Gradual Secularization and Modernisation of the Islamic Narrative through Revival and Reform

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Yasser Latif Hamdani[1]


(As the Islamic world came into contact with Western Capitalism through colonialism Islamic thinkers such as Jamaluddin Afghani, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, Ali Shariati, Maududi, Hassan Al Banna, Syed Qutb and Khomeni all responded with their own understanding of Islam’s relationship with modern legal and political institutions.

The Islamic World is in the throes of a great social, political, economic and religious transformation. The Arab Spring has opened up the Arab World to new ideas and old. In an increasingly interconnected world the Arab Islamists have begun to modify their rhetoric to meet the needs of the time. Turkey’s AKP is leading it to a new synthesised future where Islamism and Secularism meet and harmonise existing tensions. In Iran we see a new and vibrant modernist class  waiting to break free from the hold of a controlling coterie of Ayotallahs. The process of secularisation does not take a straight or clear cut path but all evidence points to very real secularisation of the Islamic or Islamist discourse.– Author)

The Protestant Reformation of Christian Europe sought to liberate the Christian masses from the stranglehold of a decadent clergy.  It followed a period of great enthusiasm coupled with zeal to purge Christianity of the excesses of the Catholic church but over time gave way to ideas of enlightenment, separation of Church and State (as in the case of the creation of the colony of Rhode Island in America) and finally Western capitalism. It was this reformation that helped Christian Europe surge ahead, while – as in the words of TimurKuran[1]-from the tenth century, Islamic legal institutions, which had benefitted the Middle Eastern economy in the early centuries of Islam, began to act as a drag on development by slowing or blocking the emergence of central features of modern economic life – such as private capital accumulation, corporations, large-scale production, and impersonal exchange.

As the Islamic world came into contact with Western Capitalism through colonialism Islamic thinkers such as Jamaluddin Afghani, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, Ali Shariati, Maududi, Hassan Al Banna, Syed Qutb and Khomeni all responded with their own understanding of Islam’s relationship with modern legal and political institutions. The “nation state” phase for the Muslim World began with the emergence of the Republic of Turkey. The Second World War and the subsequent decolonization resulted in the creation of several new nation states in the Muslim world, such as Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. In Iran, even Khomeni’s famous Islamic revolution in 1979 accepted the existence of this modern reality, choosing to set up an Islamic Republic instead of some sort of a pan-Islamic Kingdom of God.

Jamaluddin Afghani (not his real name – he was actually an Iranian Shia from the city of Hamadan) emerged as the main force for Islamic unity as well as global Islamic modernism in the late 19th century. Paradoxically he was a Sunni revivalist, reformist as well as a prominent freemason all in one. Most of Afghani’s work was in the Ottoman Empire and his influence on young Turks and then ZiyaGokalp cannot be underestimated. Therefore Afghani had a direct impact on the secular ideology of Kemalism as well. Similarly his work inspired in Egypt the modernist nationalist movement in the form of Zaghlul Pasha.

Muslim Brotherhood which can be traced directly back to Afghani’s efforts along with Rashid Rida and Muhammad Abduh has shown remarkable evolution from a subversive Islamist movement of agitation to a democratic Islamist movement which was more inclusive and even accepted women’s rights. Hassan Al Banna – another follower of the salafiya political Islamist strain – was assassinated in 1949. His grandson Tariq Ramadan- a Swiss citizen- is the foremost scholar at the frontline of reconciliation – to use late Benazir Bhutto’s term- of Islam and the West. Banna’s youngest brother Gemal El Banna is a learned Islamic scholar from the same strain who forwards complete equality and secularism as tenets of Islam. Two lessons are to be learnt from this:

First: Autocratic governments in Muslim societies more often than not create conditions for Islamic revival and radicalism even if inadvertently. This is as true of Egypt before the Arab Spring as of Imperial Iran, Algeria or even Pakistan.

Second: Repression has its limitations. This is why democracy is the preferred alternative. Democracy forces fringe groups to compromise and tone down their rhetoric and extremism as real politic dictates it. The Muslim masses have shown on numerous occasions that their concerns are worldly which is why religious clerics have never won any free polls in the Islamic world.

Afghani’s most direct influence was on Muhammad Abduh, the liberal Islamic jurist who wanted to reconcile Islam with 19th century rationalist thought. Muhammad Abduh’s most noted disciple was Rashid Rida who was the most influential scholar of his time. He founded – ironically – the “Salafiya order” which seeks to purify Islam from all western influence. Indeed it was not as much a reaction to non-Muslims or even colonial rule as it was opposed to its own co-religionists. According to Albert Hourani, the 1930s saw the Muslim world as a whole enter a liberal age when Muslim nationalism grew exponentially on the premises of modernism and reform. Ikhawan-ul-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood was organized around the premise of Islamic revival in order to combat the menace of this liberal Muslim nationalism, which threatened to liberate women and reform Islamic societies all over. The Ikhwan gave an alternative to this Muslim Nationalism. It sought a return to Islam as practiced by the “Salaf” and to wage “Jehad” against the enemies of Islam.

