Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi is to political islam what Karl Marx is to communism. Mawdudi’s ideas provided inspiration to the creation of modern islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood (first formed in Egypt) and similar outfits across the muslim realms, all the way to the extremely aggressive postures of men like Osama Bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda*

Scholars around the world call him the most powerful islamic ideologue in the muslim world. His writings continue to influence and inspire countless revolutions and movements all over the world – from muslim brotherhood (parent organization of ISIS) to Al Qaeda. In Pakistan, the fountain head of global fundamentalism & terrorism – Mawdudi, remains both a highly revered and reviled figure. He established Jamat e Islami with the sole aim of Iqamat-ai-Din or establishing islam in EVERY aspect of life. Toady that organization has branches and affiliated bodies

all over the world where they continue to spread Mawdudi’s message. In spite of 80 years of existence the Jamat remains –

  • an organization that provided religious validity to partition of Hindustan,
  • fed the hate that preceded partition,
  • swelled the ranks of Jinnah’s muslim league
  • worked to establish islamic order in Hindustan – leading to radicalization of Indian muslims

Mawdudi considered and presented islam as a comprehensive system of life in which he combined theology with social and political ideas draw the parameter of a true islamic way of life & creation of a society free from the ills of modernity. Anything less than that was unacceptable. His advocacy for waging of jihad against the faithless and even the unethical muslims was a logical intellectual extension because to him, jihad was a way of achieving his version of an ideal islamic society. His teachings led to an increase in efforts to enforce punitive aspects of sharia on societies that had significant muslim populations. They also provided rationale to wage jihad to “liberate’ muslims in Afghanistan etc.

Note – We all know how that liberation of Afghan muslims is working out

Mawdudi’s radical reformulation of jihad was based on selective interpretation and appropriation of ideas and words of earlier scholars. He used them to mainstream jihad. Mawdudi was a man of versatile ingenuity. He showed in practical terms, how islam could be used today to solve the problems that modernity presented to the muslims. It was his literature that provided the basis for a political, economic, cultural & social systems. In opposition to his contemporaries, he demonstrated how religious teachings of his faith could even provide constitutional guidelines.

His constant advocacy for religious dogma as a way of life made people realize that their faith was not the name of some symbolic festivals but a complete way of life.


Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi was born in Aurangabad on 3rd September 1903 into a Chishti Sufi order. His education started in the Fatehpuri Madarsa in Delhi under the tutelage of Deobandi Ulema. He was a brilliant student and he gravitated towards journalism by the age of 12. He then participated actively in the Khilafat Movement (a movement for establishment of rule of Khalifa/Caliph in Turkey). As per his religious injunctions he wished to undertake Hijrat to Afghanistan but he did not go through with it.


Jihad and its implications had caught young Mawdudi’s attention. By 1926 the Khilafat movement had ended in riots and slaughter of Hindus, Swami Shradhanand, a Arya Samaj Hindu leader was brutally murdered by Abdul Rashid on 23 December, 1926. Mawdudi rose in defense of Abdul Rashid and denounced resistance to the murder calling the opposition Hindu claims as “erroneous and ill founded.” Resistance by Hindus to the ever increasing religious supremacism by muslims drove Mawdudi to draw external boundaries of muslim identity. Much like the 18th century cleric Shah Waliullah, he too advocated segregation and isolation from the larger Hindu community.

In February, 1927 he started writing his series of essays on Jihad which he published in Jamat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind but the British forced its discontinuation. mawdudi, persisted and finally he published his complete essay on Jihad in September, 1927 as Al-Jihad fi-ul Islam. Mawdudi believed that Jihad was armed warfare against kaffirs/infidels/mushriks/mutrads etc. But at the same time, he, ironically, did not believethe Jihad had anything to with killing. (How does one wage war except by defeating and killing the enemy?)

Mawdudi maintained that islam was more humane than all religions, even ahimsa preached by MK Gandhi. He claimed that Haq (justice) was more sacrosanct than human life and thus his version of religion, justified the shedding of blood to establish peace and root out evil.

(Note- This sounds great but the existence of kaffirs was called the greatest evil and kaffirs are condemned as subhumans. Mere refusal to accept the faith was the greatest julm (crime) and as such justice demanded shedding of blood to bring back peace and justice.)

War against the oppressor became an ethical imperative when verbal admonishments and persuasion fails to stop the “oppressor”.

