Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi

From New World Encyclopedia

Sayyid Abul Ala al-Maududi (Urdu: سيد ابو الاعلى مودودی, Arabic: سيد أبو الأعلى المودودي; alternative spellings of first and last names: Syed, Maudoodi, and Mawdudi; often referred to as Maulana Maududi and Imam Maududi) (September 25, 1903 – September 22, 1979) founded the Jamaat-e-Islami (The Islamic Party), a political Islamic party in Pakistan. Abul A’la was born on Rajab 3, 1321 AH (September 25, 1903 C.E.) in Aurangabad, a well-known town in the former princely state of Hyderabad (Deccan), presently Andhra Pradesh, India.

The family had a long-standing tradition of spiritual leadership and a number of Maududi’s ancestors were outstanding leaders of Sufi Orders. One of the luminaries among them, the one from whom he derived his family name, was Khawajah Qutb al-Din Maudud (d. 527 AH), a renowned leader of the Chishti Sufi Order. Maududi’s forefathers had moved to the Subcontinent from Chisht, Afghanistan towards the end of the 9th century of the Islamic calendar (fifteenth century of the Christian calendar). The first one to arrive was Maududi’s namesake, Abul A’la Maududi (d. 935 AH). Maududi’s father, Ahmad Hasan, born in 1855 C.E., a lawyer by profession, was a highly religious and devout person. Abul A’la was the youngest of his three sons. Maududi is widely considered to have been one of the most significant Muslim thinkers of the twentieth century. The movement he founded remains strong, both in the Indian sub-continent where some members have held political office in Pakistan and in Bangladesh and also in the South Asian Muslim Diaspora. With Sayyid Qutb he is often called an intellectual father of fundamentalist Islam. Passages he wrote about the legitimacy of the jihad-of-the sword are widely cited. However, his successors have used constitutional means to promote their understanding of Islam and have engaged with Western thought. One of his most accomplished disciples and interpreters, Khurshid Ahmad, has made a major contribution to Muslim-Christian dialogue. Maududi's writings remain popular, and his though is still very influential. He was the first recipient of the prestigious King Faisal award for outstanding service to Islam in 1976 for his tract on human rights.

Educational & intellectual growth

After acquiring early education at home, Abul A’la was admitted in Madrasah Furqaniyah, a high school which attempted to combine the modern Western with the traditional Islamic education. After successfully completing his secondary education, young Abul A’la was at the stage of undergraduate studies at Darul Uloom, Hyderabad, when his formal education was disrupted by the illness and eventual death of his father. This did not deter Maududi from continuing his studies though these had to be outside of the regular educational institutions. By the early 1920s, Abul A’la knew enough Arabic, Persian and English, besides his mother-tongue, Urdu, to study his subjects of interest independently. Thus, most of what he learned was self-acquired though for short spells of time he also received systematic instruction and guidance from some competent scholars. Thus, Maududi’s intellectual growth was largely a result of his own effort and the stimulation he received from his teachers. Moreover, his uprightness, his profound regard for propriety and righteousness largely reflect the religious piety of his parents and their concern for his proper moral upbringing.

Involvement in journalism

After the interruption of his formal education, Maududi turned to journalism in order to make his living. In 1918, he was already contributing to a leading Urdu newspaper, and in 1920, at the age of 17, he was appointed editor of Taj, which was being published from Jabalpore, a city in the province now called Madhya Pradesh, India. Late in 1920, Maududi came to Delhi and first assumed the editorship of the newspaper Muslim (1921-23), and later of al-Jam’iyat (1925-28), both of which were the organs of the Jam’iyat-i ‘Ulama-i Hind, an organisation of Muslim religious scholars. Under his editorship, al-Jam’iyat became the leading newspaper of the Muslims of India.

Interest in politics

Around the year 1920, Maududi also began to take some interest in politics. He participated in the Khilafat Movement, and became associated with the Tahrik-e Hijrat, which was a movement in opposition to the British rule over India and urged the Muslims of that country to migrate en masse to Afghanistan. The Khilafat movement supported the continued existence of the Muslim caliphate after it was abolished by the Turish leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. However, he fell foul of the leadership of the movement because of his insistence that the aims and strategy of the movement should be realistic and well-planned. Maududi withdrew more and more into academic and journalistic pursuits.

