Monday, April 30, 2012

Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind: Survival by Reform


The beginnings of the Jamaat-e-Islaami and the roots of its pre-Partition ideology can be traced directly to the ideology of Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi. As one of the most prolific figures of the twentieth century, Mawdudi was critical in the development of Islam as a potent force in the era of post-British South Asia. Once Independence was won and Partition took place, Mawdudi and his JeI reorganized in Lahore, Pakistan under the name JeI Pakistan, while the organization's Indian counterparts took the name JeI Hind (Moten 180). This paper seeks to examine the ultimate objectives and methods administered by Jamaat-e-Islaami in India – Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind (JIH). The Jamaat is established across South Asia in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. However, India is the only minority-Muslim nation in which it is present. How does JIH trace its evolution from the days of hukuumat-e-ilaahiyah and Mawdudiyat in the 1940s to its formation of a secular political party in 2011? How has JIH negotiated its identity and legitimacy in order to own policy space, especially in a secular nation in which Muslims are a small minority. And how does the secular and largely Hindu-background of the Indian state react to the nation's most prominent Islamist party? To answer these questions, we explore the ideological reforms, policy reforms, and tactical reforms of JIH from the 1940s until today.

Part I: Mawdudi and the Pre-Partition Jamaat-e-Islaami
A clear account of Mawdudi's personal ideology and the creation of Jamaat-e-Islaami in 1941 is critical to understanding how the organization developed into the premier Islamist parties in India and Pakistan. The pre-Partition JeI not only provides us with a foundation for understanding Mawdudi's ultimate wish for the Subcontinent, but it also allows for a contrast between Mawdudi's idealism and the realities of JIH's successes and failures in the past six decades. And moreover, we examine how the eventual realities in India diverge from this pre-Partition idealism.
Mawdudi's approach to Islam was non-traditionalist and greatly a reaction to the “western storm” (Ahmad 50). The resulting ideology was characterized by the existence of two polar opposites – Islam and jaahaliyat. For Mawdudi, jaahaliyat meant everything but the ideology upon which the JeI existed. Participation in secular legislature, secular judiciary, or any advancement of the secular was considered “un-Islamic” (Ahmad 3) The JeI itself propagated the idealist vision of establishing an Islamic caliphate throughout South Asia. This philosophy, hukuumat-e-ilaahiyah (Allah's Reign) was clearly outlined in JeI's first Constitution (Dastuur): sovereignty over this world belonged solely to Allah (Ali). And moreover, it was the duty of the members of JeI to convert the Subcontinent from the “land of unbelief” to the “land of Islam”1 (Ahmad 3). In addition, membership of the original Jamaat was exclusive, a test of ones piety and convergence to Mawdudi's strict philosophies. For example, Mawdudi's refusal to work within any secular framework was not the prevailing stance within the Muslim community (Ahmad 8). Thus, though the essential creed of the Jamaat was as simple as the kalima2 – JeI catered to a particular niche of purists in its pre-Partition history (Ali).
JeI's intolerance for secularism meant that it conflicted directly with Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Muslim League. Rooted in Muslim nationalism, the Muslim League sought the creation of a separate homeland for the Subcontinent's Muslims. Mawdudi saw Western-educated Jinnah's nationalist rhetoric as a threat to his vision of hukuumat-e-ilaahiyah. A nationalist state would not be an Islamic state (Moten 179). Furthermore, Mawdudi's propagation of the “Two State Theory” was a consequence of his beliefs that otherwise, Indian Muslims would be “annihilated and absorbed” into the Hindu majority (Moten 179). Therefore, the only option, in Mawdudi's opinion, was to advocate for “the Muslim community to turn inward” and to revive the notion of dar-ul-Islam (Moten 180). This desire for revivalism served as the Jamaat's raison d'etre from its creation in 1941 until the foundation of independent India and a separate Pakistan in 1947.