(Note- Once again mere refusal to accept the call of din (religion) made one an oppressor)

As per Mawdudi, true faith demands that a “friend of humanity” should take up sword and not rest until the right of islamic god are restored. He turned a just war against injustice into a war for god. He conflated the concept of just war with Jihad fi sabil allah and removed any distinction between greater or lesser jihad or between jihad and qital. In his works Mawdudi, blamed muslims for abandoning jihad. He says that any people/nation who are incapable of resisting external domination (real or perceived) was devoid of self respect and guilty of inflicting zulm upon itself. Mawdudi’s conservative agenda attacked the 19th century modernist muslims and their liberal interpretation of jihad (battle against personal faults and internal struggle)

He says (in his lecture “jihad In islam”) that the success of islam as a world religion lay in its use of the sword – not to compel people but to tear away the veil of ignorance of the “true faith”. The use of sword was necessary so that the kaffir can “voluntarily” accept islam. While being a fire brand advocate of self imposed segregation and isolationism, he was very vocal in castigating the west for calling out the increasing radicalization of muslim society. In spite of his staunch support for jihad and use of sword, he, paradoxically, calls himself a “pacifist preacher much like the mendicants and religious divines of the old” and then he once again justifies his advocacy as a simple endeavor to “refute certain religious beliefs and convert people”

To Mawdudi, Jihad was not a “holy war for the cause of god”. Instead he claims that islam is “revolutionary ideology” which seeks to “alter the social order of the whole world and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideal”

Once again he very ironically declares that – concerned with “the welfare of mankind,” muslims aimed to “destroy all states and governments” opposed to ideology of islam. Jihad is the composite term for establishing an ideological state that change the mental and practical outlook of mankind. All work done for the well being of humanity is an act in the way of god. 

(Note- this way Mawdudi makes jihad not only the holy duty of all faithfuls, he also sanctifies jihad as an act in the way of the divine)

He claims that “Obeying laws inimical to islam, even if made by a muslim government was evidence of lack of faith and made one complicit in upholding un-islamic doctrines” He once again argues and positions jihad as a weapon against any opposing ideology and for capture of state power. He advocated that instead of coercing people to abandon unislamic ways, the party of god must abolish/destroy the government that sustains unislamic principles.


Mawdudi was intensely critical of muslim societies and their modernist western ways. He attributed the demise of the Ottoman/Turk caliphate/khilafat to Turkish nationalism. He called for god’s government to replace the “tyrannical” government of man over man. Very in the early days of its establishment, very few muslims gravitated to his jamat-i-islami and this angered him leading him to castigate muslims for their jahaliya. As an antithesis to jahaliya, jihad was justified for bringing a revolution leading to destruction of nation states and establishment of kingdom of god.

Mawdudi strongly opposed the concept of nationalism, believing it to be the greatest of sins – shirk (polytheism). He called nationalism “a western concept to divide the muslim world.” After Pakistan was formed, Mawdudi and the Jamat-i-islami forbade pakistanis to take an oath of allegiance to the state until it became islamic, arguing that a muslim could in clear conscience render allegiance only to god.


To Mawdudi’s world view, muslim nations maintain a higher moral status than non-muslims. However individual piety was not enough and for restoration of islam to a state of purity, only a collective and organized approach was essential. This where the role of a mujaddid – renewer of faith gains importance for Mawdudi. An aspirant to the position of a mujaddid must be capable of assessing the political situation and determining what was islamic and unislamic. If he finds anything unislamic he had to be prepared to seize political power and establish an islamic system, not just in one country but the world over.

Note – Mawdudi likened himself as a mujaddid 

Among the mujaddids whom Mawdudi singled out for praise were Taymiyya, Ahmad Sirhandi and Waliullah.

Taymiyya came to prominence when the mongols were attacking and ravaging the islamic nations of the middle east. He presented islam in a commonsensical term to ordinary people and his teachings help revive the fast fading religion that was under mongol onslaught.

Sirhandi was the savior of Islam in India at a time when it was being maligned and was contaminated by Akbar’s policies.

Shah Waliullah was a mujaddid worthy of emulation, for he had carried out the most thorough critique of Indian Muslim religious practices. Even though he had not wielded the sword, his successors had made up for the omission.

Shah Ismail and Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi, though not mujaddids, had propagated Waliullah’s thought. Lacking interest in material and worldly matters, they pursued jihad fi sabil allah.

Mawdudi remains a man of great contradictions who, in pursuit of his religious beliefs, chose a path that continues to draw his co-religionists backwards into the age of violence and radicalism


*The New Statesman, July 2013