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Conceptualising Syed Maududi’s polity in the context of modern nation-state

Conceptualising Syed Maududi’s polity in the context of modern nation-state
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The modern Nation-State rules the roost and it seeks our adherence, urges our allegiance, shapes our culture, above all, it often shapes religion. It has assumed the powers of God in regulating society, as opposed to God's will (submission of own will to God's will). Showkat Ahmad writes about the ideology propounded by Syed Maududi who emerged as a strong voice of muslims in the 20th century when modern nation-state made their influences in every sphere of life.

Showkat Ahmad 

The first and the most significant fact to know about the Islamic political theory is that it does not prescribe or articulate any particular form of governance that should be conventionally adopted in all occurrences, instead, Islam gives principles on how to form states and manage affairs and then it is left to the human mind to explore diverse models of governance in accordance with these principles to deal with the reality. The Shariah is concerned equally with material and spiritual matters and strikes a balance between different aspects of life in its individual and collective form.

Interestingly, no one ascribed such a vital place to the subject of statecraft and politics as is found in the writings of the twentieth-century revivalist scholars. In this context, we may cite Syed Maududi, the 20th-century ideologue of Islamic Movement, prolific writer, Islamic scholar, theologian, commentator of the Holy Quran and founder of one of the greatest and influential movements, Jamaat e Islami, “whose interpretation of Islam has achieved widespread acclaim in South and South-East Asia as well as the Middle East” (Roy Jackson, 2011). In his writings, he extensively detailed his views on religion, society, economy and polity. Maududi was of the opinion that to develop a true Islamic state we need to purify and reform individual members of society and society as a collective. However, political issues take a pivotal position in his thought. Primarily it was because of the increased reach and encompassing nature of modern State, as Irfan Ahmad, an Indian born scholar opines that the Islamic State in Maududi’s thought gained significance not because theology directly entails it but by the unprecedented and intrusive role of a modern nation-state. Secondly, he noticed that the Ottoman Empire had collapsed and West was emerging as a leading political power and was trying to implant secularization projects and liberal values through its institutions in the Muslim world. Islam was left without any political institutions to defend and promote its ideas. This intensified Maududi’s anxiety about the political future of Muslims. Thus, his political Theory emerged as a natural response to an emergent situation faced by Muslim Ummah and an alternate form to secular nation state-building. Ovamir Anjum, Professor at the University of Toledo writes that “the Qur’an, the scholars had generally argued, mentions the direct and indirect obligation for the believing community (referred to in the Qur’an as the believers or the ummah) to be united under a ruler from among them and contains numerous constitutional, political, and legal commandments—rules that can only be implemented in an autonomous Islamic polity”.

Of late, the Nation-State rules the roost and it seeks our adherence, urges our allegiance, shapes our culture, above all, it often manages our religion. As Carl Schmitt, a Marxist scholar argued that the modern State has assumed the powers of God in regulating society, as opposed to God’s will (submission of own will to God’s will). In the same vein, Althussar, a neo-Marxist scholar contends that modern State has not only repressive apparatuses, but it has also ideological apparatuses. These apparatuses, according to him have the capacity to inculcate a worldview that is conducive to modern State. However, more considerable is that modern nation-states can’t operate as a moral entity as Wael Hallaq, an expert in Islamic legal studies, asserts, “the modern State cannot be constructed on ethical grounds, nor can it ontologically operate as a moral entity. It does not seek to enter the moral realm, nor is it its duty “to make us good. Any moral argument adduced in politics and the framework of state domination is, in the final analysis, nothing but a political argument, a way to legitimize political ambition”.

In addition, the modern state, through its institutions, ontologically remaps and reshapes individuals. In a piercing analysis of this reshaping nature of modern State, James Scott writes “the aspiration to such uniformity and orders alter to us the fact that modern statecraft is largely a project of internal colonizing often glossed as in the imperial rhetoric, a civilizing mission, the builders of modern nation-state do not merely describe and observe, they strive to shape a people and landscape, that will fit their techniques of observation”. This contradictory and colonizing nature of the modern nation-state poses immense challenges for Muslims and has shattered the Muslim political identity. Thus, the call for the Islamic State in the Muslim world was posited as an expression of political identity.

In essence, the modern State is not neutral but is ideological in this chase. Saba Mahmood, a well-known anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, states, “secularism has sought not so much to banish religion from the public domain but to reshape the form it takes, the subjectivities it endorses, and the epistemological claims it can make. The effectiveness of such a totalizing project necessarily depends upon transforming the religious domain through a variety of reforms and state injunctions. This has often meant that nation-states have had to act as de facto theologians, rendering certain practices and beliefs indifferent to religious doctrine precisely so that these practices can be brought under the domain of civil law”.

Maududi was well familiar with the dynamics and nature of modern State as he argues, “the formulation of the State by the 19th-century scholars of politics is now entirely obsolete. Gone are the days when/if the State presented its economic, educational, industrial, or social scheme, people made fun of it by calling it grandmotherly legislation. The situation has changed. Now the State’s sphere has almost become as inclusive as that of religion. In contemporary times it is State that decides what you are to wear or what not to wear; whom you are to marry and at what age; what you are to teach your kids and what mode of life you are to choose; what language and script you are to adopt. So, the State has not left even the most minor issues of life independent of its ultimate right to intervene (Tarjuman, March 1938). This shows Maududi’s understanding and the importance of the nature of the modern State and the challenges emerging from its encompassing nature.

It was this intrusive nature of modern State which influenced all facets of human life and which Maududi wrote in his several works, especially in ‘four basic terms of the Quran’. The word Deen and Modern State approximately has the same meaning, but the Deen encompasses much more, and was resolved about the need of a political institution to enforce his principles of an Islamic state, but endorsed that the society first needed to be Islamized.

The post-Islamist scholars and vocal critics of Maududi chiefly, Javid Ahmad Ghamdi and Wahiduddin Khan, both shared the critique and labeled Maududi’s interpretation of Islam as political interpretation and theology don’t encourage any state formation. These post-Islamist scholars faltered on understanding the ideological apparatus of the modern nation-state. They consider modern-State as a small entity limited to service providers and ignored the power of ontological remapping and reshaping of individuals. On the other hand, Maududi perceived the modern State as a larger entity escorted with resources and institutions engages in an ontological remapping of individuals a part of the practice of modern statecraft. This led Maududi to present his model of an Islamic state as an alternative form of state-building.


Jackson, R. (2010). Mawlana Mawdudi and Political Islam: Authority and the Islamic state. Routledge.
Althusser, L. (2006). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes towards an investigation). The anthropology of the state: A reader, 9(1), 86-98.
Schmitt, C. (2005). Political theology: Four chapters on the concept of sovereignty. University of Chicago Press.
Hallaq, W. (2012). The impossible state: Islam, politics, and modernity’s moral predicament. Columbia University Press.
Mahmood, S. (2011). Politics of piety: The Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton University Press.
Scott, J. C. (1998). Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. Yale University Press.

The author is a Research Scholar in the Department of Islamic Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, India. He can be mailed at

Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not reflect the stand or policy of Oracle Opinions.

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