Amongst his followers were men like Hassan Al Banna, Syed Qutb and Syed Abu AlaMaududi – three most influential Islamists of our time. Syed Qutb’s influence on Abdullah Bin Azzam thus creates a direct link between Al Qaeda’s Islamic terrorist strain and Syed Jamaluddin Afghani- the Islamic modernist, liberal and freemason. Hassan Al Banna similarly influenced a number of Palestinian Islamists who founded the “Hizbut-tahrir” in 1952-53. Today HizbutTahrir is a global Islamic movement aspiring to create a “Khilafah” for all Muslims of the world. Afghani’s original influence is partly visible in the way HizbutTahrir operates- albeit unsuccessfully- i.e. to try and get the elites of Muslim countries to convert to this ideal and impose the Khilafah from the top. Pakistan, with its size, military might and nuclear arsenal is of special interest to these activists who view it as the core state for their Khilafah project. [2] This idea seems to have been borrowed from Samuel P Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations.

On the other side Afghani inspired AllamaIqbal’sIjtehadi thought as well. Dr. Muhammad Iqbal has long been recognized in Pakistan’s official pantheon as the spiritual founding father of the new state. While his impact on the Pakistan movement is perhaps overstated, though it is not – as one school holds – entirely absent,  his role in demarcating and enunciating a conscious Islamic identity for the Muslims of South Asia cannot be underplayed. In this respect one cannot help but agree with Dr. Muhammad Din Taseer’s conclusion that Iqbalwas the architect of Pakistan if not its builder. [3]Yet with all abstractions – and an architectural plan is essentially an abstraction till the practical logistics of building a house have been taken into account – Iqbal’s idea of a Muslim homeland in North West of India had a supertext of a romance with Islamic history, culture and civilisational construct.

Iqbal became the voice of Muslim confidence and assertive nationalism when he declared ‘Muslim hain hum watanhaisarajahanhamara’ (we are Muslims; the whole universe is ours). Despite his allegiance to a universal religious identity, Iqbal was, in the balance, a modernist. If there is a sense of confusion on his adherence to certain causes which sit uneasy with liberals today, it is because he was driven by his anxiety to see Muslims as a united force for reform of Islam. Reacting to a Hindu majority, he placed emphasis inadvertently on issues that were later utilised by conservatives for their own purposes. However it is important to place in perspective Iqbal’s attachment to causes such as the issue of Ilam Din, the murderer of Rajpal.  Contained in Iqbal’s flight of fancy for Indian Muslims – no doubt arising out of a deep concern for the spiritual, economic and political welfare of his community- were germs of belligerence that has, to some extent, caused an identity crisis for the state that calls him its spiritual father and national poet-philosopher. Karen Armstrong felt that Iqbal was to Muslims what Gandhi was to Hindus. [4]

The problem so often with assessing great men of history is that a critical assessment is either avoided resulting in hagiographical deification of the subject or when it is made, it turns into a polemic.

Iqbal was reacting to the social and material conditions of his time. Occasionally,  the lines between his idealism and politics were blurred – as in the case of the break between him and the Ahmaddiya community in the mid 1930s, for whom he had previously heaped vociferous praise. Had Iqbal lived beyond 1938 and seen the horrors of the second world war, he would have no doubt reconsidered many of his ideas –especially his own Mard-e-Momin hypothesis which was in essence an Islamised version of Nietzsche’s Superman.  Similarly he would have been horrified by the persecution of Ahmadis which finds –justifiably- an ideological foothold in Iqbal’s own ideas of Muslim unity and the importance of the classical Sunni doctrine of the finality of prophethood. His enthusiasm for Ibn-e-Taimiyya and Abdul Wahab may well have waned had he witnessed the actual and spiritual terrorism that their ideologies have wrought on the Muslim world. In the assessment of this writer atleast, Iqbal would have graduated completely to universalism that often finds expression in his poetry and philosophy despite the religious overtones.

There was something substantially forward looking about Iqbal’s view of Islam. For example  Iqbal did not view interest-based economics as a threat to Islam or in violation of Islamic injunctions against Riba. This is clear from his piece “IlmulIqtasad” which was an overview of the modern economic system. It is not easy to place him in any camp for he does not lend himself to one view wholeheartedly. Indeed there is much in Iqbal’s thought that contradicts his own views expressed elsewhere.

Inadvertently creating a dichotomy between irreligious west and religious east [5], Iqbal was still an unwilling reformer in the spirit of Martin Luther and Calvin.[6] I say unwilling because Iqbal was a critic of Protestant reformation, noting very aptly that Protestant reformation led to a beginning of the end for Christianity as a spiritual force in Europe.[7]Just as Protestant movement sought to check the excesses of the clergy and the church by preaching a simpler creed, Iqbal sought a reformation and revival of Islam by returning to its original simplicity and simultaneously modernizing through Ijtehad. While this was consistent in Iqbal’s own mind, it has subsequently allowed two Iqbalian traditions to develop in complete opposition to each other i.e. the revivalist camp championed by Syed Abu AlaMaududi and Dr. Israr Ahmed and the modernist camp which includes renowned scholars like Fazl-ur-Rehman, the Harvard Scholar, and AllamaGhulam Ahmed Pervez of the Tolu-e-Islam Movement in Lahore.  Of the two modernists, G A Pervez perhaps came closest to understanding Iqbalian thought and its application in terms of reconstruction of religious thought. Like Iqbal, G A Pervez also emphasized the idea of Muslim identity basing it on the spiritual distinctness of all Muslims worldwide from all Non-Muslims. Inspired by Iqbal’s Islamic Universalism, G AParwez sought to redefine Islam as a system (Din) instead of a religion (Madhab).[8] His great work was named appropriately “Islam A Challenge to Religion.”  Laying out a remarkable analysis of existing modern human problems, Pervez concluded:

