Athinker, orator, mujtahid, writer, leader, politician, and seasoned organiser, Abul A’la Maududi (also known as Maulana Maududi) has left a lasting impression in shaping Muslims in South Asia and beyond. His role in founding the Jamaat-e-Islami and his vision for the larger Muslim Ummah provided a unique framework and vision for Muslims to unite at a time when the Muslim identity was threatened. His aspiration for a united Muslim Ummah and preservation of Muslim identity places him in a special place in the hearts and souls of many Muslims in South and Southeast Asia.
It is difficult to overlook the similarities between the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt and the Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia, but this is not surprising when one takes into account the historical and political setting at the time. After World War I and the subsequent deposition of the Ottoman Caliphate, Muslims in British-controlled India and Egypt were in search of an identity that united them. During this time, Islamic scholars and thinkers in Egypt and India looked to the works of one another. In particular, the Egyptian revivalists Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb referenced many of Maududi’s works.
“The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood have been historically linked ideologically and have also had comparable social bases of support…If you add to this some broad similarities of context, most notably state authoritarianism, then the links between the two organisations become even more understandable. So it is hardly surprising to find them expressing admiration for each other.” – Professor Ayesha Jalal
Early Life and Education
Abul A’la Maududi was born in 1903 in Aurangabad, British India, to a noble family who were influential in the Mughal courts of India. The Mughal Empire was founded by descendants of Mongols who converted to Islam and established a dynasty controlling most of present-day India and Pakistan for almost two centuries, from the 1500s to the 1700s. After the reign of the last great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the power held by the Mughals withered away and shifted to the British colonisers.
With the decline of Mughal rule came the decline of Muslim dominance. Europeans replaced Muslims in positions of authority, and lands were transferred from Muslims to Hindus. British missionaries suppressed religious practices that they considered barbaric. English was taught in schools and Persian was abolished as the official language; (Persian was the official language of the Mughal courts at the time, and modern Urdu has roots from both Sanskrit and Persian). The existing laws based on the Sharī’a were challenged with the introduction of English laws and courts.
Maududi spent his childhood and early youth in Hyderabad, where the wealthy and powerful Nizam-ul-Mulk (administrators of the realm) maintained an internal sovereignty with little influence of British colonisation. Maududi therefore grew up in an environment far from the influences of the British. His parents paid particular attention to his development and nurturing, and wanted their son to become a Maulvi (religious scholar).
“My father’s and mother’s lives had a distinct religious colouring. Their example and our upbringing imprinted my heart and my mind with a religious fervour.”
Maududi’s father, Ahmad Hasan, was in charge of Maududi’s home-schooling, teaching him Arabic, Persian, and Hindi in addition to Fiqh, Hadith, and Mantiq (logic). Ahmad Hasan also read to his children articles from Al Hilal, a newspaper established by the prominent Indian figure Abul Kalam Azad, who criticised British policies and encouraged the Muslims to join the Indian independence movement.  Maududi would later grow to disagree with Abul Kalam Azad’s views on the future of Muslims in the subcontinent.
At the age of 11, Maududi was enrolled in Madrasa Fawqaniyyah, Aurangabad, a school affiliated with the prestigious Uthmaniya University of Hyderabad where both traditional and modern subjects were taught. During this time, Maududi translated many literary works of Arabic into Urdu.
In 1918, a 15-year-old Maududi moved to Delhi in search of a career, accompanied by his brother Abul Khayr. Some historians think this is where Maududi studied English and developed an interest in Western sciences. It was during this period that he became involved in the Khilafat movement.
Fall of the Caliph
In 1919, after the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, the Ottoman Caliphate lost its power. During this time, influential intellectuals such as Mohammad Ali Jauhar, a graduate from Oxford and founder of the Urdu weekly Hamdard, travelled to England to lobby the British government into influencing Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to desist deposing the Ottoman Caliph. Britain rejected this call and subsequently caused the influential Muslims of India to organise Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, an organisation to fight for the interests of Muslims.
However, the deposition of the Caliph eventually resulted in the collapse of this organisation. For the first time, the Muslims stood united for a cause and this may have inspired many other movements to come. After these events, Maududi took up a career in journalism and became the editor of Al Jamiat.
