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MAWDUDI, SAYYID ABU AL-A’LA (also rendered from Urdu as Abu’l-A`la Maududi; 25 September 1903 – 22 September 1979) Islamic ideologue and politician. Sayyid Abu al-A’la 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. In South Asia, where Mawdudi’s ideas took shape, his influence has been most pronounced. Jama`at-i Islami (the Islamic Party), the organization that has embodied his ideology over the course of the past five decades, has played a significant role in the history and politics of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the South Asian communities of the Persian Gulf states, Great Britain, and North America.

Abu'l-A`la Maududi

Abu’l-A`la Maududi

Mawdudi was born in Aurangabad, Deccan (now Maharashtra), on 25 September 1903 (3 Rajab 1321) into a notable family of Delhi who traced their lineage to the great Chishti Sufi saints who had played a prominent role in the conversion of India to Islam. The Mawdudis had been close to the Mughal court, especially during the reign of the last ruler of that dynasty, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The family had suffered greatly during the sack of Delhi by the British in 1858 and had witnessed a reversal in its fortunes following the suppression of Muslim power in the Indian subcontinent. It had, however, continued to identify with the glories of Muslim history in India and was not reconciled to British rule over the domain of the Mughals. Mawdudi’s mother was also from a notable family of Delhi who had settled in the Deccan and served generations of nizams of Hyderabad. The Indo-Islamic cultural roots of the family, its identification with the glorious heritage of Muslim rule over India, its aristocratic pretensions, and its disdain for British rule were to play a central role in shaping Mawdudi’s worldview in later years.

Mawdudi’s father, Sayyid Ahmad Hasan, was among the first to attend the Muslim Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh and to embark on Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s experiment with Islamic modernism. His stint at Aligarh, however, did not last long, since he left the school to complete his education in law in Allahabad. After completing his studies, Ahmad Hasan settled in the Deccan, first in Hyderabad and later in Aurangabad. There he was initiated into Sufism and for a time abandoned his career to devote himself to worship at the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. Ahmad Hasan’s puritanical streak and love of Sufism created a strongly religious and ascetic environment in which his children were nurtured. Ahmad Hasan, moreover, took great pains to rear his children in the Muslim notable (sharif) culture and to educate them classically, intentionally excluding English from their curriculum. They were educated at home in Arabic, Urdu, and religious texts for a number of years. Mawdudi’s mastery of Arabic was such that at the age of fourteen he translated the Egyptian thinker Qasim Amim’s work Al-mar’ah al -jadidah from Arabic into Urdu.

At the age of eleven the young Mawdudi was enrolled at the Madrasah-i Fauqaniyah in Aurangabad, where he encountered modern education for the first time. He was compelled to abandon his formal education at the age of sixteen because of his father’s illness and death; however, he remained acutely interested in writing and politics. His interests were then secular and focused solely on the issue of nationalism. In 1918 and 1919 he wrote essays in praise of Hindu Congress leaders, notably Gandhi and Madan Muhan Malaviya. In 1918 he joined his brother Abulkhair in Bijnor to begin a career in journalism. Soon after that the brothers moved to Delhi, where Mawdudi was exposed to the variety of intellectual currents in the Muslim community. He became acquainted with modernist writings as well as with the activities of the independence movement. In 1919 he moved to Jabalpur to work for the pro-Congress weekly Taj. There he became fully active in the Khilafat movement and in mobilizing Muslims in support of the Congress Party. His passionate articles eventually led to the closure of the weekly by the authorities.

Mawdudi then returned to Delhi, where he became acquainted with such important Khilafat activists as Muhammad `Ali, with whom Mawdudi briefly cooperated. He continued to show interest in the independence movement, albeit increasingly from a Muslim standpoint. For instance, he briefly joined the Tahrik-i Hijrat protest movement, which encouraged Muslims to emigrate from British India (ddr al-harb, “abode of war”) to Muslim-ruled (dar al-Islam, “abode of Islam”) Afghanistan. In 1921 Mawdudi became acquainted with the senior leaders of the Jam’iyatul `Ulama’-i Hind, Mawlanas Mufti Kifayatullah and Ahmad Said. The eminent `ulama’ recognized Mawdudi’s talents and invited him to edit the Jam`iyat’s official newspaper, Muslim, and later its successor Al jami at. Mawdudi remained in the service of the Jamiyat until 1924. There he developed a more acute awareness of Muslim political consciousness and became more actively involved in the affairs of his faith. He began to write on the Muslim plight in India, the predicament of the Turks in the face of European imperialism, and the glories of Muslim rule in India. His tone was communalist and political; revivalism was not yet a central focus of his writings. [See also Khilafat Movement; Jam`iyatul `Ulama’-i Hind.]

