South Asia
Anatomy of Islamism
Political Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. The Jamaat-i-Islami, by Frederic Grare

Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

Al-Islam hua Al-Hal (Islam is the solution to everything)
 - Motto of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan

In merely 134 pages, international affairs scholar and the director of the Center de Science Humaines (cultural wing of the French embassy in India), Frederic Grare, has attempted to dissect the ideology and operations of the principal Islamic fundamentalist organization of South Asia, the Jamaat-i-Islami.

Grare's aim of situating his study in the larger context of the "green peril", which many believe is steadily endangering our world, is not feasible and over ambitious due to the shortness of the tract and the lack of adequate background research. Nonetheless, the topic is of great germaneness to world politics and should prompt someone else to a more thorough investigation of the Jamaat and its kindred.

Grare rightly asserts that social science researchers of the West have taken little interest in the Islamism of the Indian subcontinent and confined themselves to the Arabic and Persian versions. Like Samuel Huntington's strange omission of South America from his civilizational fight club line-up, Grare oddly does not once mention Islamism in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand or the Philippines and remains assured that South Asia is the third (and last?) cultural center of radical Islam.

Had he read V S Naipaul's Beyond Belief or reports about militant Islamic secessionist movements in Mindanao, Kelantan, southern Thailand or Maluku, he could have started with a different hypothesis. Proper knowledge of the geopolitical epicenters of Islamism is important before venturing on a publication purporting to assess whether the phenomenon is a "peril" or, to use Daniel Pipes' characterization, "fascism".

Grare's definition of Islamism is that it is not simply mad religious fervor, extreme moral rigor or recourse to violence, but essentially Islam's "relationship to politics and hence the state", through which it tries to realize a "truly Muslim society". (p.10) Jamaat-i-Islami is most powerful in Pakistan and it is mainly in that country that its actions are deeply interwoven into political structures. Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), the Jamaat's founder, was the single most important personage who ensured that Islam remained in the foreground of Pakistan's politics and foreign policy since 1947.

Ironically, Maududi was opposed to Pakistan founding father Ali Jinnah's "Muslim nationalism" before partition in 1947, although he shared the Muslim League's views about religion constituting the basis of nationality. What was wrong with Muslim nationalism of the Jinnah ilk was acceptance of the principle of rule of the majority, which Maududi considered "Western" and against the "call of Islam". The main difference between Nizam-i-Mustafa (the system of the Prophet) and Western democracy was that sovereignty belongs to Allah alone in the former, and not the people.

"There is only one single law, the sharia, imposed from above by God who is the only lawmaker and the only sovereign." (p.20) In practical terms, Maududi's contempt for the Pakistan movement lay in the fact that "it was clear to him that Jinnah had no intention of making Pakistan an Islamic state". (p.28) The idea of a secular democratic Pakistan obstructed the "religious notion of law" and was thus too feeble to realize "required uprightness" and totality of Islam in society.

The other reason that Maududi warned his followers against Muslim nationalism was that it promoted "sectarian interests", which destroyed the "unity of the Muslim world", ie the ummah. Quick to concoct conspiracies, Maududi alleged that nationalism was "a Western concept which divided the Muslim world and thus prolonged the supremacy of Western imperialist powers". (p.23) Islamism's obsession with the millat, the worldwide brotherhood of believers, would later translate into externalities such as Osama bin Laden's International Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, an umbrella transnational entity that knows no national, linguistic or cultural boundaries.

Once Pakistan was formed, though, Jamaat made a tactical adjustment and started talking about "Islamic nationalism" (not "Muslim nationalism") as the first step in the establishment of a universal Islamist revolution. Maududi launched a determined campaign from December 1947 for the progressive Islamization of the Pakistani state and incorporation of the world "Islamic" into the new constitution. When India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire over Kashmir in April 1948, Maududi curiously asserted that "carrying out further covert operations constituted a violation of the sharia and attested to the non-Islamic nature of Pakistan". (p.29) What Islam dictated was not stealthy infiltration into Kashmir but "officially denouncing the ceasefire agreement and resuming hostilities openly"!

Maududi did not mean to dissuade holy warriors from entering Kashmir, for he decreed that "volunteers could fight on the basis of an individual commitment for jihad", while the Pakistani government held true to the ceasefire. This "individual commitment" semantic would later come in handy for the Pakistani state, which utilized Jamaat as a cover for its foreign policy in South and Central Asia.

Maududi was imprisoned until the end of 1949 for refusing to sign the oath of allegiance to the state and affirming that "it was to God alone that a Muslim owed allegiance". He won an initial victory in March 1949 when the constituent assembly recognized the principle of "divine sovereignty" from which the state of Pakistan derived its delegated sovereignty. Jamaat's star shone after Liaqat Ali Khan's death (1951), as its agitations and publicity drives forced the ratified constitution to usher in the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan", with clause 205 reading, "No law contrary to the teachings of the Koran and the Hadith could be adopted by parliament."