Indian Independence Movement
The Muslims were not the only ones facing a crisis of identity; the whole of India seemed to have the same questions. This gave precedence to many movements, some of which are listed below.
The Swaraj movement was inspired by Gandhi’s idea of self-rule, namely, an independent and stateless society where everyone is his or her own master. In hindsight, this seems like an unachievable utopia, despite the popularity of Gandhi in India. However, the Indian National Congress (the first united Indian party) used the popularity of Gandhi and Swaraj to unite Indians. In 1921, Gandhi was appointed the leader of Congress, which later split when Gandhi was imprisoned in 1922.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind supported the Indian Congress and the idea of an independent India. However, many Muslim leaders felt there was an increasing pro-Hindu rhetoric within the Congress. Maududi became disillusioned with the Congress Party, realising that India as a liberal democracy may not be beneficial for the future of Indian Muslims unless Muslims became a majority. Abul Kalam Azad, on the other hand, was an ardent supporter of Swaraj and became the President of the Congress Party from 1940–45.
The Shuddhi movement was another campaign started by the Hindu revivalist party Arya Samaj. The movement was founded by Dayananda Saraswati in 1875. In many ways, Saraswati was a unique Hindu in that he rejected all non-Vedic beliefs and condemned idolatry, ancestor worship, pilgrimages, child marriage, animal sacrifices, and the caste system. Saraswati was also critical about other religions like Christianity and Islam, questioning the authenticity of the Qur’ān (6). The Shuddhi campaign was aimed at ‘purifying’ India and re-converting the Hindus that converted to Islam.
Reviving the Muslim Identity
The rising hostility in India was a great concern for the Muslim community. Questions pertaining to identity – Muslim first or nation first – were debated among the Muslim thinkers of the time. In addition, there was also a threat posed to the Muslim orthodoxy from the Ahmadiyya movement that supported the British interests and identified themselves as ‘moderate’ Muslims.
At this point, Maududi moved away from journalism and politics to focus on Islamic scholarly works on religious affairs. In 1928, he moved back to Hyderabad and worked on Risala-e-Diniyat (Towards Understanding Islam), a book aimed at informing Muslims and non-Muslims of the holistic approach of Islam, including its rational bases and wisdoms. He later worked on translating and writing the history of the Seljuk and Fatimid dynasties. It was as if Maududi was turning to the Qur’ān and the past in an effort to revive Islamic thought and identity among the Muslims of India.
“I can divide my forty-nine years into two parts. The ﬁrst thirty was spent in reading, listening, thinking, observing, and experiencing, and also in ﬁnding a goal in life. My thoughts are the products of reasoning of all those years of intellectual activity. Then I set my goal to strive in the path of truth, to propagate its cause, and to bring my vision into reality.”
In 1932, Maududi bought the journal Tarjuman Al-Qur’an and invited the most prominent scholars to contribute their work to the journal. Five years later when he visited Delhi, he found himself shocked at how the Muslims in the capital had become more secularised, less concerned with Islamic practice, and the women no longer wore the purdah. In his book Purdah: The Status of Women in Islam, Maududi expounds the problems and effects that colonisation had on the Muslims of India:
‘’The European writers portrayed these (Purdah and the veil) in loathsome and ugly colours and, while enumerating the demerits of Islam, they mentioned the ‘confinement’ of women prominently. As usual, the Muslims felt ashamed and they reacted and behaved in the matter of Purdah exactly as they had done in matters of Jihad, slavery, polygamy, etc. They turned over the pages of the Qur’an, Hadith and religious opinions and verdicts of the early doctors merely with a view to collect some material with which they could wash off the ‘ugly blot’ of shame…’’
Rather than lamenting the sad decline of Islamic values, Maududi once again began writing politically. He criticised the Congress Party for neglecting the rights of Muslim for an independent India. Unlike Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, he was sceptical that Muslims could thrive in India under the contemporary political paradigms of India. But it is to be noted that Maududi did not propose a two-nation solution either.
