinkers in that he was not just a writer, but he founded a socio-political movement within a Muslim nation and led it for a number of decades. As the first leader of the Jamaat e Islami, his approach and methodology was always severely criticized by others, for the simple reason that he advocated full involvement in the political and electoral process of Pakistan. As such, his party was always involved in elections, made alliances with others and even advocated other candidates in many elections (including at one point, even a female- Fatimah Jinnah the sister of Pakistan’s founder!). In fact, the main point of contention that led Dr Israr Ahmad to break from Maududi’s movement was his involvement in the political process and his refusal to engage in extra-systemic means to establish the Islamic order.
In addition, Maududi came to the United States several times, corresponded regularly with Muslims living here and was generally aware of the Muslim presence in the US. His own son lived here. His correspondence with the convert Maryam Jameelah is well-known and is the subject of several works. His only available video interview in English is addressed to an audience of US Muslims. There are indigenous Imams still alive today (Imam Khalid Griggs comes to mind) who visited him and sought his counsel on affairs relating to American Muslims. His small but concise booklet on the halal meat issue is a response to the zabiha issue brought up by US Muslims!
The very fact that there were radical offshoots, such as Takfir wa’l-Hijrah, from these movements, shows their mainstream nature. Ascribing these offshoots to the founders of the original movements is as problematic as ascribing deviant sects to mainstream Islam or modern terrorist groups to the way of the Prophet Muhammad, as right-wing ideologues do today.
The effects of the work and thought of these contemporary personalities is innumerable. It helped shape nearly every Muslim community throughout the world today, especially in the West. The infrastructure and backbone of most communities, masajid and Islamic organizations in the US was laid down by the students of these personalities. It is high time that this aspect of their lives is brought to the forefront and documented by their own students before their work and thought becomes obscured to the dustbins of history.
Maududi on the Khawarij
Since he has been accused of having Kharijite tendencies and advocating violence or open rebellion, let me quote Maududi’s own words, from pg 250, Islamic Law and Constitution:
“The third important right (of citizens in an Islamic state) is that of freedom of opinion and belief. Ali, the 4th Caliph, has given the best exposition of Islamic law in this respect. During his period, the party known as the Kharijites reared its head in revolt. This group was very similar to the modern anarchists and nihilists. Its members defied the state openly and denied the need for its existence in Islam, and they were making preparations to wipe it out by the sword. Ali sent the following message to them:
“You may live wherever you like, the only condition between us being that you will not indulge in bloodshed and will not practice cruel methods.”
This makes it quite clear that even an organized group may entertain any set of ideas and may also peacefully practice them, and an Islamic state would not hinder or harm it. But if it tries to foist its ideology on others by violent means and endangers the security of the state or its administration, necessary actions shall certainly be taken against it.”