Arguing the ‘Political’ and locating reform: Observation on Jamaat-e-Islami

Waseem R S  (Research Scholar, JNU)

Abstract: The idea of Islamic  reformism in Kerala is a highly debated one in the social science academia and the general public as well. I would like to situate the political engagement  of  Jamaat-e-Islami hind (JIH)  in Kerala and  its variety of forms of representation in politics in this larger discussion with reference to Talal Asad and other scholarship. I would not like to take  stand in the  popular debate  on ‘authenticity’ of reform; but taking cues from distinguished scholar Talal Asad, and trying to place the political engagements of JIH as ‘tradition of reform’  rather than tradition to reform or tradition to modern. Further i am trying to analyze the speech given by Maulana Mawdudi in the wake of partition at madras in 1947 April 26, which discussed  the duty of Muslims in India after partition. This paper would critically evaluate this speech with the new political engagement of JIH. This speech is remarkable, since most of critics about  Mawdudi’s engagements with colonial modernity and its various ideological strands  like  secularism, nationalism and western democracy had avoided  his contextual proposals in different time and space. In the last part i will try to examine the political engagements of JIH to reach out both the Islamic ideology and the nation- state.
The dominant reading on jamathe islami in kerala , have been situated as a party of ‘political islam’ or ‘islamism’. On the one hand, JIH is a fundamentalist organization, indeed fundamentalism came as a response towards modernity. wherever modernity came as a core idea which withered away the traditional belief systems and world views; fundamentalism came there as a response to modernity. they argued , the all fundamentalist organizations in the world are against secularism which disallow religion in political matters.for fundamentalist organisations, islam is not a realm which divides politics and religion. The fundamentalist organizations like Jamaat-e-islami belives islam as a way of life. more than that they argued JIH is not a religious organization but a political organization. For religious organisations religion should be  religion and politics should be politics, there is no mingling of both. Other muslim organizations are proponents of cultural islam but jamaat looking for the other side, the political islam. This understanding of JIH is not only visible in the public sphere but also some state institutions too considers JIH as a political organization. (Recently Supreme court of India rejected the intervention petition from a trust which runs by people affiliated with JIH, On the ground that Jamaat-e-islami is a political organisation’). Also, it is significant to note The event of indian partition made a drastic fear about Islamic movements in the ‘secular’ public sphere which was imagined by Nehru and others. in short, these understandings of Jammat –e-islami is mainly framed in two fundamentals. One, Islamic politics is a phenomenon came only after the coming of modernity. in another way, JIH is a product of modernity. secondly,the idea of religion is only for the private not for the public. Religion should be focused in cultural space not in political space. the notion that the religion and politics should be kept apart, came as a post enlightment project which is a byproduct of European enlightenment. Modernity has its own way of framing the ‘political’. The idea of political modernity is shaped by some basic notions.  Iqbal have noted that “Modernity in the political sphere had come to embody two principal factors: the development of a political space autonomous of the religious and private realm; and the  consecration of nationalities/nations’ as the key socio-economic and political  units”.(Iqbal,2012). The formation of indian nation-state which in depth carried the hindu nationalism evidently marginalized the muslim political subjects. Conceptualizing Jamaat as a product of modernity which don’t have Islamic tradition, have a biased assumption that there is an ‘essential’ modern which everybody have to recognize. But the claim of ‘modernity’ as an essential , universal project have been criticized verily by scholars. Scholars have been talking about multiple modernities(eisenstadt), heterogenous modernities, non-colonial modernities, alternative modernities and else. These conceptualizations all have a premise that the idea of essential ‘modern’ which we all have to start with and more, we all have to end with is a problematic one. Talal Asad said that the idea of ‘religion’ which what we understand today was shaped by the western modernity and reformed Christianity. What is the meaning of religion today is not a primordial kind of solidarity or system as Marxists understands, but the creation of the secular modernity itself. What is religion? Do all religions are the same? Or can we think of religion more contextually and historically? This questions are need to be asked. What is the ‘idea’ of ‘religion’ which we all discusses in different ways. The secular-liberal discourse which continuously have been saying ‘’see, religion is coming, beware!’’ . is it a good way to argue that religion is coming as a threat to humanity? These questions are important but I am not here to address these questions for the time being. But, the dominant assumption about religion as the one , with all religions have same characteristics, and making conclusions based on these assumptions are not fair. It is important to note that the hindu religion in india which is textually following the caste system which may not there in other Semitic religions. Semitic religions have differences in their knowledge system, orientation about the life, and about the relationship with men and God. The contemporary scholarship on religion especially from anthropologists Talal Asad and many have been criticized the essentialist and teleological classical understandings of religion.
