By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
(Translation of the Urdu book Deen ki Siyasi Ta‘abir)
Maulana Maududi’s Writings
The nature of the fundamental mistake in Maulana Maududi’s interpretation of Islam is not of the same as sidelining an aspect of the Deen (as for instance, denying the practice or Sunnat of the Prophet) or adding a new aspect to the Deen (such as a new claimant to prophethood). Rather, the Maulana’s real error is that he had transformed the philosophy of the Deen. This is the root of all the other mistakes that he made.
If someone believes that the fundamental purpose of life is to earn money, he will not deny the salience of other basic human needs and related matters. He will continue to recognize the importance of everything else that human life requires, including religion, morals and social relations. But the way he relates to these will be entirely different. He will relate to them as mere means to accomplish what he sees as the purpose of his life—to make as much money as he can. He will establish relations with others, and even with himself, simply on the basis of how far this can help him earn more money. He may donate money in charity, but here, too, his motive will be to help him increase his earnings!
Maulana Maududi’s interpretative mistake is somewhat of the same order. His particular bent of mind made him bestow on politics the central place in his interpretation of the Deen. Accordingly, for him, to establish the dominance of the Deen was tantamount to establishing its political domination. He saw this as the very purpose or goal that God wants his servants to strive to work for. Naturally, then, in his understanding of Islam, the rest of the Deen came to be subordinated to politics. Politics assumed the central place through which every aspect of the Deen could be understood and its importance ascertained. In this way, in his understanding of Islam, every aspect of it acquired a political hue. This naturally resulted in a major deviation.
This point is so very clear and prominent in the various writings of Maulana Maududi that nobody can deny it. I would like to cite some examples to illustrate this point.
Explanation of Life and the Universe
Just as exaggerated importance given to issue of the economy led, in the form of Marxism, to an explanation of the universe in which economic issues were given the greatest importance, in Maulana Maududi’s interpretation of the Deen a politically-inflected understanding led to a new view about life and the universe in which politics had a pre-eminent place.
Thus, for instance, Maulana Maududi noted that God has placed those aspects of human life that are ‘animalistic’ and ‘natural’ under the sway of natural laws. As regards these, Man is, like all other creatures, totally ‘surrendered’ to God. But as regards the uniquely human aspects of Man, wherein Man can use his intelligence and powers of discrimination and act according to his own intention, God has bestowed on Man freedom of choice. This free-will is actually a test. The right thing to do is that in this sphere, too, human beings should surrender themselves totally to their Creator, in just the same way as they do in those matters of human life over which they have no control. This is because God alone is the legitimate ruler. Obedience is due to Him alone. However, God does not compel people to obey Him in these matters, having left them free to decide things for themselves.
The Maulana then went on to write that in the sphere in which human beings have to use God-given free will, the law that ought to be followed is the divinely-revealed Shariah, which was conveyed through God’s messengers. This law covers a wide gamut of issues, including beliefs, morals, society, civilization, politics, and so on. It is not enough, the Maulana wrote, to regard God as the Creator and Lord of the Earth and the Skies. In addition, he said, ‘It is necessary to accept Him as the Emperor and Ruler and Law-Maker.’ One must also obey ‘the principles, moral rules, limits and laws set by Him’. If someone simply accepts God and believes Him to have no partners but, at the same time, claims to be fully independent in the sphere in which humans have free-will, he ‘actually revolts against God’. The same is true, the Maulana added, if someone were to claim to establish his dominion over a bit of the earth and announce, ‘Here I shall rule according to my will, and in any way I like.’ This, the Maulana commented, is precisely what monarchs, dictators, priests and even citizens in democracies claim. This, too, is what every person who ‘does not accept obedience to God’ claims with regard to his personal life. All such people, argued the Maulana, rebel against God—who regard someone other than God as the ruler. ‘The task of the true believer is to wipe out this rebellion from the world and to put an end to the divinity of everything other than God,’ the Maulana wrote. The true believer’s mission in life, he added, is to ensure that just as God’s natural laws are followed throughout the cosmos, His Shariah laws, too, must be enforced in the human world. ‘The goal of all the efforts of the true believer is to take out God’s servants from servitude to everyone other than God and to make them servants of God alone,’ he maintained. This task is to be done essentially through guidance, instruction, exhortation, preaching and so on, he said. But, he added, ‘those who have illegally become the rulers of God’s domain and have made the servants of God’s their own servants’ generally do not give up their positions simply as a result of preaching. Nor can such people generally tolerate that knowledge of the Truth spread among the public. They regard this as threatening to destroy their lordship. ‘That is why’, he contended, ‘the true believer is compelled to take to war so that he can remove the hurdles in the path of establishing Divine Government’.
