Listen to this article:
‘Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.’
– Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History.
Thanks to a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and signed by 25 Hindu ‘academics,’ scholars Abul ‘Ala Maududi and Sayyid Qutb received unusual media attention.
The letter – ‘Demanding Total Ban on Jihadi Curriculum’ in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Jamia Millia Islamia and Hamdard University – alleges that “the never-ending violent attacks on Hindu society, culture and civilization are a direct outcome of such teachings” at these “Islamic” universities. The letter is focused on Maududi.
AMU compliantly and swiftly removed not only Maududi’s but also Qutb’s books, which the letter does not even mention. Reporting the ban, Indian Express described Qutb as “Turkish” and Maududi as “Pakistani.” The fact is while Qutb (d. 1966) is Egyptian, Maududi (1903-1979) is Indian-Pakistani.
The letter demanding the ban is hateful. Armed with vile aims, it is based on misleading sources, has a mind-defying conspiracy theory and is bereft of academic knowledge, let alone knowledge of Maududi’s rich scholarship. The letter deserves applause, but only for surpassing colonial knowledge in the sheer venom with which it incites division a la Carl Schmitt’s version of friend-enemy politics.
My argument is that it is the terror-filled letter, not books by Maududi, which a just democracy should shun.
What is academic in the letter by 25 ‘academics’?
The letter calls Maududi “the fountainhead of Jihadi Islam.”
The toxic allegation continues: “Maududi openly calls for genocide of non-Muslims everywhere in the world.”
For a moment, let’s accept its nescience. Given that the letter demands the banning of his books, how is Maududi responsible for alleged wrongs long before he was born? Madhu Kishwar’s note, written after the letter, to the Vice-Chancellor of AMU answers it. Accusing AMU of “taqiyya” (disguise), she warns that having known “the core principles and…mandate of Islam,” “we are not so naïve anymore.”
The issue thus seems not Maududi but Islam itself.
Read this unreferenced passage:
“…today, those targeted as Kafirs by Islamists [know]…this violent ideology that has caused endless series of Hindu holocausts in the sub-continent…[T]he foreign Islamic invaders…committed unspeakable brutalities…to force non-Muslims to convert, broke and vandalized lakhs of Hindu…places of worship …[and] also converted them into mosques and tombs, smashed the murtis of our sacred Devi-Devtas, abducted lakhs of Hindu women and children to sell them as sex slaves. “
Continuing the hate, the letter relentlessly decontextualises thus:
“Internationally designated terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, etc, continue to derive their inspiration from Maududi’s core ideology…”
No true academic will enact such seamless generalisations, that too without an iota of evidence. This method is not even close to academic reasoning, much less to rigorous scholarship. It is sophistry.
Mark also the letter’s conspiratorial spirit in which Maududi and Muslims are shown to “destroy the remaining vestiges of Indic civilization and decimate the remaining share of native population in their own homeland through Demographic Invasion…” This beats the conspiracy theory of terrorists Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarrant and other Christian racist groups.
Going by the (il)logic in the letter about links among Maududi, ideology, inspiration and terrorism, books by the Dalai Lama should be banned. Shoko Asahara, executed leader of the Japanese terrorist organisation Aum Shinrikyo had met him in India. The Dalai Lama hailed Asahara as “a very capable religious teacher” and supported him in other ways. Though eclectic, Asahara’s inspirations were Buddhism and Hinduism. The word Aum/Om in his outfit’s name is Vedic. Should the logic applied in Maududi’s case not be extended to the Asahara-the Dalai Lama-Hinduism/Buddhism-terrorism linkage?
As “evidence,” the letter cites Islamophobes like V.S. Naipaul and news reports by Praveen Swami. The former has been called “a new global Hindutva mascot”, who is “known for his hatred for Islam.” I have argued elsewhere that the “knowledge” of journalists like Swami or Sultan Shahin (the letter cites him too) belongs, at best, to the post-9/11 securitisation of Islam, itself part of the military-industrial-media-complex and its anti-knowledge, rather than actual scholarship of Islam.
