The Failed Theology of Modern Islamism

The Case Against Islamism

(Ref 10 bellow :- A myriad of further examples can be found in “How Sharia-ism Hijacked Islam” by Hasan Mahmud ↩︎)

The Failed Theology of Modern Islamism

We read in A Short History of Islam how since the end of the Second World War, Islamism, a hard-line version of Islam financed with hundreds of billions of dollars by Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich states, has become the dominant version of Islam throughout the world: in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and even in the West.  But this dominance could never have been achieved by funding alone without propaganda portraying Muslims and Islam as the victims of western oppression; without support for the Wahabi/Salafi interpretation of Islam as a reform movement purportedly returning to the original purity of the faith; and without an attempted theological justification for the plan based on the Qur’an and the scriptures.   

As we read earlier, a game plan for the Islamist movement was supplied by Sayed Qutb in his book: Milestones, a step-by-step plan for world domination. The purported theological justification for modern Islamism was provided by Mawlana Abd Ala Maududi in his six-volume epic:  Tafhim ul Qur’an, (The Meaning of the Quran).  But despite its huge success, its huge popularity and the level of detail covered in its six volumes, his purported justification for Islamism fails by the acid test of truth and honesty.

We show in this essay that Maududi’s fundamental thesis: that Allah is calling in the Qur’an for an Islamic  world-order through an Islamic State, is totally false.

1.   Maududi’s Vision

Mawlana Abd Ala Maududi (1903-1979) is widely regarded as the leading theoretician, indeed the founding father, of modern Islamism. Appalled by western domination of the Islamic world, he was determined to revive and modernize an earlier ‘political’ Islam to combat the decadence and evil of western culture.    His vision is well-reflected in his writings:

  1. “The Muslim Party will inevitably extend invitations to the citizens of other countries to embrace the faith…….. And if the Muslim Party commands adequate resources it will eliminate un-Islamic governments and establish the power of Islamic governments in their stead…… Islamic “Jihad” does not recognize their (non-Muslims’) right to administer State-affairs according to a system which in the view of Islam is evil.”1
  2. Maududi was strongly against the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and argued that as a global religion Islam cannot be confined in a particular state. But when Pakistan became a reality on 14 August 1947, he changed his statement to: “Although an Islamic State may be set up anywhere on earth, Islam does not seek to restrict human rights or privileges to the boundaries of such a State.2
  3. “The system of this (Islamic) government is such that it does not leave much room for man to exercise his own free will.”3
  4. “Islam, speaking from the viewpoint of political philosophy, is the very antithesis of secular Western democracy.”4
  5. “Dancing, singing, etc., are “ugly arts.”5
  6. “Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth that are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam. If the Muslim Party commands adequate resources, it will eliminate un-Islamic governments and establish the power of Islamic governments in their stead.”6
  7. “Truth is one of the most important principles of Islam and lying is one of the greatest sins. But in real life some needs are such that telling a lie is not only allowed, in some circumstances it is decreed mandatory.”7

We will see however that Maududi’s thesis was based on a biased and selective interpretation of the Qur’an, with the specific purpose of mis-representing the Qur’an as endorsing his vision for an Islamic state.

2. Justifying the vision

In order to justify his vision Maududi needed support from the holy scriptures, the Qur’an and the Sunnah.  His great work of Quranic exegesis (interpretation and explanation of the Qur;an), is a six-volume work, Tafhim ul Qur’an,  begun in 1942 and published in 1972, written in Urdu, and has since been translated into many other languages including English. It has been hugely influential ever since in promoting the idea of an Islamism among the Ummah. To anyone working through his magnum opus however, it becomes rapidly clear that this is not a work of theology but a political treatise, a blueprint for an Islamic state.

In order to justify his political vision Maududi was obliged to distort, ignore and mis-interpret multiple verses of the Qur’an. 

He did so by explaining and commenting on only those Quranic passages that could be interpreted as support of his vision, whilst skipping lightly over others that would have undermined it.

Consider the question of how the Quran describes itself:

  1.   “Say: “That is a Message Supreme” (38:67). 
  2.   “This is no less than a Message to (all) the Worlds”. (38:87).
  3.   “Verily this is an Admonition” (73:19).
  4.   “This surely is an admonition”. (74:54).
  5.   “We have made the (Qur’an) a Light”. (42:52).
  6.   “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message.” (15:9).
  7.   “For it (the Qur’an) is indeed a Message of instruction” (80:11).  