We have to look the relationship between religion and modernity in more detail anthropologically, sociologically and historically. When we analyze Islamic movements, it is sure that we have to look at the formation contextually and historically, it doesn’t mean that keeping the movements in brackets like modern movements ,non-modern movements or traditional movements likewise. Historically speaking, all of the Islamic movements in the world engaged with the social conditions of the present in different forms(example: importance of education, new institutions,  form of programs, print technologies etc) Seeing them as ‘modern’ as opposite to ‘traditional’ is highly limited and inadequate to observe the engagements of Islamic movements. Instead of this framing of ‘tradition’ or ‘modern’ , I would like to place Islamic movements including Jamatt-e-islami are in a pattern of tradition of reform. The idea is neither tradition to modern nor tradition to reform.Talal Asad made this methodological break for looking to understand Islamic reforms. For him, islam is a part of discursive tradition. It is important to understand the continuities and discontinuities in Islamic reform for making sense of the present, past and the future.Talal Asad said “the concept of ‘tradition’ requires more careful theoretical attention than the modernist perspective gives to it. Talking of ‘tradition’ (“Islamic tradition”) as though it was the passing on of an unchanging substance in homogenous time oversimplifies the problem of time’s definition of practice, experience and event”…in tradition the ‘present’ is always the center. If we attend to the way time present is separated from but also included within events and epochs, the way time past authoritatively constitutes present practices, and the way authenticating practices invoke or distance themselves from the past (by reiterating, reinterpreting, and reconnecting textualized memory and memorialized history), we move a toward richer understandings of tradition’s temporality.”(Asad, 2003).it is thoughtful that Jamaat-e-islami framing their policy and programs by referring to the Islamic structure and tradition, Quran and Sunnah of prophet, ijthihad and ijma. So, it is a way of interpreting, reinterpreting, engaging the tradition in relation with the new social settings. Talal Asad have observed that the idea of ‘privatization of religion’ or ‘religion as private’ came in relation with the epistemological category of ‘secular’ which defines the ‘religon’, ‘ethics’ ‘pain’ differently. He checked the western and non-western nation states and argues that the conception of ‘privatization of religion’ is a myth, and all states engages, incorporates religion in different forms. He gave the examples of Christian right at the heart of bush government, and hijab ban in france , where secularists had no problem in wearing yarmulke in schools. salwa ismail also pointed out that even the ‘ideal’ western secular politics, signs and codes of religion can be found in the public realm like Sunday shopping laws, Christian public holidays and commericialized Christian celebrations(Ismail,2011).