The Concept of the Purpose of Life
A natural result of the political interpretation of Islam was that the fundamental purpose of life came to be understood in essentially political terms. In this understanding of life, acquiring political power became of fundamental importance.
Thus, in his book Tehrik-e Islami ki Ikhlaqi Buniyaden (‘The Ethical Foundations of the Islamic Movement’), Maulana Maududi contended, ‘The ultimate aim of our struggle is bringing about revolution in leadership’. ‘This is to say’, he explained, ‘that the final stage that we want to attain this world is the end of the sway of corruption and immorality and the establishment of the system based on a pious leadership. We regard this struggle as a means to acquire the pleasure of God, in this world and in the hereafter.’ ‘It is this,’ he wrote, ‘that we have made our aim.’ He bemoaned the fact that many Muslims failed to appreciate ‘the importance of this issue in the Deen.’
The ‘final basis’ for progress as well as decline in human affairs, he contended, was the question of who wielded political power. Without this sort of power, he claimed, it was impossible to attain the fundamental purpose of the Deen. And so, he opined, the establishment of a ‘pious leadership’ (Imamat-e Saleh) and the ‘Divine system’ (Nizam-e Haq) was of paramount importance. ‘If there is any negligence in this matter,’ he argued, ‘there is nothing one can do to earn God’s pleasure.’ ‘Establishing and maintaining a pious leadership and the Divine System is the real aim of the Deen’, he continued. ‘According to Islam, the establishment of a pious leadership is of central and basic importance,’ he wrote, adding, ‘This, according to me, is the demand of the Book of God. This is what the practice (Sunnat) of the prophets was. And I cannot budge from this position until and unless someone proves to me from the Book of God and the practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that this is not demanded by the Deen.’
In the same vein, the Constitution of the Jama‘at-e Islami declares:
The objective of the Jama‘at-e Islami and the aim of all its efforts is the establishment of Divine Government in this world and the winning of God’s pleasure in the Hereafter.
Understanding of the Deen of Islam
The politically-determined nature of Maulana Maududi’s interpretation of the Deen is evident from the following passage, taken from his book Musalman Aur Maujuda Siyasi Kashmakash (‘Muslims and the Present-Day Political Strife’):
The word Deen is almost identical in its meaning to how the word ‘state’ is understood in present times. People accepting a superior power and obeying it—this is the ‘state’. This is also the understanding of the term Deen. And the true Deen (Deen-e Haq) is that human beings abandon slaving for, and obedience to, other people, their own egos and all created beings, and accept the superior-most power of God alone and become His servants and obey Him.
Maulana Maududi wrote that the Prophet had ‘brought with him from his Sender’ a state system that had no room whatsoever for people’s independent authority and for allowing some people to rule over others. Rather, he added, ‘ruler-ship and the superior-most power are entirely God’s.’
The political interpretation of the Deen presents God’s sending of the prophets to the world in a particular political light. Thus, discussing the nature of the mission of the prophets in his book Tajdeed-o-Ihya-e Deen (‘The Renewal and Revival of the Deen’) Maulana Maududi wrote:
The highest goal of the mission of the prophets (on whom be peace) in this world has been to establish the Divine Government and enforce the system of life that they had brought from God. They were willing to give the people who followed Ignorance (ahl-e Jahiliyiat) the right to remain established in their ignorant (Jahili) beliefs and to allow them to continue to follow their ignorant ways to the extent that the impact of their actions remained restricted to them alone. But they were not willing to give them the right—and, quite naturally, they could not give them this right—that the reins of power could be in their hands and that they could run human affairs according to the laws of Ignorance (Jahiliyiat). This is why all the prophets made efforts to set off a political revolution (Siyasi Inqilāb). In the case of some, their efforts were only to the extent of preparing the ground—for instance, the Prophet Abraham. Some of them launched revolutionary movements in actual practice, but their work ended before establishing Divine Government—for instance, the Messiah [Jesus]. And some took this movement to the stage of success—for instance, the Prophet Moses and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
This opinion about the prophets is not proper. Assuming that their concern was to acquire power and that had they acquired it, they would have permitted people to continue in their wrong ways, is absolutely wrong, for the very mission of the prophets was to guide people to goodness and what is right.
