Right Word | Banna, Qutb, Maududi: Three keys to understanding Islamist violence from Jahangirpuri to Stockholm

The ideological foundation for the fanatic and violent identity politics of Islamists was laid down by Hassan al Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Abul Ala Maududi in the 20th century

Arun Anand April 23, 2022 16:24:38 IST
Right Word | Banna, Qutb, Maududi: Three keys to understanding Islamist violence from Jahangirpuri to Stockholm

Police and paramilitary personnel patrol a site where violence broke out between two communities during the Shobha Yatra procession on Hanuman Jayanti, at Jahangirpuri, New Delhi. ANI

What has triggered the violence in Hindu processions of Ram Navami and Hanuman Janmaotsav at several places across Bharat recently? As people of India were feeling aghast at these incidents, thousands of miles away Muslim mobs were pelting stones and burning vehicles in several cities of Sweden also.

Are such incidents merely impulsive reactions? Are they triggered by some local factors? It appears that the immediate impact of such violence may be very localised but their origin is not. They are the outcome of what the globe has been witnessing for decades: Negation of nationalism by Islamists. India, unfortunately, seems to be a part of this global phenomenon now. Those who tend to blame attacks on Hindus and Hindu symbols by Islamists on the ‘Hindutva’ or the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s politics and policies seem to be deliberately ignoring this phenomenon.

To understand this phenomenon, one has to go back to the last century and recall some of the most influential theorists of ‘Islamism’ in 20th century. Their vision of ‘Islamism’, which many political scientists also call ‘political Islam’ has been unfolding across the world for the last five decades and India isn’t any exception.

Before we move on to talk about these Islamic theorists, it is important to know that the revivalism of Islamism or political Islam picked up the pace in the 1970s. The growing financial clout of Saudi Arabia which exported Wahhabism to the world and the American policy of promoting Islamism to counter communism during the Cold War were two key factors that helped political Islam to get well entrenched globally which eventually posed a challenge to nationalism initially in Islamic countries. Once it had destroyed nationalism in these Islamic countries, this movement moved to the non-Islamic countries.

However, the ideological foundation for this fanatic and violent identity politics of Islamists was laid down by Hassan al Banna (1906-49), Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) and Maulana Abul Ala Maududi (1903-79) in the 20th century. They were the three key ideologues who played an instrumental role in establishing the framework that nationalism should be negated for Islamism. This framework is the root cause of Islamic radicalisation across the world that gets manifested in incidents that we have witnessed in several Indian states where Hindu processions and symbols were attacked by Islamists.

Hasan al Banna

Banna was an Egyptian political and religious leader. He founded the Society of Brothers, commonly known as ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ in the 1920s. This organisation has a global reach now. “The Muslim Brothers formed their society in Egypt in order to reclaim Islam’s political dimension, which had formerly resided in the person of the now-fallen Caliph. Confronted by the Egyptian nationalists of the time who demanded independence, the departure of the British and a democratic Constitution, the Brothers responded with a slogan that is still current in the Islamist movement: “The Koran is Our Constitution… The doctrine was shared by the entire Islamist movement, whatever their other views,” observed Gilles Kepel in Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Bloomsbury Academic; 2021, pp25).


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Muslim Brotherhood rapidly grew within Egypt and by the late 1930s. it had set up branches in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. It had even set up a branch in Hyderabad in India as well as in Paris.

John Roy Carlson explained the philosophy of Muslim Brotherhood in his seminal work ‘Cairo to Damascus’ as put forward by its official newspaper, Ikhwan El Muslimin. “No justice will be dealt and no peace maintained on earth until the rule of the Koran and the bloc of Islam are established. Moslem unity must be established. Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, Palestine, Saudi-Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Tripoli, Tunis, Algeria and Morocco all form one bloc, the Moslem bloc, which God has promised to grant victory saying: ‘We shall grant victory unto the faithful.’ But this is impossible to reach other than through the way of Islam.” Banna was assassinated in 1949 but Syyid Qutb, the top theorist of Muslim Brotherhood, carried the movement forward.

