Special report on Jamaat-e-Islami – by Amir Mateen

Special Report on the JI (Part-1)

Monday, May 31, 2010
By Amir Mateen

MANSURA: The change of Jamaat-i-Islami’s leadership from Qazi Hussain Ahmad to its new Ameer Syed Munawwar Hassan is a singularly important event that has, so far, not gotten the attention it merits. Munawwar has taken over the reins of the party in crucial times. His appointment coincides with many events — a decisive stage of the war in Afghanistan; the Army’s fight against the local Taliban who do not just continue to engineer suicidal attacks all over the country but have also threatened reprisal in places as far away as New York and Mumbai; the renewed pledges by Pakistan and India to talk despite the threat that a bomb blast or another attack in India can plunge the region into yet another crisis.

The new Ameer has already shown his fangs or perhaps it should be called a trailer of what his leadership of the Jamaat could mean for Pakistan, South Asia and may be for the world at large. Munawwar has launched the ‘go-America-go’ campaign with extra vigour, demanding that the US stop the drone attacks in Pakistan and leave Afghanistan. He is mobilising the streets while the Pakistan Army is consolidating its operation in South Waziristan and is being pressured to extend the war to the North. He stands out among the politicians, much more than, say, JUI’s Fazlur Rehman, for his unequivocal support to Taliban. He is critical of the establishment’s “soft” policy on Kashmir. He opposes Pakistan Army’s war in the Fata and refuses to acknowledge the soldiers killed in the conflict as martyrs. He also refuses to declare the Taliban leaders such as late Baitullah Mehsud or his successor Hakeemullah Mehsud as terrorists or condemn their actions.

This calls for a deeper scrutiny of the man who will be in charge of the Jamaat as the scenario described above plays out; he could be at the helm for decades if one goes by the party’s track record. Munawwar is, after all, only the fourth Ameer of the 69-year old party. Its founder, Maulana Abu Ala Maududi, was its Ameer from 1941 to 1972 — though he continued to exercise influence till his death in 1979. His successor Mian Tufail stayed at the helm till 1987 followed by the firebrand Qazi Hussain, who bid farewell after nearly 22 years as Ameer.

Munawwar may have a lot in common with his predecessors. Yet he is different in many ways, especially because in his youth he was an ultra liberal who loved music, especially playing the banjo. He was the Karachi President of the National Student Federation (NSF), which was banned in the 1960s because of its communist tendencies. The young liberal’s transformation into a right wing ideologue began when he was tasked by the NSF to win over some leaders of IJT, the Jamaat’s dreaded student wing. “I went over to convince them but they gave me Maulana Maududi’s literature to read,” he said during a discussion at the party headquarters, Mansoora, Lahore. “It just turned my world upside down; I never went back.”

Such was the conviction of the ‘born-again’ Munawwar that he rose through the ranks to become the IJT’s Nazim-i-Ala (President). This was during the mid-1960s when the ideological fight between the ‘progressive’ left and the ‘religious’ right on university campuses had intensified in most of the Muslim world. Four decades on, Munawwar still sees local politics in the global ideological context — the only difference being that the communist ‘enemy’ represented by the Soviet Union has been replaced by a former ally, the US.

He is the first IJT Nazim-i-Ala to become the Jamaat Ameer. In fact, Munawwar’s ascension symbolises the larger trend within the party of a generation of IJT workers taking over the Jamaat-e-Islami. The entire central Jamaat leadership, except Naib Ameers (Vice-Presidents) Professor Ghafoor and Aslam Saleemi, has come from the IJT ranks. Qazi Hussain Ahmad was a junior Rafiq (Friend) in the IJT but the present Ameer, Secretary General Liaquat Baloch and three Naib Ameers, Professor Khurshid, Sirajul Haq, Dr Mohammad Kamal, were all Nazim-e-Aala (Presidents) of the IJT in their respective times. Half of them, including Munawwar Hassan, have actively participated in the first Afghan Jihad. This is a band of highly indoctrinated, battle-hardened cadres who are adept at using street power to push their moral and political agenda. Munawwar’s experience of the left wing politics will serve him well in his new position, as the structure of Jamaat-e-Islami, analysts point out, is similar to that of communist parties. Maududi was well versed with Fascist and Communist models; Charles Smith, in his book ‘The ideals of Maulana Maududi,’ points out that the Maulana was never enamoured by such models though he was impressed by the efficacy of their organisational methods.