The idea of ‘secular’ given new meanings to ‘religion’ and rewrites religion in private/public binaries. It is a wrong supposition. The idea of secular was constituted through familiar oppositions. Belief and knowledge, reason and imagination, history and fiction, symbol and allegory, natural and super natural, sacred and profane, these binaries are fed up with secular discourse, Asad said.(Asad,2003). If we take the activities of nation state which have been claiming that we will not come to your private affairs, are continuously coming to the private matters of human being. The regulatory apparatus of modern nation-state coming to institutions of education, social welfare, worship, and family in different forms. In every matters of the human being modern state have a word; through limiting, regulating, observing, denying, procedurising, conditioning, is there from birth to death which we have to register. The term ‘political islam’ which many uses to describe JIH is how secular modernity conceptualise the Islamic politics. It is important to trace out the formation of the concepts like ‘political islam’ or ‘fundamentalism’ , which we can easily see that these concepts are the production of secular modernity to describe the muslim subjects , which didn’t fits to their idea of ‘secular’. European hegemony and colonialism had used this frameworks to destruct the non-western subjects, especially the muslim ones. Fundamentalism and political islam , which we can see in the foreign policy literatures of united states, and of course other states as well. Here, I have issues with the term ‘political islam’ itself for describing Islamic movements. The term ‘islamic politics’ is more preferable to me, means ‘politics’ in islam is not a deviation of islam, indeed a strong part of it. it is unavoidable to note that the concept of ‘political’ is so abstract and open for differential meaning. Many of available literature about islam framed islam into two divisions, cultural islam as opposed to political islam; argues political islam as an evil in itself. These way of edging is unfitting and it is incorrect to make a mere contrast between modern political purpose and traditional religious goals. Terms such as ‘political islam’ makes a false claim that Islamic politics is a corruption of proper religious practices, which distorts our inquiries.(Hischkind, 1997). Islamic politics is a highly complex one, a context based understanding is needed. The other problem of understanding Islamic activism is the ignorance of ‘political’ which processed through preserving a traditional form of personal piety. Seba mahmood in her book ‘politics of piety’ admirably expressed this point. We have to look at the ‘politics’ which is not the same as ‘politics’ characterized by secular modernity.
In this part, I am looking to the founder of Jamaat-e-islami and the world famous Islamic scholar maulana maududi , not his all aspects of life and thought which I  cant looked at here, but try to trace out his political proposals for indian muslims by analyzing a speech which he did in madras in the eve of indian partition. Maududi was a scholar who continuously opposed the movement for partition(Irene Oh, 2007, Zakariya,). For him the move for muslim nationalism was an incorrect way to clear the issue of muslims at that time. Mawdudi come up with his own proposals for post-colonial governance in india. Moulana moududi’a proposal for separate electorate was ignored by both muslim league and congress at that time. Omar khalidi observed  “Mawdudi’s proposals clearly indicate that he preferred the decentralization of india, not outright partition. Unfortunately, neither the political leadership of the league nor the congress took the proposals put forth by Maududi seriously. A decentralized south asia, as originally demanded by the muslim league and phrased as “weak center, strong provinces”, would no doubt have been a better alternative to the outright partition that eventually happened in 1947. However , the insistence of congress on its mirror image , “strong center , weak provinces,” led the league to press Pakistan, even of the “truncated and moth eaten” variety that the Qaid was forced to accept”(Khalidi,2003). Maududi’s principle of non-territorial federalism is important for groups such as muslims in different parts of India(ibid).there are scholars who argues that for the case of muslims in india,  it is important to revisit the constitutional frames of political order of india which had framed long before, which denied muslims the political representative rights.(Ansari, bajpey 2002).
It is important to examine the Mawdudi’s proposal for muslims in different geographical and socio-political spaces. What is his sugeestion for the muslims in india? Is it the same what he suggested for Pakistan? He suggested a different pattern of Islamic activism for muslims in india . most of  the observations on mawdudi centred in his theoretical critic on secular modernity, but they less attended Maududi’s practical proposal’s for muslims in India as well as in Pakistan. It was clear that he was a vibrant criticque of doesn’t mean that he discounts the importance of modern tools for spreading islam and he believe that scientific achievements have to be appreciated and encouraged. He send special congratulations to Neil Amstrong for his achievement, as the first men in the moon(Jameela, 2008). He took a brave stand about scientific technologies when many of the ulama’s have taken stand against it. Mawdudi mentioned “radio in itself is nothing repulsive, it is the civilization and the society that use this source of mass-communication to project and broadcast music and songs all sort of depravities instead of preaching truth and high moral values. Aeroplane is nothing evil in itself but it is the society that uses it to the detriment of humanity. Similarly cinema is not bad in itself but its evil use by the society that projects sex and obscenity through it. these forces are mere instruments … we too are supposed to exploit all these resources to promote divinely-oriented civilization and discharge our sacred duty”(ibid). modernists wanted to modernize islam whereas maududi wanted to islamise modernity(Nasr,1996). His account Is an example of Islamic scholarship which seriously engage with the modern science and modern democracy without giving away the Islamic structure. This account of engagement is one of the many rejoinder to the conflicting theories of islam and the ‘modern’ west like ‘end of history’ and ‘the clash of civilisations’ put forward by Francis Fukuyama and Samuel P. Huntington. Here, I dont want to look at the ideological engagement of Maududi with modernity but I like to see his political understandings on indian society in the eve of partition.
