Jamaate-E-Islami’s Tryst With Politics – Tilting at the Electoral Windmills: Fahad Hashmi

Guest Post by FAHAD HASHMI

‘It was all very well to say “Drink me”, but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not”; for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.’

(Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland)

The dissection of state and church by the scalpel of human ingenuity has been one of the most important achievements of human history. However, there has also been relentless endeavour for the reversal of this phenomenon by religio-political parties. Such parties often try to enter the political arena under the guise of a secular name. In 2011, Jamaat-e Islami of India, called Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), came up with its own political party titled Welfare Party of India (WPI). A couple of months back the Parliamentary Board of WPI has declared that it would fight election in ten states of India. This has sent a ripple of apprehension as well as excitement among the students of political Islam, and those circles having interest in Islamism. The obvious reason is that participation in elections by JIH was taboo until very recently. There are a few questions that are making the rounds. How come it is going to embrace taghoot (idolatry) all of a sudden? By Jamaat’s definition of this term, parliament is the throne of taghoot, and constitution is the binary opposite of the Quran. How should one understand coming up of the Welfare Party against the backdrop of Jamaat’s own ideology? How is it ‘the party’, as it claims to be, with a difference now?

These questions are not out of place if one takes into account the ideology on which the whole edifice of Jamaat is premised. There are two poles—Islam and Jahilliya (literally, ignorance, used to signify the time before Islam, or the state of those who have not accepted Islam) around which the entire discourse of Jamaat revolves, and a perpetual tension hangs between the binary opposites. . To Maududi—the architect of Jamaat, sovereignty rests with God that ought not to be shared by human beings. That implies that the principle on which today’s modern nation state is based is ‘people’s dominion over people’, which is patently against the sovereignty of God. Therefore, to Maududi and his followers, the nation state quintessentially epitomises jahiliyya, the fountainhead of all evils and usurper of God’s sovereignty. Following from this, according to Maududi, Muslims should believe in God not only in the metaphysical realm but in political realm too. Armed with this ideology, Jamaat has been working for the establishment of an Islamic state since its inception. The notion of jahiliyya which is vague and amorphous, at Islamism’s disposal makes Jamaat’s ideology single, exclusive and highly problematic in any political arena where multiplicity of ideologies is contesting. For demonising one’s opponent anything could be labelled jahiliyya, viz. democracy, secularism, modernity, ideologies, and so forth. This helps us in understanding Jamaat in terms of a totalitarian party. If one reads some of the booklets penned by Maududi, and particularly his reductionist reading of jihad, one realises in no time that totalitarianism is written into the very fabric of his ideology.

It is easy for a student of political Islam to infer that the formation of WPI is only a tactical move by JIH in order to use the institutions and the procedures of democracy to have a say in the country’s politics. The usage of democracy, human rights and other such words is meant for putting up a secular and liberal face. For a good deal of time Jamaat has regularly been searching ways and means of ‘going public’. To this end it is forging intra as well as inter-religious alliances at local and national levels, and has been engaged in a good deal of welfare programmes for widening its social base and getting social legitimacy. The question needs asking: is coming up of WPI an effort, on JIH’s part, to capture the power of the state through ballot box in the long run? It is too early to answer such questions. Since Jamaat-e -Islami of India along with its siblings in Pakistan and Bangladesh are species of the same genus, therefore, the least one could say about it in India is that it holds the same aspiration of altering the political landscape of the country. Coming to power is remotely impossible in India even in distant future either at national or regional level. However, it would try getting political clout, and having its say in politics after having widened its base in Muslim dominated constituencies over the course of time.