Author Vali Reza Nasr agrees that the Jamaat was never a ‘party’ in the liberal democratic sense of the word — an organisation that translates popular interests into policy positions; instead Nasr describes it as an “organisational weapon” in the Leninist tradition, which aims to project the power of an ideological perspective into the political arena. Jamaat’s structure and functioning closely paralleled those of bolshevism, the only difference being that it sought to use this ‘weapon’ within a constitutional framework. Maududi learnt from the communist movement in India, especially in Hyderabad (Deccan), where the communists provided a serious challenge to the Nizam (of Hyderabad). Mian Tufail has quoted Maududi as having said, “No more than one in a hundred thousand Indians is a communist and yet they fight to rule India.” No wonder then that Maududi’s Jamaat had much in common with Lenin’s Communist Party. It had the same democratic centralism; rank and file members strictly subordinate to centralised decision-making; study circles and organised propaganda tools; wings of students, labour, women and unions.

The major departure from the Leninist model was that the Jamaat was not as focused on organising the masses as it was on creating a vanguard of ‘virtuous’ leaders. Maududi believed in “incremental change rather than radical raptures” and through political leaders, not the people. The ‘revolution’ was supposed to trickle down from above. This thinking sired one fundamental flaw. Jamaat has not been able to achieve that final stage of Maududi’s model where the indoctrinated cadres of ‘chaste’ leaders would lead the people to the ‘Islamic revolution.’ The party has never been able to connect with the people as proved by its electoral record of the last 60 years.

It has tried every political tactic and technique in existence from the days of Socrates to Machiavelli to its self-professed avatar, Imran Khan. It has tried fighting elections and boycotting them; the party has flirted with dictators and fought against them; worked with democratic governments and then opposed them. The Jamaat contested elections on its own in 1950, 1962, 1970, 1985 and 1997. It formed alliances with the Convention League in 1965, the PNA in 1977, the IJI in 1988 and 1990, and finally the MMA in 2002. It has tried working with dictators such as Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf and then fighting them, particularly Ayub Khan. It boycotted the 1945 elections in India because politics was construed as divergence from the original Jamaat mission of Islamic reform and revivalism.

It again boycotted the elections in 2008 after 63 years. It got in and out of coalition governments with conservatives, liberals, nationalists and religious parties. It even tried changing its electoral name from Jamaat-e-Islami to the Pakistan Islamic Front (PIF) in 1993 in the hope of replicating the electoral success of Algeria’s Islamic Front. Nothing seems to have worked.

Jamaat-e-Islami is yet to form either a national or a provincial government on its own in nearly 70 years. The MMA government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2002 was the best it ever did — even there it was a junior partner in the provincial government.

Jamaat’s dream of coming to power remains as elusive as ever. And the onus of materialising that dream now rests on the lean shoulders of Munawwar. He has never been a parliamentarian —or even a local or a provincial assembly for that matter. He did, however, get the highest number of votes in the 1977 polls but, to his good or bad luck, his party challenged the poll results. Whether he will make it to the legislature in future and what impact this will have on his politics remains to be seen; Qazi Hussain’s aggressive stance, many say, was toned down when he became a Senator and an MNA. Munawwar remains untried and untied to any multiparty compulsions. Whether this is an asset or a liability, only time will tell.



Special Report Part-2

Jamaat, a party swinging both ways at the moment

Tuesday, June 01, 2010
By Amir Mateen

MANSURA, Lahore: Now Jamaat-i-Islami Ameer Munawar Hassan, years ago, sought a meeting with a group of Islamabad journalists to discuss why had the Jamaat not captured the popular imagination of Pakistanis.

The discussion, of which I was a part, took place 15 years ago at journalist-turned-politician Azeem Chaudhary’s residence. The gist of his discussion was since the Jamaat was a pious party of pious people, so what was missing.

I recall a colleague, saying in a lighter vein that perhaps the Jamaat people were too ‘pious’ for ordinary Pakistanis.

The general response was that it was difficult for the average Pakistani to identify with Jamaat. Its members dress differently—always clad in shalwar qameez as if it were a practice of the Prophet (sunnat).

