Dialogue between an Islamist and a Post-Islamist

Dialogue between an Islamist and a Post-Islamist

The resonance that one discovers, though with much intellectual labour, between Dr Israr Ahmad’s advocacy of the Islamic state and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi’s blunt negation of the entire Islamist discourse, is the primacy and the centrality of the Quran

Aijaz Manzoor

Few of us would venture to proceed with a project which by all standards is supposed to result in utter failure, or in a euphemistic sense is destined to disappoint. To find similarities between the religious thought of Dr Israr Ahmad and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, the former an Islamist and the latter a post-Islamist, to borrow from Orientalist lexicon, is seemingly an exercise in vain.
Any effort to locate a meeting point between the discourses of these two great scholars of Islam is made all the more difficult by the disclosure of a “counter religious narrative” from Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. This counter narrative in its essence is a blunt negation of the entire Islamist discourse, particularly the one propounded by Maulana Maududi. The counter narrative goes far beyond the famous “mistaken interpretation” as professed and popularised by Maulana Wahidudin Khan. It is undoubtedly more than simple historical contextualisation of the Quranic text, as progressive and modernist Muslim thinkers do. It is, if one may describe it at the cost of oversimplification, a complete re-reading of the Prophetic period in the light of the Quranic text. It is a radical departure not only from the traditional readings of the Quran but more importantly, from all the contemporary progressive, modernist and secular readings of it. It is no less than a paradigm shift.
Relying on the syntax and the coherence of the Quranic text, the Ghamidian counter narrative strikes a hard blow to the very core of political Islam – the concept of the Islamic State.
In the midst of an intellectual tussle like this, an endeavour aimed at finding intellectual parallels between a unanimously acknowledged Islamist like Dr Israr Ahmad and an unapologetic critic of the entire Islamist tradition, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, would apparently be riddled with oxymorons, paradoxes, and contradictions. Dr Israr Ahmad’s religious thought is considered an important extension of the Islamist discourse presented by Maulana Maududi, and this has led to a common but important misconception that his differences with Maulana Maududi were no more than methodological in character. In my view even a superficial reading of the writings of Dr Israr, particularly of his “Islam ki Nishat-e-Sania” would serve as an approbation of the fact that Dr Israr’s differences with Maulana Maududi are far from being mere methodological but are significantly substantive in character.
Dr Israr criticised Maulana Maududi on multiple fronts in his writings. The chief among them was that the Islamist movement launched by Maulana Maududi right from its beginning maintained a peculiar but dangerous indifference towards the metaphysical realities and inner experiences of Islam. Though Dr Israr remained an ardent follower and admirer of Maulana Maududi’s overall systemic conception of Islam, he severely criticised him on account of marginalising the inner spiritual content of Islam. Maududi had probably an overwhelmingly organic conception of Islam in which the Islamic state occupied central place. For him, an individual Muslim could not actualise his Islam to its true potential without completely integrating himself with an Islamic state.
Though acutely opposed to any mystical interpretation of religion, Maududi shared in bulk the Platonian and Hegelian political mysticism. Though Maududi never denied rights of an individual Muslim, he nevertheless always talked about Islam in collective terms. The concept of Islamic state and struggle for its establishment form the core of Dr Israr’s religious thought, too, but unlike Maududi he considered the individual as the basic addressee of the Quranic guidance, rather than a group, society or state. This individualistic notion of Quranic guidance takes Dr Israr closer to Javed Ahmad Ghamidi.
Ghamidi would emphasise this notion by saying that Islam and thereby the Quran had been revealed to conquer the hearts of men rather than territories of the world. It is on the heart of an individual that Allah wants to establish his rule, rather than on a piece of land. This emphasis on the primacy and centrality of an individual, rather than a collective, in the Quranic and Islamic weltanschauung forms, at least for me, the first possible meeting ground between Dr Israr and Ghamidi.
