Mankind’s economic problem, viewed simplistically and keeping aside linguistic and technical nuances, would appear to be no more than a question of how best to acquire the basic necessities of life, while at the same time trying to maintain the pace of socio-economic progress and ensuring that every member of society has the opportunity to make the best use of his qualifications and potential.
In ancient times, the question of subsistence was as easy to solve for mankind as it was for other living beings. There was no dearth of the means of subsistence on God’s Earth. Every creature could have what it sought to its heart’s content. Whoever desired to seek his livelihood could have plenty. He had to pay nobody for it, nor was he dependent on anyone for his living. Humans, like all other creatures, were free to earn their living from nature’s bounties, whether in the abundantly growing fruit or the freely roaming wild animals and game-birds. The products of nature were sufficient for their needs for clothing, and the vast expanse of the earth with all its treasures was available to provide them with shelter as and when they desired.
However, Allah had not created man to continue living like other creatures forever. He had bestowed within him the instincts and inclinations that soon compelled him to give up lone and isolated living, adopt a social life and produce for himself through his own ingenuity and enterprise means of livelihood better than those gifted by nature. Nature itself had induced within mankind the trends and tendencies that served as an impetus for living as a community. These trends and tendencies included a natural instinct in men for a sustained relationship with women, the dependence of children on parents for their upkeep and sustenance for a longer time, man’s undying interest in his offspring and his love for blood relations. Similarly, man’s impatience to go beyond nature’s own products to produce his own food through agriculture, to rely no more on leaves and foliage to cover his body but to prepare his own clothes through industry and skill, to build a house of his own instead of living contentedly in caves and grottoes and to invent tools and implements of stone, wood and iron instead of continuing to subsist on his physical strength for the necessities of life – all of these were ingrained within his instinct and naturally forced him to become more and more civilised. Hence, humanity’s march on the road to civilisation was in accordance with the dictates of his own nature, as much as it was desired and predestined by his Lord, the Creator.
With the birth of civilisation, it became inevitable:
That human needs should rise and interdependence take over self-sufficiency, with each individual becoming dependent on the other to satisfy some of his requirements and others requiring his assistance for the fulfillment of some of their needs;
That there should take place an exchange of the daily necessities of life, and for this there should gradually emerge a medium of exchange;
That there would be more and more tools for the production and transportation of the necessities of life so that man may continue benefiting from the new means and resources available to him;
That man should have the satisfaction of owning the things he has acquired through his labour, the tools and implements of his use, the piece of land he has selected for his residence and the place where he works, and that he could thereafter transfer whatever is in his possession to his next of kin and those closer to him than others.
The growth and development of various vocations, businesses and trade, varying rates of commodities, the emergence of currency as a standard mode of exchange, the rise of international TRADE, imports and exports, an increasing use of tools and means of production and the phenomena of ownership rights and the right of inheritance were thus part of a natural process in the civilisational progress of mankind. There was nothing sinful in all of this to lead to a call for penance.
As human civilisation advanced, it further became inevitable that:
Due to natural difference in human capabilities and potential, some would earn more than they actually needed, some just according to their needs and others would make even less than their basic requirements;
There would be those inheriting good fortune and others starting their struggle for survival with little or no means;
Every human society would have those incapable of earning their own livelihood, like the underaged, the old, the sick and the disabled;
There should be those who employed and those others who served, thereby creating avenues for the growth of free enterprise, trade, commerce, and agriculture, as well as different kinds of vocations, employment and jobs.
All of these in themselves are natural phenomena and normal manifestations of human civilisation, and as such there is nothing wrong or sinful about them. The ills that subsequently cropped up due to various factors of civilisational malaise caused many to curse, out of sheer ignorance, private enterprise, money, machines, the natural disparity between humans and often the civilisation itself. This is actually a wrong diagnosis and a faulty prescription. Every attempt to check the process of civilisational development that takes place in keeping with the demands of human nature, and to curb its various forms and manifestations, is only a sign of ignorance and could lead to more damage and devastation than progress and prosperity. The real economic challenge facing man is not how to check the onward march of civilisation, or to change its natural manifestations, but how to eliminate social injustice and tyranny while maintaining the natural rate of progress; how to accomplish nature’s design that every creature should get what it needs for its subsistence; and how to remove the hurdles that cause the energies and potential of the majority of mankind to go to waste because they lack the necessary wherewithal to flourish.
