Biography of Abu-I A'la Mawdudi
Bith Date: 1903
Death Date: September, 1979
Place of Birth: Awrangabad, India
Occupations: political leader
Abu-l A'la Mawdudi (1903-1979) was a Muslim writer and religious and political leader in the Indian sub-continent. He was the founder and head of the fundamentalist religio-political party, the Jama'at-i Islami.
Mawdudi, usually referred to as Mawlana Mawdudi because of his religious learning, was born in Awrangabad in the present Hyderabad state of India into a family with a strong religious and traditional Muslim culture. His father, Ahmad Hasan Mawdudi, was an advocate who for several years during Mawdudi's childhood renounced his profession and gave himself over to mystical exercises. Mawdudi received his formal education in the schools of Hyderabad, but at age 15 he was forced to leave school never to return upon the death of his father; much of his earliest instruction was conducted in the home. He never attended a traditional Muslim religious school, a fact that later brought him much criticism when he began to publish his religious views.
Mawdudi's earliest profession was journalism. At the age of 17 he became a correspondent and then editor of the newspaper Taj in Jabalpur. In 1920 he assumed the editorship of Muslim, the publication of the Jam'iyat-i 'Ulama,' the organization of India's learned Muslim divines. He continued in that position until the newspaper closed in 1923 and, after an interregnum of 18 months, became editor of its replacement, the prestigious al-Jam'iyah. Mawdudi left journalism in 1927 to engage in scholarly writing. During this period he wrote a history of the Asafiyah dynasty of Hyderabad and a history of the Seljuk Turks, as well as a slim volume called Toward Understanding Islam which established him in India as a serious religious writer.
Mawdudi along with one of his elder brothers, Abu-l Khayr, was an ardent supporter of the Khilafat and satyagraha movements of 1919-1921. He continued his support for the former until its collapse after the establishment of the Turkish Republic, and he was bitterly disappointed when Gandhi called off the satyagraha effort in 1921 in response to the events at Chauri Chaura. From that point onwards Mawdudi came increasingly to feel that the interests of India's two major communities, the Hindus and the Muslims, were divergent and irreconcilable.
The years of journalism also marked his first significant venture into writing on Islamic subjects in the volume The Holy War in Islam (1926), composed as a series of essays in al-Jam'iyah to refute Hindu charges that Islam was a militant and bloodthirsty religion. The principles espoused in Mawdudi's later writing may all be found in this initial work.
In 1932 Mawdudi became associated with the Hyderabadi journal Tarjuman al-Qur'an, and in the following year he assumed sole responsibility for it. It was--and remains--the principal vehicle of his views and those of the organization he later founded. At first Mawdudi used the journal to advocate reform among Muslims, but in the late 1930s he turned to Indian politics. He opposed both the all-India nationalism of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim nationalism of the Muslim League. His own solution to India's political problem lay in urging Muslims to recognize Islam as their sole identity and to become better Muslims. His views during this period are collected in the three volumes of Muslims and the Present Day Political Struggle.
In 1941 Mawdudi convoked a meeting in Lahore to found a body that would put his views into practice. The organization was called Jama'at-i Islami (The Islamic Society), and Mawdudi was elected its head or amir. The purpose of the Jama'at was to propagate true Islam and to train a cadre of devoted men capable of establishing an Islamic system of government and society. It was thus a religiously-based political party of fundamentalist persuasion. The organization became a major factor in Pakistani national politics.
When the Indian sub-continent was partitioned in 1947, Mawdudi moved with some of his followers to Pakistan, where he quickly assumed an important political role as the principal advocate of the Islamic state. He evoked the displeasure of the government and in 1948 was put in jail, where he remained for more than a year. Upon his release he resumed the agitation for an Islamic state with renewed vigor. The peak of his political influence was achieved in 1951 in connection with the controversy over the Basic Principles Report of the Pakistani Constituent Assembly. Mawdudi acted as leader and spokesman of the Pakistani 'ulama' in their response to the report.
Mawdudi was again arrested in 1953 for his alleged part in the agitation against the Ahmadiyah sect. He was sentenced to death by a military court, but the sentence was never carried out. In 1958 Pakistan came under military rule, and political parties, including the Jama'at-i Islami, were banned. From that time Mawdudi's interest turned from the Islamic state to the achievement of true democracy in Pakistan. Mawdudi was again arrested for his bitter opposition to the Ayyub Khan government in 1964, and in the 1965 elections he supported the presidential candidacy of Fatimah Jinnah against Ayyub Khan--though it was counter to his Islamic beliefs that a woman should hold high office. Mawdudi joined with other right wing and religious parties in 1970 to oppose the socialism of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the demands of Shaykh (Sheik) Mujib al-Rahman's Awami League. During the 1971 civil war that led to the emergence of Bangladesh Mawdudi supported the military action of the government against the Bengalis. In 1972 he resigned as amir of the Jama'at-i Islami, having held the post, though not without challenge, since the inception of the organization. He died in September 1979 in Rochester, New York, where he had gone to visit a son and to receive medical treatment for a long standing ailment.
Mawdudi was a prolific writer and speaker whose works have been translated into many languages and widely distributed. He was one of the foundation stones of the 20th-century Islamic resurgence and one of the most read Muslim writers of his time; he exerted great influence, for example, on Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Islamic radical. Especially important were his emphases that Islam is a total way of life, that it requires control of the state for its full realization, and that Islamic objectives are not attainable without a disciplined and effective organization.
- There are articles on Mawdudi by Charles J. Adams in Donald Smith, editor, South Asian Politics and Religion (1966) and in John Esposito, editor, Voices of Resurgent Islam (1983). A full history of the Jama'at-i Islami is available in Kalim Bahadur, The Jama'at-i Islami of Pakistan (Lahore, 1978); further discussion of the early period may be found in Leonard Binder, Religion and Politics in Pakistan (1961). A biography and a list of Mawdudi's writings is found in Khurshid Ahmad and Zafar Ishaq Ansari, editors, Islamic Perspectives.