First book

During 1920-28, Maulana Maududi also translated four different books, one from Arabic and the rest from English. He also made his mark on the academic life of the Subcontinent by writing his first major book, al-Jihad fi al-Islam. This is a masterly treatise on the Islamic law of war and peace. It was first serialized in al-Jam’iyat in 1927 and was formally published in 1930. It was highly acclaimed both by the famous poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) and Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar (d. 1931), the famous leader of the Khilafat Movement. Though written during his ’20s, it is one of his major and most highly regarded works. It was in this work that he argued in favor of the jihad-of-the sword, ranting against Muslims who restricted jihad to that of "swords and pens." He wrote that to limit jihad to "waging war with tongues and pens" is tantamount to surrounding to the enemy, since it concedes that "to fire cannons and to shoot with guns is the privilege of your honor's government," while "wagging tongues and scratching with pens is our pleasure" (1930: 3). In a paragraph that is often used to support the view that fundamentalists Muslims want to take over, by force is necessary, the whole world, he wrote:

Islam requires the earth—not just a portion of it—not because the sovereignty over the earth should be wrestled from one or several nations and vested in one particular nation—but because the entire mankind should benefit from the ideology and welfare program or what would be true to say from Islam, which is the program of well-being for all humanity" (1930: 6-7).

Research and writings

After his resignation from al-Jam’iyat in 1928, Maududi moved to Hyderabad and devoted himself to research and writing. It was in this connection that he took up the editorship of the monthly Tarjuman al-Qur’an in 1933, which since then has been the main vehicle for the dissemination of Maududi’s ideas. He proved to be a highly prolific writer, turning out several scores of pages every month. Initially, he concentrated on the exposition of ideas, values and basic principles of Islam. He paid special attention to the questions arising out of the conflict between the Islamic and the contemporary Western whorl. He also attempted to discuss some of the major problems of the modern age and sought to present Islamic solutions to those problems. He also developed a new methodology to study those problems in the context of the experience of the West and the Muslim world, judging them on the theoretical criterion of their intrinsic soundness and viability and conformity with the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. His writings revealed his erudition and scholarship, a deep perception of the significance of the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and a critical awareness of the mainstream of Western thought and history. All this brought freshness to Muslim approach to these problems and lent a wider appeal to his message.

In the mid ’30s, Maududi started writing on major political and cultural issues confronting the Muslims of India at that time and tried to examine them from the Islamic perspective rather than merely from the viewpoint of short-term political and economic interests. He relentlessly criticized the newfangled ideologies which had begun to cast a spell over the minds and hearts of his brethren-in-faith and attempted to show the hollowness of those ideologies. In this connection, the idea of nationalism received concerted attention from Maududi when he forcefully explained its dangerous potentialities as well as its incompatibility with the teachings of Islam. Maududi also emphasized that nationalism in the context of India meant the utter destruction of the separate identity of Muslims. In the meantime, in 1938 an invitation from the philosopher-poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal persuaded him to leave Hyderabad and settle in the Eastern part of Punjab, in the district of Pathankot. Maududi established what was essentially an academic and research centre called Darul-Islam where, in collaboration with Allama Iqbal, he planned to train competent scholars in Islamics to produce works of outstanding quality on Islam, and above all, to carry out the reconstruction of Islamic Thought. Iqbal was committed to achieving a separate state for Muslims when the British could be persuaded to leave India and saw an ally in the younger scholar.

Founding the party

Around the year 1940, Maududi developed ideas regarding the founding of a more comprehensive and ambitious movement and this led him to launch a new organization under the name of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Maududi was elected Jamaat’s first Ameer and remained so till 1972 when he withdrew from the responsibility for reasons of health. The organization was both a religious and a political movement, almost a government in waiting since Maududi designed it to resemble a state within a state. The previous year, in a speech at Punjab University, he expounded his political theory in a paper since republished by Khurshid Ahmad as "The Theory of Political Islam" (Maududi: 1999).

