Maudoodi: According to Kepel

I have started reading Gilles Kepel’s book Jihad : The Trail of Political Islam”. It is an interesting book with a somewhat different viewpoint about political and militant Islam. Here are some excerpts about Maudoodi (for some background, read my earlier posts [1, 2]):

By contrast with Egypt, where Nasser crushed the Muslim Brothers in 1954 and created a hiatus between the colonial era and our own, the Islamist movement on the Indian subcontinent has developed steadily from the 1930s right up to the present. During the decades of Islamist persecution in Cairo, Maudoodi worked away in Pakistan to fine-tune the theories and concepts that would allow Islamic ideology to adapt to the new political conditions created by the rise of “irreligious” independent states. At a very early stage, Maudoodi laid the cultural foundations for a future Islamic republic, defined in opposition to the Muslim nationalism that led to the birth of Pakistan in 1947.

To a much greater extent than the Arab Islamist theorists, Maudoodi acted squarely within the general framework of his culture. He was a prolific author and journalist in Urdu.

The list of Maudoodi’s writings is available at the Jamaat-e-Islami website. The most well-known of Maudoodi’s works is the Tafheem-ul-Quran (Understanding of the Quran), a translation and commentary of the Quran in Urdu. It is written in regular Urdu instead of most other translations which take a somewhat literal approach. Therefore, it is easy to read and understand. Obviously, Maudoodi’s commentary is quite different than traditional ulema.

Maudoodi’s first book, Jihad in Islam, was published in Urdu in the 1920s, roughly coinciding with Banna’s creation of the Society of Muslim Brothers in Egypt. From the start Maudoodi was against the project for a circumscribed “Muslim state,” which would give power to the nationalists. Instead, he agitated for an Islamic state covering the whole of India. For him, all nationalism was impiety, more especially as its conception of the state was European-inspired. Apart from this, he had nothing but contempt for the ulemas [traditional religious scholars — Zack], whom he accused of having collaborated with the British occupiers since the fall of Muslim-held Delhi in 1857. Maudoodi favored what he called “Islamization from above,” through a state in which sovereignty would be exercised in the name of Allah and the sharia [Islamic law — Zack] would be implemented. He declared that politics was “an integral, inseparable part of the Islamic faith, and that the Islamic state that Muslim political action seeks to build is a panacea for all their [Muslims’] problems.” For him, the five traditional Pillars of Islam (profession of the faith, prayer, the fast of Ramadan, pilgrimage, and almsgiving) were merely phases of training and preparation for jihad, the struggle against those of Allah’s creatureswho had usurped His sovereignty. By the pen of Maudoodi, religion was turned into an ideology of political struggle. To carry out his jihad, he founded, in 1941, the Jamaat-e-Islami [Party of Islam — Zack], which he saw as the vanguard of the Islamic Revolution, on a Leninist model. Maudoodi made explicit references to the “vanguard” of the earliest Muslims, who gathered around the Prophet in 622 during the Hegira (flight), broke with the idolatrous people of Mecca, and departed to found the Islamic state of Medina. His own party was intended to follow a similar course.

Maudoodi was the first twentieth-century Muslim thinker to build a political theory around the original break that led to the founding of Islam. In transforming this break into a strategy for action, he was inspired by the avante-garde European political parties of the 1930s. Qutb and his successors did the same; but instead of building up clandestine organizations and transforming the rupture with ungodly society into violent confrontation, Maudoodi’s party existed in complete legality for most of its history. It continues to do so today, even though its founder and many of its leaders have been imprisoned from time to time. Maudoodi’s holy war to build an Islamic state found expression through full participation in the political system of Pakistan, rather than radical opposition to it.

I think during the 1960s the security screening for military and some other government personnel checked whether someone was a member of Jamat-e-Islami or the Communist Party. That usually was a disqualification.

In contrast to the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood of 1930-1950, but also in contrast to Islamic parties of the late twentieth century such as the Turkish Prosperity (Refah) party or the Algerian Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), the Jamaat-e-Islami did not attract a mass following and its impact on elections remained consistently weak. Its social base was confined to the educated middle class, and it never seems to have penetrated to the poorer levels of society, where the Urdu language was not understood. Significantly, Maudoodi and his acolytes used Urdu for their speeches and sermons.

Even in the recent elections in Pakistan, when the religious parties (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Assembly for Action) won big (51 seats out of 269 in the national assembly), most of their success (basically of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam or Party of the scholars of Islam, a Deobandi party) was in the Pashtun areas of NWFP and Baluchistan. However, Jamaat-e-Islami won most of its seats in the urban areas in Punjab and Sindh.