They talk differently—with a distinct mannerism perfected in study circles. Some may exaggerate to even suggest that the party members even sit, eat or sleep differently.

The term ‘Jamaatia,’ used for a member of the Jamaat in liberal circles, is almost a metaphor that is sometimes not received positively.

To put it politely, it roughly means that the indoctrinated genesis of a Jamaat member is a permanent part of him, regardless of where he might go or how liberal he might pretend to be. Once a ‘Jamaatia’, always a ‘Jamaatia’, it is said, or so believed.

Former known and famous ‘Jamaatias’ like late Maulana Kausar Niazi, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Hussain Haqqani, Ahsan Iqbal may have changed political parties, ideologies or governments over the years, but they still share something in their core.

It also denotes a self-righteous person who knows the truth with a capital T. This may be Jamaat’s fundamental issue.

The party wants to change the people in accordance with its concept and interpretation of life, politics and religion instead of trying to adapt to ‘them.’

A former IJT president confessed that it was difficult for them to accept women serving food while they were attending an Islamic convention in Malaysia.

It was equally difficult for them to adjust to former Turkish President Erbakan’s yellow ties or Hamas’ tolerance of women bathing in swiming suits on Lebanon’s beaches.

Some who have moved to the West may, however, have forced themselves to adjust to the inevitable of their jobs, like serving liquor to their guests but still stay away from drinking themselves.

In other words, the post-partition generation of Jamaat has not been exposed to multi-culturalism nor is it comfortable co-existing with other religions—something which is a norm in most Muslim majority countries, except for Saudi Arabia.

Historically, Jamaat’s student wing, IJT, has been encouraged to stop people from celebrating, say the New Year Eve, Valentine’s Day or even Basant and Nauroze; imposing their code of morality on university campuses; enforcing their political views through the streets and not through Parliament.

And this IJT leadership, which grew up using violence to orchestrate such ‘virtuous’ campaigns, now leads the Jamaat.

“This cultural Puritanism has not worked for Jamaat in 69 years,” says former NSF activist Arshad Butt, who has fought the IJT on campuses in his youth.

“It may have won Jamiat a loyal cadre but in the process the party lost the majority.”

The biggest issue that has always plagued the Jamaat-i-Islami is the party’s failure to win any major elections.

This is all the more serious because in theory, Jamaat has got all a party needs to be politically successful in Pakistan. No other political party in Pakistan can match its history of uninterrupted organisational continuity, elected leadership and politics.

The Pakistan Muslim League, though over a century old, stands divided into virtual A-to-Z factions. Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the parent party of the present Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan is older than Jamaat.

However, the Pakistani chapter now stands divided into factions with the biggest one led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has turned it into a family fiefdom.

The Awami National Party, too, has become a dynastic party of the Khans of Charsadda. The PPP is no exception to the dynastic order.

The Jamaat’s closest rival in terms of organisation is perhaps its political nemesis in Karachi, the MQM. But then the MQM is all about Altaf Hussain whereas the Jamaat has collective decision-making.

The Jamaat leadership is not dynastic; the party has always held elections to choose its office holders. Nobody can seek leadership; instead a politburo of sorts (Shura) proposes three candidates from whom the party members (Arkan) then choose their Ameer for a four-year term. There is no limit on the number of terms an individual can serve.

The party is egalitarian in that most of its top leadership comes from lower or middle class rural or small town families. The Mansura headquarters is no less organised than the army GHQ; and commands no less power over its rank and file.

The Ameer of the Jamaat and Nazim-i-Ala of the Jamiat are beholden to a shura for consultation. This structure at the top is replicated down to the level of every town and cluster of villages.

The Jamaat’s propaganda machine is matchless; its student wing, IJT, controls the country’s major universities and can gather a few thousand workers in a matter of hours; party members have penetrated all sections of society over the decades from journalism to bureaucracy to judiciary, the most important being the military; its relief agencies run a network of charity hospitals, schools and madrassas and are always at the forefront of every calamity or disaster.

Yet, the Jamaat has somehow never won the hearts and minds of the ordinary folk in Pakistan.

However, this is not an issue the party is oblivious to. The Jamaat is seemingly undergoing an internal discourse on its positioning on emerging political and social realities.

