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Islam and Politics ( 14 Feb 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Political Islam in a Pakhtun Village


By Dr Husnul Amin

February 15, 2013

The writer is an Islamabad-based academic and an expert on Islamic social movements.

 While leafing through Maududi’s Islami Riyasat (Islamic State) in 2006, as a doctoral fellow at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, I remembered first reading it in 1991, when I was a student-activist in an organisation that subscribed to Maududi’s ideology.

 Conducting research on the Islamic movement, the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, its ideology, historical trajectories and the perpetual dissent it spawned over time, is not merely an academic pursuit for me. The Jamaat and its deep imprints on society are personal for me.

 This discourse is an elaborate history of my childhood; I was brought up in an overwhelming Jamaati environment (a family or social condition shaped and deeply influenced by Maududi’s ideas and activities of the Jamaat). Like most of his contemporary modern educated, middle class revolutionary friends or inqilabi dost, my late father embraced the Jamaat’s inqilabi dawat (revolutionary message) in the 1970s wholeheartedly. His personal thinking, political, economic and social life, and worldview were an embodiment of the new message. As a true believer in the supremacy of his newfound identity, my father preferred his mission of spreading the message to everywhere around his village, to his family and social responsibilities.

 When I was born, my surroundings and family were dominated by the thoughts of Maududi, Qutb and Hassan al-Banna. Maududi’s books formed the dominant academic resource that ruled and subdued all other household articles. A number of weekly and monthly politico-religious magazines further bolstered the intellectual dominance of the Jamaat literature and moral-story digests in my childhood home. This rich intellectual resource centre, as my father would repeatedly remind us, was augmented further by frequent meetings with my father’s Islamist friends, missionary brothers – as tehreeki bhai (brothers in movement) – at our hujra (guesthouse).

 As kids, we would attend to the guests as waiters as per the Pakhtun tradition of hospitality. My old, sane and traditional grandfather would, time and again, resent such alien activities of my father and exhort him to stick to the traditional Islamic school of thought prevalent in the village – Deobandism. Grandfather did not like my father’s intellectual subordination to Maududi’s teachings and the associated social and political activities. My father’s subscription to Islamism was Maududiyyat – a derogatory term for Maududi, which was coined and popularised by traditional Ulema – for many, including my grandfather.

 Conversely, the 1980s brought about an era of Zia’s ill-conceived Islamisation and Afghan jihad projects. More comfortable in the company of the new dictator than representative democratic governments, the Jamaat jumped on the Afghan jihad and Islamisation bandwagon. From my first introduction to these new subjects, I observed intrusion of a strong Jihadi bias in the meetings of the Jamaat and its student wing, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba Pakistan. In these meetings, jihad assumed primacy over all other positive/productive social, political and religious reformation as the space where these activities were hijacked by propagandist literature.

 My home library also suffered from this change. Books and pamphlets, posters and handbills on active jihad made their way onto bookshelves, replacing mere ideological and religious material. The shift in the balance was considerable and was felt by everyone. The 1980s was also an important decade for the villagers because their incomes rose remarkably due to a flourishing timber business and remittances coming from the oil-rich Arab countries. The rising incomes had a demonstrable effect with a construction boom, improved nutrition and modern consumption.

 Then the village received a telephone exchange and the number of TV sets increased. The Jamaat activists now had more sources of leisure and less time for friends and ideological discussions. Grown-up children and competition in business and jobs demanded more attention, leaving less time and resources for friends and relatives. Now, even the most urgent issues could be discussed over the telephone.

 Nevertheless, the opportunities had different effects on income, lifestyle and consumption patterns of the Jamaat activists. This invoked a tension within the Islamists’ network. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Jamaat’s central leadership changed; the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan; in Pakistan, democracy was restored; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) entered as more visible actors in controlling the economy and economic policy; and an armed struggle in Kashmir was launched. In addition, all of my father’s movement brothers transformed into new individuals in terms of age, profession, lifestyle, income, family size and pessimism with the arrival of an Islamic revolution.

 Thus, in 1989, I joined the Jamaat student wing when I was in ninth grade. From that point onwards, the Jamaat activism was not something that I would only observe as an outsider but became an internal experience that I was passing through. My father’s generation of Jamaat activists sowed the seeds of an Islamic movement, and it left a “rich resource centre of ideological books” for us as the most precious asset in inheritance (my father would tell us all the time) that we, the sons, were now dealing with the fruits of the Afghan jihad project and were building on that.

 Though, for us, it was not the USSR but the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and Dr Najeeb’s government in Kabul that were the main hurdles in reaping the crops of the Afghan jihad. The new goal was to liberate Kashmir from Indian occupation. I actively participated in all electoral campaigns which were held in the 1990s; these included fundraising schemes for the Kashmir jihad and student activism on campuses.

 Today, most of my father’s friends have tired of this endless struggle, become grievous of the growing elitism in the Jamaat environment, or cried over Jamaat’s current leadership, which deviated from its original ideology and the path set by Maududi. Some negotiated space between Jamaat activism – their own business and politics – and negotiated their current positions within the Jamaat by switching from more political activism to more Dawah and social activism.

Still, others left of their own accord or were expelled over growing differences with the ideology and strategy of the Jamaat. I am witness to the introduction of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and his students steadily making their way through their audio lectures and booklets in our home library. My father and his friends would never allow me to read Ghamidi’s books or listen to his lectures. These, he insisted, were based on a deviation from Maududi’s ideology and were based on the intent to harm the Jamaat’s cause.

Through this connection, in the mid-1990s, I faced the same attitude and response from my father as he confronted his father: to my grandfather, my father’s defiance was a serious offence because he was deviating from the traditional Islam as was told and narrated to them by the village imams and Ulema. To my father, my defiance was substantial because I deviated from the most modern interpretation, ideology and strategy of an Islamist movement, which were Maududi and the Jamaat. My grandfather accused my father of creating havoc in the original religion; my father accused me not only of deviating from Islam but also from Maududi’s political Islam.

At the time, it was not an academic argument (which it would later become) that enabled us to pass through competing understandings of Islam, and its relation to state and society – my grandfather’s insistence on traditional Islam, my father’s commitment to Maududi’s Islamism, and my own introduction to Ghamidi and his ideas. These were religious tensions within and without. We experienced these tensions but could not describe them in academic terms.

I see this incessant dissent, rupture, discontinuity, change, transformation, mutation and deviation as a normal pattern within my own lived Islam, and not an exception found only in the modern western world.

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