Maududi’s exegesis fails to comment on or explain these verses, all of which make it clear that the Qur’an defines itself purely as a message, as guidance. Nowhere in the Qur’an is there a single verse referring to itself as a book of law, or concerning itself with the administration of justice. 

Presenting the Qur’an as a political work was one of Maududi’s most significant betrayals of Islam. Similarly, whilst the Quranic word “Sharia” originally meant “Path to salvation”, he accepted the meaning first transformed by early Muslims to “State Law”.8

3.   The Role of the Prophet

Maududi also failed to comment on many passages in the Quran explaining that the role of the Prophet is to teach, not to rule or judge:9

  1.  “Therefore, do thou give admonition, for thou art one to admonish.” (Qur’an 88:21)
  2.  “Thou art not one to manage (men’s) affairs”. (Qur’an 88:22)
  3.   “Say: O ye men! …. I am not (set) over you to arrange your affairs.” (Qur’an 10:108)
  4.  “Our Messenger’s duty to proclaim (the message) in the clearest manner”. (Qur;an 5:92)
  5.  “The Messenger’s duty is but to proclaim (the message)”. (Qur’an 5:99)
  6.  “But what is the mission of apostles but to preach the Clear Message?” (Quran 16:35)
  7.  “verily thou dost guide (men) to the Straight Way”.  (Qur’an 15:89)
  8.  “he is but a perspicuous warner”. (Qur’an 7:184)
  9.  “But if they turn away, thy duty is only to preach the clear Message”.  (Qur’an 16:82)
  10. “It is not required of thee, O Messenger, to set them on the right path, but Allah sets on the right path whom He pleaseth”. (Qur’an 2:272)

There are dozens more such passages in the Quran making it clear that the role of the Prophet is to instruct and to teach, not to rule, judge or administer.10

The Sharia is thus revealed by the Qur’an itself to be lacking any divine authority and is now understood to be a man-made system of law, capable of improvement and change just like any other man-made system.  If the Islamists want national and regional laws to be based on the Sharia, it is for them to seek the consent of those to be so ruled.  But no Muslim should ever feel guilty about rejecting Sharia law, lacking as it does any theological justification.

Indeed, Maududi himself commented: “It is emphasized that the Prophet (peace be on him) is only required to preach the Truth and try to call people to embrace it. His responsibility ends at that, for he is after all not their warden”.

Yet even after agreeing to many of the verses ruling out any role for the Prophet in government or administering the law, Maududi’s vision is all about establishing a theocratic state. He even declared, quite contrary to the Qur’an, that we will not be completely Muslim unless we establish the Islamic State.11

Muslims in general see prophets as great preachers and not as Presidents or military leaders. Very few of the prophets throughout history were rulers and the few who were, such as Solomon, were the exception rather than the rule. Conducting politics, waging wars, or running an administration were never conditions of prophethood.

4.    The killing of apostates is contrary to both the Qur’an and the Prophet. 

The Qur’an mentions apostasy in several verses, but never mentions any worldly punishment. Rather, in 4:137 the door is kept open for apostates to come back to Islam:
Allah will neither forgive nor show the right way to those who believed, and then disbelieved, then believed, and again disbelieved, and thenceforth became ever more intense in their disbelief”. One cannot kill apostates without violating this verse.  Yet despite the lack of divine sanction for the imposition of earthly judgement, the Sharia evolved into a widely used system of criminal law throughout the Islamic world, originally in support of Arab conquests of the first millennium, but in recent times in support of hard-line Islamist ideology.  It is in the proposed treatment of apostates and blasphemers that the dissonance between the Qur’an and the Sharia is revealed in its harshest light.12

Maududi himself agrees that 2:217 says apostates will be hurled “into the eternal torment in the Hellfire.”  Consider the following:1.     The context of verse 3:86 was Harith’s apostasy. The verse doesn’t mention any punishment13: “How can Allah guide people who once believed, after they received clear signs and affirmed that the Messenger was a true one, then lapsed into disbelief”.2.     Regarding the killing of covenant breakers, Maududi concluded that 9:11 could
“in no way be construed to mean breaking of political covenants. Rather, the context clearly determines its meaning to be ‘confessing Islam and then renouncing it’. Thereafter the meaning of ‘fight the heads of disbelief’ can only mean that war should be waged against the leaders instigating apostasy.”14
In this Maududi is completely wrong: those verses are not about apostasy at all, but about non-Muslims who broke the peace treaty with Muslims.15

  • As a ruler the Prophet did punish people, some of them were apostates, but each of them without exception were guilty of some other crime or crimes. There is not a single instant in Sahi Sitta (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, Tirmiji, Nasaee or Ibn Majah) where he punished anyone solely for leaving Islam.  Sahi Bukhari Vol 9 hadith 318:

“Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: A bedouin gave the Pledge of allegiance to Allah’s Apostle for Islam. Then the bedouin got fever at Medina, came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Cancel my Pledge,” But Allah’s Apostle refused. Then he came to him (again) and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Cancel my Pledge.” But the Prophet refused Then he came to him (again) and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Cancel my Pledge.” But the Prophet refused. The bedouin finally went out (of Medina) whereupon Allah’s Apostle said, “Medina is like a pair of bellows (furnace): It expels its impurities and brightens and clears its good”.

