Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Economic issues are a very important part of life. Every person should have access to the material resources that are necessary for life. No one should be allowed to wrongfully exploit others.”

No one can deny this argument. But when the same argument takes on the guise of Marxism, an intelligent person finds himself compelled to critique it.

What is the reason for this? There is just one reason, and that is that the economy, which, despite its importance, is just one necessary aspect of human life, has, in Marx’s intellectual framework, been given the garb of a complete ideology. The natural corollary of this is that the economy no longer remains just one among many aspects or components of life. Instead, it comes to be seen as the basis or crux of life. And so, all happenings in life come to be seen and explained in the light of the economy. The worth or importance of individuals and groups comes to be measured on an economic basis. People’s emotions and thought patterns, too, come to be seen as a product essentially of their economic conditions. The economy becomes the vortex of all conflicts and struggles. In other words, people’s minds and the world at large come  to be determined by the economic factor. Of course, other aspects of life still continue to exist, but they come to be dominated by this one single factor. Detached from the economy, they are thought of as of no importance.

Socialist thought emerged in Europe in the context of the enormous changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Witnessing the havoc wrought by new industrial technologies in the lives of the working classes, some sensitive souls were moved to undertake efforts to ameliorate the workers’ plight so that they, too, could gain some of the benefits of the Industrial Revolution. In otherwords, in the beginning, Socialism was based on the importance of the economic factor, but this factor was not taken to be the be-all and end- all of life.

The fact of the matter is that unless a certain point is singled out for particular attention, sometimes to the point of exaggeration, it does not receive much attention or popular appeal. Because of this, a certain revolutionary fervor began to characterize the writings and speeches of Socialist leaders, tending towards a certain exaggeration of the importance of the economic factor. Gradually, this tendency manifested itself in the form of an entire worldview based on the economic factor alone, in which every other aspect of life revolved around it and was dominated by it. Marx was the turning point in this regard. He termed Socialist trends before his arrival on the scene, till around the middle of the 19th century, as ‘Utopian Socialism’. He called the Socialism that he developed as ‘Scientific Socialism’.

Till such time as Socialism just meant economic reforms, it did not lead to any seriously negative consequences. But when it assumed the form of Marxist philosophy, it turned to be completely fallacious at its very root.

The same sort of thing can happen with interpretations of the deen or religion of Islam. Suppose that in a particular period and under particular circumstances a particular aspect of Islam is being violated or ignored. Witnessing this, a pious man is moved to do something about the situation by reviving this particular aspect. He makes various efforts in this regard. Both his strong reaction to the situation he witnesses as well as the exigencies of his missionary work necessitate that he give particular stress, even to the point of exaggeration, to this aspect. And so, very naturally, when he reaches out to his addressees, he will not use the idiom of jurisprudence or logic. Rather, he will speak like a public speaker or a missionary, with passion and emotion. Obviously, when he speaks like this, driven by great missionary zeal, his words may not be carefully calculated or measured.

Let me illustrate this point with the help of an example, recorded in the Tabaqat of Ibn Saʿd (d. 845 C.E.). Once, the famous scholar Saʿid ibn al-Musayyib (d. 715 C.E.) was approached by his slave, a man named Bard, who mentioned to him about some people who spent a lot of time in worship. These people, Bard told him, prayed continuously, from the noon (zuhr) to the mid-afternoon (ʿasr) prayers. Thereupon, Saʿid ibn al-Musayyib remarked:

Do you even know what worship is? Worship is contemplation on divine affairs and staying away from what God has forbidden.

Now, from this statement it does not mean that a pious scholar of the stature of Saʿid ibn al-Musayyib was unaware that prayer, fasting, remembrance of God and reciting the Quran are also forms of worship, or that he thought that worship was only the two things that he had mentioned. His statement must be seen as a ‘missionary statement’, rather than as a juridical or strictly logical one.

When an Islamic jurist or faqih gives his views on a particular issue, he does so in very clear and specified terms. But unlike for a faqih, for a missionary, someone engaged in dawah, inviting people to God, the issue at hand is not the intellectual or legal explanation   of a particular matter, but, rather, the reform of the conditions around him. That is why he searches for those things that need to be reformed and which he feels need special mention. Hence, his discourse is driven not by strictly legalistic concerns, but, instead, by what he regards as public welfare. He focuses in his discourses on those particular aspects that he thinks demand particular attention. Conversely, he either ignores or else only lightly touches upon those matters that, from the point of view of missionary imperatives, are not necessary or of particular salience at that particular moment.