Either it will adjust to the popular culture or it will band together with its own kind, becoming more rigid in its interpretation of life. The party seems to be swinging both ways at the moment.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s ascension as Ameer was the beginning of the change in Jamaat-i-Islami. A glasnost of sorts was initiated during his tenure.

The establishment of ‘Pasbaan’ and then ‘Shabab-i-milli’ organs in the Jamaat was basically an effort to accommodate people other than their trained cadres in the party.

We saw ‘songs’ being played in Jamaat rallies that the party old guard disapproved, but Qazi persisted with his ‘modernisation.’

Liaquat Baloch once raised a controversy by asking a female reporter to leave a press conference because her head was not covered. Qazi, on the other hand, tolerated ‘Farangi’ journalists patiently.

The phenomenon of the Pakistani Taliban has brought forth an opposite trend in the Jamaat.

Its support for the Taliban way of life may force the Jamaat back to the fringes of the political divide. What is not clear, however, is how much of this support is political posturing or whether the Jamaat is really interested in imposing the Taliban’s sharia in Pakistan?

Munawar did not say whether he agreed to our views on why Jamaat failed to win the masses 15 years ago.

As I waited in his office to get my answers recently, a member of his media team was scanning a newspaper with pictures of models on the catwalk. “Tauba, Tauba, Qiyamat Hi Aa Gai Hai,” he said while cursing the models. “Why can’t somebody stop them?”

I advised him to relax, adding that it was difficult to control a more globalised world where an average Pakistani had access to 100 TV channels.

Munawar was asked how he would balance Jamaat’s ideology with the new political realities. He simply did not see any conflict between the two. Well, it’s easier said than done.

On my way out, I found the media gentleman still staring at the photographs of the models.



Special report Part-3

Wednesday, June 02, 2010
By Amir Mateen

MANSURA: Jamaat-e-Islami’s fundamental issue has been how to remain ‘pious’ and yet be popular or how to remain ideologically correct and yet follow the dictates of pragmatic politics. Simply put, it boils to one thing: how to remain an Islamic party and yet win elections.

The Jamaat old guard has always reacted whenever it has overly digressed from its original agenda of social reform and Islamic revivalism to power politics. The Jamaat in the first decade of its existence remained, as Vali Reza writes, “a movement immersed in religious work; it strove to control the souls of men and eyed politics with awe and suspicion.” Politics was the last of its priorities and could not be indulged in without the ‘purification’ of individuals, leaders and the society. In later years, political compromises were tolerated in the hope that they might bring electoral victory. Power could then be used to Islamize the society— ends justifying the means.

Power remains an elusive dream. All Jamaat Ameers had to face reaction from the party whenever they failed to deliver victory in crucial elections. Twice it led to major defections in Jamaat; thrice it resulted in the change of top leadership.

Jamaat’s founder Maulana Maududi had to confront a virtual revolt in Maachi Goth near Rahimyar Khan in 1956. The issue was initially over alleged irregularities in the Jamaat bureaucracy but turned into a row whether the Jamaat should confine itself to Islamic revivalism or get into electoral politics.

JI had lost the 1951 Punjab elections badly. The late Dr Israr Ahmad, among others, contended that Maulana Maududi had opposed contesting the 1945 elections in the United India because, the party was told, the Jamaat stood for “social reform and Islamic revivalism and not for political gains.”

The issue led to a defection of about 56 senior members which comprised the cream of Jamaat including former acting Ameer Abdul Ghafaar Hassan and Dr Israr Ahmad. The most prominent of them all was Amin Ahsan Islahi, whose respect and scholarly credentials were not less than of Maududi. He is survived by his known disciple Javed Ghamdi these days. Maududi’s detractors claimed that the Maulana deliberately let the defectors go to strengthen his hold on the Jamaat.

The conflict between the Islamic ideology and pragmatic politics continued to trouble the Jamaat. Maududi’s support for ‘woman’ Fatima Jinnah in 1965 elections, justified as a “lesser evil” against Ayub Khan, was a major compromise. Kausar Niazi wrote against that extensively and was thus expelled from the Jamaat.

The biggest shock was the 1970 elections. The Jamaat hoped to win with a landslide; Asghar Khan’s party was seen as the runner up and the PPP not considered even as a major contestant. The Jamaat won four of the 151 National Assembly seats it contested and four provincial Assemblies seats out of 331 it aimed for. It did not win a single seat in East Pakistan. Much to its embarrassment, the Jamaat also finished behind its religious rivals, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). Mufti Mahmood’s JUI mustered enough provincial seats to make coalition governments with National Awami Party in the then NWFP and Balochistan.