When Sayyid Ahmad Khan returned in 1870, he and his associates began the publication of the journal entitled
-The Muhammadan Social Reformer-
Although a more accurate translation would have been something like
-The Refinement of Character-
it was Sayyid Ahmad’s own choice to phrase the subtitle as indicated. Perhaps he was consciously urging the idea that refinement of character and social reform were closely linked. In the first issue of the journal, he explained that the purpose was to encourage reform and PROGRESS in the Muslim community. The background of this journal was both the philosophical tradition of Islamic ethical thought and the reformist tradition in European ethics – from Montaigne and Montesquieu through Addison and Steele.
The link with the Muslim philosophical past is obvious in the traditional Urdu title.
Sayyid Ahmad had devoted a good deal of his time to studying medieval Muslim philosophical, theological, and legal writings, and he saw his own efforts as a continuation of a tradition. His mindset was very like that of his eleventh-century predecessor, Ibn Miskiwaih; both were active participants in cultured, governing elites, and both published writings in science and history as well as in ethics. Among other concerns, Sayyid Ahmad had been interested in technical competence; Ibn Miskiwaih had been interested in problems of agricultural reform. Both exemplify the general effectiveness of Muslim administrators from the beginnings of their civilisation.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan, of course, had facilities such as the printing press available to him that were quite different from those at the disposal of Ibn Miskiwaih. The phenomenon of religious journalism had been widespread and very important in India in the years since Sayyid Ahmad Khan, for he was the first Indian Muslim to use this religious journalism with great effectiveness as a way of persuading his fellow believers to think about values and practices.
He used insight from medieval ethical thinkers, but he discarded the hierarchical cosmology which underlay the medieval concepts of the self. In his view, many of these outmoded Greek conceptions had to be discarded if Muslims were to be able to think effectively. He personally endured the mental struggle of first defending and then finally rejecting, in the light of the new evidence, the medieval Muslim picture of the cosmos. He thus knew that a process of sorting out which traditional materials were still useful, and which were not, would have to be undertaken by the members of the community in its entirety.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan was concerned to preserve valid insight while rejecting outmoded cosmology. Fazlur Rahman has noted that only two medieval scholars had insisted that, in the matter of deciding which persons were qualified to deduct Law and train in rational disciplines, the capacity to make deductions was a prerequisite that came before Islamic scholarship. These two were Ghazali and Fakhr al-Razi, generally acknowledged as two of the greatest Muslims religious and ethical thinkers. One can certainly reasonably suggest that Sayyid Ahmad Khan was following the lead of these two, and rejecting the guidance of all the others who did not see the need for training in rational disciplines.
He believed that the social thought of Western ethicists, such as Montaigne, Montesquieu, Addison, and Steele, had helped the process of transforming Western societies towards structures through which greater well-being had become possible for many more members of the community. Ethical thinking be, he thought, a powerful instrument of social change.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan did not think of cultural systems as fixed entities. He rather envisaged them as PROCESSES. He thought that the European societies in the preceding two centuries had undergone many phases of social transformation. He saw no reason why the Muslim societies should not also undergo similar forms of transformation which would lead to greater well-being for the members of the community. The problem for the ethical thinkers was precisely to choose and select the right steps towards societal metamorphosis on behalf of the community, those aspects of social belief and practice that could usefully be discarded in the interests of greater hygiene and efficiency from those basic to the community’s moral strength and integrity.
In an article entitle -Culture-
Sayyid Ahmad Khan urged his fellow Muslims to acquire critical distance in the understanding of their own habits so that they would be enabled to evaluate critically in the light of their basic principles which of these habits should be retained, and which could be transformed or discarded. He urged that culture should be viewed as a PATTERN of habitual responses inculcated in childhood. An effort would have to be made to overcome this early conditioning so that persons could think dispassionately about what really was good, instead of merely affirming automatically traditional patterns of thought and behaviour. It was necessary to open a debate about cultural practices and to use REASON to evaluate habits. People should learn to ask whether specific cultural practices were rationally justifiable.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan has written that his personal search for meaning resulted in the conviction that reason must be trusted:
“Then I reflected that the tenet of the Muslim’s faith, confession is by tongue and affirmation by the heart; is no doubt a true proposition. I concluded that faith cannot be without certainty and certainty cannot be without knowledge. I also reflected that knowledge or certainty, without which faith cannot be acquired, must be like the certainty about ten being more than three, so that its truth is enduring. Because if it were not, it would not be true knowledge or certainty, it would be nothing but delusion. Then I asked myself how reason can with certainty remain free from error. I admitted that such certainty is not really obtainable. Only if reason is used constantly can the error of the reason of one person be corrected by the reason of a second person and the reasonings of one period by the reasonings of a second”.
