On 21st April 2021 when Muslim Ummah had broken its fast and prepared to retire to bed, a deeply shocking news surfaced on social media, announcing the demise of Maulana Waheed ud Din Khan. The news was immediately followed by the spontaneous gush and overflow of emotions, reminiscences, elegaic outbursts and tributes. In the same state of turbulence I started scripting the column you are reading at this moment.
With the death of the Maulana, a prolific intellect has died, a mind that generated questions and answers concerning the Islamic discourse, and an insightful messenger of peace and spirituality. He was a man who dared to question conventional and mainstream definitions of religious studies and came up with a modern reconstructive language to address the crisis born in the twentieth and the contemporary century. He guided mankind in the path of spiritual and intellectual exploration of life and cosmos at a time when atheistic and mechanical interpretations attempted to rip people from the tradition that defined human self as a character wedded to the supernatural and divine forces.
He responded to the spritual and intellectual wasteland of the modern world in a language that is entirely foreign to orthodox times and easily comprehensible and adressing to the present age. His subjects of discussion are comprehensively varied but I have precisely highlighted his few subjects below that his literature mainly rotates around.
1. DISCOVERY OF GOD AND AKHIRAT-ORIENTED LIFE: The main subject that Maulana always proposed concerning his understanding of Islam is that the life of a believer must be Akhirat-oriented, which is only possible when one has succeeded in attaining the state of “maurifat”, a recognition and discovery of God. He proposed a Muslim character that is always guided by the Divine consciousness and a spiritual impulse of discovering Almighty Allah, whose manifestations lie scattered everywhere within and outside us. His travelogues are replete with episodes when his mere experience of a situation in a foreign country awakened in him wonder and discovery of God’s grandeur. His wordly experiences and observations, as he has stated, reminded him of otherworldliness and left him spiritually awakened and refreshed. His travelling in an aeroplane and observing the vast world beneath reminded him of the state of God standing on top of the world where he is all-observing, all-monitoring and all-witnessing. In the same vein he advised people to locate and decipher God not through any philosophical and abstract gymnastics of mind but through our common day to day living experiences. He writes in his book “Allah u Akbar”: “Insan agar dunya mai ist arah rahe ki uske dimag ki khidkiyaa khuli huwi ho…..wo har cheez mai khuda ko payega, har cheez mai wo khuda ki hikmat ko daryaft karega, kayinat uske liye ek khudayi samadhar ban jayegi jis mai wo nahaye” (if a human being lives here with awakened eye, he may behold God’s glimmer in everything around, he may discover God’s wisdom speaking through everything, he may witness the universe as the Divine sea in which he can take spiritual baths). He further writes, “Koi aadmi jab khuda ko paata hai toh ye uske liye ek aisi zalzala khaiz daryaft hoti hain jo uski puri zindagi ko hila deti hai” (if anyone succeeds in discovering God, his experience is nothing less than an earthquake that keeps his entire existence in constant motion).
The Maulana emphasised that a believer must undergo constant exercise of intellectual exploration and spiritual contemplation which only can lead to the discovery of God. The discovery of divine presence is the first and unavoidable prerequisite for everyone who seeks to take to the path of Islam. To live an Akhirat-oriented life requires us to be God-conscious all the time and development of the God consciousness comes only after rigourous exercise of contemplation and imagination.
2. DAWAH: Maulana’s perception about the Deen is grounded in an idea of “dawah”. He suggested that the Prophets were essentially characters of “dayi” whose responsibility was to protect mankind from being devoured by hell. He always presented Prophet Muhammad SAW along with his companions as a figure who shouldered a mission of DAWAH to preach “wahdaniyat” (oneness of God) and accountability in afterlife. Maulana’s Dawah work didn’t restrict itself to Muslim community but it encompassed the non-Muslim communities as well on a national and global level. His modus operandi of Dawah work had far reaching implications appearing in the form of social inclusiveness, communal integration and dialogue. The relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim, as per Maulana, wasn’t of enmity, confrontation and indifference but a marriage of “dayi” and “madhu”. He placed strict emphasis on the fact that Muslims are duty bound to adopt the principle of dawa that Prophet and his companions left behind as inherited responsibility for us. He writes in his book “slam Rediscovered”: “Islamic activism in respect of its method is based on non violence, and in respect of its target is based on dawah. Dawah in fact is another name for a peaceful struggle for the propagation of islam. It would be true to say that Islamic activism in fact is dawah activism”. His perception about dawah serves not only the purpose of Islam to guide mankind to the path of “seerat-e-mustakeem” but it also has the potential to encourage the harmonious and mutually co-existing social fabric of life. Dawah for Maulana is not only a call to God but an announcement of belonging, empathy and social association. He spent his whole life in the same exercise and with the help of Almighty guided infinite number of people to the right track.
