Article

Sayyid Abuʾl-Aʾla Mawdudi

SherAli Tareen

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online May 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0129
Sayyid Abuʾl-Aʾla Mawdudi

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Sayyid Abuʾl-Aʾla Mawdudi (b. 1903–d. 1979) is a towering figure in the intellectual and political history of South Asian Islam. He was also one of the key ideological architects of what has come to be known as “Islamism”: the belief that the implementation of an authentically Islamic legal order can only be achieved through the political machinery of the modern nation-state. Best known as the founder of the religious political party Jamaʾat-i Islami (founded in 1941), Mawdudi was born in 1903 at Aurangabad (North India) into a family that enjoyed an aristocratic background and claimed descent from Muhammad (thus the title “sayyid”). Mawdudi’s intellectual genealogy is complicated. Educated in traditional Islamic disciplines by private tutors during his childhood, he was later in his life also highly influenced by the revolutionary writings of such Western philosophers as G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Auguste Comte. Mawdudi eventually rejected all forms of Western knowledge for what he called their spiritual poverty and committed himself to the knowledge of the Qurʾan. But as studies have shown, although he symbolically renounced Western knowledge, especially in his conceptualization of an Islamic revolution, Mawdudi remained indebted to thinkers such as Hegel and Marx. Indeed, even if the grand narrative underlying Mawdudi’s career was “antimodern,” he was, to use the anthropologist David Scott’s felicitous phrase, “a conscript” of that very modernity. Mawdudi initially opposed the creation of Pakistan but moved to that country two weeks after it was founded. The overarching theme that permeates Mawdudi’s several writings is that of an “Islamic state” based on the tenets of Sharia, an idea that he had articulated even before India’s partition into Hindu- and Muslim-majority states and one he vociferously argued for after moving to Pakistan. Among his most well-known writings is a massive commentary (tafsir) of the Qurʾan titled Tafhim al-Qurʾan (Understanding the Qurʾan), which has achieved widespread popularity both in and beyond South Asia. Consistent with his populist political theology, Mawdudi wrote in simple and lucid Urdu. Most of his important works have been translated into English and some of them into Arabic and other languages. He died in 1979 at the age of seventy-six in Buffalo, New York, where he had traveled for medical treatment.

Article.  2657 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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