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The Emergence of the Jama‘at-i Islami, 1938–1941

Mawdudi’s organizational solution took shape between 1938 and 1941, the years when Indian politics had become hopelessly polarized between the Congress and the Muslim League. In the face of the mounting crisis Mawdudi exhorted Muslim parties and organizations to unite, but his exhortation fell on deaf ears. India continued to slide toward partition, and the only parties that thrived were the Congress and the Muslim League. Mawdudi had no confidence in their ability to realize Muslim goals, and he was even less sanguine about the prospects under the aegis of the smaller Muslim parties and organizations that cluttered the political scene. The gap between the religious and the political aspects of their program, Mawdudi believed, made them ineffectual; they were either too secular in their outlook, as was the case with the Muslim League, or too preoccupied with purely religious concerns, as was the Tablighi Jama‘at (Missionary Society).

In venomous invectives against the Congress party and its Muslim allies, such as the Jami‘at-i Ulama-i Hind, and against the Muslim League, the Khaksar, and other Muslim parties, Mawdudi belabored their shortcomings in an attempt to gain support, but it soon became apparent that he had to do more than excoriate his rivals; he had to establish a party that could relay his ideas to the masses and harness their energies in promoting his cause. Later Mawdudi recalled the idea of the Jama‘at as having been “a last resort,” necessitated by the collapse of the social order in Muslim India.[55]

Accompanied by a small groups of friends and followers, Mawdudi arrived in Lahore in January 1939. During the preceding three months, he had been stationed in the small village of Pathankot in East Punjab, where he had established a Muslim religious and educational institution called Daru’l-Islam (abode of Islam),[56] which he hoped would help revive Islam in India and thereby promote Muslim political power. He then decided to abandon the isolation of Pathankot and to take Daru’l-Islam to a major metropolitan center with a large Muslim community. But when he reached Lahore, he soon decided that the situation was too acute to await long-term solutions, and he abandoned the Daru’l-Islam project.[57]

Lahore sharpened Mawdudi’s focus, leading him not only to drop his insouciant attitude toward political activism but also to escalate his already incessant fulminations against the Muslim League in his journal Tarjumanu’l-Qur’an.[58] His expositions on Islam and Muslim politics often served as the pretext for tirades against colonialism and the Raj as well, which soon created problems for him with the provincial authorities. In the September 1939 issue of the Tarjuman, for instance, Mawdudi wrote an article entitled “Aqwam-i Maghrib ka ‘Ibratnak Anjam” (The poignant lesson of the fate of Western nations) in which he castigated the Raj and discouraged Indians from supporting the British war effort; that issue of the Tarjuman was censored by the press branch of the Punjab government.[59]

In the same month Mawdudi accepted a teaching position at Lahore’s Islamiyah College, but afraid of restrictions on his freedom of speech, he refused to take a salary.[60] His openly political classroom lectures were popular with the students.[61] A number of prominent Jama‘at members were students at the college at the time and became Mawdudi’s followers after hearing his lectures.[62] The lectures, however, raised the ire of the college administration, and of the Unionist Party government of Punjab, which found them inflammatory. Troubled by his rising popularity, it urged the college to dismiss him.[63] The college administration sought to curb his tongue by offering him a salary, but Mawdudi left the college in the summer of 1940, convinced that the cause of Islam would not fare well so long as the government was hostile to it.

Mawdudi wrote and traveled extensively during this period, delivering numerous lectures on the relation of Islam to politics. His audience was, by and large, composed of Muslim intellectuals, and because of that his discourse remained focused on educational concerns. During his tours he frequently visited Muslim schools such as the Aligarh Muslim University, the Muslim Anglo Oriental College of Amritsar, the Islamiyah College of Peshawar and the Nadwatu’l-Ulama in Lucknow. The accolades of the intellectuals greatly encouraged him and gave him confidence to discuss his ambitions more openly.[64] It was to them that, in 1939–1940, he first publicly proposed the creation of a new party, viewing it as the logical end of any struggle in the path of Islam, and the harbinger of a successful revival (tajdid) movement.[65] In a letter to Zafaru’l-Hasan (d. 1951) of Aligarh Muslim University, dated a.h. 23 Rabi‘u’l-Thani 1357 (1938–1939),[66] Mawdudi wrote of the political predicament before the Muslims and the Muslim League’s inability to formulate a solid ideological position to solve it. Alluding to his personal ambitions, he wrote that “preferably, such Muslim luminaries as ‘Allamah Mashriqi, Mawlana Husain Ahmad Madani, Dr. Khayri, Mawlana Azad Subhani or Mr. Durani should initiate and lead this effort,” but because they were not “likely to provide the necessary guidance,” the mantle of leadership, Mawdudi implied, would by default fall on his shoulders.[67] The names cited by Mawdudi ran the gamut of Muslim political opinion. Having found them incapable of providing the leadership necessary, Mawdudi was suggesting that he alone was able to give Muslims the leadership they needed. His lines to Zafaru’l-Hasan also revealed the extent to which his thinking was influenced by the politics of the Muslim League. For “the envisioned veritable organization” of which he wrote to Zafaru’l-Hasan was to “serve as a "rear guard’ [written in English] to the Muslim League.”[68] The consolidation of the Jama‘at’s agenda was thus predicated upon the vicissitudes of the League’s politics.