3. OBJECTION TO MAINSTREAM POLITICAL INTERPRETATION OF ISLAM: Maulana’s approach to the understanding of Deen is entirely different from the narratives that introduce Islam as a political narrative and constitution that need to be established as “khilafat”. He drastically took a different ideological path from the one taken by Maulana Maudoodi, founder of Jamat Islami who is known to have popularised the political aspect of islam by describing it in a grand structural fashion. Maulana resented the interpretation of four terms “ila”, “rab”, “ibadat”, and “deen” by Maulana Maudoodi in his book “Quran ki chaar bunyadhi istilahay” (the four fundamental terms of Quran). His book “Tabeer ki galti” (Error of Interpretation) is a strong rebuttal to Maulana Maudoodi’s thought in which he critically examines and deconstructs the connotation of four terms mentioned above. By a strongly convincing analytical approach he abandons the political association of the terms as done by Maudoodi and reduces their meaning around supernatural exigesis. Maulana is of the opinion that Quran doesn’t propose any command for Muslims to fight for the political establishment of Islam. He suggests that a Quranic verse proposing to dominate the Deen-e-Islam over other religions doesn’t imply political domination but the domination of an idea of what he calls “fikri bartari”. He conforms to the belief that politics is one of the aspects of “Deen” that comes into force at its appropriate time and situation as happened at Madina but he implies that when the same political dimension is made the nucleus of everything it damages the entire structure of Islam and makes it vulnerable to multiple confronting worldly forces. As per Maulana, the obsession with political side of Islam has told badly upon the spiritual component of Muslims and has left them in a state of desolation, helplessness and confrontation with existing political apparatus of the world. In his book “Islam Rediscovered” he writes, “In making an assessment of Islam in relation to politics, one crucial point must be taken into consideration and that is that politics is only a relative and not the real part of Islam. The difference between a real and a relative feature is that what is essential is relevant in all circumstances and at all times, whereas the relative is required only in relation to particular sets of circumstances. Whenever such circumstances do not exist, relative features lose their relevance and therefore their desirability”.
While formulating his thought of Islam, the Maulana knew the socio-political environment of world and the possible ramifications if Muslim Ummah subscribes to political interpretation of Islam and turns actively political in temperament and attitude. He places the political narrative of Islam, as propounded by Maulana Maudoodi, in a context of reality of global politics and foreshadows its disastrous implications in the form of confrontations and tensions with establishments. He requires the Ummah to come on the forefront with spritual activism rather than political activism and that is where salvation and progress lies as per him.
4.IDEA OF PEACE: Given the strong appeal of his literature advocating tolerance, patience, reconciliation and non violence, the Maulana is rightly called an Ambassador of Peace across the globe. His idea of peace isn’t only the product of his own individualistic priority and inclination of mind but he derives it from his understanding of Islam and Quran itself. His narrative of dawah, apolitical approach and overall comprehension of “Deen” is never dissociated from the idea of peace. He laments the fact that the world hasn’t seen any consolidated, organised and institutionalised effort of peace building as it has seen in the case of wars and battles. Peace for him isn’t only absence of war as generally understood, it is rather an idea, a behaviour and an overall conduct of mental, emotional and physical self. Peace for him is manifested through operations of cosmos and nature; it is one of the manifestations of Divine presence and essential component of creation. Being peaceful for the Maulana corresponds to embracing the spirit of Nature and assimilation of Divine character that Islam prescribes with strong emphasis. He writes, “In the present world the root cause of most of our problems is traceable to our deviation from the peaceful model of nature. All the dilemmas we are facing today arise because we have not followed nature’s lead”. He portrays Prophet Muhammad (saw) as a “Messiah” of peace who contributed to the health of the world by establishing a social atmosphere of forgiveness, reconciliation and accomodation. In his book “The Ideology of Peace”, he writes, “Whenever the state of peace prevails in a society in the real sense, its members will necessarily engage themselves in positive activities. Their energies will be channelised into the reconstruction of their own lives and of their social environment”. In a world that has turned deaf and dejected by the recurrent call of war and battles, Maulana’s efforts to build a peaceful environment deserve to be recognised and admired.
