Political interpretation of religion – by Wahiduddin Khan


(adapted from Yoginder Sikand’s article in Milli Gazette)

Coming to terms with the challenges of modernity has been a major concern of many Muslim scholars and Islamic activists. How can Islam as a universal ideology be expressed in a global order characterised by the nation-state system? What position should the Islamic law (shari’ah) enjoy in a world system characterised, for the most part, by the separation of religion and politics and the relegation of religion to the private realm? Is an Islamic state necessarily an integral part of Islam? How should revelation be understood in the light of reason and science? How should Muslims relate to people of other faiths and ideologies? How can Muslim minorities remain faithful to their commitment to their faith while at the same time lead lives as loyal citizens of their countries where they live? These and related questions are some of the issues that modern Muslim scholars have sought, in their own ways, to grapple with.

Here we provide an article by renowned Muslim scholar, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, who has developed a unique understanding of Islam and its place in the modern world. It demonstrates how he, as a member of the Indian Muslim minority, has sought to present Islam in terms that are both intelligent to the modern mind, as well as making it possible for Muslims in India to attempt to create a balance between what have often seen to be their conflicting loyalties to the state, on the one hand, and to their religion, on the other. Although the Muslims of India are Khan’s primary focus, and the development of his own thought must be located in the specific Indian context, Khan seeks to address the Muslim ummah as a whole, and, as the growing interest in his writings in other countries suggests, in this he has registered considerable success.

According to Yoginder Sikand:

Khan wrote regularly for the Jama’at-e-Islami’s Urdu journal, Zindagi (‘Life’), and, in 1955, published his first book, Naye Ahd Ke Darwaze Par (‘On the Threshold of a New Era’). ..Khan was particularly concerned with developing an understanding of Islam that would appeal to the modern mind while at the same time remaining firmly grounded in the original sources of Islam.

Khan did not remain for long with the Jama’at though. Increasingly, it suggested to him that the Jama’at’s own agenda, based as it was on working towards establishing an Islamic state in India, was not only impractical, but, moreover, not in keeping with what Islam expected of the Muslims of India in the situation that they found themselves. As Khan delved deeper into Maududi’s writings, he came to believe that the very basis of Maududi’s understanding of Islam was faulty and mistaken, a reaction to western imperialism rather than emerging from an authentic understanding of Islam. Faced with the challenge of European colonial rule over most of the Muslim world, Maududi, Khan concluded, had developed a quintessentially political understanding of Islam, seeing the Islamic mission as based on political, rather than simply ideological struggle, not ruling out resort to violent means to attain its goals. This understanding of Islam he now began to see as a result of ‘a sense of loss’, of defeat suffered by the Muslims at the hands of the West, rather than as emanating from a deep, genuine spiritual quest. 2

Khan also gradually came to the conclusion that the Jama’at-i-Islami’s political approach was ill-suited to the needs and conditions of the Muslim minority in India. Rather than mobilising themselves to work for establishing an Islamic state, which was not only impractical in the given situation but which would further embitter the Hindu majority, what Muslims needed to do, Khan felt, was to attempt to build bridges with people of other faiths in the country. Khan began airing his differences with the Jama’at’s ideology and policies even while a senior leader of the Jama’at, but as these differences began to grow, he decided to quit the organisation after serving it for fifteen years, in 1962.

Disillusioned with what he calls the ‘political oriented religion’ of the Jama’at, Khan was now attracted to what he saw as the ‘God-oriented religion’ preached by another Islamic revivalist movement, the Tablighi Jama’at. What seems to have struck Khan most about the Tablighi Jama’at was its strict aloofness from party politics, focussing on individual reform, rather than, like the Jama’at-i-Islami, on attempting to establish an Islamic political order. For a beleaguered minority like the Indian Muslims, the Tablighi Jama’at, with its concern with the ‘Islamisation of the individual’, rather than capture of the state, seemed not only to be a more sensible and pragmatic strategy, but also one that was in keeping with the Prophetic practice (sunnah)

Here is the article titled “political interpretation of religion” in Urdu.

Note: The above article was suggested by our valuable contributor Farhan Qaisar.



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