Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979) was an Islamic theologian, a prolific author, and the founder of the political Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). Maududi’s theories helped form the tenets of Qutbism, an ideology that is believed to have influenced numerous violent extremist groups including al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Maududi was born in Aurangabad, British India (now Maharashtra, India), in 1903. As a child, he was homeschooled in subjects including the Quran and Hadith, as well as Arabic and Persian. He then studied at the prominent Deobandi school Dar ul-Ulum (also spelled Darul Aloom). At 17 years old, Maududi moved to Delhi and edited two prominent Deobani newspapers, Muslim and al-Jamiyat. He then became the editor and a key writer for the Muslim revivalist journal Tarjuman al-Qur’an.Nikhat Ekbal, Great Muslims of Undivided India (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications: 2009), 141; Haroon K. Ullah, Vying for Allah’s Vote, (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press: 2014), 78; Nadeem F. Paracha, “Abul Ala Maududi: An existentialist history,” Dawn (Karachi), January 1, 2015, http://www.dawn.com/news/1154419.
Maududi initially expressed admiration for Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian National Congress. In the late 1930s Maududi began to denigrate the Congress for its nationalism, which he saw as the evil responsible for the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. In order to combat such evil, Maududi contended, humanity must live under the sovereignty of God and his laws, or sharia (Islamic law).
“Islam is not merely a religious creed or compound…but a comprehensive system which envisages to annihilate all tyrannical and evil systems in the world,” Maududi declared to a crowd at Lahore’s town hall in 1939. In this speech, titled “Jihad in Islam,” Maududi preached that Islam was a program that sought to “alter the social order of the whole world” and “rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals.” Jihad, he reasoned, was the “revolutionary struggle and utmost exertion” that would bring about Islam’s revolutionary program.Abul A’la Maududi, “Jihad in Islam,” April 13, 1939, 5, http://muhammadanism.com/Terrorism/jihah_in_islam/jihad_in_islam.pdf; Nadeem F. Paracha, “Abul Ala Maududi: An existentialist history,” Dawn (Karachi), January 1, 2015, http://www.dawn.com/news/1154419.
Maududi insisted that sharia would eradicate what he referred to as modern jahiliyya, the state of ignorance afflicting the world’s Muslims. Such modern jahiliyya—in the form of socialism, secularism, or liberal democracy, for example—resembled the ancient variety under which Arabia was ruled prior to the divine message of the Prophet Mohammad. According to Maududi, the only way to defend against jahiliyya was to Islamize society, first by introducing Islamic regulation to politics and economy, and eventually the entire state. Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb went on to popularize these notions in the 1960s. Nadeem F. Paracha, “Abul Ala Maududi: An existentialist history,” Dawn (Karachi), January 1, 2015, http://www.dawn.com/news/1154419; Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower (New York: Random House, 2011), 34-35; Dale C. Eikmeier, “Qutbsim: An Ideology of Islamic-Facism,” 2007, U.S. Army War College, 89, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a485995.pdf.
By the early 1940s, Maududi had declared the All India Muslim League—a political party advocating for a separate Muslim-majority nation state on the subcontinent—to be a “party of pagans” and “nominal Muslims.” A Muslim-majority nation was insufficient in protecting Muslims and eradicating jahiliyya, according to Maududi.Nadeem F. Paracha, “Abul Ala Maududi: An existentialist history,” Dawn (Karachi), January 1, 2015, http://www.dawn.com/news/1154419.
In 1941 Maududi founded JeI, hoping to organize a group of pious and learned Muslims that would eventually take total political power. These Muslims, Maududi envisioned, would bring sharia to the Indian subcontinent and erect an Islamic state. Maududi was elected emir of JeI and served in that position until his health declined in 1972.Nikhat Ekbal, Great Muslims of Undivided India (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications: 2009), 141-142; Haroon K. Ullah, Vying for Allah’s Vote (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press: 2014), 78-80.
After the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, Maududi moved to Pakistan and remodeled JeI as a political opposition party in that country. Pakistani authorities jailed Maududi between 1948 and 1950 for denouncing Pakistan’s operations in Kashmir. He was again imprisoned between 1953 and 1955.Haroon K. Ullah, Vying for Allah’s Vote (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press: 2014), 80; “Mawdūdī, Abūʾl-Aʿlā,” Britannica, accessed April 28, 2016, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Abul-Ala-Mawdudi.
In 1960, Maududi wrote in his book The Islamic Law & Constitution about his vision of an Islamic state where “no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private.” The totalitarianism of God’s sovereignty, Maududi wrote, would “[bear] a resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states.” Scholars have adopted the term Islamic-Fascism, or Islamofascism, to describe Maududi’s and others’ Islamist vision. Retired Colonel Dale C. Eikmeier wrote that Maududi “reminded Muslims that Islam [was] more than a religion; it [was] a complete social system that guide[d] and [controlled] every aspect of life including government.”Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, The Islamic Law & Constitution (Lahore: Islamic Publications Ltd.: 1960), 146; Dale C. Eikmeier, “Qutbism: An Ideology of Islamic-Fascism,” Parameters: U.S. Army War College Quarterly, Spring 2007, 87, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a485995.pdf.
In 1972, Maududi stepped down from JeI’s leadership due to poor health. In 1979, he moved to the United States and received medical care from his son, a physician. He died in Buffalo, New York, on September 22, 1979.Nikhat Ekbal, Great Muslims of Undivided India (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications: 2009), 142.