This way of addressing others is indeed in accordance with the shariah. Examples of this approach are to be found, in some way or the other,  in the sayings of the Prophet of Islam as well as all the missionaries of Islam. Without this, it is not possible to engage in dawah work.

This matter is perfectly correct to this extent. But, sometimes, religious leaders and their followers fall prey to a misconception that a leader’s utterances that stress a particular aspect are not simply a dawah imperative, but, rather, a general explanation of the deen in itself. This is where the blunder starts. For instance, a writer tells a daʿi, a missionary, that he would like to publish books on Islam, and, in that way, serve Islam. In reply, the daʿi says, “Nothing happens through books. You will sit and write, and people will lie down and read!”

This reply is given in a particular context. Now, if the followers of this daʿi later come to think of it as a general principle and so abstain from using literature to serve religion, it would be tantamount to transforming a phrase that had only a temporary and restricted validity into a general, eternal principle. When the daʿi made his statement, he was not wrong, but when it was interpreted by his later followers as a general principle, it was, of course, wrongly understood.

Sometimes, thissortoferrorgoesbeyondthis, sothat what was meant to be relevant in a particular context is wrongly interpreted as general in application. Sometimes, the daʿi is so heavily influenced by his own thought that he begins to see the particular aspect of the deen which he had felt it necessary to stress as actually being the deen in its entirety. Accordingly, he begins to explain the whole of the deen in the light of this one aspect alone. He does not remain content with stressing the importance of this aspect in itself, but goes beyond, to make this aspect a question of the whole of the deen. He begins to see the causes of everything—whether beneficial or baneful—as lying in this one aspect alone. When a person reaches this level, his blunder reaches its peak. At this juncture, something that was just one part of the deen (and in some cases, simply a relative part) becomes, in his view, the ‘total deen’ or the ‘essential deen’. This is just like how the importance of the economic factor was transformed into Marxism—and we know that, despite focusing on a necessary value or aspect of life, the underlying basis of Marxism is fallacious.

This point can be further understood with the help of an analogy. Consider the case of two people. One of them looks at an object that is yellow in colour. The other man puts on yellow-tinted spectacles and looks at things. The first man will perceive the object that he stares at as being yellow in colour. If he focuses his attention on the object continuously for a while and then looks at other things, for a few seconds everything else will also look yellow. But this effect will soon wear off and then everything will appear in their normal colours. On the other hand, the second person will perceive everything, no matter what its real colour, as yellow. He will not be able to perceive any other colour, no matter where he looks. The same holds true when the deen comes to be interpreted in terms of the assumed primacy of a single factor such as politics. Then, every aspect of the deen comes to be wrongly seen as being underpinned by politics.

What is the difference between stressing, from the point of view of dawah, a certain aspect of the deen, on the one hand, and making this aspect the basis of the interpretation of the deen, on the other? This question can be answered with the help of the following analogy.

Suppose someone says, “For every Muslim, it is a must that, in addition to being a Muslim, he should develop within him a martial spirit.” This statement appears to be a considerable exaggeration, because, obviously, it is almost impossible for every Muslim to become a soldier. After all, Muslims include men and women, children and old people, the weak and the strong, the sick and the healthy. This exaggeration can be thought of as a way of expressing something in order to exhort people in a certain direction. If understood in this way, it is not something that damages the conception of the deen, nor is it a new interpretation of the deen. However, in the other hand, if someone were to declare:

The true spirit of Islam is militaristic. Heavenly scriptures were sent down and prophets were commissioned so as to instill in people a martial spirit. The ultimate aim of all practices in Islam is to provide military training to its followers. The azan, the call to prayer, is a sort of army bugle. Worshippers who gather in the mosque are like soldiers gathering at a parade ground  on hearing the sound of the bugle. Fasting is a rehearsal for the difficulties that will be faced on military campaigns. Haj is a march-past of the army of the Muslims of the entire world in front of the House of God. The Muslim ummah is a sort of divine army, and Islam is the military law that the ummah has been given to enforce. For, as it is said [in the Quran]: ‘You are indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for [the good of] mankind. You enjoin what is good, and forbid what is evil, and you believe in God.’ (3:110)

If someone says this sort of thing, it can be said


that he is engaging in nothing less than a militaristic interpretation of the deen.