The ‘Islamic Party’
When Islam is made out to be a political ideology, then, quite naturally, the Islamic community is made out to be a political party. This is what Maulana Maududi suggested, as for instance in the following excerpt from the chapter titled Jihad fi Sabilillah (‘Jihad in the Path of God’) of his book Tafhimat:
Those people who embrace Islam […] become members of the Islamic party, and in this way the international revolutionary party comes into being which the Quran terms as hizbullah (‘party of God’) […] As soon as this party comes into being, it launches jihad in order to attain its goal. Its existence demands that it make efforts to wipe out the ruler-ship of non-Islamic systems, and, as opposed to these, to establish the Government of that just and balanced laws of civilization and collective life which the Quran terms by the comprehensive name Kalimatullah (‘word of God’).
This ‘Islamic party’, Maulana Maududi contended, is not a party simply of ‘religious preachers’ ‘lecturers’ and ‘people who spread good news’ Rather, he wrote, ‘It is a party of soldiers of God, and its work is to forcibly wipe out oppression, strife, immorality, disobedience and illegal exploitation from the world.’ This ‘party’ aimed at ending the worship of everyone except God and replacing evil with good. ‘Hence’, Maulana Maududi added, ‘this party has no choice but to capture the powers of Government’. This, he explained, is because a ‘civilization that is based on strife’ depends for its existence on a government that is based on ‘strife’, while a ‘pious civilisational system’ cannot be established unless the reigns of political power are snatched from those who are wedded to strife and come into the hands of the ‘pious’.
The Purpose of Worship
In the political interpretation of Islam, worship or Ibaadat acquires a certain definite political meaning and status, as is evident in the statement below in Maulana Maududi’s book Khutbat:
Prayer, fasting Haj and Zakat, which God has made a duty for you and has appointed as pillars of Islam—all these things are not, as in the forms of worship in other religions, mere rituals and offerings and customs […] that you perform and God is happy with you. Rather, the fact of the matter is that they have been made into a duty to prepare you for a lofty purpose and to train you for an important task […] This aim is to wipe out the rule of human beings and to establish the ruler-ship of the one God. To be ready to sacrifice one’s everything and make efforts for this purpose even at the cost of one’s life is called jihad. Prayer and fasting and Haj and Zakat are all for preparing for this particular purpose.
In his book Islami Ibaadat Par Tahqiqi Nazar (‘An Investigative Perspective on Islamic Worship’), Maulana Maududi wrote about what he regarded as the purpose of congregational prayers in Islam as follows:
For Muslims, this world is a battlefield for stern struggles, contestations and difficulties. There are large groups here of people who rebel against God, and who, with full force, have imposed the laws that they themselves have devised on human beings. In opposition to them, Muslims have been given the responsibility—a very backbreaking responsibility—to spread God’s laws here and to get them to be enforced, to wipe out human-made laws wherever they are in operation and, in their place, to establish the system of life linked to the law of the one God who has no associates. This great service that God has given Muslims to do cannot be undertaken by any Muslim individual by himself against the groups of people who rebel against God. Even if there are tens of millions of Muslims in the world and if they make individual efforts separately, by themselves, still they cannot succeed in the face of the organized strength of their opponents. That is why it is indispensable that all those who want to worship God should make one group and should struggle in a united way for achieving their goal. Prayer does this work, in addition to the construction of individual character. It builds the entire structure of the collective system, establishes and preserves it, and brings it into action five times every day so that this system continues to function, like a machine.
The Understanding of Piety and God-Consciousness
In the political understanding of Islam, piety and God-consciousness also come to be understood in a particularly political way. Thus, in his book Tehrik-e Islami Ki Akhlaqi Buniyaden (‘The Ethical Foundations of the Islamic Movement’), Maulana Maududi wrote that Taqwa or piety is based on fear of God, which leads people to save themselves from His wrath, while the basis of Ihsan or spiritual excellence is God’s love, which inspires people to acquire His pleasure. He explains what he regards as the difference between Taqwa and Ihsan with the help of the following analogy.
