Imagine in what a happy state God’s creation will be… where evil is quickly rectified by a government constantly ready to promote virtue with all its power and resources.
Abu A’la Maududi, Let Us Be Muslims
If you read this quote and your skin crawled a little bit then I think that this is how National party voters felt at the end of the Clark government when that government was debating legislation about light bulbs and shower head fittings. Most people are fans of good government as an overarching and underpinning system to their society, but – equally – most people like the idea of quite a bit of freedom from government when it comes to their daily lives. The author of the quote above, Abu A’la Maududi, didn’t. For Maududi there were no levels to life, no sides, no nuance, no shades; you were either running every aspect of your life according to God’s law or you were in big, big trouble. Frankly anyone who wants to run every aspect of everyone’s lives by one set of rules should be avoided at all costs whatever their bag happens to be.
Mainly because John Key is about to justify changing laws in our country to deal with our supposedly proliferating radicalised New Zealand citizens, I wanted to start thinking about what being a radicalised Muslim might mean. I started on this process by reading The Islamist by Ed Husain (2007). It is a book about Husain’s experience growing up in England and becoming a Muslim extremist (and then unbecoming that).
Early on in his book Husain mentions the texts he read that inspired him when he was first moving away from his family’s moderate Islam towards radical Islam. I decided that I should read them too. Inevitably this means that I have probably made it on to someone’s watch list somewhere because I have been looking up texts by Maududi, Qutb and al-Nabhanni, not to mention searching for anything related to Yemen and Afghanistan. Who knows, if I’m lucky I might get a shout out from Key in his announcement.
The first of the books Husain mentions is called Let Us Be Muslims (1940), by Abu A’la Maududi. Maududi was born in India in 1903 and it feels like the defining event of his life was the partition of India, and striving to define what kind of state Pakistan would be: a Muslim state or an Islamic one. Maududi was very big on this: defining who was in or out of the club. Very early in Let Us Be Muslims Maududi draws a distinction between those who are believers and those who are kafirs (unbelievers): “[those] in denial and disobedience of God.”
He is prepared to concede that historical prophets like Abraham, Moses and Jesus and their followers were “rightly guided” at their time in history, but since the word of God was brought up to date by Muhammad,
no servant has the right to serve according to the previous codes. If he does not accept the new code and continues to follow the old, he is in fact obeying his own dictates, not those of the Master. Such a person can no longer be legitimately called a servant; he becomes, in religious language, a Kafir.
So that’s the Jews and the Christians out then.
In case you think he is letting all Muslims off easy with a free pass to heaven you need not worry. It’s not good enough to be a Muslim you must be a Muslim who demonstrates faith through knowledge and action, “That is, the more you know God and obey His commandments, the more honourable you are in His sight”. Which leads us to an interesting chapter: Why Are Muslims Humiliated Today? “Even though there are many Muslims and Muslim governments, the world is in the hands of those who have rebelled against God.” Maududi suggests that the reason for this situation is that many or even most Muslims do not follow absolutely the rules that Muhammad passed on from God; Muslims lie, slander, cheat and bribe and Muhammad was explicit about all of these things, “My aim is to kindle the desire in you to recover the treasure that has been lost”.
Maududi is very clear that the acceptance of God is the acceptance that the only law you recognize is God’s law. You should not listen to desire, or habit, society or culture, you should listen only to God, “It means that as soon as you become Muslims you must renounce your authority in favour of God’s authority.” So powerful is the moment of accepting God that it transcends all other bonds. No matter the connection – sibling, parent, spouse, friend – if one submits to God and the other does not they become different; in Christian terms one is saved and the other damned. Maududi is very clear on God’s preeminence in your life. Do not, he implores, follow your own desires: “To be a slave to one’s desires is worse than being a beast in the field [for] no animal will overstep the limits set by God.” He is equally stern about following the commands of culture, tradition, and leaders among mankind. “You may have broken stone idols… but you have paid little attention to the temples within your own hearts.” It must be your goal, as a true believer, to live completely and transparently by God’s laws.
Believers, then, must perform actions that please God, and they know what those actions are because they have been passed to Muhammad who in turn presented them to mankind. Let Us Be Muslims states that only those who ardently follow Islam are correct in their actions and will be going to heaven, and it secondly commands total obedience to the directives as laid out therein (most of the book contains detailed explanations of the five pillars of Islam). Very quickly we are into territory that could be seen as the philosophical basis for acts like suicide bombings: “It means that your lives are not your property; they belong to God”.