Mawdudi’s aim was to significantly alter the balance of power between Muslims, Hindus, and the colonial order. It was not “winning in elections”—a clear reference to the Muslim League’s strategy and objectives at the time—that interested him, but rather the revamping of the cultural and hence political foundations of the Muslim community of India, vesting Muslims with the ability to find a solution to their political weakness. This goal required great sacrifice and moral dedication which he did not believe the Muslim League, with its half-hearted commitment to Islam, to be capable of.[69] What the Muslims needed was a cadre of dedicated, morally upright, and religiously exemplary men who would both represent the ideals of the Islamic order and be prepared to achieve it.[70] The need for a “vanguard” became even more apparent when the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution was passed in 1940. That resolution formally advocated a separate state for Muslims in northern India and presented a whole new arena—a Muslim state—for Mawdudi’s ideas to operate in. It also showed that the Muslim League increasingly dominated Muslim politics, which in turn pushed him into launching his party to prevent the League from consolidating its hold over Muslims. Thenceforth, the policies of the Muslim League would become the Jama‘at’s calling, and Jinnah’s conception of Pakistan would be the single subject of Mawdudi’s invective.

Mawdudi’s perception of himself as the only leader capable of delivering Muslims from their predicament became increasingly more pronounced.[71] He harbored ambitions to lead Indian Muslims as a scholar, renewer of the faith, and supreme political leader. His insistence on distributing his works far and wide in this period was part of an effort to establish his claim to the leadership of the Muslims.[72] His opinions were compiled in the three volumes of Musalman Awr Mawjudah Siyasi Kashmakash (Muslims and the Current Political Crisis), in which he opposes both accommodating the Hindu-led “composite nationalism” of the Congress party and the pro-British and secular Muslim nationalism of the Muslim League. Many have concluded that Mawdudi therefore favored preserving the unity of India under Muslim rule, after a wide-scale conversion of the population to Islam, but this is not the case.[73] While at an earlier time Mawdudi might have thought on an all-Indian scale, by the time he settled in Lahore in 1939 he believed that the social and political ascendancy of the Hindus in India was irreversible.[74]

His firsthand observation of the decline of the last bastion of Muslim power in southern India, the Hyderabad state, experiences with the Shuddhi campaign, and the Congress party’s attitude toward the Muslims following the Khilafat movement had convinced him that Muslims were destined for a servile coexistence with the Hindus, a future in which he wished to have no part. Nor had he high hopes for the wide-scale conversion of Hindus to Islam, nor did he command the Jama‘at to undertake such a mission. Between 1938 and 1947, although the Jama‘at continued to operate across India, Mawdudi’s attention was increasingly focused on the Muslim-majority northwestern provinces. He might have preferred the Muslims to rule a united India, but faced with the prospects of a Hindu political order he was in no way opposed to the idea of India’s partition and actually began to tailor his program to take advantage of such an eventuality. In the December 1938 issue of the Tarjuman he adumbrated “two nation” theories of his own within the context of a united India: “We are a distinct people whose social life is based on a particular ethical and cultural norm. We differ in fundamental ways with the majority population…. [N]o compromise or reconciliation will be possible.”[75] Although Mawdudi did not speak of partition, he was acquiescing to the political realities of the time. His plan, much like those of his contemporaries, was initially set in the context of a united India. Its inner logic, however, nudged Muslims closer and closer to partition. In later years Mawdudi, reflecting on his thinking during this period, stated that he never opposed the Muslim League’s demand for partition but rather was against the party’s secularist attitude: “Our concern then [1941–1947] was Islam, and the ability of those who sought to represent it.”[76]

