Jama?at-e Islami

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Jama˓at-e Islami (JI) is one of the most influential religiopolitical parties in the Muslim world, particularly in South Asia. It was founded in 1941 in Lahore, the creation of Abu l-A˓la˒ Maududi, who was working for the Islamization of Pakistan. The party's goal was to contest the Congress (representing the Hindu majority) and the Jam˓iyat-e ˒Ulama-e Hind (JUH; aiming for composite nationalism) as well as the Muslim League (with territorial nationalism as its platform). In contrast to these other parties, the Jama˓at-e Islami party echoed the ideas of Maududi, who favored the creation of an Islamic state. Maududi was supported by a number of young, activist religious scholars, among them some Deobandis and Nadwis. Maududi was the first emir (commander) of the Jama˓at-e Islami, a post he held until 1972. As can be seen from the shifting areas of popularity, the history of the JI cannot be separated from the emirs's lives—Maududi (1941–1972), a muhajir settled in Punjab; Miyan Tufail Muhammad (1972–1987), a muhajir-converted Punjabi; and Qazi Husain Ahmad (since 1987) from the frontier province—a fact also reflected in its seats in provincial assemblies.

To start with, the Jama˓at-e Islami needed to consolidate its base, which would strengthen its internal bonds and permit the development of a sense of umma, a term that means "the imagined community." From its founding days in the city of Pathankot, the party grew through a strong campaign that disseminated its ideals through a variety of channels of communication, including political conventions and the use of the mass media.

The Jama˓at-e Islami is strictly and hierarchically organized, under the leadership of its emirs. Party affiliation can be broken down into two categories, fully-fledged members (arkan) on the one hand, and sympathizers and workers (karkun) on the other. In the first year of the party's existence, 1941, there were 75 members. A decade later, in 1951, membership had grown to 659, with 2,913 sympathizers. By 1989, membership had swelled to 5,723, with some 305,792 nonregistered but active sympathizers. In 2003, membership reached 16,033, and the number of sympathizers to the party's goals had reached 4.5 million. The party is guided by an emir who is obliged to consult an assembly called the shura. This authoritarian, pyramidlike structure is complemented by other sub-organizations, such as women's wings and student organizations, all working toward the common goal of establishing an ideological Islamic society, particularly through educational and social work. Jama˓at-e Islami's organizational structure is replicated throughout the world, wherever it has taken root.

The Jama˓at-e Islami is based on social action in a variety of fields, and encourages Muslims to set up a better society here and now through constantly contesting the political establishment. In Pakistan, most of its members come from the educated lower-middle class, including immigrants from India, called the muhajirun. The party never did appeal to the upper-class clientele that favored most of Pakistan's other parties, such as the Pakistan People Party and the Muslim League, who frequently based their platforms upon traditional landowning loyalties. The Jama˓at-e Islami also failed to attract the poorer classes, who lacked the literacy that would permit them to comprehend the Jama˓at's rhetorics.

Anchored firmly in the rather ambitious middle class, with a following drawn from the newly rising elites, the Jama˓at-e Islami increasingly finds itself in confrontation with the power assertions of the postcolonial political establishment, which is characterized by the party as westernized and corrupt. The discontent that motivates the collective membership of the Jama˓at-e Islami derives from the difficulty people face in gaining access to political power and cultural privilege. The party has enlisted the help of a small religious elite that is itself struggling for political survival and controls a mass base, and which provides a common language and symbolism with which to express and generalize the social discontent that Jama˓at-e Islami seeks to redress. In the terms of this language and symbolism, only the spread of Sunni Islam throughout the world can make possible the revival of an ideal, if mythical, original community. The Jama˓at-e Islami relies heavily upon the concept of purification. Not being bound by history, the party is free to distinguish itself from secular politicians, sometimes radically, and see itself as the avant-garde.

Jama˓at-e Islami's fundamentalist critique centers on issues of moral decline, particularly on sexual morality, and sets itself up in opposition to European culture and values and the concept of modernity. The social pathologies resulting from modernization are often cited as evidence of a Machiavellian strategy employed by the West with the goal of seizing power. The purpose of such rhetoric is to produce a normative consensus, to increase cultural self-confidence, and to mobilize the party's membership and sympathizers. In its dealings with the broader society, the party's spokespersons generally employ ideological arguments, keeping references to purely Islamic symbols to a minimum. But when addressing traditionalist groups, the party employs a more overtly theological approach, supporting public worship and participating in debates on religious issues.

When Maududi first became politically active in post-partition India and Pakistan, it was through the party that he articulated his political visions and ideas. Only a few years after the creation of Pakistan, the Jama˓at-e Islami was forced to face the issue of the role of religion in politics. Maududi consistently confronted the Pakistani government on this issue, questioning the state's legitimacy, ultimately forcing the politicians to include provisions regarding Islam in the national constitution. The ongoing struggle between Jama˓at-e Islami and the government led to the party being outlawed several times. The anti-Ahmadiyya movement in 1953–1954, however, was the party's ticket into the mainstream of Pakistani politics because by heresizing the Ahmadiyya movement, thereby questioning the Islamicity of state functionaries, the JI also opened up to other schools of thought.

During the Ayub era (1958–1969), the Jama˓at-e Islami was forced into the background for a while, until 1965, when it entered into new political alliances against the Ayub regime and, at last, became a proper political party. Its participation in the anti-Bhutto coalition intensified the politization of the Jama˓at-e Islami, for it could now call the government un-Islamic. Eventually the party was able to mobilize a large enough portion of the society to topple the Bhutto regime. It supported Zia ul-Haq's coup d'etat in 1977, and earned leading positions within the government. But the party was unable to widen its social basis, and found itself being used by the government to further its own ends, instead. Hence, in the elections that followed, the JI was not able to secure enough seats to gain an effective political voice.

Since the 1980s, the party has started to diversify its membership, spreading out from Karachi into other areas of the country. It has accomplished this through its welfare program, especially in the field of university higher education, and by establishing madrasas (religious training centers), as well as by working hand in hand with the relief agencies in the Afghan refugee camps after 1979.

In spite of its limited electoral success prior to 1988, the Jama˓at-e Islami has become a powerful political and cultural force in Pakistani politics. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the party has been increasingly successful in recruiting members and sympathizers, and thus has been able to establish links with future leaders drawn from a wide spectrum of society, including the bureaucracy and the civil service. In 1997 the party publicly called for the adoption of a more populist approach, and was rewarded with a swelling of its ranks to 2.2 million registered members by mid-August of that year. In the 2002 elections, the Jama˓at-e Islami could claim sixty-eight members in the National Assembly, gaining for itself the ability to play "kingmaker" within Pakistani politics. The party's success in Pakistan has not been mirrored by equal success for its counterpart in India. Since the Pakistani-Indian partition in 1947, the Indian branch of the party has taken a much more docile and secular approach toward politics and religion. As one of the few national Islamic parties in India, it has attracted a following through its activities in missionary work, social services, publications, and conventions.

See alsoMaududi, Abu l-A˓la˒ ; Pakistan, Islamic Republic of .


Ahmad, Mumtaz. "Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia: The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat of South Asia." In Fundamentalism Observed. Edited by Martin E. Marty and Scott R. Appleby. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991.

Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. The Vanguard of Islamic Revolution: The Jama˓at-i Islami of Pakistan, London: I. B. Tauris, 1994.

Jamal Malik