A 1959 Conversation with Maulānā Maudūdī

This report of a meeting with Maulānā Maudūdī appeared in the Independence issue of the weekly Lail-O-Nahar, Lahore on August 16, 1959. It was written by Mr. Abdul Qadir Hasan. See pg 21-28, Selected Speeches and Writings of Maulānā Maudūdī, International Islamic Publishers, Karachi, 1982.

On a beautiful rainy day, when the evening shadows were lengthening out and white clouds were still hanging over the sky after a good downpour, my colleague Seli and I were trying to find our way through mud and water on a slimy street at Ichra in Lahore. The street led to 5-A Zeldar Park, the residence of Maulānā Maudūdī. As we entered the bungalow, we caught sight of a cluster of gentlemen sitting in chairs on the clean floor in front of the verandah with a flower garden in the background. They were apparently pondering over something in the right earnest, quite oblivious of the enchanting atmosphere. Insensible as they were to the blooming flowers close by and the fragrance of exhilarating breezes, their dull features were suggestive of the austerity of the puritanical life they had been leading.

In the midst of them was seated in an armed chair a handsome and elegant gentleman with a sweet smile brightening his attractive features. He seemed to be fifty or somewhere thereabout. His broad forehead bore the marks of wisdom and sagacity and his eyes kindled with piercing intelligence. Here was Maulānā Maudūdī, the enlightened thinker of the Islamic world, with whom we had the opportunity to spend some time that evening. We had gone to interview him with minds full of questions and fears and confronted with the problem of selecting out of them a few questions to be put to him within the limited time at our disposal.

The home of Maududi in Ichhra, Lahore

My friend was the first to give vent to his fears. “Maulānā,” he asked, “The young-man of today trembles at the very idea of an Islamic state. He envisions bearded figures wearing shorter shalwārs (pants) falling above their ankles, earthen clods or pieces of bricks ready for purification, and policemen patrolling the street with whips in their hands. The mind of the young man (I am one such) used to the life of this modern and advanced age is agitated by the question. “If the Islamic state that Maulānā Maudūdī demands is really established what will become of us?”

“To be sure,” returned the Maulānā, “You will all be quite safe.”

This terse answer raised a peel of laughter from the listless gentlemen sitting around and they woke up. Their eyes lighted up and they regarded us ironically. We felt as if they were telling us: “You have tested of his wits now. Have you anything more to ask?”

“How could we be safe?” demanded my friend, who enjoyed the Maulānā’s answer heartily.

“Well, we do not believe in beards grown without conviction. The Islamic system, as a matter of fact, aims at bringing about an inner revolution in man. It believes in a radical change in his modes of thinking and feeling. Such a change cannot be effected by the use of a whip or a stick. What is actually required is to bring about a change in man’s outlook on life and in his practical attitude rather than to use a whip as a corrective means. The group of people well-acquainted with the genius of the Islamic state will determine clear basis for national reconstruction. What I say now is not something new. I have already said as well as written the same thing time and again.”

“You are right,” said I, “But your voice has reached only a limited circle. The younger generation has been scared by the Mulla in order to keep them away from himself. We are living in a state of constant fear. But we are now reassured by what you have said that there will be no violence and repression in the proposed Islamic state.”

“Never,” said the Maulānā, impetuously. “Believe me, I have been endeavoring to dispel such misunderstandings by word of mouth as well as by writing. But those who nourish such far-fetched fears neither read what I write nor lend ears to what I say. We will never resort to the smallest action of the amount of coercion by which the modern governments try to achieve their ends. You must have read the news about Turkey where the soldiers are prohibited to grow moustache by the modern government. This is repression and sheer injustice. It is, in fact, narrow-mindedness similar to that of Mullaism of which the people complain so much. Can you tell me what the beard and moustache have to do with man’s efficiency? Let us just consider the case of the Sikhs [A religious group of India that is prohibited from cutting their hair and beard.]. Did they lag behind us in any field? What government post did they not secure? What avenue of acquiring wealth did they not exploit? Their beards never stood in the way of progress. You should rest assured that the Islamic government will not adopt the repressive measures for forcing the people to grow beards which the champions of modern civilization resort to forcing the people to have a clean shave. The real task before us is to effect a radical change in the people’s thinking and sensibilities. All the other changes in their way of living will naturally follow in its wake.