If you suffer hardship by acting according to the wish of your Master, so be it. If lives are lost, bodies are injured… why should you be grieved? If the Owner Himself decrees loss of His things, it is perfectly within His right…. If you give away your life according to your Master’s wishes you will only be rendering His due.
All good things come to those who are like firmly rooted trees in their faith, according to Maududi. Although others may seem to prosper their prosperity is an illusion, “Material prosperity is not real prosperity.”
How rampant is suicide in Europe and America? How widespread is divorce? How, through genocide, birth control and abortion, is the human race diminished? How are drugs and alcohol destroying the lives of many thousands of people? What a terrible struggle for markets and economic prosperity is raging among different nations and classes? How are jealousy, malice and enmity making men fight each other? How has the mad race for possessions made life bitter for so many people? And today’s huge and magnificent cities, which look like paradise from a distance, contain thousands and thousands of people who are wallowing in misery. Do you call this prosperity? Is this what you are seeking so enviously?
Which is a passage that contains within it parts of what many people have felt about modern life, parts of what I feel about modern life, and parts of what many disillusioned young men must feel in general. As a fellow wallower in misery however I have no interest in Maududi’s solutions which seem to me to present another kind of misery.
Maududi’s inflexible position of God as final arbiter on everything means that he has no interest in what any kind of worldly authority thinks about anything, which explains why it is of no interest to proponents of Maududi’s brand of Islam what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the United Nations, or any government, jurist or even what other Muslim leaders think about anything. The only judgement that counts is in the hereafter and will be done by God.
The final section of Let Us Be Muslims is called Jihad.
Stated simply: the ultimate objective of Islam is to abolish the lordship of man over man and bring him under the rule of the One God. To stake everything you have – including your lives – to achieve this purpose is called Jihad.
Which leads to this:
Merely believing in God as God and in His law as the true law is not enough. As soon as you believe in these two things, a sacred duty devolves upon you: wherever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God. You must also provide leadership to God’s servants and conduct the affairs of their government in accordance with God’s laws, remaining fully conscious of living in God’s presence and being accountable to Him in the Hereafter. The name of this striving is Jihad.
This brings us back to the quote at the top of this post which is imagining the post-jihad world where we would all be delighted to live with a government that is quick to rectify all evil. Of all the sections in Maududi’s book the short section on Governments Run by God-Conscious People must be the most fanciful. One sentence alone can send a chill through you: “it will reform education to develop the right kind of thinking and attitudes”. Like most fantasists Maududi’s final vision – in Let Us Be Muslims at least – is sketchy on details. Everything will be, you know, amazing in lots of amazing ways.
Islam as Maududi describes it is intensely anti-individualistic, which is perhaps why it appeals so much to American and Western analysts. It is such a neat fit for the hole that the collapse of communism left in American foreign policy’s reason to exist. Maududi consistently stresses the need for obedience to God, and is specific about what this requires. Abandoning your cultural norms, and traditions, and family ties in order to serve the directives delivered in the Quran (as interpreted by him) creates the possibility of a new nation of people bonded by ideology and not geography. It allows the Western paranoia that was so popular with governments during the Cold War to be re-ignited: communists and communist cells could be anyone, anywhere. Not only could they be anywhere they could be plotting anything for if you follow Maududi’s directives your life does not belong to you, it belongs to God, and it is the duty of the faithful – whichever country they live in – to “strive to change the wrong basis of government and seize all powers to rule.”
It might be commonplace to think that this current so-called war on terror started in 2001, but on reading Maududi’s book this idea is clearly misguided. His book’s immediate context and concerns – the struggle for independence, and clashing ideologies of an occupied country – still make sense today. The world is still controlled by the kafir’s, and a genuine Islamic state remains a chimera. Like almost all of the world’s suffering this conflict too owes its origins to European imperialism: the geo-political, ideological and economic models that the 19th century Europeans set up, and equally how the American-European powers attempted to withdraw but remote control those same places in the 20th century.
The imprint of this struggle is here in New Zealand too. Those who react so vociferously to Maudadi’s idea of the world caliphate of the new Islamic society should not forget what European imperialism must have looked like to the peoples of the Americas, or Africa or the Pacific when Europe took its economic and ideological jihad around the globe. I have no time for the intolerant, totalitarian world that Maududi wanted to establish, but I also feel that if we don’t start to approach the problem of fundamentalism with a willingness to understand its context and the West’s ongoing part in it then we are going to be painting a very one-sided and simplistic picture indeed. The kind of picture that might encourage governments to bomb the Middle East, or stigmatise sections of their own community – sections who have rejected the kind of Islam the West fears more personally and comprehensively than Prime Minister Key will ever need to.