Struggle & persecution

Once Pakistan had been created, Maududi migrated there in August of 1947 with high hopes that the first truly modern Islamic state could be built. He shared the view of many Muslims that what existed elsewhere as independent Muslim states did not represent legitimate Islamic forms. He used the term jahilia, as had Ibn Taymiyyah to describe the ignorance that pervaded too much of the Muslim world, which was picked up by Sayyid Qutb, whom he influenced. Maududi concentrated his efforts on establishing a truly Islamic state and society in the country. Consistent with this objective, he wrote profusely to explain the different aspects of the Islamic way of life, especially the socio-political aspects. This concern for the implementation of the Islamic way of life led Maududi to criticize and oppose the policies pursued by the successive governments of Pakistan and to blame those in power for failing to transform Pakistan into a truly Islamic state. The rulers reacted with severe reprisal measures. Maududi was often arrested and had to face long spells in prison. Between 1948 and 1964 he spent a total of five years behind bars.

In 1951, he convened a convention in Karachi to counter the idea that "no unanimity exists in Islam on constitutional matters," so it was "utopian to talk about the establishment of an Islamic state" (Ahhad, preface to Maududi, 1955; 1-10). From the deliberation of the convention, Maududi identified 22 constitutional principles. He described his model of governance as "theo-democracy" which he thought might be comparable to the term, "kingdom of God." He disliked democracy because in democracies, the people, not God, are sovereign and legislators make law, whereas in Islam, God has already revealed God's law, which is perfect. Elected representatives can interpret Sharia but humans can not legislate. He ridiculed, as did Sayyid Qutb, the claim that the people of the United States and other so-called democracies rule, suggesting that those who pay for political campaigns and who lobby for their special interests exercise much more power. Men and women simply are not competent to legislate (55:162). Famously, he pointed out that while Prohibition in the U.S> had been "sound scientific and rationalistic thinking" the people had been morally unprepared, so in practice the law failed (1955: 162). Islam establishes clear moral limits, the hudutAllah, to regulate human life. Leadership, he argues, using the word khilafat, is vested not in anyone individual but in the whole of humanity, or, those Muslims, corporately in the ummah.

Since the people can nominate an individual to exercise leadership as a trust, such an individual, or Amir, can be elected as can a consultative assembly (majlis) to assist the Amir. Maududi was, however, suspicious of self-nomination, since only ambitious people seek office. Selection of candidates considered suitable morally and in terms of their knowledge of Islam would be chosen by a neutral body. Any Muslim, regardless of place of birth, is a citizen of the Islamic state, since the Islamic state is an "ideological State" and recognizes no "geographical, linguistic or color bar" (1955: 167). Areas not covered by Shariah could be decided by the majlis. His understanding of Shariah would be described as traditional. Muslims are free to interpret the sources in the light of contemporary need but on such issues as allowing multi-marriage, restricting the employment of women, Maududi took a traditional stance. Anyone who denied that Muslim men had the right to take up to four wives was opposed to what the Qur'an, in his view, clearly permits. His views on gender were presented in a 1939 paper, Purdah and the Status of Women in Islam. He would have objected strongly to Benazir Bhutto's prime ministership, arguing that "only foolish and senseless people mix" up the "different fields of activity of the two sexes" (1939: 122). It was inconceivable that an "Aristotle, Ibn-i-Sina, Kant, Hegel, Khayyam, Shakespeare, Alexander… will ever come forth from among women," whose monthly period disqualifies them from any position of responsibility (122). For a women to enter "the police, the judicial, administrative, foreign, railway, industrial and commercial services" defemenizes them, he wrote (120).

During these years of struggle and persecution, Maududi impressed all, including his critics and opponents, by the firmness and tenacity of his will and other outstanding qualities. In 1953, when he was sentenced to death by the martial law authorities on the charge of writing a seditious pamphlet on the Qadyani problem, he resolutely turned down the opportunity to file a petition for mercy. He cheerfully expressed his preference for death to seeking clemency from those who wanted, altogether unjustly, to hang him for upholding the right. With unshakeable faith that life and death lie solely in the hands of Allah, he told his son as well as his colleagues: "If the time of my death has come, no one can keep me from it; and if it has not come, they cannot send me to the gallows even if they hang themselves upside down in trying to do so." His family also declined to make any appeal for mercy. His firmness astonished the government which was forced, under strong public pressure both from within and without, to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment and then to cancel it.