One of the objectives entailed in article 2 of the constitution of the WPI is ‘promotion of ethical values and high moral standards in the political system and other realms of public life’. The above objective smacks of ushering in a morally upright and a puritan society based on Jamaat’s particular understanding of Islam. One finds Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), JIH’s student wing, and Hindu right wingers on the same page on14th February every year. The latter takes recourse to physical violence while the former resorts to moral persuasion fused with intimidation of ‘other-worldly’ punishments, in targeting couples in parks, on college campuses and other such places. Lately, JIH was leading the religious campaign in endorsing the judgement of the Supreme Court against LGBT’s rights. In an interview to Tehelka’s Karuna John, one of the general secretaries of WPI has talked about bringing blasphemy law in India; has tacitly justified forced exile of M F Hussain, and also has argued about banning internet for stopping western obscenity. There have always been possibilities of aligning with Right by parties engaged in value-based politics. People have written about Jamaat’s closed door meetings with Hindu Mahasabha in Gujarat in 1960s. The aim was to devise ways for coming together of the two on a common platform for countering secular, progressive and socialist ‘menace’ of the country. Morning shows the day!

There is no denying the fact that there have been many aberrations in the practises of secularism. And these aberrations have left a permanent scar on the psyche of the community. But that does not call for getting carried away by rhetoric and demagoguery of such religio-political parties who are always ready to cash in on such sentiments. They are masters of alluring people by employing lofty ideas and tall claims which are out of touch with time as well as reality. Such parties have a vested interest in making us believe that every contested issue is between faith and atheism. The traditional religious establishment has regularly been at odds with the understanding as well as interpretation of Islam that Jamaat has been busy in propagating. Coming up of such political parties will only harm Left and Liberal constituencies, wherever Jamaat would field its candidates, by wooing Muslim voters in the name of ‘values’, community and Islam. That would certainly strengthen the parties on the right of political spectrum. This happened in South Kota and Hawa Mahal in Rajasthan in the previous assembly election where BJP candidates swept the respective seats. It would only be making a fool of us giving acceptance to such budding political parties. It is high time we used our own discretion seeing the miasmic pall of hindutva and communal uncertainties which permanently hang on our head and whose threat is always thick in air. Jumping on this latest bandwagon of WPI would only be an exercise in futility. Let us work hard and hope that we do not see Narendra Modi or any other of that ilk becoming prime minister of the country. Is it not time for us to heed to Iqbal’s couplet?

Watan ki fikr kar nada.n mosibat aane vali hai

Teri barbadio.n ke mashware hai.n aasmano.n me

Worry about your country, O ignorant one!

The heavens are conspiring your destruction

(Fahad Hashmi is an M.Phil student of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi)

14 thoughts on “Jamaate-E-Islami’s Tryst With Politics – Tilting at the Electoral Windmills: Fahad Hashmi”

  1. Jamat Islami forming a political party is an exercise in total futility that is also fully impractical. First it should be noted that in solid Muslim population countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh, Jamat Islami’s repeated efforts in the last 66 years to enter into the political process and participate in elections has been a total failure. Then where is the possibility of Jamat succeding in India where Muslims are no more than 15% of population that is spread throughout the country. Also if Jamat – a religious Islamic organization – participates in electoral politics, how can Hindu religious organizations, Hindus being 80% of the country’s population, be kept away from using religion in politics. What will be the consequences of that on the minority Muslims who are also depressed in socioeconimic arena?

    We also have the experiences of two Muslim oriented parties – Majlis Ittihad Muslimeen (MIM) and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) to look at. IUML though it has retained the word “Muslim” in its name, is in reality a thoroughly secular party whose constitution does not contain any Islamic elements. Yet in 66 years it has remained confined to a small presence in Kerala and has not been able to increase its seats in parliament beyond 2 seats that it had in 1950. Similarly MIM has a small local presencein Andhra Pradesh and 1 seat in parliament,that it had at its inception. Indian Muslims in general have simply not responded to the appeals of these parties to let them expand in other Muslim population concentration districts in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam. Also, despite heavy Muslim concentration in the Kashmir valley, attempts to form Muslim political parties there have failed miserably.