In a rush to vilify him, the letter silences the complex figure Maududi is.
Born in Aurangabad, India, and buried in Pakistan, like Abul Kalam Azad, Maududi was extraordinary while still in his teenage. At 16, he published a biography (see image to the right) of Madan Mohan Malaviya, a leader of Hindu Mahasabha and Indian National Congress.
Describing him “as one of ablest sons of Hindustan,” Maududi admired him for devoting his life to the “services of community (quam) and country (mulk).”
Maududi had also written a biography of Gandhi, which the British seized. In April 1947, Gandhi actually participated in a conference of Jamaat-e-Islami and remarked: “I listened to your speech carefully and I am very happy.”
Given the letter’s attempt to depict Maududi as a fundamentalist, it is vital to show him as an economic thinker. In 1920, he wrote a critique of colonialism and how it drained India’s resources to make it bankrupt. He viewed exploitation of Indian working class as organically linked to global capitalism. He also supported the trade union movement. In mid-1930s, Indian politics radically changed, so did Maududi.
The turning point was the 1937 election and formation of ministries by the Congress.
To Maududi, the Congress rule was like a “Hindu raj.” Disenchanted with the Congress- Jam‘iatul ‘Ulemae Hind alliance, Maududi turned to “Islamism.” Against the letter’s representation of Islamism and democracy as enemies, Maududi did indeed radicalise democracy.
In 1938, he wrote:
“…[N]o sane person can disagree with the spirit of democracy…It is assumed that because of a shared geography…we Hindus, Muslims, Untouchables, Sikhs, Christians are a single community and thus the grammar of democracy should be such that the state should be run by the wish of the majority community…[This]… has made Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism coterminous. In contrast to Hindus, our condition is such that under this [democratic] system our community aspiration… [are] killed because we are in a minority.”
Arguably, Maududi was a rare political theorist to demand the right to recall elected representatives who have lost people’s confidence. His commitment to democracy was not cosmetic. In Pakistan where his party has regularly contested elections, he held that the state “should not be enforcer of the Sharia but the implementer of the will of the people.”
Disregarding complexity in Maududi’s thought, the letter’s desperation to ban his books and vilify Islam owes its debt to Indology in which India equals “indigenous” Hinduism and Islam violent outsider. Recall Maududi describe Malaviya as a son of “Hindustan.” The use of Hindustan, not India, is a decolonial gesture.
Historian Manan Asif demonstrates how colonial episteme effaced “Hindustan” as an inclusive idea and instead instituted “India” as exclusive to Hinduism. Unsurprisingly, the letter terms Maududi and Islamic curricula “anti-Indic.”
On the ban by AMU
AMU’s decision to ban books by Maududi and Qutb is simply baffling, if not cowardly.
To begin with, the letter demanding the ban itself shouldn’t have been addressed to the Prime Minister but to University Grants Commission (UGC) that governs universities. AMU was obliged to “act” if UGC demanded so. To ban books based on a political letter shorn of academic credentials is unbecoming of the esteemed university that AMU is. Rather than initiate a debate on what are “Indic,” intellectual freedom and academic autonomy, AMU caved in to the unjust, divisive demand for ban.
Walter Benjamin’s thesis in this essay’s epigraph is not only about safety but also integrity of the dead. The dead emperor Aurangzeb is routinely threatened in daily news, TV “debates,” street demonstrations and elsewhere. The letter by “academics” calls Maududi “Aurangzeb-minded.”
Both dead, if Aurangzeb and Maududi are continually threatened, so are we who are alive.
Irfan Ahmad is professor of Anthropology-Sociology at Ibn Haldun University, Istanbul, Turkey. Until early 2022, he was Senior Research Fellow at Max Planck Institute, Gottingen, Germany. He is the author of two monographs, most recently, Religion as Critique (University of North Carolina Press, 2017) and (co)editor of four volumes, most recently, The Nation Form in the Global Age: Ethnographic Perspectives (Palgrave, 2022). He tweets @IrfanHindustan.
Note: This article has been edited after publication