“Only the historian will have the gift of kindling the spark of hope in the past which is firmly convinced that even the dead won’t be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.
–Walter Benjamin, Theses in the philosophy of history.
Thanks to a letter Addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and signed by 25 Hindu “scholars”, scholars Abul ‘Ala Maududi and Sayyid Qutb received unusual media attention.
The letter – “Demanding Total Ban on Jihadi Curriculum” to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Jamia Millia Islamia and Hamdard University – alleges that “the endless violent attacks on Hindu society, culture and civilization are the direct result of these teachings”. in these “Islamic” universities. The letter is centered on Maududi.
AMU complied and promptly removed not only Maududi’s books but also Qutb’s books, which the letter does not even mention. Report the ban, Indian Express describe Qutb as “Turk” and Maududi as “Pakistani”. The fact is that while Qutb (d. 1966) is Egyptian, Maududi (1903-1979) is Indo-Pakistani.
The letter asking for the ban is odious. Armed with dastardly goals, it is based on deceptive sources, has a mind-defying conspiracy theory, and is devoid of academic knowledge, let alone Maududi’s rich scholarship. The letter deserves applause, but only for surpassing colonial knowledge in the sheer venom with which it incites division at Carl Schmitt’s version of friend-foe politics.
My argument is that it is the terror-filled letter, not Maududi’s books, that a just democracy should ban.
What is academic in the letter of 25 “academics”?
The letter calls Maududi “the source of jihadist Islam”.
The toxic allegation continues: “Maududi openly calls for the genocide of non-Muslims everywhere.”
Let’s accept his ignorance for a moment. Given that the letter calls for his books to be banned, how is Maududi responsible for alleged wrongs long before he was born? Madhu Kishwar Remark, written after the letter, to the vice-chancellor of UMA responds to it. Accusing AMU of “taqiyya(disguise), she warns that having known “the fundamental principles and … the mandate of Islam”, “we are no longer so naive”.
The question therefore does not seem cursed but Islam itself.
Read this unreferenced passage:
“… today, those targeted as Kafirs by the Islamists [know]…that violent ideology that has caused endless series of Hindu holocausts in the subcontinent…[T]he foreign Islamic invaders…committed unspeakable brutalities…to force non-Muslims to convert, destroyed and vandalized thousands upon thousands of Hindu places of worship…[and] also converted them into mosques and shrines, broke the murtis of our sacred Devi-Devtas, abducted hundreds of thousands of Hindu women and children to sell as sex slaves. “
Continuing the hatred, the letter relentlessly decontextualizes thus:
“Internationally designated terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, etc., continue to draw inspiration from Maududi’s core ideology…”
No true academic will enact such homogeneous generalizations, that too without an iota of evidence. This method does not even come close to academic reasoning, let alone rigorous scholarship. This is sophistry.
Note also the conspiratorial spirit of the letter in which Maududi and the Muslims are shown to “destroy the remaining remnants of Indian civilization and decimate the remaining portion of the native population in their own homeland by demographic invasion…” This beats terrorist conspiracy theory Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarrant and other racist Christian groups.
According to the (il)logic of the letter on the links between Maududi, ideology, inspiration and terrorism, the Dalai Lama’s books should be banned. Shoko Asahara, executed leader of the Japanese terrorist organization Aum Shinrikyo had met him in India. The Dalai Lama greeted Asahara as “a very able religious teacher” and supported him in other ways. Although eclectic, Asahara’s inspirations were Buddhism and Hinduism. The word Aum/Om in the name of her outfit is Vedic. Shouldn’t the logic applied in the case of Maududi be extended to the link Asahara-the Dalai Lama-Hinduism/Buddhism-terrorism?
As “proof”, the letter cites Islamophobes like Praveen Swami and VS Naipaul. The latter has been referred to as “the new global Hindutva mascot”, which is “known for his hatred of Islam.” As for Swami, his journalism militates against truth and objectivity. Insofar as “knowledge” of Swami or Sultan Shahin (the letter also quotes him) counts as one, it belongs to post-9/11. securitization of islamitself being part of the military-industrial-media complex and its anti-knowledge.