Syyid Qutb

Qutb, an Egyptian religious leader, had an intense dislike for the West. He had developed this repulsion towards the Western culture when he was in the United States from 1948 to 1950. Robert Spencer, one of the foremost authorities on Islamism and Jihad observed, “Qutb’s influential book Milestones positioned Islam as the true source of societal and personal order, as opposed to both capitalism and communism.” (The History of Jihad; Bombarider Books; Pp299)

Spencer further adds, “Qutb concluded: ‘It is essential for mankind to have a new leadership!’. The new leadership would come from Islam. To Qutb, what the Muslim Umma needed was a restoration of Islam in its fullness and purity, including all the rules of the Sharia for regulating society… Qutb taught that jihad was necessary in order to establish Sharia.”

Qutb was executed by the Egyptian government led by socialist ruler Gamel Abdel Naseer in 1966. But Muslim Brotherhood continued its journey and made a major ideological comeback in the 1980s. This movement was legitimised by many so-called ‘Progressives’ as a tool to empower the disenfranchised groups who had allegedly not been given their due by the European elites.

According to a 2018 report of the US’ Sub Committee on National Security, “Jihadist ideology continues to fuel the Muslim Brotherhood today. The Brotherhood mourned the death of Osama bin Laden and its leaders developed teachings justifying revolutionary violence under sharia law. The Brotherhood has preached hatred towards Jews, denied the Holocaust, and called for Israel's destruction. The Brotherhood has incited violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt amidst a wave of church bombings and other attacks by terrorist groups, including ISIS.”

Maulana Abul Ala Maududi

Maulana Maududi was an Islamic revivalist who had set up Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) in 1941 at Lahore which was a part of undivided India. After Partition, he moved to Pakistan where Jamaat-e-Islami has become a major political power centre.

In 2015 Nadeem F Pracha, a senior columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, wrote an interesting article titled “Abul Ala Maududi: An existentialist history” where he observed candidly, “Maududi had formed his party in 1941 like a Leninist outfit in which a vanguard and select group of learned and 'pious Muslims' would work to bring an 'Islamic revolution' and do away with the forces of what Maududi called modern-day jahiliya (socialism, communism, liberal democracy, secularism and a faith ‘distorted by innovators’). To that end, he began to lay down the foundations of what came to be known as 'Islamism' — a theory that advocated the formation of an Islamic state by first ‘Islamising’ various sections of the economy and politics so that a fully Islamised polity could be built to launch the final Islamic revolution. Maududi's theories in this context attracted certain segments of Pakistan’s urban middle-classes and was also adopted by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which tried to jettison the process through a 'jihad' within Egypt.”

Kepel says, “Towards the end of the 1960s, the bisecting influences of Qutb and Maududi prepared the ground within Sunni Muslim world for the emergence of Islamist movement over the next ten years. According to Maududi, an Islamic state was the only possible safeguard for endangered Muslims.”

The Jamaat-e-Islami movement has spread its reach not only across South Asia, including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but it has a substantial presence in Britain and a significant following among European Muslims, especially those of South Asian origin. Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir had been banned by the Indian government in 2019 for its anti-national activities. Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh’s role in the pre-1971 genocide of Bengali Hindus and targeting of Hindus after the formation of Bangladesh is also well documented.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind mentions specifically the original Jamaat-e-Islami of Maududi in the ‘Our Legacy’ section on its official website. It says, “Jamaat-e-Islami was founded on 26 August 1941 at Lahore under the leadership of Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi in undivided India. After the independence of India, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) was officially established on 16th April 1948 at a meeting in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, having its own body of fundamental principles and a separate leadership and structure.”

Maududi, who was a prolific writer, published one of his most widely read book Jihad in Islam in 1927. The book was originally written in Urdu. Incidentally, Banna had established Muslim Brotherhood around the same time in 1928.

According to a report by Pew Research Centre, “The Muslim Brotherhood and Jama’at-i Islami are separate movements that tend to draw the bulk of their members from different ethnic groups (Arabs and South Asians, respectively). Nevertheless, both groups are rooted in a political ideology, frequently described as ‘Islamist’, that calls for the establishment of a distinctly Islamic system of government.”

The writer, an author and columnist has written several books. Views expressed are personal.

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