For Maududi, there can be no freedom of belief and no room for apostates in the Islamic fold.  He proposed: 
“[The conquerer must] notify the Muslim population in the area where an Islamic revolution occurs that people who in belief and practice have defected from Islam and wish to remain as defectors should disclose their non-Muslim identity and leave our social order within a year from the date of the notification. After this period, all those who are born of Muslim lineage will be considered to be Muslim, they will be subject to all Islamic laws, they will be compelled to perform the religious duties and obligations, and then whoever steps outside the fold of Islam will be executed. Following this announcement utmost effort should be made to save as many sons and daughters born of Muslims as possible from the lap of kufr. Then whoever cannot be saved by any means should be cut off and cast away, sadly but firmly, from his society forever. After this act of purification, a new life for Islamic society may begin with only those Muslims who are dedicated to Islam.”16

 Such a horror may be Islamism, but Islam it is not.

5. Conclusion

The Qur’an is revealed in its own pages as a book of enlightenment and guidance to the faithful and is not to be construed as a book of law.  It does not call for the establishment of an Islamic State. But the existence of the five principal schools of Sharia since the time of the Arab conquests has imbued the idea of an Islamic system of law with the patina of history.   How could the Sharia have existed throughout the history of Islam, virtually unchanged, without theological justification? The answer is:  thanks to support of generations of conservative Islamic scholars, prepared to accept whatever collection of hadith was cited in support of their political agenda, unchanged since the effective ban on ijtihad (reinterpretation) in the 13th century.

But such bans on reinterpretation are no longer acceptable to modern Muslims; we are able to access the latest research into the origins of Islam and are aware of the advances in our understanding of God’s creation brought about by modern science.  It is for each of us to draw our own conclusions.

We have seen that Maududi distorted the message of the Quran to support his own hard-line interpretation of Islam: “a political ideology masquerading as a religion”, a distortion of Islam that for decades has misled Muslims into adopting an absolutist and intolerant interpretation of Islam, promoting the idea of an Islamic State: an idea that was never proposed by Allah. 

  1. Jihad In Islam, The Holy Quran Publishing House, (1939). ↩︎
  2. Human Rights in Islam, Islamic Foundation, (1976). ↩︎
  3. A Short History of the Revivalist Movement in Islam, Islamic Publications, (1963). ↩︎
  4. The Islamic Law and Constitution, Lahore: Islamic Publications, (1977). ↩︎
  5. A Short History of the Revivalist Movement in Islam, Islamic Publications, (1963). ↩︎
  6. Jihad In Islam 6 & 2 4, (The Holy Quran Publishing House, 1939). ↩︎
  7. Tafhim ul Qur’an, 54.  ↩︎
  8. Sharia” literally means the path to go to water. ↩︎
  9. Quran Araf 7:184. See also e.g., Kahf 18:56; Ahzab 33:45; Gashiyah 88:21, 22; Anam 6:107; Ra’ad 13:40; Nisa 4:80, 165; Tawba 9:51; Bakara 2:119, 272; Nahl 16:82; Sa’ad 38:65, 70;  Fatir 35:23, 24; Ahkwaf 46:9; Anam 6:52, 66; Ash Shura 42:48; Yunus 10:108; Kwahf 29; Mayeda 5:92, 93; Hijr 15:89. ↩︎
  10. A myriad of further examples can be found in “How Sharia-ism Hijacked Islam” by Hasan Mahmud ↩︎
  11. Maududi  “Witness to Mankind” p32 ↩︎
  12. Towards Understanding the Quran, Islamic Studies, ↩︎
  13. Ibn Hisham/Ibn Ishaq, Sirat – page 384 ↩︎
  14. Quran 9: 11-12. ↩︎
  15. Bangla translation of the Quran by Mawlana Muhiuddin Khan, pages 553 & 556. ↩︎
  16. Abul Ala Mawdudi, The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law, translated by Syed Silas Husain and Ernest Hahn, (1994). ↩︎