'The Ulama should stand above the Political Process': Interview with Syed Haider
Farooq Maudoodi. (Part 1)
By Farish A. Noor.
Syed Haider Farooq Maudoodi is the son of the famous Islamist scholar and
political activist, Syed Maulana Maudoodi, founder of the Jamaat-e Islami of
Pakistan. While the Jamaat-e Islami (JI) has become the most powerful and
infuential force in political Islam in Pakistan today, Farooq Maudoodi leads the
'Jamaat-e Islami Syed Maudoodi group', a breakaway faction that has been
ostracised by the JI itself. Together with a number of prominent activists,
journalists and academics, Farooq Maudoodi has been trying to propagate what he
feels was and is the original message of the JI and its founder, his father.
Farish A Noor spoke to him at his residence in Ichara, Lahore about the present
orientation of the JI, the role of the Ulama in politics and the future of the
Farish: 'First of all, can you tell us something about yourself and your group,
and how it came to pass that you broke away from the Islamist party that your
father had founded and led for so long.'
Farooq: 'I happen to lead an organisation which we call the Jamaat-e Islami Syed
Maudoodi group. We are basically a group of Islamist intellectuals, scholars,
activists and writers who have been trying to revive the original message of my
late father, Syed Maulana Maudoodi. We separated from the Jamaat-e Islami when
it became clear that the JI was no longer following the path that my father had
set, and since then we have been attacked by them. They do not accept us or any
of our claims- but I have always maintained that they (JI) have deviated from
the path that my father had set for the party. We are an active political
grouping and we hope to work towards achieving the goals that my father had set
himself to long ago.'
Farish: 'There are those- both within and without the Jamaat- who claim that you
are really a nuisance and that you really want to disrupt the programme of the
JI. They argue that you have misrepresented Maudoodi's ideas and views and that
you are working against the JI, and by default the Islamist cause per se.'
Farooq: 'It is they who have turned the message of my father on its head. Our
position is clear: We hold that the struggle for Islam has to be towards
emancipation and the development of the Muslim community, the liberation of the
Muslim mind. We do not hold their view that the Ulama should be at the vanguard
of the Islamist struggle. On the contrary, we feel that the real role of the
Ulama should be as the custodians of Islamic knowledge and that they should
distance themselves from politics and the political process.'
Farish: 'Can you elaborate a little more on this point. What do you mean when
you say that the Ulama should distance themselves from politics?'
Farooq: 'What I mean is simply this: The Ulama have a role to play in Muslim
society and that is something that we have never argued or questioned. But the
Ulama should also stand above the political process and they should never be
trying to gain political power or control of the State. The Ulama should stand
in between all parties and political movements.
Their role is to offer advice and guidance to all those who are part of the
political system. They should direct their criticism to both the ruling power as
well as the opposition. That way they would be truly impartial and they would be
free from the constraints of politics. That was what my father originally
envisaged when he spoke of the role of the Ulama as the guardians of Muslim
society. But today in Pakistan and other parts of the Islamic world you can see
hundreds of political parties and movements struggling for power- many of which
are led by the Ulama. The Ulama have become politicians and they play the game
of politics- fighting for votes, etc. This is demeaning for them and for Islam.
What have they got to do with politics anyway? They condemn the abuses of
politics and yet we can all see how they have become politicised themselves.
They have become political animals, and this is also true for the party that my
father had started.'
Farish: 'When, in your opinion, did the JI become a political party?'
Farooq: 'For me it began in the mid-1980s, when Mian Tufayl resigned and the
position of the Emir of the Jamaat was given to Qazi Hussain Ahmad (in 1985).
From that point onwards, the Jamaat became a political party and it has been
playing the game of politics ever since. At one time they worked with this
government, and at another time they worked with another. The JI has been
playing the game of politics and they have all become politicians. Their
speeches are no longer about religion but about gaining power and votes. Their
rhetoric has also changed so many times. Today they have started to call
themselves an NGO. This is all part of the political game and they play it just
as well as the other Islamist parties in the country.'
Farish: 'If the Ulama are not supposed to get involved in politics, what should
they do? What do you feel they have to offer to society?'
Farooq: 'The Ulama today have forgotten that their main role is dakwah. They
have to teach and offer instruction to Muslims who know less than they do about
Islamic law and ethics. That is why the Ulama should stand in between the
government and the opposition. They should correct the errors of both. What the
Ulama have forgotten is their role in creating a good human being. I don't even
mean a good Muslim. Whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu- what matters is the
creation of a good person above all else: Someone who obeys the law, has a
respect for the fundamental rights and needs of others, has a sense of social
obligation and duty. When such individuals are around, creating an Islamic
society that is just and equal is easy. But without such moral instruction from
the Ulama, the Muslims are without moral leadership and examples to emulate. Now
all we have are Ulama who are busy trying to become politician and leaders in
government. What kind of moral example is that?'
Farish: 'If moral instruction is as important as you say, what kind of
leadership are the Ulama meant to provide? How can they help to educate and
guide the people? What would be required for such a project?'
Farooq: 'Moral instruction cannot come from the Ulama today because they
themselves are intellectually bankrupt. The Ulama today all come from the same
traditional schooling system. They have been reading the same books that have
been read by previous generations of Ulama, uncritically and with no
imagination. Look at the state of Muslim law at present. We Muslims talk about
ourselves as being dynamic and progressive, yet we still live under the
dominance of the Ulama who are themselves guided by a school of fiqh that is
hopelessly out of date and inadequate in the face of the demands of today.
Islamic jurisprudence has not evolved since the time of the last Caliph Ali.
After his martyrdom, the Muslim world has been in a state of stasis and decay.
The Ummayad, Abbasid and other dynasties that came after merely appropriated the
laws and customs of the Muslim community at the time and adjusted them to their
own needs. Look at how the history of Islam is littered with the biographies of
Sultans and the elite. What of the ordinary Muslims themselves? How come we
still live in a world where so many Muslims count for nothing? All these
kingdoms and dynasties were an aberration of Islam and they have twisted the
message of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Islam has been used to justify the
acquisition of power and the corruption of the elite- but the message of
equality and justice has been lost.'
End of part 1.
This article first appeared in the Crosscurrents column of the New Straits Times.