Since the time Prophet Muhammad SAW established a monotheistic theology and belief system, the Islamic tradition has seen a battery of scholars discussing, discoursing and interpreting Islam and its associated multifarious facets. Down the long channel of history, we arrive at two scholars of the twentieth century who immensely contributed to the Islamic intellectual tradition and, with their creative genius, conducted a systematic study of the Quran, ‘seerat-e-rasool’ and Islamic history. The scholars I refer to are Maulana Maudoodi and Maulana Waheed ud-Din Khan.
In the beginning of their intellectual and writing career, they both stood as an intrinsic part of the same Islamic organisation. However, as time passed, they evolved some ideological disparities concerning the understanding of the Quran and their respective interpretations started conflicting with each other. The battle of ideas they started continues even after them.
Maulana Maudoodi, the iconoclastic scholar, initiated the idea of Islamic political revivalism and the establishment of Islamic state, which he believed was the culmination of the mission envisaged by the Quran and the Prophet. He believed that the Quran, apart from its moral and spiritual prescriptions for Muslims, has a defined agenda that commands believers to strive for the establishment and consolidation of an Islamic political state. His book, ‘Quran Ki Char Buniyadi Istilahay’ (the four fundamental terms of Quran) investigates the four Quranic words – ‘ila’, ‘rabh’, ‘ibadat’ and ‘deen’, and comes to the conclusion that all the four words, apart from other lexical connotations, suggest an idea of political establishment. The Maulana believed that the words Ila and Rab, apart from implying supernatural authority of God and his absolute power over cosmic operations, also define God as a political and constitutional head of state, before whom we are bound to surrender our political will and aspirations. For him, God is not only a natural governing machinery or a protector under whose commands cosmic or universal forces work, but he is also an unparalleled authority serving as head of state and supreme legislator. There has to be a Khalifa, a personified God in the political sense, representing God’s political and constitutional will and executing it in the affairs of state and other organisational functions.
Ibadat or worship of God, for Maulana, encompassed not only individual worship and personal or spiritual submission to God but also suggested that being part of an organised Islamic political structure, we must obey the king of the state and abide by his legal dictations. Being submissive to a non-Islamic political establishment and part of its constitutional process amounts to its worship, which otherwise is an exclusive and indivisible right of God. By associating yourself with and conforming to any non-Islamic constitutional and political cadre is one of the forms of Shirk, an unforgivable and radical sin defined in the Quran.
In addition to that, the Maulana believed that all the Islamic principles or codes of conduct concerning personal, social, political, economic, cultural and educational life were inclusively constituted in the term Deen. The idea of Deen has to be strived for and institutionally established by the Muslims so that a new political empire could come into existence like the one the Prophet built and ruled at Madina. Being successful in establishing the same is the practical culmination of the Islamic mission and the fulfilment of the collective responsibility as a single Ummah.
However, Waheed ud-Din Khan refused to subscribe to Maudoodi’s interpretation of the four terms discussed above. The ideological rejection that he comes up with is strongly qualified by references to the Quran. Khan’s views against Maulana’s interpretation are objectively expounded in his famous book “Tabeer Ki Galti”(An error of interpretation), a book popular for its revolutionary rebuttal. In this book Khan argues that Maudoodi’s interpretation of the Quran, especially certain parts, is politics-centric and exclusively informed by his own Ideological inclination. The way Maudoodi has explained some portions of the Quran, says Khan, contradicts with the overall structural formation of the Quranic meaning and message. The terms “ila”, “rab”, “ibadat” and “deen” form the central subject of Khan’s book and are conclusively evaluated by keeping their usage in consideration at different places and contexts in the Quran. For him, Ila and Rab imply God’s authority and guardianship in a natural context, suggesting his power over all the universal and natural forces. Ila means to have exclusive authority over the phenomenon of birth and death, resurrection and accountability, forgiving and punishment, and of man’s survival in relation with the cosmos, domains that lie outside earthly power.
Khan says that wherever Ila as an authority or power is suggested in the Quran, it nowhere implies any political head or king of the state. The indivisible guardian or custodian, as the word Rab suggests in the Quran, is also used in the context of natural domain and not in the political sense. He is Rab because he looks after and protects this empire of the universe; he is Rab because the faithful turn to seek his help and blessing in their respective pursuits; and he is not Rab as political head of the state who makes political and constitutional protection possible in the assembly or parliament. In the same way, Ibadat as required from the faithful suggests an exclusive worship of God and negation of all those gods who were worshipped by the polytheistic people of Pre-Prophet Arabia. By extending this principle, the political worship of any state-head is not supported by the Quran just as worship of no other god is supported.
Likewise, Deen encompasses all those Islamic principles which Muslims are ordered to abide by and to follow as guidelines in their lives, Khan says. Khan is of the view that Deen, with all its plurality and comprehensive nature, in no way commands us to establish a state and organise it politically. Unike Maudoodi, who believed that Deen with all its economic, cultural and social facets has to be materialised politically by developing a political empire, Khan believed that there is no revelation in the Quran commanding us for the same, and he doesn’t accept that doing so is compulsory for Muslims.
Having said that, one should not fall into the error of judgement that Khan categorically denies any political involvement of Islam and negates the significance of being politically and constitutionally organised. He only opines that the Maulana had extravagantly stressed on the political dimension of Islam and exposed it to confrontations with the already established political powers of the world. Once political or state dominance is portrayed as a compulsory mission of the Quran, the confrontation with the already existing state apparatus is inevitable and the result is expected to be anarchy and extremism, so typical of political and power battles. Fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state and eventually succeeding in the endeavour may appear as a fascinating idea but when the Quran doesn’t drop this responsibility on our shoulders, questions are sure to be raised on the validity of Maudoodi’s interpretation.
Not only that, Khan is of the view that the Maulana’s insistence on Islamic polity has somehow overlooked the spiritual pursuits of Muslims by keeping them engaged in the political aspirations of power and state, a view also supported by Dr Israr. The bold emphasis on the idea of Islamic state and unavoidable need for the establishment of the same has compelled Muslims to be overly political in their consciousness and has diverted their energies to that single purpose. Khan is of the view that Muslims inspired by Maulana’s political ideology look at everything through a political prism and the scope for spiritual understanding becomes limited.
I end this column by asserting that if the discourse on Islam started by Maulana and Khan had not been there, the modern intellectual and ideological history of Islam would be less interesting and engaging. May the two souls be blessed for the service they rendered to Islam and Islamic discourse.
The writer is a freelance columnist from Anantnag