It was during this time that Maududi became involved with another influential figure: Muhammad Iqbal (often called Allama Iqbal), the most popular poet from British India (later Pakistan) and a great thinker with expertise in Arabic, English, and philosophy. Allama Iqbal’s experiences studying and travelling in Britain and Germany – including completing his doctorate at the prestigious Trinity College, Cambridge – forged him to be a well-versed and prominent thinker. In many of his poems, Allama Iqbal lamented the state of Indians under colonisation and the conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
Allama Iqbal is credited for introducing the idea of a separate nation for Muslims: Pakistan. However, some historians argue that this was not seriously considered initially, as explained by Allama Iqbal in a letter to Edward Thompson:
‘’The one I suggested in my address is the creation of a Muslim province, i.e. a province having an overwhelming Muslim population in the North-West of India. This new province will be, according to my scheme, a part of the proposed Indian federation.’’
Allama Iqbal and Maududi agreed that there was a need for educational reform among Indian Muslims, so they founded the first Dar-ul-Islam in Pathankot, which was located at the meeting point of three of the northern states: Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu Kashmir.
Maududi was tasked to establish a well-defined curriculum that would include both Islamic and modern subjects. After the death of Allama Iqbal, Maududi decided to reorganise the school into a tripartite organisation that would be the basis of the Jamaat-e-Islami: Rukn (member), Shura (consultative assembly) and Sadr (president).
The momentum for the two-nation movement started by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal grew rapidly. Maududi accepted the reality of a separate Muslim state and decided to continue his work in Pakistan, as he realised that the new Muslim state’s policy would be driven by the secular Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
In 1938, Maududi began structuring and establishing the Jamaat-e-Islami, a holy community that posits social and political reform from the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. The Jamaat-e-Islami retained the tripartite structure from the Dar-Ul-Islam, and Maududi was elected to be the first Amir. The Amir led the Jamaat with the consultation of the Shura (consultative assembly), which was responsible for nominating candidates for the position of Amir, and the members elected the Amir from the chosen candidates. This ensured that the Amir was qualified for his position.
In July 1947, the British government passed the Indian Independence Act with the Radcliffe line dividing Pakistan into East and West. Maududi did not consider Pakistan an Islamic state. This was evident when the Pakistani government wanted a verdict from Maududi to call the war supporting the insurgents of Kashmir a Jihād, but he refused as he believed only an Islamic state has the right to call a Jihād. Maududi was subsequently imprisoned for the charge of sedition.
After his release, Maududi began engaging more politically and passed a resolution for the Jamaat to engage in electoral politics. After some years, Maududi decided to take a back seat from politics and resigned from the Jamaat. He later published his work Tafhim-ul-Qur’an (Towards Understanding the Qur’an), after which he published another work on the Sīrah titled Seerat Sarwar-e-Alam.
In 1979, Maududi passed away in the United States at the age of 76, after travelling there for medical treatment.
If one were to briefly describe the life and mission of Maududi, it was to re-establish the Muslim identity and revive the values of Islam. Some of his critics unjustly associate him and his works with terrorism, despite him being opposed to it. He wrote his treatise Al Jihad fil Islam as a direct response to the attacks carried out by a few Muslims at his time, for instance.
In Maududi’s eyes, secularism was a paradigm brought by British India to colonise India, and he saw the Islamic paradigm as superior and more appropriate for the Indians of the time. Maududi has written numerous works, but perhaps his greatest contribution is the structure and vision of Jamaat-e-Islami. Today, his vision for the Jamaat and the tripartite structure is adopted by the various Jamaat-e-Islami organisations in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka.
 Regani, Sarojini (1963). Nizam-British Relations (1724-1857)
 Jackson, Roy (2011). Mawlana Maududi and Political Islam: Authority and the Islamic State
 Azad, Abul Kalam (1989). India Wins Freedom
 Helmreich, Paul C. (1974). From Paris to Sèvres: The Partition of the Ottoman Empire at the Peace Conference of 1919-1920
 Saraswati, Dayananda (1875). The Light of Truth
 Maududi, Abul A’la (1972). Purdah and the Status of Women in Islam
 Musings of Sir Mohammad Iqbal on the Place of Muslims in late Colonial India: Letters to Edward John Thompson, 1933-1934