Any discussion on Islam in the Indian sub-continent would count as half-truth without taking the iconoclastic message of Muhammad Iqbal on board. Although the reach of the message of this poet and philosopher is transnational in character, the Muslims of the sub-continent were its immediate and pertinent addressees. The exuberance and dynamism of his revolutionary message particularly in the form of poetry was primarily aimed at castigating as sinful the static, passivist attitude which had misled the Muslims. In his prose work, “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”, Iqbal espoused an “activist interpretation” of Islamic theology. Iqbal’s call for an active, dynamic and “materialistic” Islam won him many admirers in his time but for many of his contemporary Islamic scholars, both his poetry and prose contained some highly problematic areas which could not be assented to.
Iqbal was criticised during his life for professing unorthodox views, but with the passage of time the influence of his critics has waned and his enthusiastic and robust appeal for reformation in the religious thought of Islam has been accepted by Muslim religious intelligentsia, at least in theory. The influence of intellect of Iqbal, both poetic and philosophic, looms heavily on both Dr Israr and Ghamidi. While Dr Israr had a penchant for Iqbal’s poetry and a unique way of finding a cordial alliance between his poetry and the Quranic text, Ghamidi is more comfortable with Iqbal the reformer. Dr Israr earned an unspoken but probably justified wrath from our traditional Ulama for proclaiming Iqbal as the greatest exegete and interpreter of the Quran in our time. Ghamidi on the other hand was wary of unwarranted reverence towards his intellectual predecessors, but embraced Iqbal’s call for reform and reinterpretation of Islamic religious thought, parenthesising it with his own critical remarks.
Notwithstanding their different approaches towards the intellectual legacy of Iqbal, a substantial portion of religious thinking of both Dr Israr and Ghamidi can be seen to have been conspicuously shaped by Iqbal’s religious and political thought.
Another important but relatively less known Islamic scholar of the sub-continent, to whom both Dr Israr and Ghamidi remain intellectually indebted, is Ameen Ahsan Islahi. This debt is comparatively abundant in case of Ghamidi as can be gauged from the Ghamidian tour de force, Meezan. Frequent quotations from Ameen Islahi’s magnum opus, Tadabur e Quran, makes Meezan more a tribute to Islahi’s exegetic genius than an original feast of Ghamidi. Ameen Islahi, once a close comrade of Maulana Maududi and an ardent defender of his particular interpretation of Islam, seemingly dissatisfied and disappointed by the “dictatorial” interpretation of the Quranic principle of consultation by Maulana Maududi, resigned himself to the exclusive intellectual discovering of the Quran’s coherence under the guidance of his teacher, Maulana Hamidudin Farahi, who at the time of his death was remembered by none other than great Sulaiman Nadvi as the Ibn Taymiya of his times.
With Imam Farahi’s death, Islahi looked eagerly for heirs to pass on the intellectual legacy of his beloved teacher. He found them in the form of Ghamidi and Khalid Massud. While the former has become an intellectual sensation, the latter despite being a prolific writer, the editor of many important works of Islahi and the translator of some important works of Imam Farahi into Urdu, has become an unfortunate victim of oblivion. While the trajectory of Ghamidi’s relationship with Islahi was overwhelmingly progressive, that of Dr Israr was fraught with intricacies and controversies. For Dr Israr, Islahi’s admirable but ultimately deleterious relish for a secluded and an isolated approach towards Quran moved him gradually but perniciously away from the “mainstream” Quranic hermeneutics, and this “deviation” from the firmly established exegetic precedence called for an immediate end to an otherwise long and fruitful companionship.
Irrespective of the nature, character and degree of their relationship with Islahi, the fact that in their understanding of the Quranic text both Dr Israr and Ghamidi are more than anyone else influenced by Islahi remains beyond any shadow of doubt.
