Mawdudi: The Godfather of Islamism

This is a repost of an article by Raziq, first published in August 2009


There is a common misconception that the roots of radical Islamism stem from grievances in the Middle East i.e. Israel/Palestine. This is actually not true. The Indian Sub-continent is just as responsible for radical Islamism as the Middle East is thanks to one man in particular, largely ignored in the Western media, Maulana Mawdudi. In this article I will be looking at Mawdudi’s personality and ideology.

Mawdudi was the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), an Islamist party in the Indian sub-continent (the counterpart of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt). In the early part of his life he was a newspaper editor. He had no theological grounding as a scholar, rather he was a self-taught man with a passion for political authority. He was a key influence on many Islamist ideologues.

According to historian Philip Jenkins:

Egyptian Hassan Al Banna and Sayyid Qutb read him. Qutb ‘Borrowed and expanded’ Mawdudi’s concept of Jahilliyya (pagan ignorance) being a modern as well as pre-muhammadan phenomena, and for the need for an Islamist revolutionary vanguard movement. His ideas influenced the young Osama bin Laden during the anti-soviet war in Afghanistan. The South Asian Diaspora, including “significant numbers” in Britain, were “hugely influenced” by Mawdudi’s work. Mawdudi even had a major impact on Shia Iran, where Ayatollah Ruhoallah Khomeini is reputed to have met Mawdudi as early as 1963 and later translated his works into Farsi. “To the present day, Iran’s revolutionary rhetoric of ten draws on his themes.

(tnr. com The New Republic “The Roots of Jihad in India” by Philip JENKINS, December 24, 2008)

Mawdudi‘s ideas are laid out in the 120 books he wrote. In his book Al-Jihad fil-Islam(Jihad in Islam) he explains his interpretation of Jihad:

It must now be obvious that the objective of the Islamic jihad is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system, and establish in its place an Islamic system of state rule. Islam does not intend to confine his rule to a single state or a hand full of countries. The aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution. Although in the initial stages, it is incumbent upon members of the party of Islam to carry out a revolution in the state system of the countries to which they belong; their ultimate objective is none other than world revolution

(Jihad Fi Sabillilah: Jihad in Islam by Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi “– Chapter 3, Pg 10)

In another book he says:

Human relations are so integrated that no state can have complete freedom of action under its principles unless the same principles are not in force in a neighbouring country. Therefore, a, ‘Muslim Party’ will not be content with the establishment of Islam in just one area alone –both for its own safety and for general reform. It should try and expand in all directions. On one hand it will spread its ideology; on the other it will invite people of all nations to accept its creed, for salvation lies only therein. If this Islamic state has power and resources it will fight and destroy non-Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place.

(Maulana Mawdudi, Haqiqat-i-Jihad ,Pg 64, Taj Company Ltd, Lahore, Pakistan 1964)

It is not difficult to see the influence Mawdudi’s ideas had on Islamist ideologues (Syed Qutb for example) as they swiftly became widespread in various parts of the world. To propagate his ideas Mawdudi set up his group Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in 1941. He describes his group as:

It (JI) is not a missionary organisation or a body of preachers or evangelists, but an organisation of God’s troopers.

(Mawlana Mawdudi, Haqiqat-i-Jihad, Pg 58, Taj Company Ltd, Lahore, Pakistan 1964)

The vision of this group was to destroy all man-made political systems and to establish an Islamic state in their place where non-Muslims would not be allowed to propagate their faiths. This state would then wage a Jihad against other countries.

In our domain we neither allow any Muslim to change his religion nor allow any other religion to propagate its faith.

(Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, Murtad ki Saza Islami Qanun Mein, Pg 32, Lahore Islamic Publications Ltd, 1981, 8th Edition)

Women’s role in society would be restricted:

..the real place of women is the house and she has been exempted from outdoor duties…She has however been allowed to go out of the house to fulfil her genuine needs, but whilst going out she must observe complete modesty. Neither should she wear glamorous clothes and attract attention, nor should she cherish the desire to display the charms of the face and the hand, nor should she walk in a manner which may attract attention of others. Moreover she should not speak to them without necessity, and if she has to speak she should not speak in a sweet and soft voice

(Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi. Purdah and the status of Women in Islam, Taj Company Ltd, Pg 140)

In Pakistan, JI protested against women’s rights and supported the Hudood bill of 1979. This bill made it difficult for women to receive justice for rape as, if they failed to bring four male witnesses to the crime, they risked having their accusation against the man turned into an admission of guilt to fornication. The woman would be flogged and the rapist would walk free.

Mawdudi himself was arrested in 1953 for inciting violence against the minority Ahmadiyyah community and sentenced to death, which was later commuted. In total Mawdudi was jailed four times before his death in 1979.

In Pakistan, members of JI have gone on to join Pakistan’s military and intelligence departments in large numbers. This was a factor in the military coup in the 70’s which overthrew the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and brought the dictatorship of General Zia into power. Zia then went on a campaign to Islamicize the country. He supported, trained and funded JI-inspired Islamist fighters in Afghanistan and India; the birth of the Taliban was a direct result of JI influence in the Pakistani Intelligence services.

In the UK today there are many organisations which have links to JI or actively support and propagate Mawdudi’s ideas. They include the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, East London Mosque, UK Islamic Mission, Islamic Forum Europe and leading figures in the Muslim Council of Britain. It is a shame that today in Britain we have organisations promoting Mawdudi’s hate-filled works and, if we are serious about defeating extremism in the UK, they must be exposed and challenged.