    With the very harmful political experience of Muslim League in pre-independence India as a reminder, Indian Muslims have simply no desire to try to go on a path that may use religion in the political process. Muslims’ political future in India and elsewhere is fully wedded to not mixing religion in the political process and to align themselves with secular parties. Indeed India’s youth of today have increased their bonds and mixing with Hindus and others to a large degree, with similar objectives, aspirations and goals in the public arena. Yet at home and in their personal lives they want to faithfully practice their religion.

    It is unfortunate that Jamat Islami Hind is so much disconnected from the Muslim community that they do not understand this simple and obvious fact.


  2. Vatan ki fikar kar nadaan, musseebat aanay wali hai
    teri barbadiyon ke mashware hain
    aasmanoon mein

    Na samjhoge to mitt jaoge, Hindustan walo
    Teri dastaan tak na rahegi daastanon

    “Worry about your country, idlers, misfortunes are coming
    your way.
    Indications of your disasters are fluttering in the sky.
    Fail to understand, Indian folk, and
    you will be erased, even your history will not remain part of history.”


  3. “The dissection of state and church by the scalpel of human ingenuity has been one of the most important achievements of human history” .. This very sentence reveals the intention and mind-set of the writer.. And yeah..He has full right to criticize jamaat and its viewpoints ..There have been errors, there have been correction and also there have been wise decisions(hikmah) taken by jamaat… The writer goes to the extent of bending facts to suit his needs.. for instance he says: “One finds Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), JIH’s student wing, and Hindu right wingers on the same page on14th February every year.” Where in India did he find this ??? Where in India did he JIH or its workers with sticks ransacking???There is not a single instance anywhere in India where Jamaat or its sister organizations were involved in any sort of violent attacks..He also talks about bringing in laws on blasphemy here…I really dont find anything wrong in that!!!…


    1. “He also talks about bringing in laws on blasphemy here…I really dont find anything wrong in that!!!”
      Mr. Ammar I am a believer myself. However,
      It says in Quran: “whoever wills (to believe), let him believe; and whoever wills (to disbelieve), let him disbelieve.” 18:29 …
      This verse and the immediately succeeding verses together can be interpreted in any number of ways but one thing is for clear: it doesn’t give us the authority to judge and punish others based on their religious beliefs.
      No one gave us the authority to do so.


      1. “it doesn’t give us the authority to judge and punish others based on their religious beliefs.
        No one gave us the authority to do so.”

        Agree with you 100 percent…Everyone has the right to follow their religion…but Blasphemy is not about following one’s religion but its about hurting other’s religious sentiments…And blasphemy is not just about insulting Prophet..Even MF Hussain needs to be booked if such a law comes into effect..


  4. I agree with the preamble presented. It was jamaat that ardently opposed voting, then reduced its policy to encourage tactical voting, and now forays into mainstream political discourse. This ambiguity of what was ones jahiliyah to be now ‘hikmah’ rather is a paradox and has been rightly pointed out. But I fail to understand, what is the author’s stake here. Is he asking these groups to remain in their 40’s mindset and not to evolve with time? What is wrong in jamaat to adopt and change to new way of seeing things? why is it so difficult for someone to even contemplate an ex radical establishment to bend itself and approach assimilation with the mainstream. This kind of discourse is a farce and only aims at cheap publicity. It appears a novice attempt to garner importance.


  5. Dear Dr. shahab, i am sure and 101 percent sure about it, you are not getting the point. Changing the content is different thing and changing the form is other thing.Fundamentalist organizations always change its exterior not the interior. Here Jamat e islami is doing the same thing and also other fundamentalist organizations and fascist groups do. For your kind information Hitler came in power through the same way, which jamat e islami is doing here. If the same position here RSS will take , what will you say. Why people are apposing narender modi, in precise you are supporting and giving tacitly approval to those fundamentalist organizations and person in the name of change. And i will ask you what kind of change it is. I know you are intelligent person, so must give me jamat e islami’s idea of change.


