What American academic Vali Nasr failed to realize

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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To this day, studies on Al-Maududi, his ideas and impact on the Islamic phenomenon and his role in bolstering fundamentalist violence are a subject of debate. His theories are problematic in terms of political transformations. Some of these theories are related to the circumstances of defending the Muslim minority, the establishment of the Indian secular state and the Kashmir wars. All of these elements pushed him to adopt circumstantial positions that were interpreted by some as a firm stance against violence.

Nevertheless, they didn’t fall far from a fundamentalist perspective. His books, lectures and even poems fuelled violent groups in the Islamic world. This fundamentalist phenomenon couldn’t have prevailed without the embers with which Al-Maududi ignited the concepts of governance, the dream of the Islamic state, hostility towards the West and the call for violence.

Academic slippery slope

In his book, “Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism” published in 1994, American scholar and Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Vali Nasr analyzed in five chapters Al-Maududi’s life. His analysis of jihad took a defensive turn in the chapter entitled: “Jihad and the revolution.” Nasr said that compared to other revolutionary intellectuals and activists, Al-Maududi had a conservative position regarding some of the basic concepts in Islam such as Jihad as in 1948, he rejected the legitimacy of jihad which the Kashmir government called for during a truce between it and India. According to Nasr, Pakistan has also stated that a number of clerics are the ones who rallied for jihad which only few volunteer fighters participated in but Al-Maududi rejected the legitimacy of this jihad explaining that the declaration of jihad is only within the government’s jurisdiction, thereby rejecting all revolutionary and political interpretations of the doctrine of jihad. Nasr added that Al-Maududi’s strict position receded over the years as in 1939, he said that military jihad can be a final solution if used to support Islam.

In another book entitled “Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World”, Vali Nasr dedicates a chapter entitled “The True Path of Fundamentalism”, in which he confirms more clearly his position regarding Al-Maududi and the truth behind his call for violence. Nasr said that Al-Maududi did not call for violence as on the contrary, he believed that the goal of establishing the Islamic state can be achieved through steadiness on the approach of guidance, adding that fundamentalism for Al-Maududi is nothing but an educational process. Nasr then went on listing examples of Al-Maududi’s stances in 1941, in which he rejected demonstrations and incitement!?

This result is clear academic slippery slope, and this is highlighted by certain events and statements. Circumstantial fatwas do not really constitute the content of the thinking adopted by Al-Maududi especially since he is the spiritual father of all the violent organizations of the world.

The insidious revolutionary

This leads us to important research by the distinguished professor Ali Al-Amim which he published in this newspaper and has solved complications that Nasr did not pay attention to in his research in which he asserted that Al-Maududi did not call for violence based on a circumstantial political fatwa concerning a specific event and that does not completely draw his ideological map. The question is: How did the idea that Al-Maududi is against “violence, protests and disobedience against the governor” fool people?

An important conclusive answer written by al-Amim in an article entitled “Why does Al-Maududi reject Islamic political coup even if it succeeds?” he said that “Al-Maududi opposed the use of violence, war and weapons by young Muslim to change the political situation, not because he thinks it signifies revolt against the ruler. On the contrary, ever since he started writing and theorizing, he adopted a strict fundamentalist religious perspective that there is no true Islamic government or Islamic state in the Arab and Islamic world. The Islamic government and the true Islam is embodied in the Caliphate of Uthman according to Al-Maududi. One of the distinguishing features between the religious convictions Al-Maududi and those of Sunni scholars of his country, India and Sunni scholars in general is that he does not believe in the obedience to the ruler under the known terms of the Sunni Fiqh teachings. He is arguably the first Sunni religious intellectual of modern times to work hard to challenge other late and contemporary clerics. It is not because he is afraid that the coup will fail that he opposed it as his last advice was ‘So you succeeded in this regard to a certain extent.’ He opposed it because he aspires for a radical comprehensive intellectual coup in Islamic societies – a gradual, slow and multi-dimensional coup. This task takes a long time to achieve, and after it bears its fruit, it is followed by the implementation of the political coup with its well-known tools: the use of violence, war and weapons to change the political situation. This is what he meant by his advice: ‘So you succeeded in this regard to a certain extent’, i.e. you succeeded in seizing the political power in the country where you carried out the coup.”

This is the cornerstone, the answer that Vali Nasr couldn't include in his writing or discover in his research since figures such as Al-Maududi need to be scrutinized, questioned and analyzed and not just looked at through a text in which he rejects violence or forbids revolts against governments. The answer of al-Amim reveals the flaw of Vali Nasr, and here is the difference between the general chronological study and the deep questioning and investigating of a text in search of its purpose and dimensions.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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