“What is needed is universalism. A creed and a movement for creating a system of values which transcends the nation-state structure.”[9]

He thus concluded that the true destiny of man is to adopt the Quranic System which provided guidelines for entire humanity. Pervez’s extraordinary contribution to the reformulation and modernization of Islamic family law in the form of the Muslim Family Law Ordinance of 1961 was progressive and even revolutionary for its time. Yet all the inheritors of Iqbalian tradition were rigidly partisan to their own views claiming the mantle of his genius exclusively.  Indeed it is too hard to pin Iqbal down to one idea: Iqbal, the admirer of Hallaj and his critic; Iqbal, who compared Al-Ghazali to Kant  yet advocated a return to Ijtehad which Ghazali had for all practical purposes put an end to;[10]Iqbal, who praised Mahmud of Ghazni the but-shikanyet spoke with adulation of India’s ancient religious traditions; Iqbal, who praised Ataturk for renewing the spirit of Islam, yet attacked his westernization project [11] which was the essence of Kemalism;  and, finally,Iqbal, who castigated Mahomed Ali Jinnah, or the Quaid-e-Azam (great leader),  as just a politician while extolling Nehru as a patriot[12] and then pinned his hopes on the same man [13].

The last of these would be of special interest to Pakistanis. It is not clear as to whom Iqbal was referring to in the following lines from JavidNama but it seems as if it was a hit at Jinnah’s role in the 1920s as a broker between Indian Nationalists and the British Government :

Anow he carries on  with the Church

At other times he is in league with the temple dwellers

His creed and his code is but bargaining

An Antara in the robes of Haydar

Outwardly he displays concern for the faith

Yet inside he carries the thread of the infidels

Smiling with all, he is friend of none —–

Forsooth snake is a snake even when laughing [14]

It seems obvious that Jinnah – a westernized lawyer and shia by faith[15] and having espoused the cause of secular Indian nationalism[16]– was not the “shaheen” and “mard-e-momin” that Iqbal was looking for but he seems to have realized the adroitness and skillin Jinnah as a lawyer and politician. As Alex Von Tunzelmanwrote  “In any case the League suffered from no shortage of good Muslims. What it had lacked was a good politician. And Jinnah was without question one of the most brilliant politicians of his day”.[17],it, therefore, seemed to Iqbal that Jinnah was the right man to plead the case of the Muslim community.  Jinnah on his part had little time for Iqbal’s romantic imagery of what a Muslim state would look like and he was certainly not convinced of his ideas during Iqbal’s lifetime. It is pertinent to note that no record of Jinnah’s letters in response to Iqbal’s letters have seen the light of day. Iqbal’s own letters were discovered by chance by a visiting Muslim League volunteer using Jinnah’s library. [18]Iqbal’s own markers of Muslim identity were different from Jinnah as were his priorities. Jinnah’s famous Lucknow Pact of 1916 was the antithesis of Iqbal’s Allahabad address. The Lucknow Pact sacrificed Muslim majorities in key Muslim provinces in exchange for better representation for Muslims in minority provinces. Iqbal’s letters to Jinnah, especially where he proposed the idea of a separate state are of more than academic interest. Iqbal believed that the law of Islam when sufficiently reformulated and developed in light of modern ideas could provide subsistence for all but such development would be possibleonly  in independent Muslim states. He wrote:

“But the enforcement and development of Shariat of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states. This has been my honest conviction for many years and I still believe this to be the only way to solve the problem of bread for Muslims as well as to secure a peaceful India”.[19]

Therefore the idea of reinterpretation of Islamic law according to the modern age was implicit in this demand for Pakistan. This had been one of the major anxieties of Iqbal and other proponents of the modernization of Islamic law. While the British Empire had adopted a strategy of codifying Islamic inheritance law, it was not subject to any rigours of intellectual endeavour.

R. Stephen Humphreys writes in an illuminating chapter on Islamic Law and Islamic History:

“These studies -predominantly translations or analyses of digests of positive law used in sharia courts of India and South East Asia- were often written specifically to assist colonial administrators in their dealings with native society…Much produced by these scholars was culturally naïve, conceptually inadequate and full of errors.” [20]

Of course in Pakistan Islamic law has been used by a reactionary judiciary to block all progress towards an egalitarian society (Ref QazalbashWaqf Case).

Iqbal – contrary to our priestly class – believed that “for Islam the acceptance of social democracy in some suitable form and consistent with the legal principles of Islam is not a revolution but a return to the original purity of Islam”.[21]

In reality, however, the Pakistan Movement, having grown out of real and perceived insecurities pertaining to the economic and political future of the Muslims of India, was not in any event concerned with the ideas of a romantic pan-Islamist poet. Till 1937 most of Jinnah’s efforts were aimed at recreating a revised version of the pact with the Congress. It was only after Nehru shunned him and the Muslim League after the 1937 elections that Jinnah realized the importance of Muslim majority provinces in his bid to secure a foothold in the Indian center. To win the Muslim majority provinces, Jinnah needed a vague demand that would rally the Muslims of the Muslim majority provinces behind him. The Lahore Resolution provided this. Iqbal’s idea of a Muslim homeland in the North West was for him merely an afterthought.  This was not all that the two men differed on. Being from a minority sub-sect of a minority sect within Islam, Jinnah did not ascribe to Iqbal’s Islamic idealism and its attendant exclusivism. Jinnah must have known Iqbal’s views on Ahmadis for example but he insisted on keeping Ahmadis on in the Muslim League. Indeed Jinnah’s most trusted colleague and ally was Sir Zafrulla – an Ahmadi.