The army's takeover and Ayub Khan's emphasis on socioeconomic development rather than religion led the Jamaat to cry hoarse that the 1958 coup was a ploy to "eliminate any possibility of electoral victory by Islamic parties". Ayub's modernizing attitude was interpreted as a pro-Western secular trap to sap the bases of Pakistan's "Islamic mode of life".

Revealing an already established opportunist streak, once Yahya Khan succeeded Ayub, the Jamaat stopped pretending as a defender of democracy and collaborated with the military regime. Its student branch, Islami Jamiat-i-Tulaba, turned into an armed militant body and violently suppressed leftist movements on university campuses. Instead of halting the arm of state brutality in East Pakistan, the Jamaat advised Yahya that the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 was the result of "failure to apply Islamic principles in governance". (p.36)

Confident of state support, the Jamaat contested the 1970 elections, only to suffer big reversals. The assumption that, given a free choice, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis would "vote for Islam" was shattered. Despite Maududi's animus for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's "socialism", he initiated massive rallies and momentum to force the latter to rename Pakistan as an "Islamic Republic" and stipulate that both the prime minister and president had to be Muslims (ie not impious Muslims like Ayub). In 1973, Maududi championed the notarization and violent suppression of Ahmadias/Qadianis as heretics and succeeded in getting a constitutional amendment declaring them non-Muslims.

By 1976, Jamaat's street power multiplied by 150,000 new entrants when it swore to organize marches to Islamabad for implementing sharia. In 1977, Maududi cobbled together a grand alliance of rightist religious parties and launched a "civil disobedience campaign", leading to his arrest. So powerful had Jamaat become in Islamist ranks by then that the Sunni Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia personally intervened to secure Maududi's release by dangling the specter of "revolution" in Pakistan.

Zia ul-Haq's time was understandably the golden era for Jamaat, when "reciprocal attempts at using each other as instruments" flourished between state and Islam-pasand parties. Mian Tufail, Maududi's successor as Amir, concluded a deal with Zia to be given high profile ministries in the puppet central government. Collaboration of the Jamaat, Pakistani intelligence and the army prevented Tufail from openly opposing Zia for what the dissatisfied rank-and-file Jamaatis considered "tardiness in the process of Islamization"' (p.40) By the late 1980s, Zia's relations with the Jamaatis soured due to the excessive radicalizing tendencies of Qazi Hussain Amhad, the new Amir. The military ruler started playing off the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) against the Jamaat in its stronghold province, Sindh.

During the democratic interlude of 1988-99, the Jamaat continued to act as an "eternal opponent" of un-Islamic rulers, while grabbing power-sharing chances, especially under Nawaz Sharif. General Pervez Musharraf's coup in 1999 was welcomed by Qazi Hussain, but once the former began brandishing "Kemalism" as his model of governance, Jamaat once again donned the role of vigilante and warned that "Pakistan's destiny lay in the Islamic revolution" and that party workers "were ready to sacrifice their lives for the cause of Almighty Allah and His Prophet". (p.47)

In Grare's estimate, neither the "Islamic theodemocracy" nor the "Islamic economy" of the Jamaat have been attained, and though Qazi Hussain rhetorically claims that "Allah will rule in Islamabad in five years", his organization still remains on the fringes within Pakistan.

Failures on the domestic front are matched by great successes in foreign propaganda and military actions of the Jamaat, and it is here that its real potential for destabilization lies. Grare says that the innate faith in jihad and terror which Jamaatis have is provided a safe outlet by the Pakistani state in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Tajikistan and elsewhere. Jamaat's "Islamic theory of international relations" where the struggle between Islam and non-Islam replaces the struggle between classes as the central force of historical progression, matches with the so-called "Muslim school"of Pakistani foreign policy, which plans to establish a strategic consensus among Muslim states to counterbalance American imperialism and the "Judeo-Christian peril". In all major foreign engagements of the Pakistani state, presence of Muslim majority populations or alleged atrocities against Muslims became raison d'etres for armed intervention. Jamaat became the modus operandi.

Jamaat has had links with the Afghan Hizb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from 1965, contacts exploited by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistan army once the anti-Soviet jihad started in the 1980s. Pakistan turned into a hub of the "Islamist orbit" as Maududi's followers brought their Wahhabi allies from Saudi Arabia and their fabulous riches for conducting jihad, and "a division of tasks took place between the Jamaat and the Pakistan army". (p.66) Jamaat's profession of imparting "Muslims the religious instruction that they lack" has acted as a decoy for training and indoctrination of thousands of mujahideen to fight not only in Afghanistan but also as far as Chechnya, Bosnia, Sinkiang, Nagorno-Karabagh and Southeast Asia. One of the more fascinating strategies of the ISI-Jamaat nexus in Central Asia is to "disintegrate the Russian Federation itself and the recomposition of a new structure dominated by conservative Islamist regimes". (p.68).