The Maulānā was also asked a question about sports. His attention was drawn to the general impression that sports probably fall under the category of entertainments which Islam does not approve of. So he was asked, “Don’t you think that the Islamic government will impose restrictions on sports?” “No,” was his answer, “The question of imposing a ban on sports does not arise at all. But what goes on during the holy month of Ramaḍān at present will on no account be allowed by the Islamic government. What one sees today during the holy month in a big city like Lahore is that people are playing cricket and thousands of Muslims eat and drink in public without a blush. No one realizes the outrage he is committing. This, I believe is the worst possible example of immodesty and spiritual insensibility. The Muslims ought to have felt ashamed of themselves when a visiting cricket team refused to play on its festival of Good Friday  which fell during a match.  The Muslims, on the other hand, were liberal enough to organize the match unabashed during the holy month. Sports and, for that matter, any other recreation will, of course, be banned by the Islamic government if they obstruct the observance of religious duties and are conducive to indulgence in what is prohibited by Islam.

Our meeting had progressed thus far when a small boy stole into the lawn, plucked a flower from one of the plants and got away with it. Of the six sons of the Maulānā, the eldest one who had joined us a few minutes earlier rose from his seat and started laying the carpets in preparation for the Maghrib prayer. This caused a little stir among those present.

The Maulānā’s reference to recreation led us to the main question which was the real purpose of our meeting with him. We had actually come to ascertain what kinds of recreation, according to him, would be permissible in the Islamic state—whether the cinema, radio, music, theatre and the like would be allowed to continue as at present or restrictions would be imposed upon them.

“As regards music,” the Maulānā said, “so far as vocal melody voice is concerned there can be no question of banning it. But the singing to the accompaniment of instruments or instrumental music is a different thing altogether. Such music is a strong intoxicant with certain dangerous traditions. From times immemorial music, liquor and sex have gone hand in hand and instrumental music has, in particular, served as a stimulant for sins like adultery and drinking. Hence anything that stimulates sinful habits cannot be allowed to remain unrestricted. But this evil will be purged off slowly and gradually.”

“The classical music is quite different from the light music and it does not apparently arouse sexual desire. What do you think?”

“Well, I too am of the opinion that the two kinds of music are not identical,” the Maulānā agreed. “Classical music does not have the same effect on a man’s mind as light music [In the 1950s, what was referred to as light music is what came to be ultimately known as pop, rock or modern music]. If someone personally amuses himself with that genre of music there should be no restriction on it. But the government need not patronize it.”

“Another source of recreation is the cinema. Will the cinema houses be locked up as soon as the Islamic government is formed?” asked my friend. “I am dead against the existing cinema. By cinema I mean the films shown today. It has ruined the morals of the people more than any other entertainment. The films are fraught with prodigious power and can serve as the most effective medium of instruction. They can raise the intellectual level of an average ignorant man to that of al least an undergraduate. They can be used in educating man and training the people in various fields, such as agriculture, industry, civil defense, hygiene and good citizenship. They can add to the people’s knowledge of the world and the universe at large. They can also be used as a means of social and moral reforms. But as long as the kind of existing films are produced, there can be no room for instructive films. As soon as the production of present subversive films is stopped and the production of educational and geographical films starts in the right earnest, the people will begin enjoying the latter of their own accord.”

“But documentaries cannot be a source of recreation,” I interrupted.

“They will certainly be recreating. They will be made so entertaining that the people will see them spell-bound.”

“But experience proves just to the contrary.”

“Well, then,” said the Maulānā, “You may produce a purely recreative film off and on. But it should on no account include any scenes encouraging crime and outrage.”

At this point our talk with the Maulānā shifted to literature. “To what extent would entertainment be permissible in fiction? Would you tolerate love stories in literature?”

“Why not?” returned the Maulānā with an air of authenticity. “But they should not be obscene and subversive. Love can be represented in a sound and instructive manner. Allah Himself relates the love story of Yūsuf (Joseph) in the Holy Qur’ān.”

Bewildered by his answers, both of us retorted simultaneously, “From what you have said we gather that your Islamic state will be insipid and prosaic—purely academic and didactic.”

“No, the conclusion you have drawn is not correct. The truth of the matter is that entertainments vary with the taste of the people. I, too, recreate myself, but my recreation is, perhaps, different from yours. When the modes of thinking and feeling are transformed, the people will dislike subversive entertainments of their own accord. There are good forms of entertainment as there are bad ones.”

