In the midst of political churnings in New Delhi following the back to back victories of the BJP in Lok Sabha elections, political and social pundits have failed to keep up with the change of guard in Jamaat-e-Islamic Hind, the foremost Islamist organization in India. The organization, founded by Islamic ideologue, Syed Abulala Maududi, who many believe to be behind the resurgence of political Islam and Islamist movements across the world, seems to have come a long way in India.
The Islamist organization that prides in its intellectual work seems to be undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts in recent years. The most telling sign of the change is the change of guard in the organization that was founded by Maududi in the year 1942.
Change of guard
The change cannot be starker in an organization that was thought to be run by a deeply entrenched clergy. The reigns of the JIH have moved from old guards, represented by octogenarian, Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umri, to an engineer by education, Syed Sadatullah Hussaini, who is almost half his age. 45-year old Hussaini’s team is made up of mostly engineers from down South besides a few who come from clergy, so indispensible for an Islamist organization. Despite their inclusion in the organizational set-up the clergy seems to have lost its grasp over the organization.
Despite the look of a seamless change of guard, it was all but seamless and smooth. The old guard was not really very eager to let its sway over the organization vanish all of a sudden. The last election too, held four years ago, was very hotly contested and Hussaini failed to dislodge the reverenced Maulana Umari by a whisker. But this time, the undercurrent was so strong that the new generation was able to easily dislodge the clergy in direct contest.
The Jamaat’s top leadership now comprises of many engineers and technocrats. Besides President (amir) of the JI, at least two of the three vice presidents are engineers and one of them teaches at a top engineering college in Rajasthan. Many of the secretaries in the JI also come from universities and not from madrasas and seminaries that used to be the case in the past.
It must be mentioned here that Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is by far the most or rather the only democratic Islamic organization in the country. Other organizations are mostly family run businesses or hereditary organizations. Elections held every four years for the central and state level leadership are most transparent and despite them being bitterly fought, once when the results are out and leadership is announced, everyone accepts the results with unprecedented humility. This is the reason that many old leaders, when removed, voluntarily vacate their offices, accommodations and leave for their homes that they had left for the same organization decades ago.
From political Islam to secular democracy
Renowned scholar, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, while writing in his 'Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism' says, Maududi "was one of the first Islamic thinker to develop a systematic political reading of Islam and a plan for social action to realize his vision. His creation of a coherent Islamic ideology, articulated in terms of the elaborate organization of an Islamic state, constitutes the essential breakthrough that led to the rise of contemporary revivalism."
JI in India seems to have come a long way. From being an organization that condemned secularism and democracy to an organization that prides in working for restoring of the national secular ideals, it is a rather long journey indeed.
Irfan Ahmad, while writing in his ‘Islamism and Democracy in India’ says, "Secular democracy, according to Maududi, was haram because it replaced divine sovereignty with human sovereignty”. But things have radically changed. Irfan, while writing in the introduction of his book says, "In these pages I show how the trajectory of the Jamaat demonstrates a substantive mutation in the discourse of Islamism. Simply put, I demonstrate how its radical goal changed from establishing Allah's Kingdom to embracing and defending Indian Secular democracy”.
The terms that used to be pronounced in the JI discourses in the country have also largely changed. There are chances that the JI, under its new amir, who has emerged as the new-age ideologue of the outfit, will further veer towards moderation.
Opposition to extremism
While the old guard had also opposed all sorts of extremism, Sadatullah Hussaini has been very vocal against all manifestations of extremism in the Muslim society. He has been very vocal against manifestation of any sorts of extremism, including the challenges posed by ISIS or other similar organizations in the Indian Sub-Continent or elsewhere.
While writing in FirstPost, Hussaini condemned ISIS scourge and reasoned why Muslims in India were against extremism and free from the scourge called ISIS. He reasoned that secular democracy in India was responsible for the lack of Indian Muslims’ dalliance with extremism. “There are two reasons for India being comparatively safe. The first reason is the democratic ethos of this country and the second reason is the united stand taken by Indian Muslim leadership and clergy against terrorism and terror outfits. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, one of the biggest and most organised groups of Indian Muslims, has recently held its all India conference in Hyderabad.
Islamic State and extremism were a few of the major issues discussed in the conference. Jamaat chief (Ameer-e-Jamaat) came down heavily on the outfit and termed those planning to join it as 'bewakoof' (mindless). Vice-president of JIH spoke to The Times of India and said, “the conference was aware that it would be a gigantic task to keep the youth at bay from the IS influence through Internet. For this, the JIH decided to set up organisational units that would work in tandem with the youth and community elders. The units will also develop 'cordial' relations with other sections of the Indian society.” Wrote Hussaini in his article.
While there are chances that the JI, under new leadership, may further move towards moderation, the fight-back from the old guard to continue the old policies cannot be discounted. There are other challenges that are far bigger than merely the specter of fight-back from the old guard and the clergy that doesn’t seem to be too happy with the change of the course in the JI.
Far more important and bigger challenge staring the new JI leadership is the required literature to feed its around twelve thousand members and several lakh associates spread across the country. The JI doesn’t really posses leaders, and scholars, who can produce convincing literature to replace the old literature authored by Maududi, his protégés or imported from Islamist writers from around the world.
Maududi, who had marvelous control over language and Islamic sciences, and possessed very persuasive writing style, will pose a major challenge before the new leadership of the JI as they scurry to find someone capable enough to produce literature that they could deliver to their cadre. It is a tall order and the young Turks will find it harder than they would have initially comprehended.
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