Among the employees of the Government, Maulana Maududi wrote, are some who are very dutiful and who do the work they have been assigned very diligently, carefully abiding by all the rules and regulations. They do not do anything that, from the Government’s point of view, is objectionable. On the other hand, there is another group of employees who are very loyal to the Government, and who are willing even to sacrifice their very lives for it. Not only do they perform the tasks they have been assigned, but, more than that, they constantly think about how the Government’s interests can be better served. And so, they go beyond their duties and do extra work for the Government. If the Government faces any challenge or threat, they are willing to sacrifice their lives, their wealth and their children for its sake. If someone revolts against the Government, they stir themselves up and put their lives at stake to quash the revolt. They simply cannot tolerate even seeing anyone damaging the Government’s interests. Their heart-felt desire, Maulana Maududi wrote, is that their Government’s power alone should prevail throughout the world, and that not even a bit of land should remain across the world where their Government’s writ does not run.
Maulana Maududi argued that the first sort of people exemplify Taqwa, while the second category exemplify Ihsan. The former, he wrote, ‘will also receive promotions and their names will also be included in the list of good employees’. However, he stated, ‘no one can share the glorious stature’ of the latter. Although those who have Taqwa (Muttaqin) are also worthy of respect and trust, he commented, the ‘real power of Islam’, is ‘the group of those with Ihsan (Muhsinin), and the work that Islam wants should get done in the world can be done by this group.’
Bearing Witness to the Truth
In the political interpretation of Islam, bearing witness to the Truth is considered to be incomplete without the establishment of Islamic Government. Thus, in his Shahadat-e Haq (‘Witness to the Truth’), Maulana Maududi wrote:
If this witness can reach its culmination, it can only happen when a state is established based on these principles and it brings the entire Deen into action, and, through its justice, its reformist programme, its good administration, the welfare of its subjects, the good character of its rulers, its pious internal politics, its principled external policy, its noble warfare and its loyal reconciliation, it bears witness throughout the world that the religion that has given birth to such a state is truly a guarantor of human welfare and in obeying it lies the welfare of humankind. When this sort of witness combines with verbal witness, the responsibility that has been given to the Muslim Ummah is properly fulfilled—that is when Itimam-E Hujjat [providing the necessary proofs of Islam in the appropriate manner] with regard to humankind is accomplished.
The Prophet’s Ascension
As a result of the political interpretation of Islam, religious realities such as the ascension of the Prophet, too, come to be given a political interpretation. Thus, in his book titled Me’raj ki Raat (‘The Night of the Ascension’), Maulana Maududi wrote that the Planet Earth is a ‘small province’ of the ‘grand Sultanate of God’. The status of the Prophet who has been sent from God to this ‘province’ can be likened, he wrote, to that of a governor or viceroy who is sent by the Government to a country that is subordinate to it.
The Prophet of Islam engaged in preaching work for around twelve years when his mission entered a new stage. This new stage began when the time had arrived to leave the unfavourable environment of Makkah and shift to the more favourable environment of Madina and where, Maulana Maududi wrote, ‘the movement of Islam was to be transformed into a state’. That is why, he maintained, on this important occasion of his new ‘appointment’ and to give him new ‘instructions’, God, ‘the Emperor of the entire universe’, called the Prophet to His presence. This was, he says, the Me’raj or Prophet’s ascension.
The Maulana claimed that the 14 principles that were given to the Prophet during the ascension were not just moral or ethical teachings. Rather, these were what he called ‘Islam’s manifesto’ and the ‘programme’ on the basis of which the Prophet was to build up a society. These instructions provided during the mir‘aj were, he said, given to the Prophet when his movement was crossing the stage of preaching and ‘was about to step into the stage of Government and political power.’ And so, ‘before the beginning of this stage’, the ‘principles’ on the basis of which the Prophet was to ‘establish the system of civilization’ had been clarified. ‘This is why besides laying down these 14 points,’ the Maulana wrote, ‘God made prayers five times every day a duty for all the followers of Islam, so that moral discipline should develop in those who stood up in order to give this programme a practical shape and they should not be negligent of God.’
One could cite several more such passages from Maulana Maududi’s writings to indicate his distinctly political interpretation of Islam. The passages provided above are, however, more than adequate to understand the nature of the problem at hand. It is readily apparent—and anyone can easily see this—how in the political interpretation, every aspect of Islam comes to assume a political dimension. The purpose and meaning of life and the universe are given a distinctly political colour—in just the same way as in Marxism everything is coloured by the economic or material question. The goal of life is projected as essentially political. The Deen of Islam comes to be seen as shaped by politics.