The capture of Kabul by the Taliban in 1996 was a setback for the Jamaat, especially when Qazi Hussain negotiated a deal between Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Masoud factions of the Northern Alliance. Within a few days, Jamaat lost its utility for the ISI, dramatically affecting its capacity to influence Pakistan's foreign policy. But as there is now confirmed information that a "strategic triangle" of Hizb-i-Islami, al-Qaeda and the Taliban is in place to dethrone the Hamad Karzai government in Kabul through a new jihad, the long shadow of the Jamaat will once again form over Afghanistan.

In Kashmir, the leading terrorist group, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, is the armed wing of the Jamaat, whose Kashmir branch swears by "an Iranian type Islamic revolution in order to achieve independence from India". Jamaat is invaluable to the Pakistani state here because it is the only separatist outfit in Kashmir that demands unification of the valley with Pakistan. Jamaat's main tactic is to increase unrest in Indian Kashmir and then convince international public opinion through its offshoots in Europe and North America that Delhi is engaged in violation of human rights. Jamaat camps in Pakistani Kashmir have trained not just Pakistanis and indigenous Kashmiris but also Sudanese, Afghans, Egyptians, Palestinians and Arabs from the Gulf. Jamaat is also the main vector of the Islamization of those opposed to the Indian presence in Kashmir, especially youngsters who are systematically indoctrinated across the border. What all this amounts to in terms of state-Islamist relations is that Jamaat allows the government of Pakistan "to keep alive a low intensity conflict on the boil without Islamabad ever appearing officially as the instigator of the unrest". (p.83)

Outside Pakistan, Jamaat works in non-Muslim majority countries by being only slightly "susceptible to modernity" and open to the culture of the predominant religion. Grare fails to explain how Jamaat-i-Islami Hind (JIH) is at once opposed to nationalism and the modern secular state and yet "promotes national unity in a multiracial, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural Indian society". (p.100) JIH is suspected in Indian circles for precisely this contradiction and its controversial links with madrassas all over the country. In Britain, too, affiliates of the Jamaat are blamed for fomenting separate schooling for Muslim children and race riots, the most recent of which were in the Jamaat stronghold, Bradford (the city from which Jamaat launched the "world protest" for burning copies of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses).

Grare duly notes that Jamaat policy in Western countries is to "defend the separate Muslim identity in children exposed to permissive Western society", but ignores the wider fallouts that segregated schooling procreates. He mentions wings of the Jamaat like the Islamic Foundation of Leicester, which has resolved "to spread the message of Islam among non-believers" and become notorious as major centers for the spread of Sunni Islamist thought, and yet fails to conclude that the modernization project is being hindered through Islamist insularity in the West.

In conclusion, Grare thinks that Jamaat cannot be a major threat to international security due to its limited successes in taking power inside Pakistan and its dependence on Western-style democracy and human rights terminology to be heard by wider audiences. What Grare omits is any reference to Jamaat's frontline participation in the "Islamist Internationale" set up by Hassan-al-Turabi in Sudan with the blessings of Osama bin Laden. Further, he has not explored the relationship between Jamaat and Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam, the mentor of dreaded terror outfits, Harkat-ul-Ansar and Jaish-i-Muhammad. Most puzzling, Grare does not read that Musharraf's "Kemalism" has limits mainly because, as the author himself writes, "the destabilizing potential of Islamism is much less powerful when it is better integrated into a regime". (p.125)

Political Islam in the Indian Subcontinent is a theoretically sound book with the excellent idea of researching how non-state actors in global terrorism are often fronts for states to pursue strategic objectives. But the thesis is not stated as such and too much weight is given to the "limits of Islamism" by selectively ignoring a host of evidence. The ultimate success of Jamaat is taken by the author to mean achievement of its stated objectives ("totalizing Islam"), by which standard it is certainly not a world peril. But he has not managed to look at myriad unstated/under-stated objectives, unverified real cadre strength, hidden sister organizations, covert operations and financial networks which make the Jamaat one of the major sources of irredentism and violent change in the 21st century.

Political Islam in the Indian Subcontinent, The Jamaat-i-Islami, by Frederic Grare, Manohar Publishers, New Delhi, 2001. ISBN: 81-7304-404-X. Price: US$15.50, 134 pages.

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Oct 26, 2002




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