These years were also a period of learning and intellectual growth for Mawdudi. He learned English and became acquainted with Western works. His association with the Jam`iyat also encouraged him to acquire a formal religious education. He studied Arabic and commenced the dars-i mizami (syllabus of education of `ulama’ in India) first with the renowned `Abdussalam Niyazi and later at Delhi’s Fatihpuri Madrasah. In 1926 he received his certificate in religious training (ijazah), thus becoming a Deobandi `alim. Interestingly, Mawdudi never acknowledged his status as one of the `ulama’ and his education in the Deobandi tradition did not come to light until after his death.

The collapse of the Khilafat movement in 1924 was a turning point in Mawdudi’s life. He lost faith in nationalism, which he believed had led the Turks and Egyptians to undermine Muslim unity, and became suspicious of the Congress Party’s manipulation of nationalist sentiments to serve Hindu interests. His views became openly communalist, revealing an opprobrium for the nationalist movement and its Muslim allies. At this time he found himself at odds with the Jam`iyat and decided to part ways with his Deobandi mentors, who had chosen to support the Congress Party in the interests of ridding India of British rule.

No less opposed to British rule, Mawdudi advocated an Islamic anti-imperialist platform that asserted opposition to colonialism together with safeguarding Muslim interests. The communalist rhetoric, articulated in terms of religious symbolism, gave place to revivalist discourse when taken to its logical conclusion. This course of events, moreover, soon imbued Mawdudi with a sense of mission, permitting him to articulate his views as a discrete religious and political platform. In 1925 a young Muslim activist assassinated the Hindu revivalist leader Swami Shradhanand. The swami, who had advocated reconverting low-caste converts to Islam back to Hinduism, had publicly slighted Muslim beliefs. The assassination led to widespread criticism of Islam as a religion of violence by the Indian press. Angered by this response and summoned to action by Muhammad ‘Ali’s sermon at Delhi’s Jami’ Mosque encouraging Muslims to defend their faith, Mawdudi took it upon himself to clarify to critics Islam’s position on the use of violence. The result was his famous treatise on war and peace, violence and jihdd in Islam, Al jihdd f al-Islam (Jihad in Islam). This book was the only systematic explanation of the Muslim position on jihdd in response to criticism by the press, and it remains one of the most articulate expositions of this theme by a revivalist thinker; it received warm accolades from the Muslim community and confirmed Mawdudi’s place among the Muslim literati.

Mawdudi became convinced that his vocation lay in leading his community to political and religious salvation. The direction which this endeavor was to take was not, however, entirely clear. In 1928 Mawdudi moved to Hyderabad and immersed himself in writing. He completed a number of translation projects, historical accounts of Hyderabad, and religious texts at the behest of the nizam’s government, the most important of which was his seminal introduction to Islam, Risalah -yi diniyat (later translated as Towards Understanding Islam). It was here that he first grew a beard, adopted Indo-Muslim attire, and underwent a conversion experience, one which was religious in content but motivated by his understanding of political imperatives. The political situation in Hyderabad, the last remnant of Muslim rule in India, was highly precarious at the time. The majority Hindu population had begun to assert itself, and the power of the nizam was on the wane. Mawdudi did not remain unaffected by what he witnessed in his birthplace. He became convinced that the decline of Muslim power stemmed from the corruption and pollution of Islam, the centuries of dross that had obscured the faith’s veritable teachings. Conversely, the salvation of Muslim culture lay in the restitution of Islamic institutions and practices, once the culture was cleansed of the unsavory cultural influences that had sapped its power. He therefore encouraged the nizam’s government to reform Hyderabad’s Islamic institutions and to promote the veritable teachings of the faith. The government’s subsequent inaction disheartened Mawdudi and led him to lose trust in the existing Muslim political structures and instead to look for a new, all-inclusive sociopolitical solution.

Mawdudi’s revivalist position was in fact radical communalism. It asserted Muslim rights, proposed a program for promoting and safeguarding them, and demanded the severance of all cultural, social, and political ties with Hindus in the interest of purifying Islam. He went so far as to advocate a separate cultural homeland for Indian Muslims.