His warning to his people that they must begin to think dispassionately about their beliefs and practices was thus founded on his personal conviction that no one ought to accept beliefs and practices which could not be justified by reason. If one could not justify one’s belief, then affirmation by the heart would not be possible, and the belief would be little more than a habit. He recognised that justification of beliefs and practices was necessary and also that no justification could be final, since the reasons given were always potentially capable of being proved wrong by other persons, or by future generations. This dilemma led him to the conclusion that one could only do the best one could by way of seeking valid reasons. One must remain open to the ideas of others so that the on-going process by which the members of the community test their convictions might continue.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s sense of transcendence of God allowed him to view human efforts to attain certainty as ultimately inadequate; from his perspective, God was not partisan in many of the conflicts between humans; human notions of appropriate behaviour were often limited by many finite concerns. Many of these concerns were remote from the transcendent goodness of God himself. God required humans to recognise that transcendent goodness existed outside and beyond the capacities of their finite minds. His goodness accepted all finite attempts to express gratitude and homage. Nothing human was foreign to God, but He was transcendent to, and aware of, all.
At a glance, Mawdudi’s conception of the Islamic state and his views on the place of Islam in politics appear to be a modernisation of the classical doctrine of the caliphate. On closer examination, however, it appears that he was less concerned about the caliphate and more about the problems of enforcing the writ of religion while at the same time running a modern state. His principal intellectual challenge was to devise a state that would encompass his concept of the true Islamic community. For him, enforcement of religion and managing the state were ineluctably tied to one another. Much like John Calvin who “as a prelude to admitting the state to the world of religious purpose, admitted politics to religion” Mawdudi began by interpreting Islam in political terms. Islam, argued Mawdudi, could not be understood through mere contemplation; it could only find meaning when IMPLEMENTED by what he termed “testimony of faith through practice”. Religious truth was predicated on social action, which was also the supreme expression of piety. Reiterating his argument in favour of revivalism, Mawdudi time and again asserted that Islam recognised no boundaries between the spiritual and the mundane, between faith and politics:
-The chief characteristic of Islam is that it makes no distinction between the spiritual and the secular life-
Suggestions to the contrary were rejected as Western plots against Islam. Mawdudi consistently defended the principle of Islam’s role in politics as being both fundamental and logical. In fact, he regarded it as true of all religions. To the chagrin of many of his followers, he endorsed the effort to base India’s legal code on the Hindu Manu laws, even though this would have been detrimental to the Muslim community. He had no objection to implementation of Manu laws even “if the Muslims of India (are) treated in that form of Government as outcasts depriving them of all share in the Government and the rights of a citizen” although he also asserted, almost as an afterthought, that “such a state of affairs already exist(ed) in (secular) India”.
To him, the logic of this position is self-evident: ethical concerns emanated from the heart of Islam and were superior to worldly concerns; they must therefore supersede all other considerations in shaping mankind’s social life. Furthermore, Islam must assert its claim to politics and inform social relations with its teaching and values:
-Man’s status in the universe having thus been determined, it follows logically that he has no right to lay down the law of his conduct and decide the right and wrong of it. This is a function which properly belongs to God-
The Islamic state is needed because Islam would never be fully implemented unless it controlled the centers of power. Without the Islamic state, Islam would most likely become marginalised. The revival of Islam hinged on its control of politics. The Law, argued Mawdudi, had to lay equal claims to the public and private lives of Muslims. To do that, it would have to be rationalised to strengthen its hold over Muslims social conduct and to reaffirm the fusion of Islam and politics.
This logical end to Mawdudi’s exegesis was supported by such Quranic verses as
-His verily is all creation and commandment- 7:54
-Establish the religion and be not divided therein- 42:13
This latter verse is interpreted by Mawdudi as calling for the establishment of an Islamic political order to which Muslims were obliged to give unwavering obedience, because establishment of Islamic rule would not be possible, nor would it hold any meaning, if it were based on political fiat; the political order must be a clear manifestation of the sovereignty of God.
Establishment of the religion إقامة الدّين
Virtuos leadership إمامة صالحة
Divine government حكومة إلاهية
These are the corollary of establishing religion and statecraft.
Without the Islamic state, the entire reason for revelation would come into question, for religious teachings were not sent by God to be ignored. Hence, not only did true faith automatically lead to political action, but the very existence of religion was predicated on a political goal. Islam could have no glory unless it was true to its ethos, which, in turn, could not fully blossom in the absence of a truly Islamic order.
Being a Muslim, as defined by Religion, is predicated on the struggle for an Islamic state, for only within the framework of that state could the Muslim identity find shape. This would be the practical testimony of faith, the denial of which would be tantamount to refusing to live fully as a Muslim. Because there was no possibility of salvation for Muslims outside the structure of their faith and because faith could not be fully implemented without the Islamisation of the political order, Mawdudi concluded that making politics sacred was a religious obligation.
