Young men who launch themselves on to a study of Islam often inquire about Mawlana Mawdudi, and, in particular, his Tafheem al-Qur’an. They hear contradictory opinions: from zealous acceptance to out and out rejection. Some cite the disassociation of a few of his early or late associates as evidence that “there is a problem somewhere.” His admirers refer to the award he won and the praises he received. But the non-scholarly reply to scholarly issues does not satisfy everyone, and the questions persist.
An additional difficulty is that an objective in-depth research and analysis of the Mawlana’s personality, his ideas, and his contributions, by a scholar well-grounded in knowledge, has not yet been attempted. The criticism that has been leveled against him by some, has not yet seen scholarly refute. Some people think he was beyond criticism.
This short note is not meant to defend him or his critics. It is to shed some light on one or two aspects. A few words here and there might help some people to identify an answer. To others, they may raise few more questions, demanding a deeper study. For those who cannot attempt it, the bewilderment will remain.
The issue is difficult because of the border line differences and, further, because of disagreement over the Ummah’s raison d’etre of existence, the worth of this ephemeral world, and Man’s true relationship with his Lord. Detection of this-worldliness tendencies, a mechanical interpretation of religious truths, and the overt involvement with the mundane, have led the spiritualists keep themselves at a distance from the highway of struggle delineated by the Mawlana – a struggle which has had some good reports to make, but the character of the outcome is cited as proof of the far-sightedness of the critics. Endlessly did the new Muslim Rene Guenon discuss the nature of the profound and the profane. That he would have had no difficulty in qualifying the ideology of the Mawlana with the latter epithet has put on guard those who are neither critics nor admirers but know what is it all about.
The insistence on “take it or leave us” attitude evinced by the bearers of the cause launched by the Mawlana, (a “policy” laid down by the Mawlana himself) especially by those who are on this side of the Sutlej, has made it all the more difficult for the people to arrive at a comfortable conclusion, and has helped in isolating those who take the uncompromising stand, and take the isolation as a credit rather than treat it with regret, although, occasionally, uncomfortable about it.
When in a private meeting General Zia al-Haq asked Mawlana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi to suggest some devotional acts specifically suitable to him, Ali Miyan told him that what he was trying to do – implementation of Islam – was itself a devotional act of high order. At best he could add repetition of Darud to his daily repertoire.
He had told him in other words that the guide can take a follower only to a point. Thereafter, the follower has to be on his own. He has to depend on his own judgment, seek his own and specific guidance, and look for his own track marks, since his affairs are too complicated for a mortal guide, a theorist, outside the humdrum of administrative activities and governmental complexities, to offer advice of any great depth.
When Mawlana Mufti Shafi` Deobandi took pledge on Mawlana Ashraf `Ali’s hand and asked him to suggest “awraad and wazaa’if,” Mawlana Thanwi told him to continue doing what he was doing: researching, writing, issuing religious rulings, running the Darul Uloom, etc. Mawlana Ashraf `Ali was frank with his new pupil. There is a point at which a Sheikh has to say, “You are not a novice. I am not all-knowing, all-knowledgeable ultimate authority and unerring guide, who can take everyone by hand to the furthest point. There is much work that is to be done by you, much distance to be traveled by you. The direction you have taken seems to be right. So, keep going, remain on the tracks, and pick up signals as you go forward. I cannot be with you through and through, and cannot take you to stations you aspire.”
When Jibril had taken the Prophet up into the heavens, and had taken him round the various levels, at one point he told him, “I cannot go any further. From here onward, you have to be on your own.” Jibril, the guide through the heavens, knew how far he could go, after which the aspirer has to find his own way up.
We have an example from the Qur’an. It said, “They ask you about the orphans. Say, ‘their reformation is the best thing.’” So it was the Prophet who was to convey the answer! Or, “They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘they are laden with sin …’” Once again, the Prophet was asked to “say.” Or, “They ask you about menstruation cycle. Say, ‘It is an affliction.’” Thus, every time the Companions inquired about something, Allah told him, “Say…” But on a single occasion the rule was not observed, the Prophet was dropped as an intermediary. It was when they asked him about Allah Himself. The Qur’an said: “When My slaves ask you about Me…”. And the answer should have started with, “Say …” But no. The Prophet is removed. The answer did not use him as an intermediary. It said, “When My slaves ask you about me, verily, I am close!”
The message was there, clear as sunlight. The Prophet had introduced his followers to their Lord, His Qualities, His ways, His methods, His approvals, His disapproval, how He could be gained access to, and so on. Thereafter he had to leave them on their own: you and your Lord. “Pray for me too,” said the Prophet to `Umar, as he was starting off for `Umrah. It was a profound example of humbleness, and a pointer to certain truths.
Every guide can take his follower only “thus far, and no further.” At one point, the master and the disciple have to part company. The disciple must work his own way through, following the distant lights. Those are the stars, the true guiding lights. At one point a master can only say this. He must necessarily say this. But, if the disciple is given to understand that this is not one of the paths, but the only path, that the master is all that you need on the path, from beginning to end, and that the lights you see are too dim, too distant, and, not much useful anyway, then at one point the path has to end in a circle. The disciple can only go round and round.
Mawlana Mawdudi’s contributions are not such as to be dismissed in a sentence. For full fifty years he was a beacon of light for tens of thousands of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent. His books e.g. Purdah, Sood, Huquq al-Zawjain were a delight to read. Al-Jihad fi al-Islam was a masterly work, (much in the style and method set by the Shibli school). They restored confidence of a large number of people in Islam. In the modern world, he showed modern ways of serving Islam and Muslims. Much that is being now attempted by a section of the Muslim society in the Indian sub-continent, is the result of inspiration evoked by him, his speeches, his writings, and his thinking.
He was to the averagely educated class, what Dr. Iqbal, Rashid Rida, and Sayyid Qutb were to the intellectual class; what Sheikh al-Hind, Haji Imdadullah Makki, and Ashraf Ali Thanwi were to the `Ulama class; and, what Shibli No`mani, Sulaiman Nadwi, and Abul Hasan Ali were to the elitist class.
His Tafheem al-Qur’an was, at its first appearance, in no way less than a masterpiece (in the Indian context). It grows from the simple to the complex, relating issues to the modern situation, as also serving with clarity the functions of a guidebook for a Da`ee laboring his way through, up the unconquerable hill – as identified to him – from stage to stage, phase to phase, (although not station to station). It is a simple man’s simple guide, and no more should it be tested against. It is pointless to look in it for the balmy words of Yusuf Ali, the subtleties of Shabbir Ahmed, the one liner resolutions of long-standing problems of the Intellect and the intellectuals of Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi, or the plain-truth Qur’an and hadith citations of Ibn Kathir. It is a layman’s course book in Tafsir, and a lay Da`ee’s guidebook. It should be in every Muslim’s home, placed next to Tafsir of Ibn Kathir and Ma`arif al-Qur’an of Mufti Shafi Deobandi.
As one treads on, into the future, in search of his or her own destiny, it would not be a bad idea to draw a line of action, (and not a circle, no matter how big), and, therefore, in practical terms, while he or she studies the Tafheem al-Qur’an, which is strongly suggested, also adds up good amount of Hadith, life of the Prophet, his Companions and those who followed in good stead, throughout time. They were the Lights. Their light grows in power and intensity, as the dust on the feet gathers, as the dust on the heart is wiped, not dimming (as thought or taught), with the passage of months and years, with the passage of times and milieus that produce men like Mawdudi.