God’s sending of prophets to humankind also comes to be seen as impelled by political goals. The lofty status of the Muslim Ummah is reduced to that of some sort of political party. Worship is reduced to a preface to politics. Piety and spiritual excellence come to be shaped in a distinctly political mould. Witnessing to the truth becomes a political act. The ascension comes to be seen as a sort of political journey. In other words, in this political interpretation of Islam, the whole of the religion of Islam wrongly comes to be seen as a collection of parts whose individual and collective significance cannot be understood without linking them with politics.
Can this be called simply stressing the importance of the political aspect of Islam, of highlighting one aspect of Islam among many? No, not at all! Rather, it is nothing short of a complete interpretation of the Deen—and which, for want of a more appropriate term, one can call ‘the political interpretation’ of Islam.
Arguments from the Quran and Hadith
Someone might ask, “If Maulana Maududi has made politics the central aspect of Islam, what is so objectionable about it? It could perhaps be that this is really what the status of politics is in Islam.”
The question here arises as to what proof there is that this is really how politics is envisioned in Islam. It is not enough simply to claim that this is so, or to write books championing this argument. Evidence for this claim must be present in the Quran and the Hadith if it is to be accepted—and this evidence should be in the form of explicit mention in these sources. To use any other sort of proof in order to try to validate this claim will only make the claim even weaker than it already is.
In my book Ta‘abir ki Ghalati, I critically researched and analyzed, in a very detailed manner, the arguments that Maulana Maududi and some other writers who belong to his circle sought to provide from the Quran and Hadith to back their claim. In that book, I proved that none of the Quranic verses and Hadith reports that Maulana Maududi and other writers of his circle cited to back their claim can truly be considered to legitimize the Maulana’s particular interpretation of Islam.
Let me cite two examples, one, a Quranic verse, and the other, a Hadith report, to clarify this point. Among the Quranic verses that are used in support of the political interpretation of the Deen is the following:
God has ordained for you the same religion which He enjoined on Noah, and which We have revealed to you, and which We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus, so that you should remain steadfast in religion and not become divided in it (42:13)
In the political interpretation of the Deen of Islam, the word ad-Deen used in this verse is taken as referring to the entire gamut of the commandments and laws of the Islamic Shariah, covering personal, collective, national and international affairs. The term Aqim ud-Deen in this verse is interpreted as ‘to enforce’ the laws of the Deen of Islam in their entirety. Now, because this understanding of the Deen (or, in Maulana Maududi’s words, ‘state’) cannot be established without a Government, ‘to establish the Deen’, as mentioned in this verse, is taken by proponents of a political interpretation of Islam to mean establishing the ‘Divine Government’, or what Maulana Maududi called Hukumat-e Ilahiya.
The fact of the matter, however, is that, as far as I know, no Quranic exegete worth mentioning has interpreted this Quranic verse in this manner. Almost all scholars of Quranic exegesis take the term ad-Deen to mean the essence of the Deen or the basic teachings of the Deen of Islam, and not the complete commandments of the Deen, the Deen in its totality. They take Aqim ud-Deen or Iqamat-e Deen not to mean establishing the entire Shariah system, but, rather, as adopting fully that part of the Deen that is incumbent on every person and in all circumstances, fully abiding by which a person becomes a Muslim in God’s eyes.
The translation of the term Iqamat-e Deen as ‘establish the Deen’—which is how proponents of the political interpretation of Islam render it—is not in itself incorrect. But it creates a sort of misunderstanding. When people whose minds are shaped by a political interpretation of Islam confront the phrase ‘establish the Deen’, they take this as a commandment to do something—to establish the dominance of the Deen or to enforce it, or, in other words, to establish the Divine Government. The fact, however, is that this is not the meaning of the phrase Aqim ud-Deen in this Quranic verse. A better rendering is ‘to maintain the Deen’ or to ‘keep the Deen established’. That is why Urdu translators of the Quran have taken the phrase in this sense. They take it not in the sense of to ‘establish the Deen’ (in Urdu: Deen Quaim Karo), but, rather, in the sense that I take it—to ‘maintain the Deen’ or to ‘keep it established’ (in Urdu: Deen Qaim Rakho). This, for instance, is how well-known South Asian Quranic scholars, such as Shah Abdul Qadir, Shah Rafiuddin, Ashraf Ali Thanvi, ‘Deputy’ Nazir Ahmad and ‘Shaikh ul-Hind’ Mahmud ul-Hasan, have taken it.
