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'What the Muslim World Needs Today Is Another Ataturk': Interview with Syed

Haider Farooq Maudoodi.

Part 2

 

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 one of the most powerful and

infuential forces in political Islam in Pakistan today, Farooq Maudoodi leads

the 'Jamaat-e Islami Syed Maudoodi group', a breakaway faction from the JI

itself. In this, the second of a two part interview, Farish A Noor speaks to him

about the prospects of developing a progressive school of Islamic thought for

the modern world.

 

 

Farish: 'For some time now you have been calling for a return to the

fundamentals of Islam and the revision of Islamic thought in the light of

present-day realities. Isn't there a danger of essentialising the argument here?

By referring to the time of the early Caliphs it sounds as if you are talking

about the fabled 'golden age' of Islam all over again. Isn't this exactly what

so many Islamist movements are doing today?'

 

Farooq: 'Look at the historical facts themselves and you will see what I mean.

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the entire Muslim

community was no more than five thousand. That was the entire Muslim Ummah

during the Medina era. The mosque in Medina could house the entire Muslim

community, and there was still space for more.

How can we hope to revive Islam in the present when our laws and codes of

jurisprudence is still based on the revelations that came during that time?

Today there are more than a billion Muslims in the world. How can the Ulama hope

to guide these people if they still rely on laws that have not evolved since the

early Islamic period?

All the major schools of Islamic law remain stuck in the past. The Hanafi

school, for instance, still cannot deal with problems in the present age.

According to some orthodox scholars of the Hanafi school if a man or wife loses

his spouse for some unknown reason- he or she may have gone missing somewhere-

the husband or wife cannot marry again until a period of ninety years has

lapsed. What kind of legal reasoning is that? This is what I mean when I say

that the Muslim world is in a state of stasis- We have not been able to update

and upgrade our laws in the light of present-day realities. I am not asking for

us to reject Islamic law- just make it dynamic and contextual for our daily

needs.'

 

 

Farish: 'So do you mean to say that all the Islamisation programmes that we have

seen in the Muslim world have achieved nothing? Do you mean to suggest that even

after the time of President Zia ul Haq, Pakistan has not really turned into a

more Islamic society?'

 

Farooq: 'Of course it hasn't. What signs do you see of Islamisation here? The

number of Madrasahs? The number of Mosques built everywhere? That is not

Islamisation- these are merely concrete structures. What kind of Islamisation is

it if the people do not feel they are better Muslims, if they do not understand

their own religion any better?

During the time of my father, Syed Maudoodi, what we wanted to do was to preach

Islam. We rejected the orginal idea of Pakistan itself because it was not based

on anything Islamic. We wanted to create a society that understood the religion

and the principles upon which it is based. But during the time of Zia all we had

were policies and public speeches, vast projects and empty promises. The

politicians used Islam to reinforce their power and the Islamist movements began

to work with the government to gain political power for themselves. But the

message of Islam was forgotten and so was the struggle to revive its internal

dynamics. Today there are no longer any learned scholars in the Jamaat and the

other Islamist movements in Pakistan. There are no original thinkers and

scholars- only politicians and tacticians.'

 

Farish: 'If that is the case, what then is the role of the Ulama in contemporary

Muslim society?'

 

Farooq: 'The Ulama have become the disease of Muslim society! They are the ones

who stand in the way of the Muslim scholars and intellectuals who want to revive

the intellectual tradition within Islam. Whenever a Muslim scholar raises a new

controversial issue, the Ulama are the first ones to accuse him or her of

attacking Islam itself! Any attempt to question the dominance of the Ulama is

re-interpreted as an attack on Islam. Any attempt to question the outdated fiqh

of the Ulama is seen as an attack on Islam. How can we Muslims ever develop if

we have to face such opposition on a regular basis? Instead of intellectual

development and original ideas, the Ulama have merely emphasised the ritualistic

aspect of Islam.

For example: In Pakistan we have thousands of ordinary people going on the hajj

(pilgrimage) to Mecca every year. The Ulama encourage this sort of public

devotion as it suits their interpretation of ritualised Islam. But as any

learned Muslim scholar will tell you, in Islam the act of going on the hajj is

qualified by many other restrictions and conditions. One should not go on the

hajj is one's relatives are poor. The money for the hajj should go to them

instead. Or to other poor people to whom one is close to. This is the

egalitarian aspect of Islam that has been forgotten in the rush to perform such

rituals for personal benefit. The end result is that we have thousands of

Muslims going to Mecca every year, while their own relatives, neighbours and

friends are poor and needy at home. Isn't charity a part of Islam as well? Isn't

it part of our fard'u kifayah (social obligations)? Apart from their ritualistic

approach to religion, the Ulama still cannot think of Islamic law outside the

framework of crime and punishment. They still cannot address the issue of rights

and entitlements, of justice and equity. They talk about how Islam is a humane

religion, a just religion- but all the while it is they who have given Islam

such a bad name and made it look like a religion of retribution and punishment.

No wonder the Muslim world has such a bad image today, thanks to the Ulama.'

 

Farish: 'Why do you think the Ulama, as an institution, have become so dogmatic

today?'

 

Farooq: 'The Ulama have grown increasingly conservative themselves. They talk

about leading the way towards the path of development, but in fact most of them

have proven to be fundamentally conservative. In Pakistan the Ulama have sided

with the military regime, the feudal landlords, the traditional elite. In all

these cases they have really supported the status quo, as it is in their

interest to do so.'

 

Farish: 'So who do you put your trust in? Who can possibly lead the Muslim Ummah

out of the morrass it finds itself in today?'

 

Farooq: 'What the Muslim world today needs is another Ataturk! We need a new

Ataturk who has the vision and foresight to see that the Muslim world cannot

survive on empty slogans and simple solutions only. By this I do not mean one

leader or one sole spokesman, but rather a class of revolutionary thinkers,

scholars and lay Muslim experts who have broken from the mould of the Ulama of

the past. Rather than acting as the watchdogs of the Muslim community, these

Muslim intellectuals need to be brave enough to be able to re-think some of our

most basic suppositions and adapt them to the needs of today. We cannot go on

reproducing the same old legal codes from one thousand years ago. We need to be

able to think originally, apply our legal reasoning and adapt our approach to

the world that we inhabit today. This means trying to operationalise fiqh in

relation to other modern sciences and dicsiplines. And we need to remember that

this does not make us anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. What we are really doing is

saving the spirit of Islam itself, something that my father was trying to do all

his life.'

 

End.

 

This article first appeared in the Crosscurrents column of the New Straits Times.