So, these are two distinct scenarios. In the first case, to simply claim, “For every Muslim, it is a must that, in addition to being a Muslim, he must develop within him a martial spirit” exemplifies a particular stress on a single issue while speaking in order to exhort people in a particular direction. In contrast, the second scenario goes far beyond this and turns into a new interpretation of the deen. In the first case, stress is given to the martial spirit, while in the second case, militarism is projected as the very base of religion, in the light of which the entire deen is sought to be interpreted. The significance of the various parts or aspects of the deen comes to be determined on the basis of their relationship with militarism.

Theissuethatwearediscussinghere—thedistinction between emphasis, for preaching purposes, on a particular aspect of the deen, on the one hand, and making it the basis of a new interpretation of the deen, on the other—can be put slightly differently. In the first case, one stresses the importance of a particular aspect of the deen, while in the second case, one makes it the basis of understanding the whole deen. In the former case, it is recognized to be one among many parts that make up a whole. In the latter case, this  one part is used as the criterion or base to determine the value of the whole. In the former case, the stress given to one aspect does not negate the importance of the remaining aspects. In the latter case, this one factor is given such a central status that without it, the entire deen appears as meaningless. In the former case, the salience of this particular aspect of the deen is a reflection of its intrinsic importance. In the latter case, this aspect is seen as the uniting factor for all the remaining aspects of the deen. In the former case, the aspect in question is like a single page of a book. In the latter case, it is like the binding that holds the whole book together.

In brief, stressing a particular point or factor while preaching may simply be a practical necessity, but when this factor becomes the basis of interpreting the entire religion, it gets transformed into a complete philosophy.

My objection to Maulana Maududi’s writings is that in giving importance to the political aspects of the deen, he engaged in such inordinate exaggeration that he made it the basis of an entire interpretation of the deen. I do not object to his including politics in the deen. Everyone knows that politics, too, is part of religion. I do not consider it wrong that he stressed political aspects in his writings, because if at a particular time a preacher feels the need to stress a particular aspect of the deen, he must do so, otherwise people cannot be suitably enthused to try to bring about necessary changes.

If the matter rested here, no one would have cause to object. My objection is this—that Maulana Maududi  so  greatly  exaggerated  the  importance of the political aspect of Islam that he evolved a political interpretation of Islam. This is just like how exaggerating the importance of economics beyond what was warranted led to the development of Marxism as a completely new ideology.

Maulana Maududi was not alone in desiring the revival of an Islamic state in the Subcontinent. Several other Islamic groups think in these terms, each in their own way. Each of them has its own way of addressing this concern. Because of differences in their analyses of conditions and in their methodologies, there are considerable differences between them. Yet, none is bereft of the desire that God should bring in the day when Islam shall acquire prominence. Till here, there is no fundamental difference between the various Islamic groups. But where the difference starts is when Maulana Maududi’s particular political interpretation of the deen begins.

This difference does not lie in the fact that Maulana Maududi stressed the issue of politics. Rather, it lies in the fact that he promoted a certain mindset, a distinct mentality, that sees everything in a political hue.

To use an analogy, consider the fact that across the world, there are many groups that desire economic reform. Marxists, too, want economic reform. Yet, despite this, Marxist Socialists are distinct from all their fellow travellers. The difference between them is not over wanting or not wanting economic reform. Rather, it has to do with their differences in their understanding of the nature of economic reform as well as differences in their understanding of life and the universe.

In 1857, following the collapse of Mughal rule in India, some Indian ulema launched efforts to revive Muslim rule, thus giving particular importance to politics. Yet, this did not tantamount to a political interpretation of Islam. Rather, it was simply an expressionofwhat, fromthepointofviewofwhatthese ulema thought of, rightly or wrongly, as a temporary necessity. But when it came to Maulana Maududi, it got transformed into a complete interpretation of the deen of Islam. Before this, politics was thought of as but one aspect of the deen and, accordingly, was given the stress it was considered to deserve. But in Maulana Maududi’s ideology, it was given the status of the central focus of the deen, on the basis of which the whole of the deen was sought to be explained.

The relationship between the political movement of the ulema and the ideology of Maulana Maududi is like the relationship between ‘Utopian Socialism’ and Marxist Socialism. If Maulana Maududi and his followers imagine that, like Marx, he provided a complete picture of the reduced perception of Islamic politics, they may be right in their understanding, but it is this understanding that is the real reason for their error.

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