This understanding of this phrase is based on the fact that if it is seen in the context of the whole Quranic verse of which it is a part, it is clear that it is a commandment about the establishment of the very same Deen that was revealed to all the prophets, from the Prophet Noah to the Prophet Muhammad. Now, as far as the beliefs and fundamental principles taught by the different prophets are concerned, their Deen was identical, but there were considerable differences in terms of the details of the laws (Shariah) and practical commandments that they taught. This is why this Quranic verse can only indicate that portion of the Deen that was common to the teachings of all the prophets.
As the noted Quranic commentator, the twelfth century Imam Fakhruddin al-Razi (d. 1209 C.E.) noted in his Tafsir al-Kabir, the term ad-Deen here refers to those aspects of the teachings of all the prophets that they shared in common, which is to say matters in their teachings other than the laws and commandments that were different for different prophets. This, Imam Razi wrote, consists of faith in God, His angels, His books, His prophets and the Day of Judgment as well as matters that emerge from faith (Iman)—detachment from the world, concern about the Hereafter, cultivation of morals and abstaining from evil.
In a similar vein, the noted Indian Muslim scholar, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (d. 1943 C.E.), wrote in his Quranic commentary Bayan ul-Quran, that by ad-Deen is here meant ‘the principles of the Deen’ (Usul-e Deen) that are common in all the Shariah of the different prophets—as for instance the oneness of God, prophethood, resurrection, and so on. This verse indicates, Maulana Thanvi said, that one must ‘keep established’ (Qaim Rakhna) this Deen ‘and not change or abandon it’.
This same opinion is voiced by almost all other Quranic exegetes. Some of them have taken the term ad-Deen in this verse to mean the beliefs common to the teachings of all the prophets, while some also include, in addition to these beliefs, certain practices or actions that come into being in people’s lives as a necessary result of these beliefs.
Thus, for instance, Abul Aliya (d. 90 A.H.) opined:
In this verse, Iqamat-e Deen means devotion to God alone and His worship.
Mujahid (104 A.H.) wrote:
God ordered every prophet to establish prayer, give Zakat, acknowledge God and obey Him—and this is what Iqamat-e Deen is.
Abu Hayyan (d. 1344 A.H.) commented about Iqamat-e Deen in this context as follows:
It is a name for the beliefs held in common that are related to the oneness of God, obedience to God, faith in the prophets, faith in God’s books, faith in the Last Day and recompense for deeds.
Khazin (d. 1341 A.H.) wrote:
Here, Iqamat-e Deen refers to the oneness of God, and faith in God and His books and the prophets and the Last Day and obeying God in matters of His commandments and prohibitions and doing all those things the performing of which makes a person a Muslim. In this context, Deen does not connote the Shariah that are revealed according to the conditions and interests of different communities because, as the Quran clarifies, these are different.
Alusi Baghdadi (d. 1854 C.E.) commented about the term Iqamat-e Deen as used in this context as follows:
The Deen of Islam […] is the name for the oneness of God, obedience to God, and faith in His books, His prophets and the Day of Recompense and all those things on the basis of which a person becomes a true believer (Momin). By Iqamat-e Deen is meant is to properly follow the affairs of the Deen […] and to remain established in it.
Qummi Nishapuri opined that the phrase Iqamat-e Deen as used here means:
To be established on the oneness of God, prophethood and the Hereafter and to follow other similar basic teachings that are other than those minor legal details (furu‘at) that are different in the different Shariah.
Likewise, Qurtubi (d. 1273 C.E.) noted:
It [Iqamat-e Deen] means the oneness of God and obedience to Him, and faith in His prophets, His books and the Last Day, and all those things on the basis of which one becomes a Muslim. Here is not meant the Shariah that are given in accordance with the conditions and interests of [different] Ummah, because these have always remained different.
Similarly, Ibn Kathir (d. 774 A.H.) commented that by Iqamat-e Deen is meant:
Those things that are in common in the teachings of the various prophets relating to the worship of the one God without any associates, although besides this, their Shariahs and methods are different.
