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The switch to jehad

Published : Mar 12, 2010 00:00 IST

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A Democracy proves its vitality by absorbing in its processes far-out dissent, and dissent shows its maturity by taking the democratic path. Indian democracy is a success story. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, no longer secessionist, is a respected participant in Indian politics as are the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Calcutta thesis of 1948 has long been discarded. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh floated a political front, the Bh aratiya Janata Party; but, for all their professions, neither sincerely believes in a secular democracy.

The Indian state has followed a strange policy towards the Jamaat-e-Islami, equating it with the RSS whenever it took action against the latter. But the Jamaat has no private army, like the Bajrang Dal; no record of violence during the riots and no sign of the obscene affluence of the Sangh Parivar. It has a reactionary, and an utterly bigoted worldview, abhorrent to most Muslims. Even in Kashmir, it made a poor showing at the elections. The Jamaat in Pakistan fared poorly in the 2009 general elections.

Irfan Ahmad is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Politics at Monash University in Australia, where he helps to lead the Centre for Islam and the Modern World. This book, his first, is a work of thorough research and rigorous analysis.

The Jamaat was founded in 1941 by Abdul Ala Maududi, whose gifts in polemics impressed many to the point that they considered him erudite. The truly erudite Fazlur Rehman judged him correctly: Though not an alim [an erudite man], nonetheless a self-taught man of considerable intelligence and had sufficient knowledge of Arabic to have access to the classical Arabic literature of Islam. He was by no means an accurate or a profound scholar, but he was undoubtedly like a fresh wind in the stifling Islamic atmosphere created by the traditional madrassas.

But Maududi displays nowhere the larger and more profound vision of Islams role in the world for the faithful, Maududis statements represented the last word on Islam no matter how much and how blatantly he contradicted himself from time to time on such basic issues as economic policy or political theory (Islam & Modernity; page 116).

He imparted a comforting certitude and his influence spread. The famous Egyptian journalist Mohamed Heikal called him a newsman and agitator whose ideas were taken up by Syed Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood. He opposed the Muslim League as a Jamaat-e-jahiliyat (a party of the pagans). Two weeks after Partition, he left for Lahore.

The author traces the Jamaats origins and its chequered career in India, including its breakaway faction, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), taking in his stride politics in the Aligarh Muslim University in Deoband, the role of madrassas and concepts like jehad. He discusses in context the role of the Sangh Parivar and the shortcomings of our democratic process. Field work, access to works in Urdu, tables of statistics and documentation make this a dependable work of reference. It is by far the best book on the Jamaat-e-Islami; thorough, courageous and honest.

It describes how the Jamaat came to accept enthusiastically secularism and democracy, concepts it had earlier rejected, as it had participated in elections.

Since Muslims did not respond, the Jamaat was isolated. An Islamic state was its main objective. It was Indias secular democracy that brought about the change. My argument so far that secular democracy catalysed the moderation of the Jamaat, one may point out, fails to explain the radicalisation of the SIMI. But far from weakening my argument, I hold that the SIMIs radicalisation strengthens my contention. In Chapter 6, I showed that the SIMI radicalised in response to the saffron wave; that is, the SIMI began to radicalise with the rise of Hindutva following the Ayodhya campaign that left a trail of brutal violence throughout India, costing thousands of lives (mostly Muslims) and leading to the demolition of the Babri mosque.

Until the late 1980s the SIMIs prime concern was moral and educational. Neither jehad nor a caliphate were on its agenda (see the 2003 interview of its founding president, Siddiqui). The SIMIs radicalisation from the 1990s on centred around the Babri mosque was expressed in three issues; the call for jehad, the declaration of India as dar al-harb, and the installation of the caliphate. All these matters were intimately linked to state practices.

The point is that Hindutvas agenda of the Hindu state and its fierce anti-Muslim nature spurred SIMIs radicalisation. Worth noting is that over fifteen per cent of its total members came, according to an ansar (worker) of SIMI, only from the state of Maharashtra where the Shiv Sena, a constituent of the Sangh Parivar, had been in power and involved in one of the worst riots ever in Bombay. This also explains SIMIs diatribe against polytheism and Hindutva.

As long as the Nehruvian project of a plural, non-monopolistic, secular, and democratic India (Khilnani 1997) was hegemonic, Islamist radicalisation was almost non-existent. Even a party as rigid as the Jamaat underwent moderation. This is not to say that the Congress was divinely secular. The state under its dispensation also practised communal policies, but its communalism was pragmatic. By contrast, the communalism of the Sangh Parivar was programmatic.

This thesis is fully established by the authors authentic documentation. It should make all secularists sit up and ponder.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Mar 12, 2010.)

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