Banning of Prominent Islamic Scholars’ Works in India

On 2nd August 2022, it was reported that the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) had removed the prominent and controversial Islamic thinkers Maulana Syed Abul A’la Maududi and Syed Qutb from its syllabus. This decision came after an open letter had been written to Prime Minister Modi by 25 academics about the “brazenly Jihadi Islamic” curricula of the state-funded AMU, Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) and Hamdard University (HU). A spokesperson for AMU, Professor Shafey Kidwai, said to The Hindu that the university removed the thinkers “to avoid the controversy.”

The demands of the letter are as follows:

  1. Prioritise stopping the entrenchment of ideologies in state-funded universities as a matter of national security due to the threat of violence by Maududi-inspired groups
  2. A review of curricula at Islamic universities, colleges, schools and madrasas, including essential reading lists in the Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages.
  3. A ban on the publication and circulation of books by Islamic thinkers, including Maududi, who call for a jihad against non-Muslims to bring about the “total” Islamisation of India.

The signatories believe that the named institutions are “trail blazers” and that “the direction they take lays down the ground rules for Islamic educational institutions all over India as well as Muslim politics in our country.” This argument is certainly valid, with Times Higher Education having ranked JMI and AMU at 13th and 18th in India’s national university rankings, respectively. But the signatories accuse the universities of indoctrinating their students “through an anti-Indic/anti-national course curriculum.” When they say “anti-Indic/anti-national,” they likely mean how Islamic thinkers like Maududi opposed secularism and supported the creation of an Islamic state according to Islamic law in India. But, for this accusation to be true, the students would have to be taught to accept anti-India narratives uncritically.

An analysis of these universities’ curricula makes the claim of indoctrination seem unsubstantiated. While the letter lists each course at these universities in which Maududi is a part of the curriculum, or at least recommended, they do not further investigate how the curricula give an insight into teaching practices. Maududi is by no means the primary thrust in AMU’s BA in Islamic Studies, but it would be difficult to study the section on the “Development of Islamic Thought in India” without touching on Maududi. The course, however, is comprehensive, with optional and compulsory studies on Islam in countries all over the world, and so anti-India narratives are by no means central. Similarly, at JMI, the coursework syllabus for an integrated M.Phil-PhD programme within the Department of Islamic Studies does not even mention Maududi. It teaches the students about research methodology and forms of criticism and even has an introduction to books on Islam by the Western scholar John L. Esposito. The same department at HU focuses on the “critical relevance to the contemporary Muslim world”, referencing the socioeconomic experiences of Indian Muslims and how Islam and India interact, which are all important topics.

While some terrorists have leant on Maududi’s thought, it would not be right to suggest that the indiscriminate violence of terrorism or the mistreatment of women and Hindus as a religious minority are supported by Maududi’s works or organisations in India.

What the media has not sufficiently captured is the incendiary language of the letter, language that tends to be more emotive than factual. The signatories’ “deep concern” is that Maududi’s ideology and influence are being legitimised and protected by the Indian state through these curricula, which has “emboldened Islamist outfits to openly behead, lynch and rape Hindus…”. They state that Maududi “openly calls for genocide of non-Muslims everywhere in the world” as the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), “an organisation committed to total Islamization of India, which has genocidal implications for non-Muslims of India.” They say it is Maududi’s ideology that has “offshoots” in the form of organisations like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, as well as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban.

While some terrorists have leant on Maududi’s thought, it would not be right to suggest that the indiscriminate violence of terrorism or the mistreatment of women and Hindus as a religious minority are supported by Maududi’s works or organisations in India. The Indian wing of the JI adopted a resolution in the wake of 9/11 in 2001, stating: “terrorism is an outright oppressive act… it is condemnable whether it is committed by an individual or a group or a State… As for Islam, killing an innocent person is tantamount to killing all human beings…”. Vali Reza Nasr, one of the most comprehensive authors on Maududi, reminds us in “Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism” that Maududi never resorted to violent, unconstitutional means to achieving Islamisation (p74). The scholar, Jamal Malik, has studied Maududi’s “neglected” work, “Jihad in Islam”, and found that it included an analysis of the terms upon which Muslims could engage in conflict so as to “restrict the miseries of war to the combatants” and to rectify the tendencies of the pre-Islamic Arab world, including the murder of non-combatants and the abuse of women, by enforcing injunctions.

