Mawdūdī, Sayyid Abū Al-Aʿlā

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MAWDŪDĪ, SAYYID ABŪ AL-AʿLĀ (19031979), popularly known as Mawlānā Mawdūdī; Indian (later Pakistani), writer, religious thinker, political figure, and founder and leader of an Islamic revivalist movement. Mawdūdī was born into a religious family in Aurangabad, British India. With the exception of a short period in a Hyderabad madrasah, his education was gained at home or through his own efforts. His earliest occupation was journalism, and in 1920 he became editor of the highly influential newspaper of the Jamʿiyat-i ʿUlamāʾ (the organization of Indian ʿulamaʾ ), where he remained for seven years. As one of the Indian Muslim leaders outraged by Gandhi's abandonment of the Swarāj movement for independence, he began to argue that Muslim interests could not be reconciled with those of Hindus. Although Mawdūdī had participated in the religio-political Khilāfat movement, he and his brother criticized the Khilāfat leaders for the fiasco of the hijrah ("emigration") movement from India to Afghanistan.

In the mid-1920s, in response to Hindu attacks on Islam resulting from the murder of a Hindu leader by a Muslim fanatic, Mawdūdī wrote a series of articles in defense of Islamic beliefs, subsequently published as Al-jihād fīi al-Islām (Religious War in Islam). He later said that this volume, his first serious work on Islam, represented his true intellectual and spiritual conversion to the religion.

Mawdūdī left journalism in 1927 for literary and historical pursuits. In the following years he wrote a history of the Seljuks and an unfinished history of the Asafi dynasty of Hyderabad. From 1932 he was associated with a Hyderabad religious journal, Tarjumān al-Qurʾān, which he edited from 1933 until his death; this publication has been the principal instrument for the propagation of his views. Criticizing the westernized class of Indian Muslims, Mawdūdī began to call for the mobilization of Muslims in the cause of Islam. In the political debates of the late 1930s he rejected both the Indian nationalism of the Congress and the Muslim nationalism of the Muslim League, calling instead for an Islamic order in India. His views from the period are collected in three volumes called Musalmān awr mawjūdah siyāsī kashmakash (The Muslim and the Present Political Struggle).

In 1941 Mawdūdī founded the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī, an organization for the promotion of Islamic principles, and was elected its chief, or amīr, which he remained until 1972. From 1941 until the partition of Indian he devoted his time to building the organization and to writing. In 1947, despite his unhappiness with the Muslim League, Mawdūdī moved to Pakistan, where he and his group became the leading spokesmen for an Islamic state. The Jamāʿat-i Islāmī sought political power, and its activities attracted the disapproval of government. Mawdūdī and his principal followers were imprisoned on several occasions; he himself was condemned to death by a military court after the anti-Amadīyah disturbances of 1953, but the sentence was never carried out. His ideas and activities brought criticism from both modernist and conservative Muslims as well as from secularists.

Mawdūdī's teachings are set out in a large number of writings that include a six-volume commentary on the Qurʾān, Tafhīm al-Qurʾān. These writings have been translated into numerous languages, and he is at present one of the most widely read authors in the Islamic world. He believed Islam to be an ideology that offers complete guidance for human life, laid down by God in his holy book, the Qurʾān, and through his prophet, Muammad. The task of Muslims is to follow the eternal divine law by building an Islamic state, by creating an Islamic society as well as an individual Islamic life. The paramount feature of his teaching is the demand for an Islamic state, which he intended to be realized in the form of the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī. His vision of society was rigorous, puritanical, authoritarian, antisecular, and antidemocratic but was based upon a deeply held conviction that people must live according to the law of God.


A sympathetic discussion of the import of Mawdūdī's perspective for many aspects of life is Islamic Perspectives: Studies in Honor of Mawlana Sayyid Abul Aʿlā Mawdudi, edited by Khurshid Ahmad and Zafar Ishaq Ansari (Leicester, 1979). Kalim Bahadur's The Jamāʿat-i Islāmī of Pakistan (New Delhi, 1980) is informative as to the history of that organization. Leonard Binder's Religion and Politics in Pakistan (Berkeley, 1963) gives the Pakistani background. Charles J. Adams's "The Ideology of Mawlana Mawdudi," in South Asian Politics and Religion, edited by Donald Smith (Princeton, 1966), pp. 371397, is a balanced account; see also his "Mawdudi and the Islamic State," in Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John Esposito (New York, 1983), pp. 99133.

Sheila McDonough (1987)

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