Part II: Ideological Reform: From Hukuumat-e-Ilaahiyah to Iqaamat-e-Deen
In 1947, the bloody partitioning of the Subcontinent drew arbitrary lines through India's northwestern and northeastern regions. This led to the establishment of the modern-day Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In relation to the JeI, the emergence of these two new nations meant a shift in how it could approach its ultimate goal of hukuumat-e-ilaahiyah across South Asia.
In India, the re-organized Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind acknowledged that Mawdudi's original desire to instate an Islamic caliphate across the Subcontinent would be neither achievable, nor practical. Rather, JIH opted for a different Quranic term to describe their goal – iqaamat-e-deen (Ali). JIH's current constitution struggles to provide a confident definition of what this objective entails.
It is very difficult to give an English equivalent of the term 'Iqaamat-e-Deen.' It may, however, be rendered as the 'Establishment, Realization or Pursuit of Religion.' ‘Religion,’ ‘Way of Life,’ or 'System of Belief and Action’ are, however, very imperfect renderings of the word ‘Deen.’ (“The Constitution”)
In spite of the vague nature of the term, one can rationalize JIH's decision to opt for less absolute rhetoric. The Muslim constituency of post-Partition India had been reduced to less than twelve percent of the entire population. And moreover, the community of Muslims still remaining in the nation were widely decentralized. Therefore, a reduction in rhetoric would allow for JIH to enter the policy space in a majority Hindu nation – as pragmatists. However, Irfan Ahmed argues that “the replacement was more terminological than substantive-ideological” (Ahmad 284). And until the 1980s, JIH still believed that through a series of conversions and tactical political maneuvering. an eventual Islamic state would be possible in India (Anand). However, this rhetorical shift away from hukuumat-e-ilaahiyah toward iqaamat-e-deen further extended to JIH allowing its members to participate in Indian general elections in the 1980s. And in April 2011, JIH established its own party, the Welfare Party of India. This party brought together JIH elites and the greater Muslim community, and surprisingly, many Hindus and a Christian priest serve as the Party's office-holders (Anand).

Part III. Policy Reforms under Iqaamat-e-Deen
The decision to shift rhetoric from that of establishing an all-encompassing Islamic caliphate to establishment of increased Islamic consciousness within the existing political institutions has provided the Jamaat in India with many opportunities and successes.
Mawdudi stated that there was “at least sixty percent chance of success” in establishing an Islamic state in India (Ahmad 79). But soon after Independence, JIH realized that the secular state – as well as many Indian Muslims – were turning a blind eye toward the Jamaat. Therefore, JIH had to reconsider its ideology or risk being irrelevant in the Indian policy space. The first of such strategic compromises was the shift to iqaamat-e-deen as the notion of India under Allah's Reign was ridiculed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike (Anand).
Secondly, the Jamaat transitioned from being an institution catering to the strict isolationist principles of Mawdudiyat to one encouraging participation from the masses. This participation came mostly in the form of the electoral and political process. As India underwent its first two general elections in 1952 and 1957, JIH endorsed its members and all Muslims to boycott the polls. In accordance with Mawdudiyat, JIH saw participation in electoral politics as submission to the Indian taghuti nizaam3. However, most Muslims were indifferent to the Jamaat's ideocrats and entered the democratic system as either voters or candidates. These failures in garnering respect from the masses forced JIH to question its restriction of secular civic activity (Anand).
In 1961, JIH's shura deemed that “if the path of elections could be used for the goal of iqaamat-e-din,” partaking in the taghuti nizaam would be admissible. Thus, elections were redefined in JIH policy as a means through which pragmatic Muslims could facilitate the rise of Islam in India. This build-up in policy found its climax in the 1962 general elections. On the eve of the elections, JIH circulated a pamphlet summoning Muslims to participate in the elections. The policy of JIH seems to have taken a complete turn as JIH leadership now portrayed a lack of civil engagement by Indian Muslims as “tantamount to suicide” (Anand).
Furthermore, by the mid-1980s, JIH began allowing its membership to participate in Indian elections – as long as the candidates of their choice were not “clearly against Islam and Muslims” (Anand). In essence, the political organization which had begun as a barrier to the growth of secularism in India had decided to manipulate secular government to meet its own ends. In the face of growing Hindutva rhetoric in the 1980s, JIH further emphasized the importance of secularism in India (Anand). At this point in time, many of the institutionalized phrases Mawdudi had evoked to describe the mission of the Jamaat in South Asia were also being reconsidered. An interview with one Jamaat member expresses the “culture shock” and insecurity some felt about the JIH's evolution:
“How on earth could Islam allow voting for taghut (idolatrous parliamentary system)? When I joined the Jamaat, we were told to eliminate taghut, secularism, democracy... everything against the Quran... We joined for iqaamat-e-din. Now the Jamaat is fighting for iqaamat-e-secular democracy. Do you know about the Forum for Democracy and Communal Harmony?... What is it doing? It is fighting for the glory of secularism and democracy. You have also read Maududi. Tell me what has secularism got to do with Islam? Where is the original ideology?” (Ahmad 213)
This “original ideology” that traditional JIH members nostalgically reflected upon was further lost as JIH even dropped the phrase iqaamat-e-deen from the covers of its publications (Anand). The Jamaat in India was facing difficulty as it negotiated its identity. It was too late to backtrack to the days of Mawdudiyat dominating JIH agenda. And from the early 1990s, Hindu nationalist politics was gaining popularity. The Jamaat needed to reach out to Indian Muslims to create a stronger political presence (Khan).