Iqbal’s Muslim identity germinates in the conflict between Aurangzeb and Shiva ji.  [22] Similarly, the importance of Aurangzeb Alamgir to Iqbal’s imagination can be gauged from his poetry.[23] Aurangzeb Alamgir’s austere reign in the 17th century saw the Mughal Empire reach its zenith in terms of conquest. It was also a period where the Muslim identity – in opposition to the Hindu majority of the subcontinent- was cemented. Aurangzeb’s contribution to the compilation and standardization of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence in the subcontinent can be gauged from the Fatawa-al-Alamgiri possibly the most comprehensive collection of Islamic rulings and edicts in Islamicate history of India. During Aurangzeb’s puritan rule, India also saw a direct challenge mounted to Islamic political supremacy in form of the great Marhatta Warrior – Shiva Ji- who was later cannonised by 19th century Hindu reformers like Ranade as the foremost symbol of Indian identity. [24] Similarly Laine quotes an introduction written by Jawaharlal Nehru to  a fourth grade Maharashtra text titled “Sivachatrapatri” (1985):

Shivaji did not belong to Maharashtra alone; he belonged to the whole Indian nation…A devout Hindu, he was tolerant of other religions… ShriShivaji is a symbol of many virtues, especially of love of country.” [25]

This finds an echo in almost all Pakistani accounts of Aurangzeb Alamgir. Naturally, therefore, Iqbal viewed Aurangzeb Alamgir a greater renewer of faith and viewed with disdain his heterodox liberal brother DaraShikoh. To Iqbal, Aurangzeb was the prototype Muslim nationalist of South Asia.[26]It is important to note that in contrast to Iqbal, Jinnah makes no reference to Aurangzeb in any of his speeches when expounding what was later called the Two Nation Theory. This is because Jinnah’s comprehension of Muslim Nationalism was not concerned as much with the spiritual beliefs of his constituents but actual cultural and civilisational differences[27] that separated the Muslims of India both from the majority Hindu community and – this bit is not emphasized- from the rest of the Muslims of the world. Therefore Jinnah’s Muslim Nationalism- at best a consociationalist counterpoise – was strictly for Indian Muslims. Iqbal’s Muslim identity was one of universal Muslim brotherhood or the Ummah. In any event Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan was arguably inclusive and secular [28] which is the main point of departure between the two men. Yet even Iqbal recognized that Islam as a religio-political system could allow a separation of church and state. While discussing the ideas of Turkish Nationalists, Iqbal said:

“They therefore reject old ideas about the function of State and Religion, and accentuate the separation of State and Religion. Now the structure of Islam as a religio-political system, no doubt, does permit such a view…”[29]

On the other end of the spectrum from Iqbal stood another intellectual giant and guide for Indian Islam, Maulana Azad. Maulana Azad, an extremely cultured and notably sophisticated thinker, was a classical sunni revivalist who was the foremost symbol of composite Indian nationalist post 1930s and was India’s first education minister after independence. Maulana Azad’s view was also echoed by such figures in the Muslim community as MaulanaHussain Ahmed Madni, Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mufti Mahmood. There were others still who created a synthesis of Iqbalian and Azad’s views, like MaulanaAzhar Ali Mazhar and Ataullah Shah Bukhari of Majlis-e-Ahrar, by borrowing the ideology of the importance of finality of prophethood from Iqbal and composite Indian nationalism. Majlis-e-Ahrar was instrumental in making the Ahmadi issue a major national issue for Pakistan starting from the 1950s.[30]

Though Iqbal’s work neatly fit in the dominant Sunni Islam, he was also inspirational for another very interesting Muslim thinker who emerged from the Shia branch of Islam: Ali Shariati the Shia Islamic Marxist. While rejecting Marx’s views on religion and spirituality, most notably in his criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Atheistic Socialism”, Iqbal had often cited Marxist Socialism as the economic ideal for an Islamic state even suggesting that if he were the ruler of a Muslim state, it would be a socialist one[31]. In any event he was the first person to use the term “Islamic Socialism”. Similarly Ali Shariati’s ideological planks were modernity, republicanism and red revolutionary Shiism (also known as Islamic Marxism). Just as the secular political leaders like Ataturk and Jinnah had selectively chosen from Gokalp and Iqbal respectively,   Khomeni, the Islamist political leader of Iran, took republicanism and Shiism but rejected modernity and Marxism. Therefore, theAli Shariati strain not only produced Khomenism but also indirectly created Islamic Republicanism and in the last 15 years we have seen a newer version of this Islamic Republicanism in the form of Khatami and Mousavi who have emerged as liberal and progressive opposition to the conservatives. I do consider the coming of the republic, Islamic as it maybe, in Iran in 1979 a step forward and not backwards. Since the 15th century the Islamic World has seen a rivalry between the predominantly Sunni Turks and Shiite Iranians in the form of the Ottomans and the Safavids. It is therefore interesting to note that both nations/countries have followed a very similar route to republicanism, albeit on the face of it with diametrically opposite ideologies.