In a rush to vilify him, the letter silences the complex figure that is Maududi.
Born in Aurangabad, India, and buried in Pakistan, like Abul Kalam Azad, Maududi was extraordinary as a teenager. At 16, he published a biography (see image at right) of Madan Mohan Malaviya, a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Indian National Congress.
Describing him “as one of the most capable sons of Hindustan”, Maududi admired him for devoting his life to “community service (quam) and country (mulk).”
Maududi had also written a biography of Gandhi, which the British took over. In April 1947, Gandhi actually participated in a Jamaat-e-Islami conference and noticed: “I listened carefully to your speech and I am very happy.”
Given the letter’s attempt to portray Maududi as a fundamentalist, it is vital to show him as an economic thinker. In 1920 he wrote a criticism of colonialism and how he drained India’s resources to bankrupt it. He saw the exploitation of the Indian working class as organically linked to global capitalism. He also supported the labor movement. In the mid-1930s, Indian politics changed dramatically, and so did Maududi.
The turning point was the 1937 election and the formation of ministries by Congress.
For Maududi, congressional rule was like a “Hindu raj”. Disenchanted with the Congress-Jam’iatul ‘Ulemae Hind alliance, Maududi turned to “Islamism”. Against the literal portrayal of Islamism and democracy as enemies, Maududi has indeed radicalized democracy.
In 1938 he wrote:
“…[N]o sane person can disagree with the spirit of democracy… It is assumed that due to shared geography… we Hindus, Muslims, Untouchables, Sikhs, Christians are one community and therefore the grammar of the democracy should be such that the state should be run by the will of the majority community…[This]… made Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism coincide. Unlike the Hindus, our condition is such that under this [democratic] system our community aspiration… [are] killed because we are in the minority.
No doubt Maududi was a rare political theorist to demand the right to recall the elected officials who have lost the confidence of the people. His commitment to democracy was not cosmetic. In Pakistan, where his party has regularly contested elections, he tenuous that the state “should not be the enforcer of Sharia but the enforcer of the will of the people”.
Regardless of the complexity of Maududi’s thought, the letter’s desperation to ban his books and defame Islam owes its debt to Indology in which India equates to “native” Hinduism and to violent foreign Islam. Recall that Maududi describes Malaviya as a son of “Hindustan”. The use of Hindustan, not India, is a decolonial gesture.
Historian Manan Asif demonstrates how the colonial episteme erased “Hindustan” as an inclusive idea and instead instituted “India” as exclusive to Hinduism. Unsurprisingly, the letter calls the Maududi and Islamic programs “anti-Indian”.
On the ban by AMU
AMU’s decision to ban Maududi and Qutb’s books is nothing short of baffling, if not cowardly.
For starters, the letter asking for the ban itself should not have been addressed to the Prime Minister but to the University Grants Commission (UGC) which regulates universities. AMU was obligated to “act” if UGC demanded it. Banning books based on a political letter devoid of academic credentials is unbecoming of the esteemed university that is AMU. Rather than initiate a debate about what “Indic” is, intellectual freedom and academic autonomy, AMU gave in to the demand for an unjust and divisive ban.
Walter Benjamin’s thesis in the epigraph to this essay is not only about security but also about the integrity of the dead. The late Emperor Aurangzeb is regularly threatened in the daily news, TV “debates”, street protests and elsewhere. The letter of “academics” calls Maududi “of Aurangzeb spirit”.
Both dead, if Aurangzeb and Maududi are continually threatened, so are we who are alive.
Irfan Ahmad is a teacher of Anthropology-Sociology at Ibn Haldoun University, Istanbul, Turkey. Until early 2022 he was a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany. He is the author of two monographs, the most recent, Religion as criticism (University of North Carolina Press, 2017) and (co)editor of four volumes, most recently, The shape of the nation in the age of globalization: ethnographic perspectives (Palgrave, 2022). He tweets @IrfanHindustan.