Part IV. Tactical Reforms: Organizational Successes of JIH
Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind's pragmatism and willingness to engage the existing Indian political institutions has afforded it the opportunity to position sectors of its supporters in specialized organizations – all working within JIH's framework to oversee and advocate for change. An examination of JIH's issued resolutions shows that the diversity of the fields in which JIH sees itself as a potent influence ranges as widely as the Occupy Wall Street Movement to Palestine to US sanctions again Iran to the threat of a Naxalite takeover of the Indian Republic (“Resolutions”). However, the most important of JIH's associations are domestic and internal to the Muslim community. JIH presence in organizations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat ensure that the JIH remains relevant and accessible within Muslim circles (Ahmad 177, 125).
One of the most divisive issues of Indian politics in the 1990s was the Babri Masjid controversy. This issue elevated radical Hindu and Muslim rhetoric in the nation, though one can argue that the issue was one of politicians manipulating the people's sentiment. Hindus believed that the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya sat on top of the location of the birthplace of Rama – a prominent Hindu deity. And Hindutva political rhetoric was shepherding many Hindus into joining a campaign to physically demolish this mosque. In regard to this issue, the Mushawarat created the Babri Masjid Movement Coalition Committee. This Committee, headed by two senior Jamaat leaders, best symbolizes JIH's transition from Islamic rhetoric to rhetoric of secularism and equality. Unlike other Islamic groups also focusing on the issue, JIH at the Committee urged Muslims to seek “peaceful, democratic, and constitutional means” to ensure that justice is preserved and the mosque is not endangered (Ahmad 211).
Although the Ayodhya dispute concluded with the victory of the Hindutva movement and the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the events made a few points painstakingly clear to JIH. Firstly, JIH could not compete on the national stage in a nation with a 85% Hindu majority with a strictly Islamicly appealing platform. JIH could not propagate an identity based clearly on iqaamat-e-deen, let alone hukuumat-e-ilaahiyah. JIH had to appeal to greater values held by Indians across religious, regional, and socioeconomic barriers (Anand). Secondly, the Jamaat could not develop the militant face that many of its contemporaries were developing. Militantism would only alienate JIH from the majority of Muslims and from those Hindus who also felt that the Ayodhya dispute had pasted a fascist face on the Indian Republic (Ahmad 211). Thus, JIH turned towards nationalism and the secular democracy to justify its role in the Indian policy space – a move unthinkable to Mawdudi (Ahmad 213).
This shift toward emphasizing themes of equality, justice, secularism, and nationalism permitted JIH to expand its mission from creating a strictly Islamic society to striving for a society organized around community for all sub-groups. This community-building initiative came in the form of the Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (FDCA) as well as wings of the JIH which concentrated on issues of specific constituencies (Ahmad 221). Two important wings have been the Girls Islamic Organization (GIO) and the Student Islamic Organization of India (SIO). Other than their basic mission of spreading dawah, these organizations serve as whistle-blowers when they feel that the government is overstepping its rights in the lives of minorities, especially Muslims. One such example in which both the GIO and SIO cooperated in protest was at a college in the southern state of Karnataka. The college had instated a ban against the burqa on its campus and the GIO and SIO had allied with secular student unions on campus to advocate for its repeal (“SIO, GIO”).
This type of activism from JIH and its wings symbolizes the organization's efforts to evolve parallel to the ideology and practical quotidian concerns of its constituency. In its evolution from aiding Hukuumat-e-ilaahiyah to acting as the defender of secular democracy in India, JIH has sought to broaden its appeal in a nation presenting obvious obstacles to any Islamist organization.

