Jamāʿat-I Islāmī

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JAMĀʿAT-I ISLĀMĪ (The Islamic Society), a Muslim religio-political organization in the Indian subcontinent, was founded in August 1941 on the initiative of Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī, who had issued a public invitation to all who were interested to meet in Lahore. In his earlier life Mawdūdī had worked as a journalist, but in 1932 he became editor of the religious monthly Tarjumān al-Qurʾān, which later served as the principal organ of the Jamāʿat. During the 1930s Mawdūdī participated in the debates about India's political future and opposed both the united Indian nationalism of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim nationalism of the Muslim League. All nationalism he thought contrary to Islam and insisted that the identity of Muslims derives from Islam alone.

In 1940 the Muslim League passed its famous Lahore Resolution calling for the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for Indian Muslims. Mawdūdī later said that the Lahore Resolution triggered his long-cherished plan to establish a society for the promotion of Islam. Earlier he had concentrated on criticism and reform of individual Muslim life; now, however, there was need for organized activity. At the initial meeting a constitution was adopted, and Mawdūdī was elected the first amīr, or leader. The Jamāʿat-i Islāmī has ever since been inseparably wedded to its founder. Not only was he its leader from the beginning until he retired in 1972, but his writings have provided the Jamāʿat's interpretation of Islam and its political beliefs.

The period between 1941 and 1947 was one of intense activity devoted to promoting the Jamāʿat. The organization's activities remained at the level of individual persuasion, however, and it had almost no influence on India. Although Mawdūdī opposed the nationalist view of Pakistan held by the Muslim League, and bitterly criticized their leadership, when India was partitioned in August 1947, he opted for Pakistan. He moved from East Punjab to Lahore with a portion of his followers, leaving another part of the Jamāʿat to remain in India. Since that time the Indian and Pakistani branches have been entirely separate, and the Indian one has been relatively less important.


In Pakistan the Jamāʿat first worked to assist the refugees pouring into the country from India. In early 1948, however, it leapt into political prominence by espousing the cause of the Islamic state and becoming the focal point of nationwide agitation. Pakistan, Mawdūdī reasoned, had been won in the name of Islam; it was, therefore, imperative that a truly Islamic system be established in the country. Since this position evoked a wide public response, it was troublesome for the liberal leadership of the Muslim League government, who could afford neither to reject the Islamic state nor to embrace it in the form demanded by the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī.

The Jamāʿat quickly came into confrontation with the government. Four things drew government wrath: (1) strident criticism of the leadership, (2) statements by Mawdūdī that the war against India over Kashmir was not a proper jihād ("war in the way of God"), (3) Mawdūdī's stand against oaths of unconditional loyalty to the government, and (4) a prepartition stand of the Jamāʿat against recruitment in the army. Mawdūdī and other leaders were arrested and held in jail for more than a year, but the campaign for the Islamic state continued.

When the Objectives Resolution of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly was passed in 1949, it was acclaimed by the Jamāʿat as Pakistan's declaration of intent to be an Islamic state; the issue then became election of a leadership to implement the Islamic ideal. Thus the way was opened for the Jamāʿat's active participation in elections. This decision to seek political office would subsequently, in 19571958, become the cause of a major rift in the Jamāʿat that would lead to the resignations of several important members.

In 1951 Mawdūdī reached the peak of his prominence in Pakistan and enjoyed respect even among the ʿulamāʾ ("religious scholars"), with whom he often differed. He was the principal figure at the conference of ʿulamāʾ convoked in Karachi in January 1951, in response to the controversial report of the Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly. The twenty-two points describing an Islamic state upon which the ʿulamāʾ agreed were largely due to his influence.

In 1952 and 1953 there was widespread agitation in Pakistan against the Amadīyah sect, resulting in riots, loss of life, and destruction of property. Although the Jamāʿat did not officially sanction the "direct action" against the Amadīyah, much of what happened had its tacit approval. Mawdūdī published a pamphlet entitled Qādiyānī Masʾalah condemning the group as non-Muslim. When martial law was declared in March 1953, he was again arrested, along with numerous Jamāʿat leaders, and was condemned to death. The sentence, however, was commuted, and he was released from prison in April 1955. During Mawdūdī's several imprisonments, others, such as Amīn Asan Ilāī and Sulān Amad, served as temporary amirs of the Jamāʿat.

When the 1956 Pakistani constitution was promulgated, the Jamāʿat-i Islami welcomed it as meeting most of the requirements of an Islamic state. It did so even though the constitution did not declare Islam the official religion of Pakistan, did not make the sharīʿah the law of the land, and did not make the specifically Islamic provisions enforceable in the courts. Acceptance of the constitution robbed the Islamic state issue of its viability, and the Jamāʿat turned to a campaign for "true democracy" in Pakistan centered upon a demand for separate electorates for Muslims and antisecularist propaganda.

