The honesty of Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979) is considered one of the greatest 20th century Islamic scholars. He was an Islamic revivalist who wrote enormously, exhorting Muslims to restore the sharia and rescue Islam to former glory. By the time of his death he had produced 73 books and written more than 120 books and pamphlets. His crowning glory was his Tafhim Al-Quran (Understanding the Koran) which took 30 years to write and is considered one of the most important works of modern Koranic interpretation.

As mentioned in a recent post, Maududi was very clear about how Islam (and the sharia) was a complete way of life. From his succinct booklet, The Islamic Way of Life, he notes the totality of the Islamic system (bold emphasis mine):

The chief characteristic of Islam is that it makes no distinction between the spiritual and the secular in life. Its aim is to shape both individual lives as well as society as a whole in ways that will ensure that the Kingdom of God may really be established on earth and that peace, contentment and well-being may fill the world….a group of people or a society which consists of true Muslims can never break away from the Law of their Lord. Its political order, its social organisations, its culture, its economic policy, its legal system and its international strategy must all be in tune with the code of guidance revealed by Allah. Any unwitting contraventions must be corrected as soon as they are realised. It is disbelievers who feel free from God’s guidance and behave as if they were their own master. Anyone who behaves like this, even though he may bear a name similar to that of a Muslim, is treading the path of the disbelievers.

Moreover, Maududi explains the difference between “Islamic democracy” and “Western democracy” whereby the former is superior given its emphasis on following divine dictates and which all people must follow (bold emphasis mine):

What distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy is that while the latter is based on the concept of popular sovereignty the former rests on the principle of popular Khilafat. In Western democracy the people are sovereign, in Islam sovereignty is vested in God and the people are His caliphs or representatives. In the former the people make their own laws; in the latter they have to follow and obey the laws (Shari’ah) given by God through His Prophet. In one the Government undertakes to fulfil the will of the people; in the other the Government and the people alike have to do the will of God. Western democracy is a kind of absolute authority which exercises its powers in a free and uncontrolled manner, whereas Islamic democracy is sub-servient to the Divine Law and exercises its authority in accordance with the injunctions of God and within the limits prescribed by Him.

As mentioned, ‘the ideas Maududi expounds are totalitarian, akin to Communism.’

It is interesting reading Maududi’s works even further because of his frank honesty and admission of this very fact. In his 1960 work, The Islamic Law and Constitution, he explains unashamedly how an Islamic state is “universal” and “all-embracing”, similar to Fascism and Communism (bold emphasis mine):

A state of this sort cannot evidently restrict the scope of its activities. Its approach is universal and all-embracing. Its sphere of activity is coextensive with the whole of human life. It seeks to mould every aspect of life and activity in consonance with its moral norms and programme of social reform. In such a state no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private. Considered from this aspect the Islamic State bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states.[1]

The Islamic state derives its authority from Islamic law i.e. the divine law direct from Allah, recited to the world via Mohammed as witnessed in the Koran. More importantly, the sharia is also what has been revealed through the behaviour and example of Mohammed (Sunna) – in fact, Mohammed’s behaviour helps flesh out much of the sharia. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, there is no scope for independent evaluation and interpretation by Muslims with regards to this. Maududi explains, frankly again, how ijtihad, the Islamic legal term for determining the answer to a legal question, is not the same as critical thinking and independent judgement. What is paramount for following sharia is following the Koran and Sunna without resorting to man-made judgement (bold emphasis mine):

The whole of this legislative process which makes the legal system of Islam dynamic and makes it development and evolution in the changing circumstances possible, results from a particular type of academic research and intellectual effort which, in the terminology of Islam, is called Ijtihad. Literally the word Ijtihad means to put in the maximum effort in performing a job but technically it signifies ‘maximum effort to ascertain, in a given problem or issue, the injunction of Islam and its real intent’. Some persons seem to be labouring under the erroneous impression that Ijtihad means completely independent use of one’s opinion. But no one conversant with the nature of Islamic law can imagine that there can be any place for this kind of independence in the legal system of Islam. The real law of Islam is the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The legislation that human being may undertake must essentially be derived from this Fundamental Law or it should be within the limits prescribed by it for the use of one’s discretion or the exercise of one’s opinion. For Ijtihad that purports to be independent of the Shari’ah can neither be an Islamic Ijtihad nor is there any room for such an incursion in the legal system of Islam.[2]

Some Muslims, like Yassmin Abdel-Magied, are misguided in believing sharia is:

…actually what is known as a common law structure: a constantly changing and evolving process aimed at ensuring society operates intelligently and ethically…[3]

Abdel-Magied thinks sharia “relies on a large element of interpretation”[4] and that:

At any particular time there can be a number of different interpretations of the same set of facts – but this interpretative element allows Sharia the flexibility to be relevant to all times and places…[5]

It would be interesting to know where Abdel-Magied gets these ideas from – very few, if any, of her ideas have any relevance or understanding within mainstream, institutional Islam. Moreover, if Mohammed’s example is the exemplar for humanity to follow for all time, under what circumstances could there be any “interpretative element” around this? Shouldn’t he be followed per the Koran, Hadith and his Sunna?

Islamic revivalists like Maududi propagated that pure, true Islam as contained in the Koran, Hadith and Sunna of Mohammed should be followed. I am more willing to listen to Maududi whose understanding of Islam and sharia is consistent with classical Islamic commentators and theologians.

Maududi’s frankness is refreshing but also worrying. He was an extremely influential thinker in his time and these ideas – totalitarian as they are – need to be fought wherever Islam and the sharia attempts to change the politics of any country it’s in.



[1] Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, The Islamic Law and Constitution, Lahore, 1960, p. 146.

[2] Ibid., p. 76.

[3] Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Yassmin’s Story. Vintage, Australia, 2016, pp. 9-10.

[4] Ibid., p. 10.

[5] Ibid., p. 10.