The real purpose of our interview with him was to ascertain his views about social and cultural life in the Islamic state or his conception and, therefore, our questions were more or less confined to everyday recreations.

As we were disappointed by his views as to recreation for recreation’s sake, we switched over to things prohibited by Sharī‘ah. We asked him what the attitude of Islamic state would be towards liquor, gambling and illicit relations between man and woman.

“These things shall at all events be banned. For instance, the import, production as well as supply and purchase of liquor shall be totally prohibited. However, if someone secretly brews liquor within the precincts of his home and drinks it in spite of the total ban, without becoming a nuisance to the public, we need not probe into it.”

In this context the Maulānā touched on a very important matter. He said that Islam did not allow spying on anybody’s private life. He used the word probe for C.I.D. and excluded it from the sphere of the Islamic government’s activities. “It is not the function of Islamic government to probe into the private affairs of the citizens in order to find out their faults or to peep into their private life for detecting the sins they indulge in. This is borne out by the history of early caliphate.”

“Do you mean the Criminal Investigation Department will be dissolved by the Islamic government?” I asked.

“Oh no,” said the Maulānā. His voice was affected probably by the excessive quantity of bettle nuts. “It will concentrate on tracing and apprehending those criminals who cause disruption in the society.”

It was already dusk. As we thought of the recreations in vogue breathing their last in the Maulānā’s Islamic state, the vernal atmosphere around us became dreary. When we were about to take leave of him, the people present there with faces tense with austerity, cast triumphant looks over us. They appeared to us absolutely innocent. We felt for a moment as if recreations were being banished from our minds and wondered at the endurance of those people who had renounced all sorts of recreations even before the establishment of Islamic state. As we rose from our seats to leave, we cast a farewell glance over them and could clearly discern a gleam of triumph over their faces. They were the victors and we the vanquished. Defeated as we were, we traced our steps on the muddy street of Zeldar Park in complete silence, looking occasionally at each other with a blush.

Commentary: An insightful interview in which Maulānā Maudūdī shares his views on a variety pressing issues such the Islamic state, the issue of coercion, beards, sports, music, movies and entertainment in general, these are topics about which the world is still quite interested.

What is evident from this conversation is that this was a man far ahead of his times. His lucid thought and coherent responses could substitute as answers for the same concerns people have today, equally valid today as they were then.

Secondly, the unfounded and, at times, irrational fear of Islam, including from our own communities, has always existed and is not a product of 911, the Taliban or recent events. It is quite interesting that the pressing concern of an average young man in Pakistan almost a century ago was bearded men with a particular dress roaming the streets with whips in hand. Equally noteworthy is the Maulānā’s enlightened vision of the Islamic state, which focuses on education and persuasion over coercion and fear. The unfolding of the Taliban drama apparently played into these fears and one wonders if there was some deliberate involvement in those unfortunate events which convinced the world that the Islamic worldview is dark, repressive and incompatible with the modern world. To this day, varying versions of “morality police” roam the streets of Muslim cities, harassing those who are not dressed properly with whips, paintballs or even acid [See for instance, what is happening in Chechnya http://www.newsweek.com/2010/10/09/how-moscow-s-war-on-islamist-rebels-is-backfiring.html]. While I do believe there are conspiratorial elements in some of these cases, there is still no denying the role of some Muslim groups or individuals. In any event, the views of Maulānā Maudūdī and other enlightened thinkers deserve another look.

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5 thoughts on “A 1959 Conversation with Maulānā Maudūdī

  1. Assalamu Alaykum,

    I would like to send you a small “electronic” gift but I need an email address as I could not find one this site.

    Please contact me when you get a chance.
    If you like it perhaps you can extend my free offer to few others of your family, friends, masjid, school.

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    Jazaakum Allahu Khayran.

  2. This was very interesting. I’ve always wondered what an Islamic society would look like in our times – how big the government would be, what things would fall under its purview, what would society look like, etc. Given the complexities of our times such a thing would require specialists to come up with, but it’s very refreshing to hear of Maulana Maududi’s vision. A lot of other people miss the forest for the trees.

  3. khuda ke rematain ho aap par so bar modudi
    duain day rahe hae jamiat baydar modudi
    islami jamiat talba , township circle ,elaqa janubi………..

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