'What the Muslim World Needs Today Is Another Ataturk': Interview with Syed
Haider Farooq Maudoodi.
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
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
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
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
This article first appeared in the Crosscurrents column of the New Straits Times.