Similarly, Hafizuddin Nasfi (1310 C.E.) wrote that this Quranic verse indicates that:
In other words, you need to abide by the Deen of Noah, the Deen of Muhammad and the Deen of the prophets who appeared between them, and what is common to the teachings of these exalted prophets. By Aqim ud-Deen is here meant the establishment of Islam: the oneness of God, obedience to God, faith in the prophets, the [heavenly] books and the Day of Recompense and all those things through which someone becomes a Muslim. This commandment does not refer to the Shariah of the prophets, because these have remained different between the different prophets […]
From these excerpts from the writings of numerous well-known scholars it is clear that a great many Quranic exegetes have understood the Quranic verse referred to here to mean the full acceptance of the basic teachings of the Deen. Given this, how can the verse be interpreted to mean the imposition of the entire gamut of commandments of the Deen that relate to all aspects of personal and social life—or, in other words, bringing about the establishment of Divine Government, as is alleged by the proponents of the political interpretation of Islam?
This does not mean, however, that besides the essential or basic Deen, the establishment of the collective and civilisational laws of the Shariah is not an important issue. I only wish to show that their establishment has not been made incumbent on us in the sort of total sense that proponents of a political interpretation of the Deen understand it to be. That is why one finds no support for this interpretation even in those places in the Quran that talk about establishing the collective laws of the Deen.
Now consider efforts to seek justification for the political interpretation of Islam from the corpus of Hadith. In an article published in an official organ of the Jama‘at-e Islami, it was claimed:
In the matter of the goal that the Jama‘at-e Islami has adopted for itself, the likes or dislikes of any individual play no part whatsoever. Instead, it has faith that God had sent all the prophets, and, finally, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for this objective, for this mission, and for this purpose. And until the Day of Judgment […] this is the reason for the very existence of Ummat-E Muhammadi. In this way, the objective of the Jama‘at-e Islami is directly connected with the purpose of the sending of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
In the words of this Jamaat-e Islami writer, the objective of the Jama‘at-e Islami is ‘to establish the Government of God’s laws (Allah ki Tashri‘I Hukumat) in the world’, ‘to enforce the Deen and Shariah sent by God and reform the world’ and ‘to establish the Deen and to make it dominant over all false Deens.’ This, he says, is the purpose of God’s sending the Prophet to the world. He says that this is mentioned in the Quran, Hadith and books of Islamic history. However, despite claiming to have a vast storehouse of evidence for his claim, he cites in this regard just a single Hadith report that, according to him, confirms his argument and which, so he contends, ‘is a very good explanation’.
This single piece of ‘evidence’ is a report contained in the Sahih of Imam Bukhari, which some other Hadith scholars have also cited in their books. The report relates that Ata Bin Yasar (d. 97 A.H.) says that he met Abdullah Bin Amr Bin Al-As (d. 65 A.H.), a Companion of the Prophet and requested him to describe to him the qualities of the Prophet Muhammad that have been mentioned in the Torah. Abdullah told him about these qualities, one of which was that God would not take the Prophet away from the world until through him the ‘crooked community’ (Millat-E Auja) was straightened and people began saying, ‘There is no god but God.’ Through this, the Prophet would open many blind eyes, deaf ears and closed hearts.
Commenting on this Hadith report, this Jama‘at-e Islami-oriented writer says that the purpose behind God’s sending the Prophet Muhammad was Iqamat-e Deen. He adds that a very long time before the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad, the Torah had predicted that ‘until the Deen became established’ the Prophet would not die. Then, in conclusion, he claims:
These details fortify our conviction that the Jama‘at-e Islami has made no error in the objective that it has adopted for itself. Rather, this is the objective of the entire Muslim Ummah, which the Ummah is neglecting.
To properly appreciate the Hadith report that this writer refers to in order to back his argument, it is useful to turn to what two noted scholars of Hadith, Aini and Ibn Hajar had to say about this report. Allamah Aini (d. 1451 C.E.) writes in his Umdat ul-Qari that it means that, through the Prophet, God would negate polytheism and affirm His oneness. He adds that the ‘crooked Millat’ mentioned in this report are the Arabs. ‘The Arabs are called “crooked” because they changed the Deen of their ancestor the Prophet Abraham and idolatry emerged among them,’ he comments. Hence, according to him, this Hadith report indicates ‘establishing the Arab Millat’ and ‘taking them out of infidelity (Kufr) and towards faith (Iman).’
Likewise, in his Fath ul-Bari, Ibn Hajar (d. 852 A.H.) opines that the ‘crooked Millat’ mentioned in this Hadith report are the ‘Arab Millat’ and that they have been referred to here as ‘crooked’ because they had taken to idolatry. Their Iqamat or ‘establishment’ means, he says, ‘taking them out of infidelity and towards faith’.
