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Mawdudi, Ghannouchi, and Ghamidi: On Building a Theo-democratic, Reconciliatory ‘Counter Narrative’ to Political ‘crISIS’ - Part 1

By Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray

Feb 3 2019

This is in response to Mehmood-ur-Rashid's “In defence of ISIS”, his weekly GK column ‘INKSIGHT’, Saturday 5th Jan’19. He highlighted the presence of, and the “crISIS” brought by, “ISIS in Kashmir”. In one of his previous columns (GK, dated 14th July’2018), he provided some insights into, and warned us, of the “Emerging crISIS in Kashmir”. He concluded his latest column with these lines: “[JRL leaders] need to sit, and discuss seriously, how to deal with ISIS. Symbolism is not going to do it. A politics based on some substance is needed. Some allusions may help. One, Syed Maududi’s emphasis on transparent, democratic, and non-violent politics. Two, Rashid Ghannoushi’s reconciliatory national politics. Third, and the most crucial, Ghamidi’s Counter Narrative”.

Building on, and beginning with, his ending, I hereby highlight the approaches of Mawlana Syed Abu’l Mawdudi, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi on ‘Islam and politics’, which I would like to describe, with a mixed-phrase, as “Theo-democratic, Reconciliatory Counter Narrative”. I feel it necessary to present their thoughts, chronologically, so that readers will get some insights into their thinking, and approach, as far as ‘Islam–politics’ issue/narrative is concerned. Here I begin by presenting, as brief as possible, Maulana Mawdudi’s views on ‘Theo-Democracy’, with criticism as well.

Maulana Mawdudi needs no introduction for anyone from South Asia. “Maulana Mawdudi was one of the most influential and important Islamic thinkers of the modern world, whose brand of political Islam has won wide-spread acceptance in South and South-East Asia as well as the Middle East” (Jackson, 2011). His writings, especially on ‘Islam and politics’ (or what is now-a-days termed as ‘Political Islam’), has been examined and explored, critically or otherwise, in numerous works. Some examples are: Charles J. Adams (1983); Vali Raza Nasr (1994; 1996); Zeenat Kausar (2003); Asma Afsaruddin (2007; 2011); Roy Jackson (2006; 2011); Irfan Ahmad (2009; 2010; 2017); Joshua T. White and Niloufer Siddiqui (2014), Jan-Peter Hartung (2014), and many others.

Rejecting the separation of religion and state, Maulana Mawdudi was a major contributor to the promotion of Islam as ‘Din wa Dawla’ (religion and state). In his numerous works he elaborated his views on religion, society, economy, and polity; and among these, he has also deliberated on Islamic system of governance and its affinity with democracy, though within the bounds and limitations. Below is provided an assessment of his views on Islam and politics, theo-democracy, democratic Khilafah, etc.—the basis of his envisioned ‘Islamic state’.

“The political system of Islam”, for Mawdudi, is “based on three principles, viz., Tawheed (Unity of God), Risalat (Prophethood) and Khilafat (Caliphate)”, and in his consideration, it is “difficult to appreciate the different aspects of Islamic policy without fully understanding these three principles”. In the beginning of his career, Mawdudi criticized Western democracy and its philosophy, by declaring Islam, from the point of political philosophy, as “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy”, but he never rejected it entirely. Rather, he insisted that it be framed within the precincts of Tawhid on the grounds that if democracy was understood as a limited form of popular sovereignty, one restricted and directed by God’s law, then there is no incompatibility between it and Islam. In other words, he held that Islam constitutes its own form of democracy when conceived as a limited form of popular sovereignty directed by Shari‘ah, the Islamic Law. To describe this alternate view, he used the term Theo-democracy (Ilahi Jumhuri Hukumat: a divine democratic government) and the concept of Khilafah (Vicegerency) as a basis for his interpretation.

 In his ‘Political Theory of Islam’ he argues that Islamic polity is neither theocracy no democracy, but has elements of both, and thus argued: “If I were permitted to coin a new term, I would describe this system of government as a ‘theo-democracy’, that is to say a divine democratic government [Ilahi Jumhuri Hukumat], because under it the Muslims have been given [granted] a limited popular sovereignty under the suzerainty [or paramount sovereignty] of God. ... In this sense, the Islamic polity is democracy” (italics mine)

Mawdudi called it ‘theo-democracy’ in order to distinguish it from a theocracy, or a clergy-run state, which he rejected; and from the Western secular democracy as well. This view is shared by many scholars, Muslims and non- Muslims, like John L. Esposito (1988), Dr Israr Ahmad (2001/ 2006), Munawwar Haque (2010), etc.

As man’s vice-regency (Khilafah) is one of the basic principles of Islamic political order as well as an important concept in the development of Islamic democracy, he utilized it for his interpretation of democracy in Islam. Mawdudi, while describing the real significance and implication of Khilafah, argues that the authority of caliphate is bestowed on the entire group of people, the community as a whole, which is ready to fulfil the conditions of representation after subscribing to the principle of Tawhid and Risalah: “This is the point where democracy begins in Islam” (Italics mine). Regarding these views, John L. Esposito and John O. Voll (Islam and Democracy, 1996, p. 26) are of this opinion: “[Mawdudi’s] perception of ‘caliph’ not only becomes a foundation for concepts of human responsibility and of opposition to systems of domination, but also provides a basis for distinguishing between democracy in Western and in Islamic terms”.

Maulana Mawdudi differentiates between Islamic democracy and Western democracy on the basis of concept of sovereignty, law, and authority/ sovereignty of the people. For him, the major contradictions between Islamic and Western democracy are: principle of Sovereignty of God and Popular Khilafah vs Popular Sovereignty; following and obeying the laws (Shari‘ah) given by God through His Prophet vs the laws made by the people; subservience to the Divine Law and within the limits prescribed by Shari‘ah vs absolute authority.

Though the concept of Theo-democracy has been appreciated, but it has been criticized as well. For example, Charles Adams stated that Maulana Mawdudi’s “theo-democracy” cannot escape from the fault of tyranny, because “While sovereignty may belong to God, God does not Himself intervene directly in the life of the Islamic state to give orders, decide policies, or render divisions; there must be human agency to do those things on His behalf and in His name. ... If the fault of theocratic governments lies in the fact that some human agency attains unrestricted power..., then one is hard pressed to understand how the Islamic theo- democracy that Mawdudi proposed would escape this fault”. Afsaruddin raises the question “How Islamic” is Mawdudi’s Theo-democracy”?

 In her analysis, theo-democracy is “a-historical and unfaithful to, and even distorting of, the variegated pre-modern Islamic political tradition which evolved over time”. Similarly, Jackson (2006) writes that Mawdudi’s claim that his Islamic society would be a ‘theo- democracy’, “seems to beg the question: where is the democracy?” Jackson also declares the concept of theo-democracy as “a contradiction in terms”.

Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Pulwama, Kashmir. Views expressed are personal, and not the institution he works for.