5. CLASH OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION: Since the advancement of science and logical positivism and its impact on human history, people have come to test the credibility and truth of religion by putting it against the parameters of scientific method. The objective and laboratory approach to the study of relegion and revelation has drifted a huge chunk of population either towards atheism or agnosticism. With this growing mechanical and mathematical approach to life people have lost connection with the supernatural and divine revelation and consequently landed into absurdity and existential crisis. In this state of intellectual and spiritual turmoil where people struggle to guard their faith, the Maulana has intelligently responded with his amazing books like “God Arises” and “Religion and Science”, books that have immensely contributed to the reaffirmation of faith in revelation and the supernatural. In both of these books he punctures the claim of science to be the ultimate yardstick of truth about the existence of universe and human being. In his typically combined scientific and theological language he raises mind illuminating questions about the limited character of mechanical approach advanced by science and its insufficient capacity to answer the questions about existence of man and universe. In his book “Religion and Science”, he writes, “Unlike material phenomenon, biological phenomenon cannot be defined in terms of algebraic equations. The science of material world are confined to description, a lower form of science altogether, because they do not unveil the ultimate nature of things but only convey certain qualities such as weight and spatial dimensions”. Maulana opines that the “ultimate nature” of things can be unveiled only through revelation and through our subjective and spiritual exercises of meditation, contemplation and imagination.The reality of human existence forms objective and subjective aspects simultaneously and the mechanical or logical positivism approach developed by science isn’t qualified enough to interpret both the aspects. The truth of human subjective existence and supernatural forces is an inevitable phenomenon that we can’t afford to overlook by remaining subservient to mechanical approaches only.
6 SOCIAL AND POLITICAL REALITIES OF MUSLIM COMMUNITIES: The Maulana was of the opinion that the Muslim ummah must shun confrontational and reactionary approach, no matter what establishment they may live under. Contrary to a knee-jerk approach, they must act with patience and explore means of reconciliation and accomodation for their progress. Keeping in view the state of destitution, helplessness and weakness of Muslim ummah on economic, militaristic and global level, he objected to all those voices which encouraged anti-establishment narratives and called for resistance and revolution. He wanted Muslims to open their eyes to the reality of the world where establishments are backed by powerful economic, militaristic, political and nuclear wealth, and in such a scenario it doesn’t appear wise to have a confrontational and reactionary approach. In a world that prioritises finance over human life, that is hell bent to crush any resisting institutionalised voice, that has turned deaf to spiritual calls and that feeds on Islamophobia narrative, the role of Muslim ummah has to be calculated and wise lest we are more isolated, marginalised and cornered. Fighting a big and blind elephant doesn’t require emotion, it requires plan, power and investment on multiple fronts. Sometimes being on the defensive and avoiding confrontation can be as wise as giving away life in martrydom. On the question of Kashmir and Palestine, Maulana advised people to accept the status quo and avoid any approach that may bring catastrophic results for them. He believed that to resist occupational forces the way it is being done by Kashmiris and Palestines is to flounder into terrible chaos and disorder. However, I too share a belief that Maulana had miscalculation and misunderstanding concerning the ground realities of both the places. The comments he would pass occasionally about the situations of Kashmir and Palestine reflected his weak study of the realities on ground and unripe quick and rash judgements. Maulana failed to realise that living in a conflict zone demands an approach which is not only logical but emotional as well. He couldn’t sink to the depths of wounds that consistently pain the oppressed and enslaved. On account of that fact he always came across as bitter to Kashmiris and recieved furious backlash on social networking here and there.
The Maulana was also satirised by a few Islamic schools of thought for his take on certain Islamic issues that he exclusively tried to interpret against their established and collectively accepted historical context. Taking into consideration Maulana’s stance on Kashmir issue and his idiosyncratic and approach to certain Islamic debates, some people outrightly refuse to take him and his literature seriously, thus preventing themselves from the spiritual, moral and intellectual illumination one could attain from his thought process. A scholar whose Islamic service stretches immensely beyond the current political and national conflicts or few debatable and ambiguous Islamic subjects can’t be overlooked and negated the way it is done. People must realise that Maulana had a voice that also transcended the confines of a few national or historical tensions and embraced the universal questions of existence, spirituality, personal development and art of living in consonance with the Islamic context. Not reading him is an unfortunate disservice that we do to ourselves and our spiritual and intellectual health. Not reading him implies that we refuse to sip the nectar of illumination and enlightenment that Maulana laboured for long to procure for the benefit of mankind. Given his intellectual depth and highly amazing critical insights we have to give him a serious reading and patient listening, as Javid Ghamdi Sahab spoke about him: “Na aisi awaaz aaj tak suni gayi aur na suni jayegi” (Such a voice was unheard so far and will stand unheard in the future as well). May Maulana’s soul attain peace and grandeur.
—The writer is a freelance columnist from Anantnag.