Friday, 1 February 2013

Political Islam in a Pashtun Village

By H. Amin

While leafing through Mawdudi’s Islami Riyasat (Islamic State) in 2006, as a doctoral fellow, I remembered first reading it in 1991, when I was a student-activist in an organization that subscribed to Mawdudi’s ideology. This journey from reading Mawdudi’s seminal book, as activist, to an academic understanding of it has a self-referenced history, and the main underlying motivation for conducting this research.

Conducting research on the Islamic movement, the Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan, its ideology, historical trajectories and the perpetual dissent it spawned over time, is not merely an academic pursuit for me. The Jama’at and its deep imprints on society are personal for me, kindled deep in my heart and conscience. This discourse is an elaborate history of my childhood; I was brought up in an overwhelming Jama’ati environment (a family or social condition shaped and deeply influenced by Mawdudi’s ideas and activities of the Jama’at). Like most of his contemporary modern educated, middle class revolutionary friends (inqilabi dost), my late father embraced the Jama’at’s “revolutionary message” (inqelabi dawat) in the 1970s, wholeheartedly. His personal thinking, political, economic and social life, and worldview were an embodiment of the new message. As a true believer in the supremacy of his newfound identity, my father preferred his mission of spreading the message to everywhere around his village, to his family and social responsibilities.

When I was born, my surroundings and family were dominated by the thoughts of Mawdudi, Qutb and Hasan al-Banna. Mawdudi’s books formed the dominant academic resource that ruled and subdued all other household articles. A number of weekly and monthly politico-religious magazines further bolstered the intellectual dominance of the Jama’at literature and moral-story digests in my childhood home. This rich intellectual resource centre, as my father would repeatedly remind us, was augmented further by frequent meetings with my father’s Islamist friends, missionary brothers – as brothers in movement (tehreeki bhai) – at our hujra (guesthouse). We, as kids, would attend to the guests as waiters as per the Pushtoon tradition of hospitality. My old, sane and traditional grandfather would, time and again, resent such alien activities of my father and exhort him to stick to the traditional Islamic school of thought prevalent in the village—Deobandism. Grandfather did not like my father’s intellectual subordination to Mawdudi’s teachings and the associated social and political activities. My father’s subscription to Islamism was Mawdudiyyat—a derogatory term for Mawdudi, which was coined and popularized by traditional ulama—for many, including my grandfather.

Conversely, the 1980s brought about an era of Zia’s ill-conceived Islamisation and Afghan jihad projects. More comfortable in the company of the new dictator than representative democratic governments, the Jama’at jumped on the Afghan jihad and Islamisation bandwagon. From my first introduction to these new subjects, I observed intrusion of a strong jihadi bias in the meetings of the Jama’at and its student wing, Islami Jami’at-e-Talaba Pakistan. In these meetings, jihad assumed primacy over all other positive/productive social, political and religious reformation as the space where these activities were hijacked by propagandist literature. My home library also suffered from this change. Books and pamphlets, posters and handbills on active jihad made their way onto bookshelves, replacing mere ideological and religious material. The shift in the balance was considerable and was felt by everyone. The 1980s was also an important decade for the villagers because their incomes rose remarkably due to a flourishing timber business and remittances coming from the oil rich Arab countries. The rising incomes had a demonstrable effect with a construction boom, improved nutrition and modern consumption. Then the village received a telephone exchange and the number of TV sets increased. The Jama’at activists had now more sources of leisure, less time for friends and ideological discussions. Competition in business, jobs and grown-up children demanded more attention, leaving less time and resources for friends and relatives. Now, even the most urgent issues could be discussed on the telephone.

Nevertheless, the opportunities had different effects on income, lifestyle and consumption patterns of the Jama’at activists. This invoked a tension within the Islamists network. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Jama’at central leadership changed; the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan; in Pakistan, democracy was restored; International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) entered as more visible actors in controlling economy and economic policy; and armed struggle in Kashmir was launched. In addition, all of my father’s movement brothers transformed into new individuals in terms of age, profession, life style, income, family size and pessimism with the arrival of an Islamic revolution.

Thus, in 1989, I joined the Jama’at student wing (Islami Jamiat Talaba Pakistan) when I was in the ninth grade. From that point onwards, the Jama’at activism was not something that I would only observe as an outsider but an internal experience, which I was passing through. My father’s generation of Jama’at activists sowed the seeds of an Islamic movement, and it left a “rich resource centre of ideological books” for us as the most precious asset in inheritance (my father would tell us all the time) that we, the sons, were now dealing with the fruits of the Afghan Jihad project and were building on that.

Though, for us, it was not the USSR but the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and Dr Najeeb’s government in Kabul that were the main hurdles in reaping the crops of Afghan jihad. The new goal was to liberate Kashmir from Indian occupation. I actively participated in all electoral campaigns which were held in the 1990s; these included fundraising schemes for Kashmir jihad and student activism on campuses. Today, most of my father’s’ friends have tired of this endless struggle, become grievous of the growing elitism in the Jama’at environment, or cried over Jama’at’s current leadership, which deviated from its original ideology and the path set by Mawdudi. Some negotiated space between Jama’at activism –their own business and politics – and negotiated their current positions within the Jama’at by switching from more political activism to more dawah and social activism. Still, others left of their own accord or were expelled over growing differences with the ideology and strategy of the Jama’at. I am witness to the introduction of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and his students steadily making their way through their audio lectures and booklets in our home library. My father and his friends would never allow me to read Ghamidi’s books or listen to his lectures. These, he insisted, were based on a deviation from Mawdudi’s ideology and were based on the intent to harm the Jama’at cause.

Through this connection, in the mid-1990s, I faced the same attitude and response from my father as he confronted his father: to my grandfather, my father’s defiance was a serious offence because he was deviating from the traditional Islam as was told and narrated to them by the village imams and ulama. To my father, my defiance was substantial because I deviated from the most modern interpretation, ideology and strategy of an Islamist movement, which were Mawdudi and the Jama’at. My grandfather accused my father of creating havoc in the original religion; my father accused me not only of deviating from Islam but also from Mawdudi’s political Islam.

At the time, it was not an academic argument (which it would later become) that enabled us to pass through competing understandings of Islam, and its relation to state and society—my grandfather’s insistence on traditional Islam, my father’s commitment to Mawdudi’s Islamism, and my own introduction to Ghamidi and his ideas. These were religious tensions within and without. We experienced these tensions but could not describe them in academic terms. I see this incessant dissent, rupture, discontinuity, change, transformation, mutation and deviation as a normal pattern within my own lived Islam, and not an exception found only in the modern Western world.