On Christianity and the West

Maududi could be scathingly critical of the West, which he saw as morally bankrupt. He depicted the West as preoccupied with sex. Prostitution, he said, was rampant and the West would soon learn that multiple-marriage was a better option. Islam and Western society are “poles apart” in their objectives and social system (1939: 23). He thought the French so debauched that their national strength had been depleted (51). He castigated the West for thinking that it has invented human rights “while the rest of the world was steeped in ignorance,” whereas all necessary rights were enshrined in the Qur’an (1976: 13). He considered the Universal Declaration of Human Rights inadequate because it failed to refer to divine rights, which overrides human rights. He preferred to speak about human responsibility, not rights.

Writing about Christianity, Maududi upheld the charge of tahrif, that Christians have overlaid their Scriptures with fabrications although he accepted that some parts of the Bible are authentic [1] He rejected the Trinity and the claim that Jesus is God’s son, or that Jesus can be worshipped, citing Q4: 157 and other relevant passages. Jesus was a prophet in the chain of messengers sent by God to remind humanity of God’s Sharia.[2] Nor did Jesus die on the Cross, accepting a common Muslim view that someone else was substituted in his pace.[3]

Intellectual contribution

Maulana Maududi has written over 200 books and pamphlets and made over a 1000 speeches and press statements of which about 700 are available on record. Some of his writing has been translated into English, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, French, German, Swahili, and Hindu among other languages.

Maududi’s pen was simultaneously prolific, forceful and versatile. The range of subjects he covered is unusually wide. Disciplines such as Tafsir, Hadith, law, philosophy and history, all have received the due share of his attention. He discussed a wide variety of problems, political, economic, cultural, social, and theological and attempted to state how the teachings of Islam were related to those problems. Maududi has not delved into the technical world of the specialist, but has expounded the essentials of the Islamic approach in most of the fields of learning and inquiry.

His main contribution, however, has been in the fields of the Qur’anic exegesis (Tafsir), ethics, social studies and the problems facing the movement of Islamic revival. His greatest work is his monumental tafsir in Urdu of the Qur’an, Tafhim al-Qur’an, a work he took 30 years to complete. Twice he traveled to some of the places referred in the Qur'an while he was writing this commentary. Its chief characteristic lies in presenting the meaning and message of the Qur’an in a language and style that penetrates the hearts and minds of the men and women of today and shows the relevance of the Qur’an to their everyday problems, both on the individual and societal planes. He translated the Qur’an in direct and forceful modern Urdu idiom. His translation is much more readable and eloquent than ordinary literal translations of the Qur’an. He presented the Qur’an as a book of guidance for human life and as a guide-book for the movement to implement and enforce that guidance in human life. He attempted to explain the verses of the Qur’an in the context of its total message. This tafsir has made a far-reaching impact on contemporary Islamic thinking in the Subcontinent, and through its translations, even abroad. It is fully translated into English and first 9 volumes are already published in book form with the title, The Meaning the Qur'an (1967-79). Self-taught, he did not refer in the traditional style to the history of interpretation but worked from text to context and within the text to elucidate meaning. He can be said to have pioneered the democratization of tafsir, since while officially Islam has no clergy, traditionally only those formally trained do so and often discipline, or try to, upstart laity who attempt this. He considered the Qur’an as Muslim possess this today to be identical with the Book that Muhammad had received, which has been “completely preserved, free from interpolations and precisely in the same wording in which it was revealed to the Holy Prophet.”[4]

The influence of Maulana Maududi is not confined to those associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami. His influence transcends the boundaries of parties and organizations. Maududi is very much like a father-figure for Muslims all over the world. As a scholar and writer, he is the most widely read Muslim writer of our time. His books have been translated into most of the major languages of the world Arabic, English, Turkish, Persian, Hindi, French, German, Swahili, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, and are now increasingly becoming available in many more of the Asian, African and European languages. Towards the end of his life, under the regime of Zia al-Haq, in power from 1977, he became increasingly influential as Zia announced an Islamization program, setting up an Islamic Ideolgy Council with Jamaati participation. Members occupied significant posts. Khurshid Ahmad may be his most distinguished disciple. Having translated several of Maududi’s books and himself an authority on Islamic economics, Ahmad was minister of planning in the Pakistani Government (78-9) and served two full terms in the Senate where he chaired the Standing Committee on Finance and Economy (92-7). In 1990, he also received the King Faisal Award. He has participated in dialogues organized by the World Council of Churches, has lectured in Rome and was for several years on the advisory board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, now part of the University of Birmingham. He is a Na’ib Amir (deputy leader) of Jamaat-e-islam.

