Analyzing the concept of Theo-Democracy
Dr Farhan Zahid
Jamaat-e-Islami, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s counterpart in Pakistan, was established by Abu ala Maududi in 1941 to counter the growth of quasi-secular All India Muslim League (AIML), the leading party of Pakistan movement and an emerging representative of Indian Muslims.1
From its earliest days, Maududi modeled JI on Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s lines. Maududi followed the footsteps of Hasan al Bana, who earlier founded JI’s twin Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) in 1926. Bana and Maududi had things in common : both belonged to middleclass, had no formal religious education and were self-taught ; both had plans to impose Sharia laws after coming into power in their respective arenas of Islamist politics ; both confronted nationalist parties and considered themselves as true representatives of Muslims in their respective countries.
Contrary to Bana, Maududi was a prolific writer, who throughout his Islamist political career, wrote exponentially on different topics related to Islamism. His writings have a far more convincing impact than Hasan al-Bana who was assassinated in 1948 whereas Maududi died in 1979 in Buffalo, New York, where his son was working as a doctor and a naturalized US citizen. Modern era Jihadi ideologue of Muslim Brotherhood stalwart Syed Qutb heavily quoted Maududi in his works.
Shading light on the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism/radicalism of the present age, eminent scholar of religions Karen Armstrong explains it as having its roots in the ideological thoughts of Jamaat-e-Islami founder Abul ala Maududi. She characterizes that it is in the fundamentalist thoughts of Maududi lies the present day ills of Islamist terrorism which is in fact the precursor to the global jihad movement. She describes it as “One of the early fundamentalist ideologues was Mawdudi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. He saw the mighty power of the West as gathering its forces to crush Islam. Muslims, he argued, must band together to fight this encroaching secularism, if they wanted their religion and their culture to survive (…). Mawdudi called for a universal jihad (…). Mawdudi argued that jihad was the central tenet of Islam. This was an innovation. Nobody had ever claimed before that jihad was equivalent to the five Pillars of Islam, but Mawdudi felt that the innovation was justified by the present emergency. 2“
Core ideology of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan as propounded by Maududi revolves around three Islamo-political concepts : theo-democracy, political jihad and establishment of Islamic rule in conjunctions of early Islamic rulers very similar to Salafist thought. Primarily, all three are connected and self-explanatory as far as the methodology of Islamo-political path to power is concerned. Maududi appears impressed with the ways and means the Italian Fascist Party in 1923 and German National Socialist Workers Party in 1933 took advantage of the democratic process and destroyed all other political forces. The concept of theo-democracy was not built to develop a political system but to replace the state structure with Islamist political system, turning the state into a caliphate and commencing the jihad from this platform.
By theo-democracy, Maududi does not mean modern, liberal political governance, but participation in general elections only to establish the Islamist rule, in case when seizure of power is not in sight by other means. It aims for more or less the same religio-political goals all major Salafists and Deobandi Islamist terrorist groups are working over to attain, though with a drastically different set of methods. In Islamist jargon, it is also called political jihad. In other words it could be defined as ‘one party rule’ that would serve as the vanguard of the Islamic revolution. It could be compared with Adolph Hitler and Nazi party’s rise to power in 1933, and abolishing all other political parties and opposition groups and establishing a totalitarian state. In case of Nazi Germany it was to establish The Third Reich, and in JI’s political meanings it is the Islamic Caliphate and the imposition of Sharia laws and Islamist ways of governance. Here one must not forget that Maududi (1903-1979) grew up studying the systems in the same period of upheavals. In Salafist paradigm it is political jihad and a means to take over reins of power and institutionalizing Islamist rule.
