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New Straits Times 14 April 2001

Cross Currents
Towards restoring original role of ulama
By Farish A. Noor

SYED Haider Farooq Maudoodi is the son of the famous Islamic scholar and political activist, Syed Maulana Maudoodi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan. While the Jamaat-e-Islami has become the most powerful and influential force in political Islam in Pakistan today, Farooq Maudoodi leads the Jamaat-e Islami Syed Maudoodi group, a breakaway faction ostracised by the Jamaat itself.

Together with a number of prominent activists, journalists and academics, Farooq Maudoodi has been trying to propagate what he feels was and is the original message of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its founder, his father. The author spoke to him at his residence in Ichara, Lahore, about the present orientation of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the role of the ulama in politics and the future of the Muslim world. This is the first of a two-part series.
Farish: First of all, can you tell us something about yourself and your group, and how it came to pass that you broke away from the Islamist party that your father had founded and led for so long.

Farooq: I happen to lead an organisation which we call the Jamaat-e-Islami Syed Maudoodi group. We are basically a group of Islamist intellectuals, scholars, activists and writers who have been trying to revive the original message of my late father, Syed Maulana Maudoodi.

We separated from the Jamaat-e-Islami when it became clear that the JI was no longer following the path that my father had set, and since then we have been attacked by them.

They do not accept us or any of our claims but I have always maintained that they have deviated from the path that my father had set for the party.

We are an active political grouping and we hope to work towards achieving the goals that my father had set himself so long ago.

Farish: There are those both within and without the Jamaat who claim that you are really a nuisance and that you really want to disrupt the programme of the JI. They argue that you have misrepresented Maudoodi's ideas and views and that you are working against the JI, and by default the Islamist cause per se.

Farooq: It is they who have turned the message of my father on its head. Our position is clear: We hold that the struggle for Islam has to be towards emancipation and the development of the Muslim community, the liberation of the Muslim mind.

We do not hold their view that the ulama should be at the vanguard of the Islamist struggle. On the contrary, we feel that the real role of the ulama should be as the custodians of Islamic knowledge and that they should distance themselves from politics and the political process.

Farish: Can you elaborate a little more on this point? Farooq: What I mean is simply this: The ulama have a role to play in Muslim society and that is something that we have never argued or questioned. But the ulama should also stand above the political process and they should never be trying to gain political power or control of the State.

The ulama should stand in between all parties and political movements. Their role is to offer advice and guidance to all those who are part of the political system. They should direct their criticism to both the ruling power as well as the opposition. That way they would be truly impartial and they would be free from the constraints of politics.

That was what my father originally envisaged when he spoke of the role of the ulama as the guardians of Muslim society. But today in Pakistan and other parts of the Islamic world you can see hundreds of political parties and movements struggling for power many led by the ulama.

They have become politicians and they play the dirty game of politics fighting for votes, etc. This is demeaning for them and for Islam. What have they got to do with politics anyway? They condemn the abuses of politics and yet we can all see how they have become politicised themselves. They have become political animals, and this is also true for the party that my father had started.

Farish: When, in your opinion, did the JI become a political party? Farooq: For me it began in the mid-1980s, when Mian Tufayl resigned and the position of the emir of the Jamaat was given to Qazi Hussain Ahmad (in 1985). From that point onwards, the Jamaat became a political party.

At one time they worked with this government, and at another time they worked with another. The JI has been playing the game of politics and they have all become politicians.

Their speeches are no longer about religion but about gaining power and votes. Their rhetoric has also changed so many times. Today they have started to call themselves an NGO. This is all part of the political game and they play it just as well as the other Islamist parties in the country.

Farish: If the ulama are not supposed to get involved in politics, what should they do? What do you feel they have to offer to society? Farooq: The ulama today have forgotten that their main role is dakwah. They have to teach and offer instruction to Muslims who know less than they do about Islamic law and ethics. That is why the ulama should stand in between the Government and the opposition.

They should correct the errors of both. What the ulama have forgotten is their role in creating a good human being. I don't even mean a good Muslim. Whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu what matters is the creation of a good person above all else: Someone who obeys the law, has a respect for the needs of others, has a sense of social obligation and duty.

When such individuals are around, creating an Islamic society that is just and equal is easy. But without such moral instruction from the ulama, the Muslims are without moral leadership and examples to emulate. Now all we have are ulama who are busy trying to become politicians and leaders in government. What kind of moral example is that?' Farish: If moral instruction is as important as you say, what kind of leadership are the ulama meant to provide? How can they help to educate and guide the people? What would be required for such a project? Farooq: Moral instruction cannot come from the ulama today because they themselves are intellectually bankrupt. The ulama today all come from the same traditional schooling system. They have been reading the same books that have been read by previous generations of ulama, uncritically and with no imagination.

Look at the state of Muslim law at present. We Muslims talk about ourselves as being dynamic and progressive, yet we still live under the dominance of the ulama who are themselves guided by a school of fiqh that is hopelessly out of date and inadequate in the face of the demands of today.

Islamic jurisprudence has not evolved since the time of the last Caliph Ali. After his martyrdom, the Muslim world has been in a state of decay. The Ummayad, Abbasid and other dynasties that came after merely appropriated the laws and customs of the Muslim community at the time and adjusted them to their own needs.

Look at how the history of Islam is littered with the biographies of Sultans and the elite. What of the ordinary Muslims themselves? How come we still live in a world where so many count for nothing? All these kingdoms and dynasties were an aberration of Islam and they have twisted the message of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Islam has been used to justify the acquisition of power and the corruption of the elite but the message of equality and justice has been lost.

* Second part next week


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