Travels & journeys abroad

The several journeys which Maududi undertook during the years 1956-74 enabled Muslims in many parts of the world to become acquainted with him personally and appreciate many of his qualities. At the same time, these journeys were educative for Maududi himself as well as they provided to him the opportunity to gain a great deal of first-hand knowledge of the facts of life and to get acquainted with a large number of persons in different parts of the world. During these numerous tours, he lectured in Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, Kuwait, Rabat, Istanbul, London, New York, Toronto, and at a host of international centers. During these years, he also participated in some 10 international conferences. He also made a study tour of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Jerusalem, Syria, and Egypt in 1959-60 in order to study the geographical aspects of the places mentioned in the Qur’an. He was also invited to serve on the Advisory Committee which prepared the scheme for the establishment of the Islamic University of Madinah and was on its Academic Council ever since the inception of the University in 1962.

He was also a member of the Foundation Committee of the Rabitah al-Alam al-Islami, Makkah, and of the Academy of Research on Islamic Law, Madinah. In short, he was a tower of inspiration for Muslims the world over and influenced the climate and pattern of thought of Muslims, as the Himalayas or the Alps influence the climate in Asia or Europe without themselves moving about.

His last days

In April 1979, Maududi’s long-time kidney ailment worsened and by then he also had heart problems. He went to the United States for treatment and was hospitalized in Buffalo, New York, where his second son worked as a physician. Even at Buffalo, his time was intellectually productive. He spent many hours reviewing Western works on the life of the Prophet and meeting with Muslim leaders, their followers and well-wishers.

Following a few surgical operations, he died on September 22, 1979, at the age of 76. His funeral was held in Buffalo, but he was buried in an unmarked grave at his residence (Ichra) in Lahore after a very large funeral procession through the city. Funeral prayer was lead by Shaikh Yousuf Al Qardhavi in Colonel Qadafi stadium of Lahore and was well attended by all sections of people from most countries of Muslim world. The then ruler of Pakistan General Ziaul Haq had attended the prayer in his military outfit.


Some observers compare his ideology and theology to Nationalism blended with Islamic Fundamentalism, in many ways in opposition to the teachings of the Fiqh against Nationalism. Mawdudi's aim was not to build a non-existent state, but seize power from a well-established state structure and replace them with Sharia law controlled Islamic states. His methods have been compared to that of Benito Mussolini's Fascist movement in Italy.[5]

In 1977, Mawdudi wrote,

German Nazism could not have succeeded in establishing itself except as a result of the theoretical contributions of Fichte, Goethe, and Nietzsche, coupled with the ingenious and mighty leadership of Hitler and his comrades.[6]


  1. Ridgeon, 2001: 16.
  2. Ibid, 18
  3. Ibid, 20
  4. Bennett (2005), 97.
  5. Y.M. Choueri, “Theoretical paradigms of Islamic Movements,” Political Studies 41: 1, 108-116.
  6. Sayyid Ala Abdul Minhaj al-inquilab al-Islami Maududi, The Method of Islamic Revolution (Cairo: Dar-al Ansar, 1977).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Adams, Charles J. “Mawdudi and the Islamic State.” In Esposito, John L (ed.). Voices of Resurgent Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
  • Bennett, Clinton. Muslim and Modernity. London: Continuum, 2005. ISBN 08264581X.
  • Maududi, Sayyid Abul A'la. “Political Theory of Islam,” in Ahmad, Khurshid (ed.). Islam: Its Meaning and Message. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1999. ISBN 060372871.
  • Maududi, Sayyid Abul A'la. Jihad in Islam Kuwait. International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, 1996.
  • Maududi, Sayyid Abul A'la. Purdah and the Status of Women in Islam. Lahore: Islamic Publication Ltd, 1972.
  • Maududi, Sayyid Abul A'la. Islamic Law and Constitution. Edited by Ahmad, Khurshid. Karachi: Jamaat-e-Islami Publications, 1955.
  • Mawdudi, Sayyid Abul A'la. "Human Rights in Islam." al-Tawhid Journal 14 (3).
  • Mawdudi, Sayyid Abul A'la. The Meaning of the Qur’an. Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1967-79.
  • Ridgeon, Lloyd J. Crescents on the Cross: Islamic Visions of Christianity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0195795482.


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