  6. It appears that Dr zuber could not get the article. And he hasn’t read Jamaat’s literature or pretends to be ignorant of all such activities of this party which are meant for bringing Khilafah! His point only reflect his ideological mooring to Islamism. If Jamaat has changed then it should do away with the ideology of establishing an Islamic state. I offer Friday prayer in Jamaat’s mosque where Maulana Umri delivers khutbah pleading Muslims to struggle for ‘Khuda ki hukumat’ ! How should one understand this paradox? Has Jamaat chaged or it is sheer hypocrisy of it? Why doesn’t Jamaat shun its old constitution where all those shits are present which corrupts the mind of youths? If Dr Zuber has his doctorate in medicine/surgery then one could sympathies with him about his understanding of the world around us. Otherwise, in the case of Social sciences/ Humanities, it’s pathetic which has reached clinical condition.


  7. The author of this article has been quite particularly and relentlessly dissecting the Jamaat…As students and learners we all cherish the art of criticism but in an age where there is something fashionable about criticism, while reading such pieces one is urged to seek recourse to scepticism. We also need to remind ourselves that there are few things that can be criticised any moment while there remains another set that for some reason appears sacrosanct to our otherwise well-endowed critical minds. This is not the right platform to engage with the theme because the contemporary intellectual and academic spaces are such that if I were to write something against the author’s opinion it would be considered as an act of defending the jamaat. However, it needs to be mentioned that a parallel between the Jamaat and the Hindu Right can only be a result of an uncontrollable desperation for providing a more concrete legitimate base for the arguments made. Although the author dedicated a short line to them, the situation of left and liberal constituencies is well known to keen and sensible student of politics. Lastly, since the author often borrows from Iqbal towards the closing, I would request him to read a little bit on the poet too. Iqbal is no less shady. His inconsistencies would enchant the literary sensibilities of a first rate fiction writer. Alongside reading on Jamaat and Maududi, if a little bit of time could be spared to read on Iqbal’s life at length (especially his letters that run into several thousands of pages), the author would perhaps stop preaching through the poet’s words. And as the author would know very well, Iqbal is one of Jamaat’s favourite poets…an inquiry into that linkage would be beneficial in true sense of the term…get the poet right or, even better, get the right poet.


  8. Getting good feedback on write-ups from informed friends gives immense pleasure. Otherwise people start questioning intent and motive of author/s. I do know that left and liberal constituencies have their own problems. Should this stop us from peeping inside us? One always writes from a particular vantage point being embedded in a particular location and set of realities. Even that particular ‘location’ of anybody could be criticised.

    I think if anything is in fashion then it doesn’t call for not taking account of that thing/phenomenon for academic pursuit. For instance, Islamophobia should not be an excuse for not reading and writing on and about Islamism. To my mind there should be an attempt among intelligentsia of the community in which Islamism should be subjected to exhaustive deliberation in our context. What is Islamism? What does it offer to the community? What went wrong with a segment of the community that had adopted it as an option? Does Islamism contain meat or just a figment of somebody’s imagination? Is this a viable option/ alternative in India? So, are we not supposed to introspect ourselves?

    One cannot write everything in one short write-up. However, in spite of all disclaimers in our context, the doctrinal element of the ideology makes my conclusion inevitable in the first place. To add to this, Jamaat’s struggle on the cultural terrain and its political stances gives a clean perception of its colour as well as its ambitions.

    Scholars have written about anti-Semitism in T S Eliot’s poems. However, being one of the literary giants of 20th century his poetry is a part of English literature curricula in India. And it must be on curricula across the world. I do know that Jamaat has appropriated Iqbal which does not imply that the party has got monopoly over the poet. The height of this appropriation is that Umar Hayat Khan Ghauri, an Islamist litterateur, has designated Iqbal as ‘mojaddid’ (reformer) preceding Maududi. Reading Iqbal’s ‘kulliyat’ (corpus of all poems) gives an impression about ideas that influenced him. One finds trappings of Sufism, socialism, nationalism, Islamism etc. Sardar Jafri is not off the mark when he says that Iqbal’s poetry contains elements having pain for humanity and other such stuffs, and therefore ought not to be ignored. Quoting the poet does not necessarily mean that I am preaching. One uses couplets for endorsing the point only. Allama Iqbal’s work is neither my area of study nor area of expertise. People must have written about ‘Iqbal as poet’ and ‘Iqbal as thinker’. However, given my background I have penchant for the poetry.
    Hum sukhan faham hai.n Ghalib ke tarafdar nahi
    Being a part of academic enterprise, I think that it’s my prerogative and duty to link the academia with the outside world. And this compels me to dissect Jamaat.