The Jamaat was shattered and Maududi’s leadership was questioned. Ironically, the tirade against Maududi was led by none other than a young firebrand who is now the Ameer of Jamaat, Munawar Hassan. The ‘Young Turks’ argued that the Jamaat leadership was no match to the charisma of PPP’s Zulfiqar Bhutto and Awami League’s Sheikh Mujib. It was a hint for Maududi to give way to a new leader. Maududi suffered a mild heart attack and stepped down as Ameer on 17 February, 1972. The Jamaat elected Mian Mohammad Tufail-hardly the charismatic leader that the new generation of the Jamaat was looking for. At best, he was an administrator and an old guard loyalist.

Such was Maududi’s stature that the political battle for 25 years remained between him and the rest of the liberal forces. That is, until Zulfikar Bhutto came along who changed the front into a fight between the PPP and the rest. The Jamaat’s anathema against the PPP was such that it thought it had found in dictator Ziaul Haq the long awaited messiah who would deliver them not only the dream of Islamic revivalism but also the short cut to power.

Zia exploited the Jamaat misconceptions to the hilt. He got the Jamaat join his government; used its street power to counter the PPP and its cadres in Afghanistan’s jihad. The biggest dent that Zia rendered to the Jamaat was by corrupting its hard core. The entire right-wing corps of Jamaat writers were corrupted first through free pilgrimages, then plots, perks and lavish privileges. This rightist ‘intellectual vanguard’ moved on to the centre stage ‘lures’ of Nawaz Sharif and from there to successive rulers who catered to their wish lists. Some of the biggest rightist icons of their times are seen on TV channels rendering their services to anybody who bids the highest.

Mian Tufail, incidentally from Zia’s Araain biradri, felt reaction for overly siding with the dictator. The pressure grew when the Jamaat won only ten seats out of its quota of 68 National Assembly seats in the 1985 non-party elections.

He gave way for Qazi Hussain Ahmad to be elected as Ameer in 1987. Qazi Hussain was Jamaat’s liaison with the army on Afghan Jihad but he distanced himself from Zia in later years. He became the first, and to date the last, Ameer to become the member of the Parliament. His populist style and call for the restoration of democracy gave hope to the younger Jamaat workers of making it to the mainstream politics. He energized the Jamaat by taking up popular issues and slogans like the ‘Qazi aa raha hai’ brand. He made Jamaat inroads in Pukhtunkhwa’s belt where Maududi, after Deoband fatwas of 1951, was considered outside the fold of Islam.

But nothing seemed to work. The Jamaat remained on the fringes of politics. Qazi faced intense criticism when the Jamaat lost the 1993 elections under the Pakistan Islamic Front umbrella. A whole group led by Naeem Siddiqui left the party. Qazi resigned but was later forced to continue as Ameer. Finally, after successive defeats he gave up the Jamaat leadership without sorting out the ‘zaalims’ last year. The responsibility for the electoral miracle to happen rests with Munawar Hassan now.

They say Maududi died a sad man. He is on record having regretted towards the end of his life that the Jamaat should have remained a holy community and not become a political party. Begum Maududi quoted him lamenting that the Jamaat gave away too much in politics without gaining enough in return. “If I had the stamina I would have started all over again,” his wife quotes him saying in a published interview. Wasi Mazhar Nadvi documents that Maududi in his last address to the shura in 1976 advised the Jamaat “to move away from politics and to revive the holy community; for elections had proved not only to be a dead end but also debilitating. His advice was largely ignored.”

Jamaat’s critics might say that they may have lost on the issue of religion as well as pragmatic politics. It is ironic that Amin Ahsan Islahi, who parted ways on the issue that the Jamaat’s role should confine to social and religious reform (deeni khidmat), has his disciple Javed Ghamdi still doing that. Jamaat may not have proved its point by adopting the worldly (dunyavi) path of politics. It is yet to be seen how Munawar Hassan will do where his seniors faltered-accomplish a simultaneous victory in the world of the ideology and pragmatic politics. The task is onerous.





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