The primary importance of the Quran in Islam is axiomatic but the temporal distancing away of Muslims from the Prophetic period resulted in the development of an Islamic creed and intellect which relied more on its lately developed theological and juristic compendiums than on the pure Quranic text. What more than anything else unites Dr Israr and Ghamidi is their unrelenting and implacable beckoning towards the fundamentality of the Quranic text in Islam. In his entire life Dr Israr made strenuous efforts through his Quranic lessons to make people understand the centrality of this divine text in the life of a Muslim. Be it his more intellectually engaging Muntakhab Nisab or the common Quranic lessons now published as Bayanul Quran, Dr Israr in my view exceeds far beyond any of his near intellectual predecessors in making the Quranic text felt as “the remembrance” among Muslims, at least those of the Indian sub-continent. His engagement and pre-occupation with Quran had a preponderance of zeal combined with a sharp but cautious intellect.
Ghamidi is no less than a “fundamentalist” in emphasising the centrality of the Quranic text in any discussion involving Islam or any issue of Islam. But unlike Dr Israr’s ideological reading of the Quranic text, [Here I do not use the word ideology in its modern pejorative and negative sense], his engagement with the text is crudely formalistic and analytic in character. But his analytic approach to this divine message is not be confused with the western analytic approaches popularised particularly by people like Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayer and the earlier Ludwig Wittgenstein. His analytic approach is a pathway for synthesis. He stands for understanding a part for a better understanding of the whole. If on the one hand for Dr Israr the pathetic but consistent decline of Islamic civilisation has largely and primarily been a logical result of a disdainful abandonment of the Quranic text and its message by the Muslim world, for Ghamidi it is the overburdening of the Quranic text with extra-textual meanings, rather than abandonment of the Quran, which has resulted, probably unintentionally, in a kind of relegation of the actual true meaning of the Quranic text from the possible reach of Muslims.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the profundity of their disagreement over the nature of the Quranic text, what could act precisely as a powerful harbinger of unison is the primordial importance that both of them attach to the divine book.
One more possible intellectual realm where one may attempt to find a shared ground between these two intellectuals is the intellectually perplexing but persuasively attractive domain of Tasawuf, Islamic mysticism. The Ghamidian onslaught on Sufism and his unapologetic categorisation of it as a universal degradation and degeneracy, makes it seemingly unrealistic to find any element of concord between him and Dr Israr, who though himself vehemently critical of Sufistic laxities, nevertheless accepted it in its broader objective framework.
Ghamidi like a doctrinaire legist condemns the “inner light” of a Sufi and his notion of “presence of God” as nothing but a foreign impure intrusion in otherwise pure and pristine teachings of Islam. For Dr Israr, though entirely Islamic in its objectives, Sufism in its nomenclature and more importantly in its methodology miserably fails to justify itself on a firm Islamic basis. What strikes a harmonious alliance between Dr Israr and Ghamidi in regard to Sufism is their suspicious attitude towards it, though the suspicion is much more formidable and dogmatic in case of Ghamidi. But more important than this is their citation of plain but character-changing concepts and teachings of the Quran as the only remedy available against the intuitionally desirable but Islamically undemanded metaphysical quest as preached by Islamic mysticism, that puts Ghamidi and Dr Israr on a common platform.
Notwithstanding the fact that through a boring and laborious effort one could stretch out a dialectical synthesis between the religious thought of Dr Israr Ahmad and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, it nevertheless is intellectually very difficult if not impossible to bridge the gap between a thinker who associates himself with “Dabistane Shubli” and the one whose intellectual niche is garnered by the likes of Sheikh Mahmood ul Hassan and Shabir Ahmad Usmani. What could possibly bring such divergent intellectual trends closer is a dialogue, a dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding. Both Dr Israr and Ghamidi did have a fairly positive and respectful dialogue on the concept of Islamic state and their coming together, though briefly and reluctantly, which inspires one to tread on a difficult path of finding harmony amidst conflict and similarities amongst differences and disagreements.

The writer is Assistant Professor at Department of Political Science, Govt Degree College Pampore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.