    Maqte me aa pari hai sukhan gustarana baat
    maqsood isse qata-e-mohabbat nahi mujhe


    1. De aur dil unko jo di mujhko zubaa aur

      I wish I had not written but then patience is a virtue, one of those virtues I have unknowingly lost while growing up as a student. This desperation to respond…phew…

      Fahad Sahab…I totally agree with you on the necessity of peeping inside, the importance of exhaustive deliberation vis-à-vis Islamism and so on. I want to make it simpler this time. There are serious issues with the Jamaat, no denying. Their changing stance on politics does call for critical intervention, agreed. However, when we refer to things such as Valentine Day celebrations and refer to Jamaat’s issues with that, that is where criticism cannot be spared. The Jamaat’s views on Valentine’s Day, pre-marital sex, homosexuality etc have to do with Islam. These are not views that got authored by Maududi. Because of an allegiance to Islam that the movement has, the Jamaat cannot please us. It will speak a language that is different. We have a right to contest that but then where are our critical insights located, what is their focus, is it Jamaat as a movement or Islam as a worldview. If a Muslim practices homosexuality, the Jamaat will call it wrong, no movement that claims to be Islamic can extend a differing opinion/stance. So questioning Jamaat on co-education, valentine day celebrations, pre-marital sex etc is not quite appropriate. If you think that all of this is allowed in Islam then simply rip Jamaat apart and if you believe that Jamaat is saying what Islam dictates then rip Islam apart, call it a conservative orthodox religion which is useless in the times we live in. Jamaat cannot be a scapegoat. Islam is against all of this and therefore dare to question Islam. Questioning the Jamaat again and again does not take us very far. I believe it only generates certain rhetoric, one that is found majorly in the discourse offered by scholars in the west.

      A parallel between RSS and Jamaat is still not acceptable.

      Regarding T. S. Eliot…There is no denying that he was a gifted poet but then he cannot be forgiven for his conservative right wing leanings. When we read someone who is at least as good as Eliot if not better and does not have any anti-semitic tendencies, we realise 20th century English poetry does not end with Eliot. We realise there is a world beyond the charm of Eliot. Just because it is good poetry, anti-semitic leanings cannot be overlooked. Due respect to his stature both as a remarkable poet and a gifted critic, but there are many who inform us that equally good poetry and equally informed criticism is done without anti-semitism. Regarding his inclusion in curriculum I do not think I am in need of responding to that. As students of sociology of education we know how problematic it is to refer to curriculum in order to underline someone’s significance. Those who are there in the curriculum need not be significant just the way those who do not figure in the curriculum are not to be considered insignificant.

      Very few Muslim Urdu poets operated on Islam-Jahiliyya/Kufr paradigm (something you have been quiet keenly pursuing). Iqbal remains one of the stalwarts in that domain. Yes, that does not take away his stature as one of the most remarkable poets but then once there are other poets whose poetic canvas is equally broad (in fact in two-three cases its much broader than Iqbal’s, Iqbal is a toddler in terms of his poetic aesthetics before them) and that is where Iqbal’s charm fades. When I read someone who is as good as him and at the same time is distanced from many non-poetic indulgences, I have no option but to look at him as someone who lacks as a poet.

      Iqbal’s socialism is a farce…whenever we cross ways will share with you instances that will make you repent for your statement . Forget Sardar Jafri…Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar (definitely more informed about poetry than Sardar Jafri) has written a note on Iqbal while the former was in Jail which informs us of the politics of the poet. His celebrations with the British, would read out a poem honoring the Raj but at the same time would make it does not get published in the newspaper…several other incidents equally unsettling. Nevertheless, he remains iconic. But every time we borrow from him at least we ought to be conscious of his politics.