Mawdudi’s view of his own leadership was formed not in competition with the ulama or the pirs, or with other self-styled Muslim leaders such as Mashriqi, Mawlana Muhammad Iliyas (1885–1944), or Azad, but in rivalry with Jinnah, the qa’id-i a‘zam (supreme leader) of the Muslim League. Mawdudi shared Jinnah’s concern for the future of Indian Muslims and their rights to cultural and social autonomy, but parted with Jinnah in that the former looked to Islam as the principle legitimating force in Muslim politics whereas the latter appealed to the normative values of the Indo-Muslim tradition. Mawdudi’s vision had little room for compromise on Islamic ideals, whereas Jinnah defined the Muslim community in broad and latitudinarian terms. Mawdudi, no doubt, viewed the anglicized style and the secular beliefs of Jinnah with contempt and no doubt eyed his power and popularity with a certain degree of envy.

Jinnah’s success as a political leader had convinced Mawdudi of his own potential. For if a Westernized lawyer could sway the masses in the name of Islam,[77] then a “true” Muslim leader could certainly attain even greater success. “Abu’l-A‘la not only compared himself to Jinnah,” recollected Abu’l-Khayr, Mawdudi’s elder brother, “but also viewed himself as even a greater leader than Jinnah.”[78] Jinnah’s power, Mawdudi had concluded, was tenuous—predicated upon Islam, to which the Muslim League leader had no real attachments. Shaikh writes that, confronted with Congress’s claim to representing Muslims as well as Hindus, Jinnah’s strategy was “to affirm that, Congress could not represent Indian Muslims because it was not representative, that is to say typical, of Indian Muslims.”[79] Taken to its natural conclusion, the argument could be turned against Jinnah by Mawdudi, who could assert that he and the Jama‘at were more representative and “typical” of Muslims than the anglicized Jinnah and the secularist Muslim League. Mawdudi said of Jinnah’s enterprise: “No trace of Islam can be found in the ideas and politics of Muslim League…. [Jinnah] reveals no knowledge of the views of the Qur’an, nor does he care to research them…yet whatever he does is seen as the way of the Qur’an…. All his knowledge comes from Western laws and sources…. His followers cannot be but jama‘at-i jahiliyah [party of pagans].”[80] The term jama‘at-i jahiliyah was no doubt coined to make the contrast between the Muslim League and the Jama‘at-i Islami more apparent. If the argument of affinity as a basis for representation could win the day for the Muslim League against Congress, all the more could it justify the Jama‘at’s claim to leadership of the Muslims.

Mawdudi also saw the Muslim League as essentially a one-man show, in contrast to his movement, which was more disciplined and therefore better poised to manipulate Muslim politics. The Jama‘at, Mawdudi believed, was what the League pretended to be and was not.[81] Mawdudi thought that the League’s appeal came not from the intransigence of the Congress party or that of the Raj in the face of Muslim demands, nor from the dynamics of the struggle for independence, but from its appeal to the religious sensibilities of Muslims. The use of Islamic symbols in enunciating Muslim communalist demands had become so pervasive that, by the mid-1940s, the Muslim League resembled “a chiliastic movement rather than a pragmatic party.”[82] Mawdudi clearly took the League’s rhetoric at face value and concluded that Islam—and not only the cultural norms of the Indo-Muslim traditions—formed the crux of Muslim politics and provided those who claimed to represent it with legitimacy. From this it followed that the Jama‘at was the only party equipped to deliver to the Muslims what the Muslim League had promised them. Having understood the politics of the Muslims of India solely in terms of Islam, Mawdudi became oblivious to the actual political dynamics of his community, a blind spot that continued to characterize his approach to politics during his years in Pakistan. Convinced of his eventual domination of Muslim politics, he groomed the Jama‘at to be the “true Muslim League”[83]—the “rear guard” of which he had written to Zafaru’l-Hasan—and prepared it to take advantage of the League’s expected demise.[84] The Jama‘at was therefore opposed not to Pakistan but to the Muslim League. It was the expectation that Mawdudi would become its leader and not the partition of the Subcontinent that led him to oppose the Muslim League both before and after the creation of Pakistan.

Jinnah’s meteoric rise enticed Mawdudi into politics, giving him the false expectation that as soon as his message was heard by the Muslims of India, and, later, of Pakistan, he would enjoy even greater prominence. The Jama‘at was created, in part, to disseminate Mawdudi’s message and catapult him into a position of power. Jinnah’s example therefore both guided and misguided Mawdudi. It reinforced his political ambitions and effectively committed him to communal politics, the end result of which was the creation of Pakistan.

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