Nadwi on Maududi: A Traditionalist Maulvi’s Critique of Islamism

Yoginder Sikand

Posted Jun 14, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Nadwi on Maududi: A Traditionalist Maulvi’s Critique of Islamism

By Yoginder Sikand

The late Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (or Ali Miyan as he was also
known) was one of the leading Indian ulema of modern times. A noted
writer, he headed the famous Nadwat ul-Ulema madrasa in Lucknow from
1961 till his death in 1999. He was associated with several other
Indian as well as international Islamic organisations, a mark of the
high respect that he was accorded among Muslims all over the world.

Maulana Nadwi’s wrote extensively on a vast range of subjects,
including on Islam and politics. On this issue, his views underwent a
gradual process of change and maturation, beginning with his early
association with a leading Indian Islamist formation and later making
a forceful critique of some crucial aspects of its understanding of
Islam. His views in this regard point to the little-known yet rich
internal debate among Indian Muslim scholars about the relationship
between Islam and politics, particularly on the question of what
Islamists describe as an ‘Islamic state’.

In 1940, Maulana Nadwi came under the influence of Sayyid Maududi, the
founder of the principal Indian Islamist outfit, the Jamaat-i Islami.
Maududi, along with the Egyptian Syed Qutb, may be said to be among
the pioneers of contemporary Islamism. Soon after joining the Jamaat,
Maulana Nadwi was put in-charge of its activities in Lucknow. This
relationship proved short-lived, however, and he left the Jamaat in
1943. He later wrote that he was disillusioned by the perception that
many members of the Jamaat were going to what he called ‘extremes’ in
adoring and glorifying Maududi as almost infallible, this bordering on
‘personality worship’. At the same time, he felt that many Jamaat
activists believed that they had nothing at all to learn from any
other scholars of Islam. He was also concerned with what he saw as a
lack of personal piety in Maududi and some leading Jamaat activists
and with their criticism of other Muslim groups.

Maulana Nadwi’s opposition to the Jamaat’s understanding about Islam
and politics, which it shared with most other Islamist formations,
comes out clearly in his Urdu book Asr-i Hazir Mai Din Ki
Tahfim-o-Tashrih (‘Understanding and Explaining Religion in the
Contemporary Age’) which he penned in 1978, and which won him, so he
says in his introduction to its second edition published in 1980,
fierce condemnation from leading members of the Jamaat. Here, Maulana
Nadwi takes Maududi to task for having allegedly misinterpreted
central Islamic beliefs in order to suit his own political agenda,
presenting Islam, he says, as little more than a political programme.
Thus, he accuses Maududi of wrongly equating the Islamic duty of
‘establishing religion’ with the setting up of an Islamic state with
God as Sovereign and Law Maker. At Maududi’s hands, he says, ‘God’,
‘The Sustainer’, ‘Religion’ and ‘Worship’ have all been reduced to
political concepts. In this way, Maududi, Maulana Nadwi says, sought
to incorrectly suggest that Islam is simply about political power and
that the relationship between God and human beings is only that
between an All-Powerful King and His subjects. However, Maulana Nadwi
says, this relationship is also one of ‘love’ and ‘realisation of the
Truth’, which is far more comprehensive than what Maududi envisages.

Linked to Maulana Nadwi’s critique of Maududi for having allegedly
reduced Islam to a mere political project was his concern that not
only was such an approach a distortion of the actual import of the
Quran but also that it was impractical, if not dangerous, in the
Indian context. Thus, he argued, Maududi’s insistence that to accept
the commands of anyone other than God, including of an elected
government, was tantamount to shirk, the crime of associating others
with God, as this was allegedly akin to ‘worship’, was not in keeping
with the teachings of Islam. God, Maulana Nadwi wrote, had, in His
wisdom, left several areas of life free for people to decide how they
could govern them, within the broad limits set by the Islamic law or
shariah, and guided by a concern for social welfare.

Further, Maulana Nadwi asserted that Maududi’s argument that God had
sent prophets to the world charged with the mission of establishing an
‘Islamic state’ was a misreading of the Islamic concept of
prophethood. The principal work of the prophets, Maulana Nadwi argued,
was to preach the worship of the one God and to exhort others to do
good deeds. Not all prophets were rulers. In fact, only a few of them
were granted that status. Maulana Nadwi faulted Maududi for what he
said was ‘debasing’ the ‘lofty’ Islamic understanding of worship to
mean simply ‘training’ people as willing subjects of the Islamic
state. In Maududi’s understanding of Islam, he wrote, prayer and
remembrance of God are seen as simply the means to an end, the
establishment of an Islamic state, whereas, Maulana Nadwi argued, the
converse is true. The goal of the Islamic state is to ensure worship
of God, and not the other way round. If at all worship can be said to
be a means, he added, it is a means for securing the ‘will of God’ and
‘closeness to Him’.

If the ‘Islamic state’ should then simply a means for the
‘establishment of religion’ and not the ‘total religion’ or the
‘primary objective’ of Islam, it opens up the possibility of pursuing
the same goals through other means. Maulana Nadwi refers to this when
he says that the objective of the ‘establishment of the faith’ needs
to be pursued along with ‘wisdom of the faith’, using constructive, as
opposed to destructive, means. Eschewing ‘total opposition’, Muslims
striving for the ‘establishment of the faith’ should, he wrote,
unhesitatingly adopt peaceful means such as ‘understanding and
reform’, ‘consultation’ and ‘wisdom’. Critiquing the use of uncalled
for violence by some groups calling themselves ‘Islamic’, Maulana
Nadwi stressed the need for ‘obedience’, ‘love’ and ‘faith’ and
struggle against the ‘base self’ (nafs). Muslims should, he wrote,
make use of all available legitimate spaces to pursue the cause of the
‘establishment of religion’, such as propagating their message through
literature, public discussions, training volunteers, winning others
over with the force of one’s own personality and establishing contacts
with governments.

Maulana Nadwi’s critique of radical Islamism points to the rich
theological resources contained within traditional Islamic thought
that can be used to fashion alternate understandings of the
relationship between Islam and politics in a far more sensible way
than most Islamists have articulated hitherto and which have caused
untold havoc in the name of Islam.

Book Info: Sayyed Abul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi, ‘Asr-i Hazir Mai Din Ki
Tahfim-o-Tashrih, Dar-ul ‘Arafat, Lucknow. 1980 edition.

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