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Islamic Personalities ( 26 Sept 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Fundamentalist Viewpoint: Sayyid Abu Al‐Aa’la Maududi Remains The Most Relevant Voice in the Contemporary Discourse of Islamic Revivalism

By Umar Sultan

Sep 27 2018


Sayyid Abu al‐Aa’la Maududi (1903–1979)

Writings of Sayyid Abu al‐Aa’la Maududi (1903–1979), the 20th century ideologue of Islamic Movement, changed lives of millions of people and helped them realize the real meaning and purpose of life. He was a prolific writer, Islamic scholar, theologian, commentator of the holy Quran (Muffasir) and founder of one of the greatest contemporary Islamic organizations, the Jama’at-e-Islami.

“Both western and South Asian historians have described him as one of the most powerful Islamic ideologues of the 20th century, whose ideas and writings went on to influence a vast number of Islamic movements in the Muslim world (; January, 01, 2015)

The ‘Oxford Encyclopaedia of Modern Islamic World’ mentions that “Mawdudi was one of the most influential and prolific of contemporary Muslim thinkers. His interpretive reading of Islam has contributed greatly to the articulation of Islamic revivalist thought and has influenced Muslim thinkers and activists from Morocco to Indonesia. His impact is evident in the exegesis of Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, as well as in the ideas and actions of Algerian, Iranian, Malaysian, and Sudanese revivalist activists.”

The movement he started was not a reaction to any immediate political scenario he witnessed. Neither should it be seen as rise of “comparative fundamentalism” of right wing ideologies, a general trend of the times he lived in. Instead, his ideas and movement was a natural internal response by Muslim Ummah to issues faced by it. While devising this response, Maududi, unlike rhetoricians, didn’t propose any universalized methodology. Instead, he tried to “contextualize specificities” of each region and realm despite being a firm believer in universal efficacy and relevance of Islam.

Like in case of all great scholars, his relevance is not immune to the inexorable currents of time. Yet, he remains the most relevant voice in the contemporary discourse of Islamic revivalism. Maududi has been described as “the most influential of contemporary Islamic revivalist thinkers, who’s views have influenced revivalism from Morocco to Malaysia.”

He articulated his viewpoint regarding critical issues of his times in the simplest possible idiom, using language and the metaphor of common people. His literature remains a source of knowledge and inspiration for millions of students, intellectuals and common people, alike. He does not sound vague unlike many of his contemporaries or predecessors and does not wander into imaginary realms. Instead, his writings are very lucid, thought provoking and pragmatic. Yet he is unapologetic and uncompromising viz-a-viz the fundamental tenets of Islamic doctrine. He is neither an extremist, nor apologist. Instead, he is a true Islamist or as described by Prof Khursheed Ahmed, “Practical Idealist” who reintroduced the concept of Islamic governance model which was lost in the haze of Muslim intellectual stagnation and centuries of decadence that had crept into social fabric and political power structure in Muslim world. 

While enunciating the process for realization of Islamic revolution, Maududi premised his methodology on two simultaneous processes i.e. (1) providing alternate “Intellectual Leadership” (2) striving for Social Transformation.

There is a need to understand Maududi in true perspective, in the light of his own writings. Unfortunately, a haze of misinformation has been woven around his personality and the true picture and the true mission of this great man has got blurred in ruthless propaganda and base machinations.

However, contrary to the manufactured perceptions about him, Sayyid Abul A’ala Maududi comes across as the most charismatic scholar of his times, most enlightened in thought and most balanced in approach.

Neither Advocate of Violence, Nor Believer in Ahimsa

All attempts to cast him into violent avatar fall flat as you approach the text of his phenomenal works. These assertions turn out as mere clichés often associated with Islamic Movement and its ideologues. He comes across as a firm believer in peaceful activism asking his followers to strictly avoid any violent means while striving for establishment of Islamic order. He was not, however, a believer in ahimsa. His phenomenal book, Al Jihad fil Islam has discussed this principle in detail and exposed its loopholes. (His viewpoint regarding the struggle for freedom of occupied Muslim territories is different, although in concurrence with current international legal regime including UN Charter its resolutions. That is not the subject of this column, though)

Replying to a range of questions on the process of Islamic revolution in different Muslim countries, Maududi said that different situation in different countries call for localized strategy and that there was no single strategy to be followed. While saying this he, however, emphasized:  

“But what I do feel is necessary in all these cases is the need to resist the temptation of resorting to the methods and techniques of secret underground movements and blood revolutions” (Tasreehaat by Sayyid Maududi).

Even those who do not subscribe to his views and ideology admit between the lines that he never sought to foment violence to achieve his goals. One such voice is Iranian-American author and foreign policy expert, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr.

In his ‘Mawdudi and Making of Islamic Revivalism,’ Nasr writes, “Mawdudi also discouraged the type of activity that the manipulation of populist themes entailed. He was always reluctant to cross the boundaries of the law and was especially opposed to violence….……he never considered violence a policy tool.”

He was against grabbing political power by unseating any existing regime using unconventional means. He also believed that no change can be effected by using coercive means and considered it as unnatural, hence untenable. Instead, he believed in mass awareness and education and epistemological reform in different branches of knowledge to restructure society on the principles of Islamic doctrine.

Nasr goes on to write “Mawdudi's political ambitions never thoroughly overrode his traditional values, nor did they weaken his loyalty to his objectives. Convinced of the inherent superiority and eventual success of his vision, Mawdudi never saw any reason to engage in agitational politics, which would compel him to compromise the values he espoused and, hence, would blemish the image of the Utopian order that he advocated.”

He describes Maududi as the most significant among those individuals whose life histories and intellectual contributions are closely tied to the “development of Islamic revivalism as a social movement.”

Attempts to explore his relevance in the realms of philosophy and mysticism by juxtaposing him with philosophers and ‘mystics’ are again unjustified and uncalled for, for he was a revivalist thinker and an ideologue, not philosopher or a ‘mystic.’ 

Voices accusing his followers being confined to ‘reading Maududi only’ also appear unapprised given the fact that this great scholar has himself emphasized “the need (for Muslims) to study and understand Western political thought and philosophy and to master their sciences.”

On his 115th anniversary, Sayyid Abu al‐Aa’la Maududi remains the most relevant voice in contemporary Islamic revivalist movement. His was the message of hope and call for justice not only for Muslim Ummah but for the humanity at large. In order to understand his true message, there is a need to read Maududi more than reading about Maududi.

Umar Sultan is president of a Kashmir-based students’ organization.