Part V. Reactions from the Indian State
As Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind developed from a radical fringe movement of just a few hundred members to a flagship organization attempting to represent the multi-faceted nature of Indian Sunni Muslims, one then naturally wonders how the Indian state responded to this growth in influence and presence of the JIH. In India, JIH was little threat to much larger forces of nationalism; however, JIH itself has evolved to embody these fundamental themes of secularism, democracy, and popular welfare – albeit from a different background. Therefore, as the share of the policy space sought by JIH increasingly overlaps with the those of mainstream parties, the Indian state acts to curb the influence of any Islamicly-linked organization (Abedin).
In analyzing “state reactions” the JIH, it is difficult to assume what constitutes “the state” as India is a fluid democracy with any number of viewpoints characterizing its different branches and its different levels of politics. That said, a relationship of tension between the state and the JIH is especially emphasized during periods of Islamophobia throughout the country or any political instability in the government itself. The Indian state has thus banned JIH twice in its history. The first proscription of JIH occurred from 1975-1977 when Indira Gandhi banned many organizations, including the influential Hindutva RSS and the JIH. The second proscription occurred after the demolition of the Babri Masjid affair when the RSS was banned once again. In regards to the government's decision to ban JIH, Mahtab Alam describes the “Politics of the Ban.” By this, Alam believes that the Indian government is not necessarily forced to ban JIH because of JIH's actions or ideologies. Rather, the proscription of JIH is another unfortunate consequence of Islam as a minority ideology in India (Alam). In these two situations, the government was primarily concerned about the dangerous, threatening actions of the RSS. However, the government felt pressure to ban JIH alongside RSS in order to show impartiality in Hindu-Muslim strife (Abedin). Moreover, these occurrences also demonstrate a conflict within branches of the Indian government as the banning of JIH was later overturned by the judiciary in Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind vs Union of India (“Jamaat-e-Islami Hind”). Both institutions are striving toward different ends – the executive seeks political stability; the judiciary seeks legal consistency.

The journey of Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind from its beginnings in the 1940s and 1950s to its existence today is a product of three stages of reformation: ideological reform, policy reform, and tactical reform. Through these means, the Jamaat has become the symbolic player in the movement of political Islam in India. More interestingly, JIH has managed to become relevant in an environment in which it lacks a magnitude of resources and only a small percentage of the greater population is Muslim. Therefore, JIH has managed to broaden its appeal by compromising on the ideals of Mawdudiyat and embracing the flexibility of the institutions available. This decision comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Traditionalists – such as SIMI4 – lose confidence in the Jamaat and resort to other more extremist Islamist groups (Khan). On the other hand, the Jamaat presents pragmatists – such as GIO and SIO members – with opportunities to engage the system and enact the change they desire. JIH evidently sees the benefits of democratic engagement to be greater than its drawbacks. The organization has launched a political party based on human welfare and secularism and it has designed the “Vision 2016” program to provide access to crucial necessities to India's poor minorities, such as Muslims (“JI Hind”). With a viable future ahead of it, JIH sees itself at the crossroads of many different political identities. It will be fascinating to see whether JIH and its subsidiaries will brand themselves as Islamist, Populist, Communist, or some unique combination of the many choices it has experimented with over the course of its existence. Regardless, the pragmatic approach which JIH embodies will cushion its future. All its eggs are not in a single basket, and Jamaat-e-Islaami Hind is never afraid to redefine its orientation.

1From Dar-ul-Kufr to Dar-ul-Islam
2La illah ila allah wa muhammad rasuul allah – “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God”
3Idolatrous system – in Mawdudiyat, loyalty to any “un-Islamic” institution, such as the secular state, judiciary, government institutions, etc
4Former student wing of JIH which was replaced by SIO after SIMI turned to militantism