Maududi put forword a different sort of argument for indian muslims after partition. He understood the failure of congress and muslim league for a mutually acceptable framework for post colonial order. He opine that the indian muslims living in areas outside of the future Pakistan to reorient their thinking and their course of action. (Khalidi, 1997). The remarkable speech of maududi in madras held on 1947 was the best example for this revision and reorientation outlook. In this speech he validate his position that there was no competing muslim nationalism to hindu nationalism. In this speech, he tries to identify the key problems of indian society and he suggested a new social and political formulation for muslims in the coming india , which came after partition. He identified some important issues in india that of caste, capitalism and nationalism. Here I am citing his insights about the need of addressing the caste question In india. Madras where he gave this speech was so infamous for caste atrocities. He said “indian social system is composed of innumerable number of castes, which keeps their own higherarchy. The differences and contradictions between them is inherent and so deeply rooted. Also it asserts its position through the theory of rebirth. Lower castes believes their suppression is a mere consequence of their bad deeds in former life. It is believed that they can’t change their destiny and all the effort in that sense are futile. Also, the upper castes consider their domination as the fruit of their good deeds in their formal life, and they treat it as sinful to change this hierarchy. In this system each upper castes suppresses their lower one, and it is visible in all spheres of life. This difference is visible in the areas of food, shelter, marriage and all the nuke and corner of the ‘civilization’. Injustice is visible in each and every step”. Further, he analyzes india’s economic system “the economic system of the country , is actually a continuation of the social system. The difference is that, along with the older atrocities, now there is the interest of the capitalist forces too. Those who stand in the higher structure of the society itself controls and owns the wealth an facilities of the country, based on the same theories and philosophies. The same people , now embraces the capitalist economy , and they grabbling the industry and commerce of the country”. He identified the issues and proposes a way forward. He said there is only one way left to save the nation from this crucial situation. One sect should be ready to propose a system comprising of socio-economic guidelines based on moral and spiritual high values. And it should provide room for social development to all regardless of their caste and creed. Not only of the micro minorities , but of all the human beings , their interests must be taken into consideration. A specific group must not be treated as a friend or foe. The thing to be done to unite people on a just and clear life code, than making people divided and make them fight. And, the unattended people must be given their due of fundamental rights, along with the taking back of the over possessed privileges of the upper classes and upper castes.”. (Ibrahim, 2009).in this speech he contended that social justice includes the question of rcongintion and redistribution. For maududi, question of recognition is a continuation of misrecognition. What he said that the Brahmins who have been making the theories of upper caste domination have also been the controllers of the wealth of the country. His take on social justice clearly understands the problems of indian society.he was not talking about justice generally, but identified the key problems which we need to erase from the indian social system.he recognized that social recognition is important, and the social redistribution as well. The different subjects, communities, unattended citizens must get their representation, recognition and redistributive rights ; he argued.  He clearly stood against the caste system, and the  moral justification made by the Brahmins for supplementing the caste system. He recongised that justice should be happen only if the caste system In india withered away from here. But unfortunately, the jamaat-e-islami did not attended his take on social justice in india. They failed in recognizing the deep social structures of the indian society and failed in articulation and action. They didn’t attend the question of caste which is the base and structure of indian society. Jamaathe –islami failed to radiclaaly question the re-distribution issues which maududi referred as a continuation of caste system and its old theories. It is important to note today, that the indian state is going in maximum speed in tune with capitalism which destructs the lives and livelihoods of the common people, and the hindu nationalists are trying their best to spread communalism and enmity on minorities, and in deep the caste, structures and disciplines the whole game. The analysis and vision of maududi have  relevance today  for the marginalized social sections of indian society for their fight for social justice. These extended –dedicated visions of maududi was unfortunately unnoticed by the followers and the critics. They are only lined up with the ideological spell which maududi raises, but neglects the practical political questions which he elaborated. The welfare party of india, which is an initiative of jamat-e-islami and the social engagements of solidarity youth movement(youth wing of jamaat-e-islami kerala) can find a rich  link with maulana maududi’s speech in madras. This recent movements and developments of jamaat are welcoming, but need critical scanning to reframe their political setting for future india.