In fact the source of both the Turkish revolution, which ultimately did away with monarchy in Turkey, and the Iranian revolution of 1979 might have been the same. ZiyaGokalp, the philosopher behind the Turkish revolution, was a Muslim modernist, a staunch believer in democracy and the republic and ironically enough a Pan-Islamist. Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Modern Turkey, emphasized modernity and republicanism from Gokalp’s message but rejected Pan-Islamism. ZiyaGokalp inspired Iqbal who became the poet philosopher credited for the idea of the Pakistani republic.

The result was that in 1924 and in 1979 respectively, both Turkey and Iran shed monarchies and moved to a republican form of government, except Turkey emphasized modernity and secularism while Iran’s leadership laid emphasis on Shiite Islam. After this the ruling elites in both countries i.e. the secular military in Turkey and Shiite mullahs in Iran, tried controlling democracy to safeguard the official ideology.  Even with the controlled democracy, a vibrant opposition emerged in both states. In Turkey there is a vibrant pro-Islam section of society, whereas in Iran there is a vibrant secular section that helps balance out the societies in both states.

In Pakistan Syed Maududi’sJamaat-e-Islami and its student wing IslamiJamiat e Talaba has long been at the vanguard of the “Islamic Movement” in Pakistan. Given their antipathy to the Pakistan Movement the party has never been successful in a direct election, but they have infiltrated by placing their people and sympathizers in key places within the Pakistani establishment thereby establishing for themselves a niche within the modern state. That their influence has been substantial is evident in how readily Maududian ideas have been accepted by members of Pakistan’s ruling elite.  Prime Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Ali- the chief architect of the Constitution of 1956- was said to be personally inspired by Maududi’s exegesis of the Holy Quran. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had the 1973 Constitution approved by MaulanaMaududi before presenting it to the constituent assembly in 1973.

Karen Armstrong described Maududi as:

“Mawdudi defied the whole secularist ethos; he was proposing an Islamic liberation theology … Revolution against colonial powers was not just a right but a duty. Mawdudi called for universal Jihad.”[32]

There is enough reason to believe that MaulanaMaududi had started off as a modern minded reformist before the rigid revivalism that he espoused in his later career. He translated one of great Egyptian modernist Qasim Amin’s important work on women’s rights “The New Woman” at the age of 14. He was also non-sectarian, to begin with atleast, being inspired by the works of the 17th century Persian scholar Mullah Sadra who was a Shiite philosopher.[33] Having worked as a journalist in Delhi, he was invited by Iqbal to help him compile an authoritative text on Islamic Law. Iqbal by this time had turned on the Ahmadis and this may have been a major reason for Maududi’s own ideas against that community. In any event when Maududi started organising the Jamaat-e-Islami, his fundamentalist revivalism was in full swing.   Jamaat-e-Islami is and will continue to be a cadre based party for the foreseeable future. The impact of Lenin’s political organisation on Maududi’s thinking is quite obvious. Maududi introduced the concept of “Theo-democracy” to the Muslim world, a term possibly borrowed from Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Theo-democracy envisaged a constitutional elected government limited to theocratic principles determined by the bible in Joseph Smith’s case and by the Holy Quran and Sunnah in Maududi’s view. In such an “Islamic State”- a term most likely coined by Maududi himself- the representatives would be Muslims elected by a Muslim electorate. Non-Muslims in such an Islamic State would govern their own communal affairs separately and autonomously but under the supremacy and protection of the Islamic State which would be responsible for defence and for which it shall charge Jizya- a special tax for protection. In other words the Islamic State would form a communal confederation with non-Muslims living within its borders.  The ultimate goal of this Islamic State would be to wage offensive Jihad against the entire world to establish Islamic supremacy globally. This is not too different from the Communist ideal of establishing dictatorships of the proletariat through revolutions internationally.

Over time Maududian thought has splintered into diametrically opposing groups. Maududi came around to reconsidering several of his ideas when he supported Fatima Jinnah’s candidacy in 1965 despite having held the view that women should not be entrusted with the business of running the state’s affairs.

A faction within Maududi’sJamaat-e-Islami broke away under the leadership of Maulana Amin Islahi whose school of thought was then carried forward by Khalid Masud and Javed Ahmed Ghamidi. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi is arguably the most liberal and progressive scholar in the Islamic world today. He has come full circle by claiming that Islamic state is not the objective of a Muslim but rather the objective of a Muslim is individual reform. Most notably he was part of the process that led to crystallisation of the Women’s Protection Act in 2006. However, given the numerous compromises and retreats on key provisions of the law by the government, Ghamidi had the moral courage to quit the Council of Islamic Ideology in protest.  Then there is another breakaway Maududian faction – the late Dr. Israr Ahmed’s Tanzeem-e-Islami is a religious movement working towards “Non-violent attainment of Khilafah”. Quite appropriately, Hassan Al Banna, Maududi’s own family now leans towards liberal interpretations of Islam. [34]

The great liberal reformist of Islam, Professor FazlurRahman summed up Maududi’s life and works in an illuminating paragraph adequately when he writes:

