Reluctant Democrats

Written by Javed Anand | Published on: July 1, 2012

Although forced by circumstances to tread the democratic path, the JIH’s vision is still clouded by the spectre of Maududi

Meet Irfan Ahmad. Having started his educational journey from a madrassa in North India, he is today assistant professor of politics in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University, Australia, and leads the country’s Centre for Islam and the Modern World. What got him there, quite possibly, is his book Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami, published in 2010 by Permanent Black. The book forms part of ‘The Indian Century’, a series of select books on India’s recent past. It has also been published by the Princeton University Press in the USA. "This is the most important book written on Muslims in India in the last three decades," says Dale F. Eickelman, a renowned US-based professor of anthropology and a scholar of Islam and Muslim societies.

No mean achievement for a first venture, an outcome of Ahmad’s PhD thesis on the subject from the University of Amsterdam. "You’ve come a long way, baby," one might say to him in appreciation. That, in short summary, is also what Ahmad has to say to/about the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) in his book. Without quarrelling with Ahmad’s conclusion based on meticulous research, the fact remains that his conclusion, though not incorrect, is incomplete. A complete sentence about the JIH should read: You’ve come a long way, baby, but you’ve still got a long way to go. Though the JIH has in practice moved far away from its ideological moorings, it has yet to cut the umbilical cord that still ties it to the lethal ideology of Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, the Jamaat’s founder.

That there is a movement within the Jamaat movement in India is true and that’s a welcome thing. But there is a limit to the extent you can play with ideas, how far you can go with verbal jugglery. How long can you "interpret" and "reinterpret" Maududi to legitimise a course of action which would have been absolute heresy for the good maulana? All that you achieve in the process is to stand Maududism on its head. What is needed is a clean break, a decent burial of the Maududian world view, but as of now the JIH is nowhere close to getting there. Ahmad’s otherwise engaging book fails to satisfactorily address the disjoint between Maududism – the bedrock of Jamaat politics – and its otherwise welcome departure – in the secular, democratic direction. Given this dislocation, to many Indian Muslims, the JIH looks in many respects like the mirror image, the Muslim version of the Hindu right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

How long can you “interpret” and “reinterpret” Maududi to legitimise a course of action which would have been absolute heresy for the good maulana? All that you achieve in the process is to stand Maududism on its head 

The Lenin of Islamism

To Maududi, the Lenin of Islamism, goes the dubious credit of "discovering" (Sayyid Qutb of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was later to toe the same line and stretch it even further) that unlike other religions, Islam is not just faith and rituals, Kalima, namaaz, roza, Haj, zakaat. Above all, Islam is a "revolutionary ideology" whose goal is the capture of state power. To be a Muslim is to be a revolutionary whose entire being is dedicated to dismantling and overthrowing all man-made ideas, institutions, laws, isms – capitalism, communism, fascism – and grabbing political power to establish hukumat-e-ilahiya (Allah’s kingdom) and Shariah laws. Since there is no place for nation and nationalism in Islam, it is the bounden duty of a Muslim to strive through all means possible to establish Allah’s kingdom and Shariah rule throughout the globe: from Japan and China to Iceland and America. If Islam is the revolutionary ideology and Muslims the revolutionaries, for Maududi, the Jamaat and Jamaatis are its vanguard.