      I am glad to know that you are into poetry. Please cherish that. Poetry is all we have now. It is on the verge of becoming what Ghalib called Mue Aatash Deedah.

      Safeena chahiye is bahr-e-bekaraan ke liye


  9. kuch taakheer hue to ba’yes-e takheer bhi tha

    To my mind Islam and Islamism are poles apart. And I totally agree with Lawrence Bruce when he says that fundamentalism (Islamism) is not theology rather ideology. Jamaat and RSS are different prima facie, however, there is a structural resemblance between these two aggressive ideologies. Their objective, opinions about minorities, violence present in these two ideologies and so forth. The only difference is of scope and scale of their endeavour in India, and the language of articulation. One could also add the specificities of these two movements. Maududi’s ‘Aljihad fil Islam’, ‘Murtad ki saza Islam me’ and passages here and there are more than enough to infer that the violence is a constitutive element of this ideology. My reading has compelled me to believe that a majority of Muslims believe that Islam is not a hostile ideology having aversion with people of other religions, colours, creeds, ideologies etc. Rather, it is a religion which is all embracing, and epitomises catholicity of spirit.
    The tangential reference to Eliot was only to drive the point home that in spite of his anti-Semitism his corpus of work ought not to be rejected in one go. The same holds true for Iqbal. You are very true that one needs to be conscious while quoting him or Iqbal.
    There are many things on which one keeps contrary opinion but this does not call for witch hunting or involvement in such activities which might trigger witch hunting of people of different orientations of all sorts. Protests having placards displaying statements like ‘Gays are terrorists’, ‘GAY= God abhors you’ etc. only reflects the homophobic impulse of Islamism. Homophobia is Islamism not Islam. One knows about the treatment meted out to minorities at the hands of Islamists in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Coptic Christians are not an exception. They are regularly being harassed by cadres of Muslim Brotherhood.
    Apne bhi khafa mujh se hain begaane bhi na khush
    Mai zehr-e halahal ko kabhi kah na saka qand

    People who have got expertise in understanding the holy text say that it talks about diversity. And this diversity should not be limited to certain categories as the traditional corpus of interpretation has it. On the contrary it must include sexual diversity too. As far as homosexuality is concerned the particular instance in the Book needs to be seen with its subtleties as the scholars have written.
    It is always easy to discard western scholarship in the name of Orientalism and rhetoric. The rhetoric of rhetoric also needs to be questioned. There is no denying that Orientalism still exists and scholars resort to rhetoric. However, these should not be excuse for not engaging critically with topics of our interests. There is no way out of this labyrinth of the binary opposite of Orient and Occident pace Edward Said! We have got many good works of our own people only through the scholarship of western scholars. The works of Ibn Khaldun, Al Beruni and a host of others reached us only through the love’s labour of those scholars.

    It’s really good to get feedback from you, Irfan bhai, and your appreciation of my taste for poetry has once again nudged me to dip myself into it. In fact,
    Ee’n hama sarmaya bahar ast


  10. Main apni daastan humraaz kahta bhi to kya kahta
    Kahan se layega qasid (read kafila) bayan mera zubaan meri…

    Hazrat baat khaamakha lambi ho gayi…All I am saying is that Jamaat-e-Islami is not making statements on its own. If they are making a statement on 377 (now why dont they remain silent is a query that interests me) it has to do with Islam’s take on the same. Now I have no idea who are the ‘scholars’ whose interpretation has led to room for non-hetro orientations. Same goes with the concept of mahram namahram…If Jamaat makes a statement on Muslims dating, its once again not Jamaat’s statement…Anyways…

    Gar khamoshi se faida ikhfa-e-haal hai
    khush hoon ke meri baat samajhni mohaal hai…


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