“Maududi, though not an alim, was nevertheless a self-taught man of considerable intelligence and sufficient knowledge… He was by no means an accurate or profound scholar, but he was undoubtedly like a fresh wind in the stifling Islamic atmosphere created by the traditional madrasas … But Maududidisplays nowhere the larger and more profound vision of Islam’s role in the world. Being a journalist rather than a serious scholar he wrote at great speed and with resultant superficiality in order to feed his eager young readers—and he wrote incessantly… Not one of Maududi’s followers ever became a serious student of Islam, the result being that, for the faithful, Maududi’s statements represented the last word on Islam-no matter how much and how blatantly he contradicted himself from time to time on such basic issues as economic policy and political theory.”[35]

This is echoed somewhat in the more sympathetic view expressed by Hamid Dabashi about the Maulana:

“MawlanaMawdudi was one of the most significant Muslim ideologues of his generation. His version of Islam was actively reconstructed during one of the most crucial episodes in the history of Muslim encounters with colonial modernity. Born and bred in the Indian subcontinent during the heyday of British colonialism, MawlanaMawdudi crafted his revivalist rendition of Islam in direct response to the rising needs of Indian Muslims to define their post/colonial identity and destiny.30 Evident in the political life and ideological disposition of MawlanaMawdudi is that dialogical mechanism through which politically viable remembrances of the medieval memories of ‘‘Islam’’ became possible in response to the intertwined projects of modernity and colonialism. Mawdudi’s life coincided with the last vestiges of the British colonial rule in India. By tracing the life and the ideas of MawlanaMawdudi through his formative years in colonial India up to and including his turn toIslamic revivalism, we observe one of the earliest systematizations of a political program of action, later to be institutionalized in the Jama’at-i Islami, Mawdudi’s political party, in which distanced memories of a sacred imagination came to meet the challenges of the overpowering project of European colonial modernity. That project was brought into the Indian subcontinent by the inevitable logic of the capitalist mode of production – the creation of surplus value, the need for raw material and cheap labor, an open and expansive market, imperialist competition among the emerging capitalist economies, and ultimately the military arm of all these interrelateddevelopments: colonialism. The mode of revivalism in which Mawdudirenarrated Islam was dictated by the political necessity of giving millions of Indian Muslims a cohesive identity, a pride of place, with which to negotiate a space for themselves against the simultaneous forces of Hindu sectarianism, on one hand, and the Indian nationalist and socialist projects, on the other – all under the overriding presence of British colonialism. Unmistakably evident in MawlanaMawdudi’s conception of an Islamic state is the totalizing narrative of modernity successfully disguised in a patently Islamic language. Equally important to Mawdudi is the radical transformation of an ideologue from a modernizing visionary into an active political pragmatist once the colonial project ended with the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan as an autonomous Muslim state.”[36] A recent book on the life of Maryam Jameelah, a Jewish American convert to Islam, lends fascinating insights into the mind of Maududi.  Maududi comes across in this book as an echo of America’s own puritan forefathers who led them to the puritan commonwealth.[37]

Indeed the essential issue is not whether a strain is good or bad, but whether there is some intellectual movement forward. Individual Muslims, thinking outside the narrow confines of taqlid and madhab– have often found themselves with new ideas and taabeersof Islam. In addition to the above mentioned, this may include Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – the great Islamic Modernist- , Syed Ameer Ali whose intellectual contribution to modernity in Islam is second to none, the Muslim Internationalist Ubaidullah Sindhi (whose disciple Zafar Hassan Aibak went through a profound evolution from a Jehadi to a Marxist to a Kemalist) and AllamaGhulam Ahmed Pervez of the Tolu-e-Islam Movement. Pervez was a rationalist Quran scholar whose ideas were very similar to the Mutazilla’s views about the Quran. Similarly the “heretic” movements within Islam are also in a way an expression of this trend. Abdul Baha of Iran and MirzaGhulam Ahmed of Qadian presented themselves as Mujadads and reformers. MirzaGhulam Ahmed’s movement produced people like Sir Zafrullah- whose legal and political contributions to Pakistan and the world at large make him a towering figure in recent Indo-Muslim history. His “Islam and Human Rights” remains one of the finest legal studies of the Universal declaration of Human Rights and its comparitive study with Islamic theory of Human Rights. [38]– and Dr. Abdus Salam who claimed that his remarkable theory which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics resulted from his profound study of the Holy Quran. Meanwhile Abdul Baha’sBahaismis one of the fastest growing religions in the US.

There has often been a tendency by some Non-Muslim observers of the process of Islamic revival and reform to draw a distinction between a “traditional Muslim scholar” and a “radical Muslim ideologue”- a distinction which is not always useful or fruitful. This view tends to conclude in general that “traditional Islam” whatever it may be is better than “political Islam”. This ignores the basic fact that Islam is – whether we like it or not- largely political. Those who wish to resolve the issue of terrorism by supplanting “political Islam” with Sufism and “traditional Islam” are going against the current of history. It is political Islam alone that needs to evolve to a secular-leaning paradigm i.e. Ghamidi or Gemal Al Banna. Indeed Sufism and “traditional Islam” are likely to fail in this respect because they don’t have any political application because Sufism is at the end of the day an intensely personal creed whereas “traditional Islam” is a misnomer and refers to the Madrassah educated Maulanas who in the long run are even more harmful as they oppose modernity more trenchantly than Islamic revivalists, who over a generation or two seem to be more adaptive.

