Maududi and Iqbal: Same Answer, Different Questions


Maududi and Iqbal:

Same Answer, Different Questions

(Our scene opens in the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi, in November of 2014. Sir Muhammad Iqbal and Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi stand above the sealed coffin of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The two are alone in the main chamber of the mausoleum.)

Iqbal:               (Looking down at the coffin.) It is truly unfortunate, what happened to your vision, my old friend. You alone had the potential to unite this country.

Maududi:        He alone? No single man is more important than the greater cause of jihad in the name of the Islamic revolution. The Islamic state was the perfect political form – that it failed to come to fruition is a testament to the lack of true imaan among these Westernized ‘Muslims’. Jinnah was no exception.

Iqbal:               This is unfair to my friend Jinnah. He was Westernized, to be sure – but there is a difference between “Westernism” and “Westism”. Surely you don’t think that absolutely nothing of use of value has come from the West. I have said it before, but it rings true: in my travels, I saw in the West much Islam, but no Muslims; here I saw many Muslims, but no Islam.

Maududi:        What sort of Islam did you see? Surely not in their politics. The truly Islamic order is superior to anything the secular West has been able to conceive. They once thought that socialism and communism were the answer – and it won them naught but dictatorship by a new name! They think now that capitalism and democracy are the perfect order – but has it won them true happiness? Can it be called ‘happiness’ when men’s labor is exploited for the benefit of the few, and the masses scratch out a living on the margins? And what of the countless more who suffer the unseen consequences of this new ‘perfect’ order of theirs – the victims of their imperial projects to finance the insatiable appetites of their ‘perfect system’? Islam laid out the answer for all to see in the era of the Prophet (SAW) and his revelation. The true Islamic order has all the good of these feeble human approximations – and none of the bad.

Iqbal:               And did this solution prove any better? Were you ever able to achieve your ‘Islamic state’?

Maududi:        If we did not, it was for lack of leadership vested with sufficient skill and piety to see the project completed. No theory is immune to the iniquities of men!

Iqbal:               I disagree. I think your ‘perfect system’ failed because it addressed itself merely to men’s minds at the expense of their hearts and souls. The purpose of a homeland for Muslims was not to erect some external scaffolding of a truly Islamic order – it was to provide a vessel for the development from within of a truly Islamic spiritual disposition. Once this first and more important goal of self-actualization is achieved, the political order will spring organically from our collective will as a single true ummah.

Maududi:        This talk of spirituality and self-knowledge – this is un-Islamic. It is a product of the importation and adoption of hedonistic Western ideals. What power does poetry have that the holy scripture does not? Not only are these vague, undisciplined notions of khudi and ‘self-knowledge’ not part of the Islamic tradition – they are a distraction from the critical work of the intellectual development and practical execution of establishing a true Islamic state.

Iqbal:               Allow me to be more concrete, then. Take the example of a simple house. It is self-evidence that one cannot begin build a house, even a simple one-room cottage, without careful planning. Obviously, one needs a blueprint from which to work. But what exactly is a building’s blueprint? It is a precise and detailed schematic of every element of the structure – a composite of every careful measurement, a map of every square-inch that is to be built.

Maududi:        Yes, yes – I take your point. But my contemporaries and I have already made these considerations. We have a detailed concept of the ideal Islamic state – its intellectual foundations within the Islamic tradition, its exact offices and hierarchy of power, and so on. Our vision does not lack for specificity.

Iqbal:               You are jumping ahead. Having a blueprint is one thing – but where do blueprints come from? Who drafts them? Of course, the answer is that a technically skilled architect drafts them. He has been educated in all the requisite sciences pertinent to his trade: engineering, aesthetics, design, drafting, geology, and so on. He draws upon his mastery of these different disciplines in drafting his blueprint.

Maududi:        As do we. The ‘blueprint’ for our ideal Islamic state was drafted by the some of wisest ‘ulema of our time – myself included. It stands up to any level of scrutiny as thoroughly Islamic, and is the natural framework for a truly Islamic order.

Iqbal:               But, returning to the analogy, we find if we investigate further, there is an even earlier preceding question to that of the blueprint or the architect, in erecting a structure. The very first question that would be asked, before one even contemplates how to go about building a home, is the question of ‘why’. One must ask and answer for themselves the question of why they want to build the structure in the first place.

Maududi:        In the case of the Islamic state, the answer is obvious: because it is our duty as Muslims to create an Islamic order. This is self-evident!

Iqbal:               But is it really? Did the Prophet (SAW) preach your idea of an ‘Islamic state’? Where is the mention of such a thing in scripture, or in the model of the life of the Prophet (SAW)?