For understanding Islamic politics one need to understand the different contexts which islaimc politics is processing. Islamic politics is not a static discourse, but it is aprocess of present which highly influenced by the movement within a movement in Islamic organizations. (Ahmed, eickleman 2009).islamists are concern with the reviving the ‘fundamentals’ of islam and positions itself tactically and strategically in relation with the social contexts and the socio-political and religious devvelopments. The case of jamaat-e-islami is also an indication of this. Islamic movements has been engaging in social sphere(dominated by ideologies of modernity) through strategies. I cannot argue that strategies and tactics doesn’t include ideology. It is incorrect to read ideology and strategy as binary oppositions (ahmed,2009). An Islamic movement only can process through reconfiguring the power which disciplines the subjects or the movements. There is a need for further study on the engagement of Islamic movements with nation state. Is it a mode of conflict or over-lapping? How these movements reach out the nation-state and their own ideology at the same time? It is important to look at this dimension because the modern nation state is more powerful than other governance systems in the previous times. I like to cite one example of this kind of interaction. The madhyamam weekly, which is a media endeavor from jamaath-e-islami had come up with a news story which evidently cited the islamophobic biases of kerala home ministry officials. The news report is related to home ministry’s letter officials to tap the e-mail accounts of 268 individuals, 258 of them are muslims. The weekly come up with this serious issue of authoritarian surveillance against personal privacy and human rights. The interesting thing regarding the individuals who were owning the email accounts, they didn’t even have a previous criminal history. These individuals includes professionals, students, journalists, politicans, social workers and eminent perosnalities( Ashraf, 2012). It is very exciting to notice how the government/the institutions of the nation-state countered this allegation by using the logic of nation-state. Government didn’t respond the news with seriousness and they easily countered this severe allegation. Here, the government have accused madhyamam weekly on the ground that they were trying to manipulate communal harmony. This logic of the nation-state have functioned and helped the state to recover from this serious allegations against it. what the state said indirectly was that JIH is a movement which didn’t comes under the catalogue of ‘relgion’ by the state. So, it so, it has some essential fundamentalist nature which break our communal harmony. The practice of defining ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ is important for nation-states all over the world. it defines and essentialise the ‘religion’ for their own desires. Talal asad said “in order to protect politics from religion( and especially certain kind of religiously motivated behavior), in order to determine its acceptable forms within the polity, the state must identify ‘religion’. To the extent that this work of identification becomes a matter for the law, the republic acquires the theological function of defining religious signs and the power of imposing that definition on its subjects, of “assimilating” them. This may not be usually thought of as coercive power, but it is undoubtedly an intrusive one”(Asad,2003). For Islamic movements, especially in the indain context the brand of ‘communal’ or ‘to be communal’ would be there, it doesn’t matter howmuch they tries to cooperate and tune with the state. in this context,  Islamic movements need more seriousness in theory as well as in action for their social and political manifestation, especially countries like india where social system is so complex and diverse. Maintaining status quo by isolating themselves from burning social realities may benefit for some  , but needless for liberation of marginalized people which I believe must be the path of Islamic manifestations.

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AUTHOR: Waseem R S
  (Research Scholar, JNU)