Above all, the social agenda of the party remained highly ambiguous. It proclaimed its absolute hostility to capitalism, but socialism was the real target of its wrath.

For the religious and conservative people in Pakistan, communism and socialism were generally considered to be beyond evil. All communists and socialists were automatically thought of as atheists.

In the gestation of the contemporary Islamic movement, Maudoodi’s contribution was largely as a pioneer; he was the first person to give expression to the theory of cultural rupture with nationalists and ulemas alike. Moreover, he maintained the continuity of his Pakistani party at a time when many Arab Islamists were demoralized by repression. And in general his intellectual influence played a part in reorganizing Islamism to confront the then-truimphant forces of nationalism.

Towards the end of the 1960s, the bisecting influences of Qutb and Maudoodi prepared the ground within the Sunni Muslim world for the emergence of the Islamist movement over the next ten years. One influence came from the Middle East, where Islam had dominated for fourteen centuries and where European colonization had been unable to challenge its primacy. The other came from the Indian subcontinent, where most of the population was still Hindu despite ten centuries of Islamic political domination. When the British empire broke that domination in 1857, Muslims felt besieged and threatened. According to Maudoodi, an Islamic state was the only possible safeguard for endangered Muslims; nevertheless, his call for a cultural break with the past was not an incitement to social revolution so much as a call to take part in the political institutions of Pakistan. The divide between the Islamist avant-garde and society did not translate into guerilla warfare, uprisings, or resistance.

Meanwhile Qutb, in adopting Maudoodi’s notion of an Islamic state, established a much more radical program of action. For him, the vanguard’s role was to destroy the ungodly state, to break with it immediately, and to refuse to be compromised by association with a political system from which it could expect nothing. Qutb promoted revolution as a way to seize power — a concept that was absent from Maudoodi’s thought — and in the process he found many followers and imitators among the radical youth of Islam. But neither Maudoodi nor Qutb gave any explicit social content to their theorizing. Qutb may have depicted Islam as the instrument of social justic, but in no way did he present himself as the mouthpiece of the disinherited, as did the Siite revolutionaries in Iran. He identified the main fault line within society as being between Islam and jahiliyya [period of ignorance — Zack], but nothing in his discourse infers that there might be a contradiction between “oppressed” and “oppressors” — or between the Iranian revolution’s “disinherited ones” and “men of arrogance.”

For more details on Syed Qutb, read Bill Allison’s excellent series on Qutb (1, 2:1, 2:2, 3:1, 3:2, 3:3, 4, 5, 6, 7:1, 7:2, 7:3, 7:4, 7:5, 7:6, 8:1, 8:2).

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. It is not true that Jamaat Islami won most of it,s seats in urban areas of sindh and punjab, Jamaat won most of the seats from NWFP and won many from both Sind and Punjab too.
    Maudoodi is the revivalist of Islam in recent days, if a person wants to understand Islam, he should read the books of Maudoodi and other Jamaat,s authors. Maudoodi in his writings, proved that Islam is the only solution of human problems. The democracy, socialism and nationalism failed to solve the problems of humanity. The British, Americans and other so called modern nations not only failed to solve the problems but created the most greater problems for the people of this world starting wars in different parts of the world. Islam is the religion of peace and harmony but these countries are propagating Islam and it,s followers and are on the rampage of them, destroying them every where and still claiming that we are bringing peace and democracy in the muslim countries. This is the biggest lie of recent days.

  2. To me Moulana moudoodi was the Mujtahid of 20th century. He put life in the Islamic Terminologies and explained it as it was understood in the day of Prophet (peace be upon him. He thought that for a Muslim only traditional five pillars of Islam are not enough. Jihad (a continuous struggle to establish the Islamic governmental system subject to the sovereignty of Allah Almighty)is the objective of all these relegious practices.
    I think that it’s not true that neither he founded a party on Leninist model nor he was inspired by the avante-garde European political parties of the 1930s. He actually founded the Islamic party on the model of Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) and he was only inspired by the prophet’s movement.
    The writer is true in many of his viewpoints regarding the Jamaat’s success in elections. But now the environment is changed here in Pakistan. Inshallah soon the Islamic movements would be the successful in coming elections.

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  7. Moulan Moudoodi was undoubtedly a historical personage who created a new chapter in Islamic concepts by giving a angle to see Islam in another perspective. He was the first person in Islamic history who introduced to Islam as a viable system which can encomps all the apects of life. May allah almighty rest his soul.

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