In 1932 Mawdudi purchased the journal Tarjuman alQur’dn, which became the forum for his views. The rapid changes that characterized the passing of the Rai, however, convinced Mawdudi that the pen alone was unlikely to affect the course of events significantly. He thus became interested in an organizational expression of his ideas. In 1938 he agreed to head Darul-Islam, a religious education project conceived by Muhammad Iqbal at Pathankut, a hamlet in Punjab. At Darul-Islam Mawdudi devised a model Islamic community, which he hoped would spearhead the reform of Islam in India. Meanwhile he remained intensely interested in politics. He became embroiled in the struggle between the Pakistan Movement and Muslims of the Congress Party, always maintaining his independence of thought from the two positions. He lambasted first the Muslim supporters of the Congress, many of whom were his mentors in the Jam’iyatul `Ulama’-i Hind, for betraying the Muslim cause, and then turned his attention to the Muslim League, which he chastised for its secularist communalism. As a result of Mawdudi’s activism, the project acquired an increasingly political tone, leading him to leave Pathankut for more direct political activity in Lahore. There he taught at the Islamiyah College and joined in debates over the future of the Muslim community. It was at this time that the idea of an organizational expression for his ideas, combining a model community and a political party, found shape in Mawdudi’s thought and works. In August 1941, Mawdudi, with a number of young `ulama’ and Muslim literati, formed the Jama’at-i Islam (Islamic Party). The party soon moved its headquarters to Pathankut, where Mawdudi and his cohorts articulated the party’s ideology and plan of action. The Jama’at began to organize across India, but it did not evolve rapidly enough to have an impact on developments in the Muslim community there.

When India was partitioned, Mawdudi divided the Jama’at into independent Indian and Pakistani units. He moved to Lahore to assume leadership of the Jama’at-i Islami of Pakistan. The communalist agenda was replaced by the campaign to establish an Islamic state. During the early years of Pakistan Mawdudi did much to mobilize public opinion for the cause of Islam, pushing the `ulama’ to demand an Islamic constitution. He soon became identified as an enemy of the state and was accused of opposing Pakistan and of being a tool of India and a subversive element. Between 1948 and 1950 he was imprisoned for refusing to lend religious legitimacy to the government’s military campaign in Kashmir. In 1954 he was again imprisoned, and this time sentenced to death, for his role in instigating the disturbances against the Ahmadiyah in Punjab in 1953-1954 His sentence was later commuted, and he was released from prison in 1955. He was incarcerated on two other occasions, in 1964 and again in 1967, for challenging the regime of Ayub Khan.

In 1969 Mawdudi instructed the Jama`at to launch a national anti-left campaign to forestall the Awami League’s effort to gain independence for East Pakistan, and to keep the Pakistan Peoples’ Party out of power. The Jama`at failed on both counts; it lost the elections of 197o and was overshadowed by the left in the first open elections in the country. Taking stock of the defeat, after serving thirty years at the helm of the Jama`at, Mawdudi stepped down as the president (amir) of the party. Although he continued to exercise much power in the Jama`at as well as in national politics in subsequent years, most of his time was dedicated to writing. Mawdudi died in Buffalo, New York, on as September 1979. His funeral later in that month in Lahore drew a crowd of more than one million. He was buried in his house in the Ichhrah neighborhood of Lahore.

Throughout his years of political activity Mawdudi continued to produce an impressive number of articles, pamphlets, and books. His oeuvre has not only made him the foremost revivalist thinker of his time, but has also confirmed his place as an important force in traditional religious scholarship. His Qur’anic translation and commentary, Taf ham al-Qur’an (Understanding the Qur’an), begun in 1942 and completed in 1972, is one of the most widely read Qur’anic commentaries in Urdu today. Although written in a popular style and with a revivalist agenda, it has found a place in the classical Islamic scholarship of the subcontinent. In his numerous works Mawdudi elaborated his views on religion, society, economy, and politics. They constitute an interpretive reading of Islam that sought to mobilize faith for the purpose of political action. His ideological perspective, one of the most prolific and systematic articulations of the revivalist position, has been influential in the unfolding of revivalism across the Muslim world. The contours of Islam’s discourse with socialism and capitalism were first defined by him, as was much of the terminology associated with Islamic revivalism, including “Islamic revolution,” “Islamic state,” and “Islamic ideology.”

Mawdudi’s reading of Islam began with a radical exegesis. His vision was chiliastic and dialectic in that it saw the battle between Islam and fin-Islam (kufr)-both the West and the Hindu culture of India-as the central force in the historical progression of Muslim societies. This struggle, argued Mawdudi, would culminate in an Islamic state, which would in turn initiate broad reforms in society, thereby erecting a utopian Islamic order. With this agenda, Mawdudi advocated a view of Islam that mobilized the faith according to the needs of political action. He rationalized Islam into a stringent belief system, predicated upon absolute obedience to the will of God and amounting to a command structure that aimed to transform society and politics. By reinterpreting such key concepts as divinity (ilah), god/lord (rabb), worship (`ibadah), and religion (din) he recast the meaning of the Muslim faith so that social action became the logical end of religious piety, and religion itself became the vehicle of social action. Despite the radicalism of his vision and his polemic on Islamic revolution, Mawdudi’s approach to politics throughout his career remained irenic. He continued to believe that social change would not result from mobilizing the masses to topple the existing order, but from taking over the centers of political power and effecting wide-scale reforms from the top down. In Mawdudi’s conception, Islamic revolution was to unfold within the existing state structures rather than after their destruction. He disparaged the use of violence in promoting the cause of Islam and defined the ideal Islamic state as a “theodemocracy” or a “democratic caliphate.” Moreover, education rather than revolutionary action was the keystone of his approach to Islamic activism. In this regard Mawdudi’s position, as manifested in Jama`at’s politics, stands in contrast to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s example; it has provided Islamic revivalism with an alternate paradigm for social action that may prevail among revivalists in the years to come.

