FROM MAULANA’S DESK
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, born in 1925, in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, is an Islamic spiritual scholar who is well-versed in both classical Islamic learning and modern disciplines. The mission of his life has been the establishment of worldwide peace. He has received the Padma Bhushan, the Demiurgus Peace International Award and Sayyidina Imam Al Hassan Peace award for promoting peace in Muslim societies. He has been called ’Islam’s spiritual ambassador to the world’ and is recognized as one of its most influential Muslims1 . His books have been translated into sixteen languages and are part of university curricula in six countries. He is the founder of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality based in New Delhi.
ERROR OF THE POLITICAL INTERPRETATION OF ISLAM
MARXISM is referred to as an ‘economic interpretation’ of history. This is because in Karl Marx’s understanding of life, the economic factor dominates everything else. In the same way a few scholars projected Islam in such a way that every aspect of it seemed to acquire a political hue. Accordingly, one can term this ideology as a political interpretation of deen or the religion of Islam.
Life is a collection of various parts or aspects. These parts are separate from each other but yet are interlinked. They can also be ranked or placed at different levels.
Ordinarily, they are three broad ways in which we can discuss or describe these aspects:
We can describe a particular aspect in its relation to the totality in exactly the same way as it is in reality or as it appears to be. This is a legalistic sort of description.
We can stress a particular aspect which is the major subject of discussion in a given context.
We can make a particular aspect the basis of the interpretation of the totality of a phenomenon. Here, this particular aspect is presented as representing the phenomenon as a whole or as its central point. I have used the term ‘interpretation’ in this sense.
Let me now clarify this point about these three broad ways that one can describe the different parts of a phenomenon by examining the term ‘economy’.
One way to talk about the economy is to say that human beings are made up of body and soul, and that the human body has certain needs that require to be satisfied through economic activity, just as the soul also needs certain things for its nourishment. This is a way of talking about an aspect of a phenomenon in terms of its relation to the whole.
A second way of talking about the economy is to say that life depends on the economy, and that without the existence of appropriate economic means or resources, life is difficult, if not impossible. This is a way of talking about an aspect of a phenomenon by stressing its particular importance.
The scholars who have given the political interpretation of Islam expressed their understanding of deen of Islam based on a single central factor—politics.
A third way of talking about the economy is to claim that economic conditions are the real driving-force of, or power behind history; that it is the economy that determines every aspect of life; and that every human feeling, all forms of knowledge, and all human institutions are shaped by the prevailing economic conditions. This is a way of talking about an aspect of a phenomenon to be the sole basis of understanding the phenomenon as a whole.
The first of these examples is illustrative of the legalistic sort of description. The second is an instance of a way of addressing an issue in order to stress its particular importance while at the same time not making it out to be the fundamentally determining factor. The third is an example of making a particular aspect or factor the basis of interpreting a phenomenon in its totality.
What we have been discussing here applies to religion as well. Deen or religion of Islam has various parts or aspects or dimensions, and there are different ways of explaining and describing them.
Talking about them in terms of fiqh or jurisprudence is akin to the first method of description referred to above.
Missionaries and social reformers typically use the second method of description.
As for the third method which is talking about it by taking one aspect as the sole basis of understanding it as a whole. The scholars who have contributed to the political interpretation of Islam are an example of this third approach. They expressed their understanding of deen of Islam in such a manner, that it can be called, in the sense I am using the word, a particular interpretation of deen based on a single central factor— politics. In brief their understanding of deen can be said to be a ‘political interpretation of Islam’.
I am aware that no single word can fully represent a complex phenomenon, but the picture of deen that emerges from their writings can be said to approximate what I term as a political interpretation of deen. In their writings the political aspect appears as the focal point of the totality of deen. From this perspective, the reality of belief and prophethood cannot be understood without taking politics into account. Nor can the true significance of worship be comprehended apart from its supposed political underpinnings. Nor, too, according to this perspective, can one progress on the spiritual path. It is as if without politics, the religion of Islam is utterly empty and totally incomprehensible.
The unrealistic and unnatural interpretation of any truth always passes through a historical process and results in total failure for those who follow it. Today, we witness the worst manifestation of following such an ideology in the form of terrorism.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
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Often we have to lose in order to gain.