“If you believe in God and His Prophet and accept the Quran as the Book of God, then inevitably you have to use moral principles which Islam teaches and will have to accept the political principles which it has given”.
If there were to be an Islamic order, it would have to be established on the foundation of an Islamic state.
The kind of Islamic existence that Mawdudi had in mind could only emerge with the support of an Islamic government. After all, Islam had survived in India for as long as the Muslims had occupied the seats of power.
Maryam Jamilah wrote “once I asked Mawdudi why the Jamat-e-Islami is so intensely involved in political activity. He replied that preaching, printed literature and even education is of little avail unless Islam can be implemented practically in a fully-fledged Islamic state”.
Mawdudi had arrived at his position gradually. He began with the idea that Law must be preserved and the faithful MOBILISED if the interests of Muslims in India were to be safeguarded. His ideology was originally premised on the need for religion to inform politics with a sense of the sacred. This conclusion was eventually supplanted by the realisation that only political power could guarantee the preservation and implementation of religious norms and values:
“In the Muslim world, secularism means anti-religion and state-sponsored persecution of religious elements”.
Without political power, concluded Mawdudi, true Islam would remain only an ideal, forever threatened with annihilation. The Islamic state could not be only a utopian order – the end result of Islamisation – it had to be the beginning of Islamisation, the guarantor and harbinger of the entire process. This politicised Mawdudi and the Jamat more completely.
Mawdudi’s idea that Islam’s future depended on politics had immediate bearing on the Jamat’s mode of operation and determined the final shape of its activism. In 1956 and 1957, for example, when a number of Jamat’s leaders objected to the idea of participating in the national elections, Mawdudi retorted that the activities of the Jamat had no meaning outside of politics and that politics was the logical end of the Jamat’s activities. Politics, he declared, was not merely a means to an end but the end itself. As politics came to be the raison d’être for the Jamat, the concept of the Islamic state found new meaning. The transformation of the Jamat from a politicised religious movement to a religiously conscious political party required a new understanding of the Islamic state. In the final analysis, the Islamic state was not merely a means for creating an Islamic order of life, but a model for perfect government with universal application –
a political end for a political movement.
In this light, the political teachings of Islam and, subsequently, the Islamisation of politics would have to be implemented, even through coercion.
This argument extended the discussion of the Islamic state further: if politics were to be subject to religious values, then religion could only be understood in light of politics. Islamisation of politics in a logical continuum led to the politicisation of Islam. For the Islamic state to function, it would have to be premised on an interpretation of Islamic law that would be able to justify and, more importantly, sustain the functioning of that state.
“Acknowledging that someone is your ruler to whom you must submit means that you have accepted his Religion. He now becomes your sovereign and you become his subjects. Religion, therefore, actually means the same thing as state and government; Holy Law is the law of state and government; and Righteousness amounts to following and complying with that law”.
The continuity between Islam and politics, argued Mawdudi, was akin to the relation of “roots with the trunk and the branches with the leaves (of a tree)”; it is a symbolic relationship wherein the religious informed the political and the political sustained the religious: “In Islam the religious, the political, the economic, and the social are not separate systems; they are different departments and parts of the same system”.
The convergence of Muslim piety and religious values with political objectives found its embodiment in the doctrine of -jihad-
The traditional view of the doctrine distinguished between the Greater Jihad, man’s struggle with his soul in a quest for spiritual purity, and the Lesser Jihad, defence of Islam against religion’s physical enemies. In Mawdudi’s view, the Lesser Jihad overrode the greater. The identification of faith with politics, spiritual gain with worldly power, and salvation with social UTOPIA is thus complete.
“Of all the factors of social life which impinge on culture and morality, the most powerful and effective is government; Hence the best way of putting an end to Discord and purifying life of Evil (that which is reprehensible) is to eliminate all Corrupt governments and replace them with those which in theory and practice are based on piety and righteous action, the objective of the Islamic Struggle is to put an end to the dominance of the non-Islamic systems of governments and replace them with Islamic rule”.
Mawdudi’s position over the years consolidated into a distinct notion that political power is the logical OBJECTIVE of faith. Faith in turn became an active and dynamic process of becoming, and the struggle for religious salvation became manifest in a QUEST for a virtuous order whereby the community of the faithful, would ascend into the Party of God. Religion thus found clear political connotations because it was defined in overtly political terms -the organisation of the true faith-
“This is not a party of the enlightened or the religious missionaries only; it is a party of God’s soldiers. This party therefore, has no option but to assume control of political power”.