Perhaps this was best expressed by Hamid Dibashi who writes of Soroush the great Iranian intellectual as under:

“The predicament of AbdolkarimSoroush as a religious intellectual is thus symptomatic of a larger phenomenon, at once liberating and arresting, in the colonial history of combative encounters with European modernity. By far the most significant public intellectual of post-revolutionary Iran, Soroush personifies the predicament of a much larger universe of failed ideas. Understanding him is thus not yet another exercise in futility, a Monday morning quarterbacking after the game of Islamic confrontation with colonial modernity is over. In his blindness dwells his insights, for Soroush represents some two centuries of bewildered attempts to locate a historical agency for the Muslim subject in colonial modernity. The colonial integration of Islamic societies at large into the project of capitalist modernity necessitated anti-colonial responses that could not but adopt global modes of social mobilization (Nationalism and Socialism) or create its own nativist sites of resistance (Islamism). The intellectual pedigree that Soroush now represents claims such illustrious luminaries as Seyyed Jamal al-Din Asadabadi, ‘‘al-Afghani’’ (1838– 1897),Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905),Rashid Rida (1865–1935), A. H. Abd al-Raziq (1888–1966), Abu al-Ala al-Mawdudi (1903–1979), Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut (1892–1963), and, perhaps most significantly, a prote´ge´ of Sir Seyyed Ahmad Khan named Chiragh Ali (1844–1895). Soroush is the very last metaphysician in the Islamic colonial encounter with modernity, the very last ideologue in whose blindness and insights we can see the decline and fall of the most massive mutation of Islam in its long and languid history into an ‘‘Islamic Ideology.’’[39]

In an even more enlightening paragraph on SayyidQutb, the aforesaid author writes:

“Much is made of the ‘‘anti-modern’’ or even ‘‘anti-modern civilization’’ attitudes and ideas of thinkers like SayyidQutb.The minor detail that such assessments categorically fail to consider is the colonial context of the of European modernity. European modernity came to Muslim lands through the gun barrel of colonialism. The British colonial occupation of India for Muslim ideologues like Mawdudi, the French, British, and even Italian colonial occupation of North Africa for militant activists like SayyidQutb, and most poignantly the European Zionist occupation of Palestine and the dispossession and expelling of millions of Palestinians from their homeland for effectively all Muslim liberation theologianswere paramount in whatever they thought Muslims ought to do. Islam for such ideologues as SayyidQutb (as indeed for all Muslims) is the moral domain of legitimate defiance against injustice. They thus formulate a liberation theology, aka an Islamic Ideology, that opposes the quintessentialinjustice embedded in forcefully plundering a people of their dignity, ancestral land, and independence through the most brutal and vicious forms of colonial occupation and outright thievery of other people’s natural resources. Muslims have never had access to European modernity except through colonialism – and thus their defiance against colonialism ipso facto means a rejection of European modernity. There was, in this particular case, no way to separate the baby from the bathwater.”[40]

Syed Qutb, described as the father of Islamic fundamentalism – like Maududi – was enthusiastic about modernity and modern ideas. He remained an Islamic reformer for a while “hoping to give Western democracy an Islamic dimension”. His fundamentalism – according to Karen Armstrong seems to have grown out of persecution by Nasser’s regime.[41]

That he also began as a westernized  reformer can be gauged from this description by an unsympathetic writer:

“SayyidQutb like Hassan Al Banna was an Egyptian School teacher, and like Mawdudi, an aspiring man of letters. As a young man he was a Western Oriented progressive, but he shared with Mawdudi a fixation that puts both men in the class of political rather than theological thinkers.”[42]

Islam’s on-going Lutheran Movement has not emerged from within the confines of DarulUlooms and Jamias. This movement has come from the middle class – and for a time it will remain confused and violent – but ultimately it will reform the Muslim World and usher upon it an age of reason, enlightenment and I daresay modern secularism. Afghani, Sir Syed, Iqbal and Pervez have called at times for a complete reconstruction of religious thought on the basis of Ijtehad and Quranic principles. Yet there has been no organized movement towards the formation of a body of eminent scholars that can undertake such an arduous task and formulate a new fiqh for the 21st century.

The time is ripe for the formation of a body with Muslims extracted from across the globe and different cultures. While a percentage of these should be experts of existing jurisprudences, a significant portion of this body should consist of eminent Muslims who have excelled in fields of science, technology, law, medicine, economics, philosophy and all conceivable fields to which Islam may concern itself. Each member should be the top most expert available in the field and each member should have an unimpeachable record of integrity and honesty. Most importantly, each one of them should believe in the mission of formulating a new fiqh for our times and should not be swayed by their own personal likes and dislikes. There are many unanswered questions which require resolution for the modern Muslim believer. Just by way of example: how is western interest-based banking, which developed only 400 years ago, equivalent to Riba that was forbidden by the Holy Prophet (PBUH)? There was no conception in Islam of a banking system where loanable funds were themselves a product. In modern banking, the whole idea of interest is distinguishable from Riba on the grounds that interest is merely a price charged for loanable funds which makes the whole issue a legitimate transaction. Yet modern Islamic thought – instead of updating its world view through ijtehad – has now increasingly come to accept modern interest-based banking as Riba.