From this explanation, it is clear that the meaning of this Hadith report that the Jama‘at-e Islami-oriented writer provided is not correct. For one thing, this Hadith talks about making people say ‘There is no god but God’. I do not know on what basis he took this to mean, in his words, the ‘reform of the world’ and establishing ‘the Government of God’s laws’. Moreover, this Hadith does not talk about the duties of the Muslim Ummah. Rather, it is about an action that would be undertaken in the future by God through the Prophet. This Hadith report mentions that God would not let the Prophet die before he made people say ‘There is no god but God’. This is clearly about the Prophet. But if one were to argue from this that this applies to all the followers of Islam, it would mean that every one of us would have to undertake not to die until we have made all our opponents into Muslims! Will the writer of this article make such a promise?
Now, this does not mean that reforming the world or establishing a government based on God’s laws is something separate from Islam. The fact, however, is that in Islam, rules for individuals, on the one hand, and for the collective, on the other, are of a different nature. The blunder made in the political interpretation of Islam is to put these two to be at the same level—although this cannot be proven from the Quran and the Hadith.
There are some aspects of Islam that relate to individuals, and these are necessary to be followed under all circumstances, as long as one is in a position to do so. It is different, however, with laws about collective life. They become applicable only when the entire society is willing to put them into action. That is why these laws were always revealed at a time when the believers had already established a political structure and were in a position to enforce social laws of this sort. Only a Muslim society that possesses the necessary authority, and not individual Muslims, can be expected to put into action these social laws of the Shariah.
To make this point clearer, consider the history of the Children of Israel. They were not given any legal commandments in the Torah as long as they were in Egypt. However, after they left Egypt, their status changed—they were now a free community possessing authority, and so God sent them certain laws. The same sort of thing happened in Arabia. When the Prophet was in Makkah, that portion of the Shariah was revealed that applied to every believer in his or her individual capacity, and which the believers were duty-bound to follow at all times, no matter what the circumstances. The rest of the Shariah was revealed over time, in accordance with the then prevailing conditions. This was at a later stage, when the believers acquired political power.
The order in which the different Shariah commandments were revealed clearly indicates that under normal or ordinary conditions, believers are duty-bound to observe and follow only that portion of the Deen of Islam that was revealed to the Prophet before the acquisition of political power. Abiding by the rest of the laws becomes incumbent as a duty binding on them only if and when they acquire the opportunity of running a Government, which is necessary for enforcing such commandments. It is clear that the entire gamut of Shariah laws can be put into action only if the necessary conditions prevail. Their application depends on the actual circumstances of the concerned individuals and groups. As regards Shariah laws that relate to the collective sphere, it is only those groups of believers that have the capacity of putting them into action that are expected to do so. Believers who may exercise power only at a limited level are not commanded to enforce religious commandments at the societal or national level. People can be expected to abide by laws only to the extent that it is practically possible for them.
There is a clear principle of the Shariah in this regard. The Quran says: La Yukallifullahu Nafsan Illa Wusaha, or ‘God does not charge a soul with more than it can bear.’ (2: 286). From this we learn that God does not expect people to do more than they are capable of. Given this, how can God give believers commandments that they are not in a position to follow? If someone claims that the believers are required by God, under all conditions, to enforce all the laws of the Deen in their entirety, it is just the same as if someone were to argue that since Zakat is payable on various forms of wealth, it is the duty of every Muslim to try to become the owner of every such form of wealth so that he can fully abide by the duty of giving Zakat!
It should be clear by now that the entire gamut of the detailed demands of the Deen of Islam are not required to be put into practical effect in the form of laws at all times. This is only possible depending on the circumstances. As the sphere of the believers expands, the demands of the Deen expand, too. If an individual Muslim is all by himself, he is duty-bound to observe only that part of the Deen that relates to his person. At this time, he will apply Divine laws on and to himself. When the believers expand in numbers and become a family or a couple of families, the scope of the laws that they are expected to observe will correspondingly expand. And when an entire society of believers comes into being that has the necessary authority, it then becomes the duty of the whole society to fully observe all the Divine laws relating to social affairs. This can only happen if the society possesses the necessary political authority, in which case it would need to appoint a leader or Amir who will ensure that these laws are obeyed.