Maududi based the theo-democracy concept upon Quranic verses describing Hezbollah or the Party of Allah, which Maududi believed was his own Jamaat-e-Islami, “And whoso taketh Allah and His messenger and those who believe for guardian (will know that), lo! the party of Allah, they are the victorious.” (Quran 5:56)
“Thou wilt not find folk who believe in Allah and the Last Day loving those who oppose Allah and His messenger, even though they be their fathers or their sons or their brethren or their clan. As for such, He hath written faith upon their hearts and hath strengthened them with a Spirit from Him, and He will bring them into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide. Allah is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. They are Allah’s party. Lo! is it not Allah’s party who are the successful?” (Quran 58:22)
According to Maududi, the very purpose of Hezbollah is to establish the Islamic State. As further explained by Philip Jenkins, “This total rejection of the past shaped Mawdudi’s views of the Islamic state, which he believed should be founded on iqamat-i-deen, “the establishment of religion.” In this theocratic vision, society and the state would be subject entirely to Islamic law, sharia, which comprehended every aspect of human life and behavior. Mawdudi claimed that such a state would be a theo-democracy, in which elected officials would rule under clerical guidance. Yet it is difficult to understand his model as anything but totalitarian. As everything was subject to God, there could be no personal or private life that was not subject to law. Even he seemed to understand that. “Considered from this aspect,” he (Mawdudi) wrote, “the Islamic State bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states 3.””
The Maududian concept of theo-democracy is part and parcel of JI’s core ideology. It is also a bone of contention between JI and other Islamist violent non-state actors in Pakistan. Militant Islamist groups do not believe in democratic process and condemn it to be un-Islamic and consider only militant jihad the means for the establishment of Islamist rule. JI deems it necessary to be part of political and democratic process as per Maududian doctrines but does not want to shun Islamist violent non-state actors. JI has continued to support Pakistani Islamist terrorist groups and raised its own militant wings whenever the conditions are favorable 4. The very proof is JI’s participation against Bengali nationalists during 1971’s Civil War where JI’s militant groups Al-Badar and Al-Shams fought as irregular militias against Bengali nationalist party Awami League on the behest of Pakistani military junta. On second occasion, JI played a pivotal role by the side of Islamist military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq during Afghan War of 1980s 5. Recently the Jamaat-e-Islami Emir Maunwar Hasan termed fallen soldiers of Pakistan Army during fight against the Islamist terrorism as “not Shaheed or martyrs.” Instead Hasan declared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Emir Hakeemullah Mehsud (killed in drone strike in December 2013) a martyr 6.
JI is adeptly using all of it options. It is agenda of theo-democracy by participating in electoral process has yielded some ‘positive results’. The JI’s inclusion in the military regime of General Zia ul Haq allowed the Islamist party to clinch Federal Education Ministry to change of curricula (from school grade I to Masters level) by including jihadi discourses at every level. Numerous studies on Pakistani education syllabi have found the current curricula as a major source of radicalization in Pakistan and termed it as a major reason for the growth of jihadi recruitment in Pakistan. As far as democratic process is concerned Maududi’s JI has not been able to score major victories and the vote bank of JI in Pakistan has hitherto remained slim.
- Establishment of All India Muslim League”, Story of Pakistan, a multimedia journey, available at: http://storyofpakistan.com/ ↩
- Karen Armstrong, “Islam: A Short History”, Phoenix, London, 2002, p.143 ↩
- Philip Jenkins, “Clerical Terror”, New Republic, December 24, 2008, Jon Boone, “Pakistani army blasts Islamist party leader for calling Taliban chief ‘martyr'”, Guardian, November 12, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/12/pakistan-army-taliban-hakimullah-mehsud-martyr ↩
- Khalid Shaikh Mohammad the mastermind of 9/11 attacks was arrested from the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami of Rawalpindi district of Punjab province in 2003. Apart from that score of Al-Qaeda high value operatives were arrested from safe havens provided to them by the leaders and workers of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. ↩
- Lionel Baixas, “Thematic Chronology of Mass Violence in Pakistan, 1947-2007”, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, p.9 ↩
- Jon Boone, “Pakistani army blasts Islamist party leader for calling Taliban chief ‘martyr'”, Guardian, November 12, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/12/pakistan-army-taliban-hakimullah-mehsud-martyr ↩