With regard to the treatment of Hindus, the letter suggests two things. First, Maududi’s desire for the Islamisation of India would imply a genocide of non-Muslim within an Islamic state. Second, Hindus are the “endangered community” because of the pervasiveness of Maududi’s ideology in India, exacerbated by the indoctrination of students by these universities. In response to the first, Maududi may not have been progressive, but he did not encourage genocidal violence. In “Rights of Non-Muslims in Islamic State”, Maududi writes that all humans, regardless of faith, have the same sanctity of life: “The blood of a Zimmi (a non-Muslim citizen) is considered as sacred as that of a Muslim” (p12), quoting the Fourth Caliph, ‘Ali, to support this claim (p13). Maududi also states that to “assault, injure or abuse a Zimmi or even to backbite him is considered just as immoral” as doing the same to a Muslim (p14). Non-Muslims were also allowed to live according to their personal law, Shari’ah could not be forced upon them, and they were entitled to full religious freedom within their towns and cities (p16-7). Maududi held that these rights for non-Muslims were inviolable, and Muslims were bound to uphold them always (p15).

In response to the second, there is undoubtedly anti-Hindu hate crime in India (the focus will remain on India, seeing as this letter is concerned with indoctrination through anti-India narratives). We have seen a number of cases recently where extremist Muslims have killed Hindus in the name of their religion, which is unequivocally unjustifiable. An example is the Udaipur beheading in response to the victim’s defence of Nurpur Sharma, who made derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But while we do not have objective statistics because India’s National Crime Records Bureau does not categorise hate crimes by the religion of either perpetrator or victim, if any community in India can be described as “endangered,” it would not be the majority Hindu community. According to Time, political experts referred to the rallying call of “Hindu Lives Matter” after the Udaipur beheading as dangerous because it risked the “amplification of a heinous but isolated crime into an assertion of systemic violence against Hindus, who make up some 80% of India’s 1.2 billion people.”

Instead, it is Muslims who have been discriminated against under the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, feared to be “part of an effort to create a religious test for Indian citizenship and could lead to the widespread disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims.” Muslim-owned houses have been demolished unlawfully as punishment. The larger society has polarised them through conspiracy theories like “love jihad” to prevent interfaith marriages and “corona jihad”, blaming Muslims for the transmission of COVID-19. It was a politician from the Hindu Mahasabha who called for a genocide against millions of Muslims. The situation facing Indian Christians is comparable, with conversion laws having also encouraged violence by non-state actors towards Christians. Also, counter-terrorism laws have been used to stifle Christian human rights activists.

To be clear, the point of this article is not to suggest that Maududi’s understanding of Islam was right or that he was without wrongdoing. He was not, particularly in his attitudes towards the Ahmadiyya community. But it is to show that Maududi, as a revolutionary Islamic thinker, and his legacy cannot be conflated with the vague umbrellas of “Islamic” terrorism, violence or specific terrorist organisations. This only leads to increased Islamophobic stereotypes about Islam and Muslims as violent and backward. Moreover, banning his works would only limit the ability of Islamic studies students to understand the development of Islamic thought in South Asia and beyond, specifically the Islamisation of Pakistan. As someone studying Maududi as part of a PhD, the study does not mean agreement. And finally, it is not Hindus who are most at risk in India. That unfortunate title remains with the Muslim and Christian communities.

Mary Hunter

Mary Hunter is a Postgraduate Research Fellow at The Centre for Army Leadership and also at the London Institute of South Asia. She regularly writes articles on Pakistan and its diaspora in the UK and is currently undertaking a PhD on Islam in Pakistan.

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