In 1958 a military coup brought Field Marshal Muammad Ayyūb Khān to power in Pakistan. The Jamāʿat-i Islāmī fell under the ensuing martial law banning political parties and was thus not allowed to function until the promulgation of a new constitution in March 1962. The Jamāʿat bitterly opposed Ayyūb, whom it saw as a dictator who had frustrated democracy to keep the Islamic forces in check. It rejected the political system established by the new constitution but nonetheless worked within it. The Jamāʿat's ire was especially stimulated by the Muslim Family Law Ordinance, which introduced changes into Muslim personal law. Its activities led Ayyūb to ban the Jamāʿat and to arrest Mawdūdī once again in early 1964. The courts, however, declared the ban and the arrest illegal. During Ayyūb's time the Jamāʿat first adopted the policy of allying itself with other parties in combined opposition to the government. In the 1965 elections it supported Fāimah Jinnā for president, despite its teaching that Islam disapproved a woman as head of state, and following the brief India-Pakistan war of 1965, it added its voice to the protests against the Tashkent Declaration. In the 1970 elections the Jamāʿat joined other right-wing groups in opposing both the socialism of ulfiqār ʿAlī Bhutto and the demands of Mujīb al-Ramān's Awami League; these elections, however, were a crushing defeat for the Jamāʿat throughout the country. When Yayā Khān launched military action against East Pakistan in March 1971, the Jamāʿat supported the actions of the government and the army and thereby lost the little support it had in Bengal. After Bhutto's rise to power it posed a demand for the Niām-i Muafā ("prophetic system") against the socialist tendencies of the People's Party. When Bhutto was overthrown by General iyā al-aqq (Ziya al-Haq), the Jamāʿat was at first favored by the new government by several appointments to cabinet posts, but it was soon reduced to impotence by the government's interdiction of all political activity.


The Jamāʿat's constitution has been amended several times to compensate for changing circumstances. It provides for a highly centralized organization. Most power rests with the amīr, who is elected for a five-year term but who may hold office for life. Seven different central offices function under his direct supervision. He is assisted by a majlis-i shūrā, or consultative body, whose opinions, however, are not binding on him, and by a majlis-i ʿumalāʾ, or executive committee. There is also an executive assistant, the qayyim, who acts as secretary general. Duplicated at the district, circle, and provincial levels, this central organization is of great significance, for it is precisely that detailed for the ideal Islamic state. It was plainly the Jamāʿat's intention that it should become the government in the event of its political success. Membership in the organization, sharply restricted to persons meeting high standards of Islamic knowledge and personal conduct, has never been large. The majority of the Jamāʿat's associates are muttafiqīn, or sympathizers, who provide its principal political support and much of its finances. It is not uncommon for members to be expelled for misconduct or disinterest, and a number of the full members work full time for the Jamāʿat. Great attention is paid to training, and regular training sessions are held. Other activities include publication of journals and newspapers, the maintenance of reading rooms, mobile clinics, disaster relief, and work with labor unions. There are also associated organizations, the principal one of which is the Islāmī Jamāʿat-i ulabāʾ, a militant student group with powerful influence in Pakistani universities.


The Jamāʿat-i Islāmī holds Islam to be an ideology comprising a complete set of principles for human life. Just as nature acknowledges the sovereignty of its creator by obedience to natural laws, so also should humans submit to the divine law for their existence. That law is known primarily through the Qurʾān and the sunnah of the Prophet. The Jamāʿat lays great emphasis on the all-inclusiveness of its ideology; Islam is not merely a matter of the relationship between the individual and God but must also govern social, economic, and political life. True Islamic faith demands that Muslims hold political power and that the state be ruled according to Islamic principles. There an be no political parties and no opposition in such a state since there is only one correct Islamic viewpoint. Neither can the state make law. Sovereignty belongs to God alone and all legitimate law must derive from his expressed will. Thus, the Jamāʿat insisted that policy-forming offices must be held by pious Muslims whose duties include suppression of rival ideologies. Non-Muslims have a protected status in the Islamic state but are treated as second-class citizens who must live under certain restrictions. The Jamāʿat envisages a totalitarian state united in obedience to a single ruler whose word prevails so long as it accords with the divine law. Such a state was considered democratic, however, since the ruler was elected and could be removed; it was also a welfare state obligated to meet the basic needs of its citizens. Despite the implicit authoritarianism of the ideology, the Jamāʿat has consistently held revolutionary violence to be illegitimate and the way to the Islamic state to lie in peaceful democratic methods.


The role of the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī in the early phases of Pakistani history is treated fully by Leonard Binder in Religion and Politics in Pakistan (Berkeley, 1963) and by Keith Callard in Pakistan: A Political Study (London, 1957). The only full-length treatment of the organization in English is Kalim Bahadur's The Jamāʿat-i-Islâmi of Pakistan (New Delhi, 1977). I have discussed the society's ideology and teachings in "The Ideology of Mawlana Mawdudi," in South Asian Politics and Religion, edited by Donald Smith (Princeton, 1966), and "Mawdudi's Conception of the Islamic State," in Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John Esposito (Oxford, 1983). There are also two accounts of the Jamāʿat's history by its founder: Jamāʿat-i Islāmī, uskā maqsad, taʾrīkh, awr lāʾih-i ʿamal (Lahore, 1952) and Jamāʿat-i Islāmī kē 29 sāl (Lahore, 1970).

New Sources

Esposito, John L., ed. Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism, or Reform? Boulder, Colo., 1997.

Grare, Frédéric. Political Islam in the Indian Subcontinent: The Jamaat-i-Islami. New Delhi, 2001.

Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama'ati Islami of Pakistan. Comparative Studies on Muslim Societies, vol. 19. Berkeley, 1994.

Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. "Democracy and Islamic Revivalism." Political Science Quarterly, 110 (Summer 1995): 261286.

Sikand, Yogrinder. "The Emergence of the Jama'at-i-Islami of Jammu and Kashmir." Modern Asian Studies, 36 (July 2002): 705752.

Charles J. Adams (1987)

Revised Bibliography