Islamic Critique of the Politics-Centric Misinterpretation of Islam

By Nasir Khan | New Age Islam | 14 September 2016

The Political Interpretation of Islam

Author; Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Publisher: Goodword Books, Noida

Year: 2015

Pages: 72

ISBN: 9789351790525

Violent extremism in the name of Islam has become a major global menace. New Delhi-based Islamic scholar and acclaimed peace activist Maulana Wahiduddin Khan opines that the roots of contemporary Muslim extremism lie in a deviant, political interpretation of Islam. Countering Muslim extremism, therefore, requires a critique of the ideology of the political interpretation of Islam (also called ‘Islamism’). If Muslims susceptible to this ideology are to be weaned away from it, Maulana Khan believes, it must be explained to them that the political interpretation of Islam is definitely not Islamic. This is precisely what this slim, extremely timely book seeks to do.

The book is an English translation of a summary of a considerably larger book in Urdu that Maulana Khan wrote several decades ago, critiquing the writings of one of the pioneers of Islamism, Syed Abul Ala Maududi (d. 1979), founder of the Islamist movement Jamaat-e Islami. Contemporary Islamism and Muslim extremism at the global level today owe considerably to Maududi’s influence.

Although today he is a critic of Maududi and the Jamaat-e Islami, Maulana Khan was at one time, as he tells us in this book, associated with the Jamaat. Over time, however, he began to realise that the Jamaat’s ideology, based on Maududi’s political interpretation of Islam, was deeply problematic—from the Islamic point of view itself. Accordingly, he began writing letters to Maududi, voicing his critique of aspects of Maududi’s writings that he found objectionable. This was way back in the early 1960s. The correspondence between the two carried on for two years. Instead of welcoming Maulana Khan’s criticisms and giving them a patient hearing, Maududi sought to dismiss them, accusing Maulana Khan of being deluded and arrogant. At the same time, Maulana Khan says, throughout their correspondence Maududi failed to satisfactorily reply to any of the issues that he had raised.

The basic point that Maulana Khan made in his correspondence with Maududi, and which forms the core of this book, is that Maududi’s political interpretation of Islam has no sanction in Islamic teachings. While politics, like other spheres of human activity, is not outside the overall ambit of religion, Maulana Khan says, Maududi went far beyond that by wrongly projecting Islam in such a way that every aspect of it seemed to acquire what he termed a “political hue.” In the Maududian understanding of Islam, even piety and God-consciousness, Maulana Khan says, came to be projected in a particularly political way. For Maududi, Maulana Khan writes, even worship could not be comprehended apart from its supposed political underpinning. It is as if without politics Islam was completely incomprehensible. “A natural result of the political interpretation of Islam,” Maulana Khan remarks, “was that the goal towards which a believer had to strive came to be understood in essentially political terms.” In this view “acquiring political power became of fundamental importance” for the believer. The whole of Islam was wrongly projected as being based on just one of many factors or aspects of life—politics.  Maududi, says Maulana Khan, “promoted a certain mindset, a distinct mentality that sees everything in a political hue”. And this, he writes is definitely not in accordance with Islamic teachings.

Quoting from numerous writings of Maududi, Maulana Khan shows how far Maududi had departed from accepted and established Muslim scholarly understandings of Islam through his politics-centric misinterpretation of it.  Towards the end of the book, he asks, “Following from what we have discussed so far, is there any need left for additional evidence to prove the falsity of this political interpretation of Islam?”

The ideology of totalitarianism in the name of Islam that underlies various forms of Muslim extremism can be countered on other grounds (for example, on the basis of secular human rights), but to be acceptable to Muslims for whom Islam forms their frame of reference, the critique has to be in Islamic terms, and in this task this little book excels. It is a very welcome Islamic critique of the politics-centric misinterpretation of Islam.