[See also Jama`at-i Islami; Pakistan.]


`Abd, Chaudhri `Abdurrahman. Mufakkir-i Islam: Sayyid Abula’la Maududi (Thinker of Islam: Mawlana Sayyid Abfi al-A’la Mawdudi). Lahore, 1971. Official account of Mawdudi’s life and thought.

Abulafaq. Sayyid Abula`la Maududi: Sawanih, Afkar, Tahrik (Sayyid Abu al-A’la Mawdudi: Biography, Thought, and Movement). Lahore, 1971. Official rendition of Mawdudi’s life story.

Adams, Charles J. “The Ideology of Mawlana Mawdudi.” In South Asian Politics and Religion, edited by Donald E. Smith, pp. 371397. Princeton, 1966. Authoritative examination of Mawdudi’s ideology.

Adams, Charles J. “Mawdudi and the Islamic State.” In Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John L. Esposito, pp. 99-133. New York, 1983. Usefur account of Mawdudi’s views on the “Islamic state.” Ahmad, Aziz. “Mawdudi and Orthodox Fundamentalism of Pakistan.” Middle East Journal 21.3 (Summer 1967): 369-38o. Critical overview of the Jama’at’s ideology and its impact on Pakistan. Faruqi, `Abdulghani. “Hayat-i Javidan” (Eternal Life). Haftrozah Zindagi, Mawdudi Number (29 September-5 October 1989): 2331. Account of Mawdudi’s life by a close friend and ardent follower.

Gilani, Sayyid Asad. Maududi: Thought and Movement. Lahore, 1984. Official account of Mawdudi’s life.

Hasan, Masudul. Sayyid Abul A’ala Maududi and His Thought. 2 vols. Lahore, 1984. Exhaustive account of Mawdudi’s life and politics.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la Risalah-yi dintyat (Treatise on Religion). Hyderabad, 1932. Best representation of Mawdudi’s views on faith in Islam.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la Musalman our mawjudah siyasi kashmahash (Muslims and the Current Political Crisis). 3 vols. Lahore, 1938-194o. Mawdudi’s famous examination of the problems before Indian Muslims on the eve of partition.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la. Tajdid va ihya’-i din (Renewal and Revival of Religion). Lahore, 1952. Mawdudi’s celebrated argument for the revival of Islam.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abfi al-A`la. Islam kd nazariyah-yi siyasi (Islam’s Political Views). Delhi, 1967. Summary of Mawdudi’s views on Islam’s role in politics.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abfi al-A’la. Tahrik-i Islami ki akhlaqi bunyaden (The Basic Ethical Principles of the Islamic Movement). Lahore, 1968. Outlines Islamic ethics with a view to placing political activity within the context of Muslim religious practice.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abfi al-A`la. Islami riyasat (Islamic State). Lahore, 1969. Outlines the idea of the “Islamic state.”

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la Jama’at-i Islami ki finds sal (TwentyNine Years of Jama’at-i Islami). Lahore, 1970. History of the Jama`at as told by Mawdudi.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la “Khud nivisht” (Autobiography). In Mawlana Maududi: Apni our dusron ki nazar men (Mawdudi in His Own and Others’ Views), edited by M. Yusuf Buhtah, pp. 23-39. Lahore, 1984. Mawdudi’s autobiography, covering the early part of his life.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la Al jihad fi’l-Islam (Jihad in Islam). Reprint, Lahore, 1986. Mawdudi’s celebrated exposition on jihdd. Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la. Tahrik-i Islami kd ayandah la’ihah -yi `amal (Islamic Movement’s Future Course of Action). Lahore, 1986. Outlines the objectives and duties of an Islamic movement. Mawdudi, Sayyid Abfi al-A`la. Vasd’iq-i Maududi (Mawdudi’s Documents). Lahore, 1986. Useful collection of various documents on the Jama`at’s history and Mawdudi’s thought.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abfi al-A`la. Tanqihat (Inquiries). 22d ed. Lahore, 1989. Series of responses to perceived problems confronting Muslims.

Taijumanul-Qur’an (Hyderabad) (1932-). Principal vehicle for the expression and dissemination of Mawdudi’s views on religion and politics from 1932 to 1979.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/mawdudi-sayyid-abu-al-ala/

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