Maududi:        It is compulsory for Muslim rulers to enforce the shari’a. The best way to do this is through the use of the apparatus of the state. This is why we must have an Islamic state – to enact the divine law, and to hold it above all else in the governance and affairs of Muslims.

Iqbal:               But where does the shari’a come from? Is it a set of laws and commandments, laid down in the fiqh manuals of Medieval jurists?

Maududi:        It is more than that – it is a holistic system and process for arriving at the proper Islamic conduct of all Muslim affairs. It is not simply a blind adherence to tradition or precedent – it compels Muslims to exercise their own rational faculties in attempting to arrive at a truly Islamic way of governing their affairs.

Iqbal:               But can it be imposed from without, or must we as Muslims develop our own intellectual and spiritual capacities in order to enact the true shari’a – and not simply adhere blindly to tradition and precedent?

Maududi:        These faculties are reserved for the properly trained and well read mujtahid to exercise – not for the average Muslim. Without the proper training, one cannot practice independent interpretation of the shari’a.

Iqbal:               I disagree. I believe it is for every Muslim to develop his own individual capacity for independent thought and interpretation of the Islamic tradition.

Maududi:        But this would expose the ummah to the vicissitudes of individuals. It would create for us the same problem from which the West suffers – of nihilism and chaos and godlessness. Muslims would be lured by the hedonistic temptation to do for themselves as they wished, and to call it ‘ijtihad’. The Islamic tradition clearly places value in the view of the consensus of the ummah – a consensus reached among alternatives validated as truly Islamic by learned ‘ulema, and chosen for their clear benefits for the whole of the ummah.

Iqbal:               I disagree that it is a choice between individualism and collectivity. The two are inextricably linked: only through the cultivation of the individual can we form a truly ‘Islamic’ ummah.

Maududi:        And how is a Muslim to know the properly Islamic path to self-cultivation, if not through the learned guidance of an ‘aalim?

Iqbal:               On this I feel that we cannot reach agreement. I feel we both reached the same conclusion – that the creation of a separate homeland for Indian Muslims was the only solution for the preservation of Muslim identity – but for entirely different reasons. Sadly, it seems ultimately that neither of our visions was realized.


My project is an attempted reconstruction of the thought of Muhammad Iqbal and Maulana Maududi in light of what I see to be the failure of the ideological underpinnings of the Pakistani state. I chose the format of a dialog between the two thinkers, which takes place in our current time period; I felt this would allow for the most creative use of what we learned in class about the thought of these two intellectual leaders, and for a hypothetical exchange of ideas and understanding.

I chose to undertake this project because I am very interested in how two men coming from seemingly disparate intellectual backgrounds could both come to the same conclusion, albeit after much convincing, and only as a last resort. Both Iqbal and Maududi initially opposed the idea of Pakistan – Iqbal because he (initially) preferred the alternative plan of an autonomous Muslim region within India, and Maududi because he didn’t trust the highly Europeanized elites at the forefront of the Pakistan movement. However, both eventually accepted and supported Pakistan once it became a political reality.

But even if they acceded to the need for an independent Muslim state, the two differed substantially in their understanding of its aims and functions. Iqbal viewed the proper role of Pakistan as the vessel through which individual Muslims might ‘self-actualize,’ and realize their full potential qua Muslims. Maududi, on the other hand, viewed the creation of the “Islamic state” as a duty incumbent upon all Muslims, and perhaps as the inevitable and properly ‘Islamic’ course of action for a truly ‘Muslim’ society – in other words, less as a ‘means’ to self-actualization than an ‘end’ of Islamic piety (though this is an oversimplification).

The two also differed substantially on the proper role and place of the individual. For Iqbal, the ‘Islamic’ response to the challenge of the West was greater intellectual and spiritual introspection among Muslims, whose former worldly supremacy was superseded by the stronger ‘iman’ of the West – at least in the ‘Islamic’ realms of rational thought, invention, and ingenuity. Iqbal famously said that, in his travels to Europe, he saw “much Islam but no Muslims,” where in the Muslim world he saw “many Muslims but no Islam.” Maududi, on the other hand, viewed the role of the individual as subservient to the realization of the properly Islamic society – the earthly manifestation of which in the modern era was the Islamic state. Islam, argued Maududi, provided to Muslims the blueprint of a political order with all of the advantages of Western constructions such as socialism and capitalism, but none of the failures of those man-made systems.

I thought it would be interesting to imagine how these two thinkers would characterize the experience of the ‘Islamic state’ so far, and more importantly, how they would address the differences between their respective approaches.

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