The Islamic World is in the throes of a great social, political, economic and religious transformation. The Arab Spring has opened up the Arab World to new ideas and old. In an increasingly interconnected world the Arab Islamists have begun to modify their rhetoric to meet the needs of the time. Turkey’s AKP is leading it to a new synthesised future where Islamism and Secularism meet and harmonise existing tensions. In Iran we see a new and vibrant modernist class  waiting to break free from the hold of a controlling coterie of Ayotallahs. The process of secularisation does not take a straight or clear cut path but all evidence points to very real secularisation of the Islamic or Islamist discourse.

[1] Yasser LatifHamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore.  He can be reached at

[1] See TimurKuran “The Long Divergence:How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East” Princeton

[2] See for example the recent events around the Pakistan Army brigadier arrested for ties with Hizbuttahir. Paradoxically Hizb denounces the creation of Pakistan and partition of India as a British conspiracy.

[3] See Dr. M D Taseer’s essay “Iqbal and Modern Problems” reproduced in “Taseer on Iqbal” published by the Iqbal Academy Pakistan, Page 51.

[4] “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong published by Vintage 1999 page 418

[5] See for example his work Piyam-e-Mashriq or the “Message from the East”

[6] For a discussion on Luther and Calvin see 317-325 of “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong published by Vintage 1999

[7] Insert appropriate Gabriel’s Wing reference from Anne Marie Schimmel or from Taseer on Iqbal

[8] Islam a Challenge to Religion by G A Parwez Published by Tolu-e-Islam Trust Second Edition July 1989 Pp 366-369

[9]page 279 Ibid

[10] Comparison Ghazali-Kant page 91 Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam- published by Sang-e-Meel Publications

[11] Page 48 of Anne Marie Schimmel’s book “Gabriel’s Wing” published by the Iqbal Academy Pakistan

[12] “A little before I left him he said to me, `What is there in common between Jinnah and you ? He is a politician, you are a patriot.'” Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India (New York, 1946), p. 353.

[13] To this end he said “Our nation has full confidence in Jinnah’s integrity and political judgment. It is for this reason that reactionary leaders are flustered.” The Civil & Military Gazette, Lahore, 9 May 1936.

[14] Page 56 of Anne Marie Schimmel’s “Gabriel’s Wing” published by Iqbal Academy

[15] Page 34 Ibid

[16] Jinnah was famously called the Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity. For references see “Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity” by Ian Bryant Wells and “An Advocate of Hindu Muslim Unity” by Sarojini Naidu.

[17] “Indian Summer -the secret untold story of the end of an empire” by Alex Von Tunzelman First Picador Edition 2008 Page 95

[18] Muhammad Sharif Toosi was the headmaster of M B High School Wazirabad. The incident is mentioned on Pages 166-167 of “Plain Mr. Jinnah” compiled by Syed Shamsul Hassan, published by Royal Book Company in 1976.

[19]Iqbal’s letter of May 28, 1937 to Jinnah

[20] Islamic History A Framework for Inquiry” by R. Stephen Humphreys  Oxford University Press Revised Edition Page 210

[21]Iqbal’s letter of May 28, 1937 to Jinnah

[22] As early as 1910, he spoke of Aurangzeb as the “founder of Musulman Nationality in India”. For reference see page 11 of “Gabriel’s Wing” by Anne Marie Schimmel

[23]Iqbal’s poem on Alamgir in “Taseer on Iqbal” page 161 (from the Urdu selections)

[24] Shiva Ji, Hindu King in Islamic India” Oxford U Press 2003 – James W LainePp 73-78

[25] Page 7 ibid

[26]Pp 10-11 of Anne Marie Schimmel’s “Gabriel’s Wing”.

[27] See Jinnah’s address at Minto Park in March 1940 before the passing of Lahore Resolution

[28] page 138 of Islam a short history by Karen Armstrong

[29] Lecture on The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam- see page 135 of Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam- published by Sang-e-Meel Publications

[30] See Munir Report.

[31] See Dr. M D Taseer’s essay “Iqbal and Modern Problems” reproduced in “Taseer on Iqbal” published by the Iqbal Academy Pakistan,Page 52

[32] Islam a Short History Karen Armstrong Phoenix Page 143

[33] For a discussion on Mullah Sadra’s ideas see Pp. 301-302  of “History of God” by Karen Armstrong. His ideas were a marked contrast to Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi. The former argued for WahdatulWajood and the latter WahdatulShahood

[34] For FarooqMaududi’s views – ref 219-220 of “Journey into America” by Akbar Ahmed Brookings Institute Press 2010

[35]FazlurRahman, Islam and Modernity—Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 116

[36]Islamic Liberation Theology Resisting the empire by Hamid DabashiPp 44-45

[37] For a detailed discussion on “A Puritan Commonwealth” and the colonies early on in American History see pages 21-30 of “The American Nation” by John A Garraty and Mark C. Carnes Longman

[38]Islam and Human Rights Islam International Publications Limited 5th edition 1999

[39]Islamic Liberation Theology Resisting the empire by Hamid Dabashi Page 116

[40] Page 42 Ibid

[41] page 144 of Islam a short history by Karen Armstrong

[42] Page 144 Two Faces of Islam by Stephen Schwartz published by anchor books 2003