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Caste and Maududian antagonism: Thinking Muslim theo-politics

Caste and Maududian antagonism: Thinking Muslim theo-politics

shan muhammed


Muhammed Shah (Shan)

shan muhammedIf one reads Usthad Abul A’ala Maududi as an early new historicist of Islam, we can’t find enough reasons to dismiss his arguments. Perhaps the new historicist elements which to some extent are inherent to the Maududian understanding of Islamic historical moments, have created an aura of mysterious controversy around the figure of Maududi within the Muslim community. For example, in criticizing the emergence of monarchy, formation of ‘sects’, and ‘divisions’ in the history of Islamic governmentality, he practices an approach which is largely concerned with the historical material context, to determine a religious event. As Islamic religious events are traditionally understood from quite a meta-historical perspective, his approach has remained widely unaccepted in the Muslim community.

A Marxist should not have a problem with the new historicist way of understanding religious events, as religion and culture are byproducts of the material evolution of humankind in the Marxist perspective. Also, Usthad Maududi is known for framing the idea of being Muslim as being a rational believer, than being a mere heir of religion. Especially his critical analysis of Khulafaurashida (first four rulers of Islam) somewhat resembles the method of Patricia Crone who studied the history of governmentality in Islam from a modern perspective of statehood, although their critical locations are different. This has triggered a lot of debates among the Muslim community on many aspects. But my concern here is as to why Maududi is still a spectral presence across Indian campuses, suspending this particular irony whenever the caste question is raised from a Muslim political location.

Contemporary Muslim student politics, which is largely engaged by Islamists, traditionalists and Salafis has been keen in keeping an ethical dimension in its understanding of caste. In other words, ethics is a spiritual question for a Muslim subject. Muslim ethical discontent with caste is not that of mere solidarity or illegality but can only be that of pure theological conviction which transcends the limits of the political. Precisely because it provides a possibility to deconstruct the very self, it even has the radical potential for the annihilation of the remnants of caste practices among Muslim converts. I would like to call it ‘Muslim theo-politics’. Having a metaphysical origin, caste is something that immensely precludes the process of ‘becoming’ an Indian subject. In order to overcome this stagnation of a subject, one has to imagine a counter metaphysics which is very much present in Muslim theo-politics. This is at odds with much of the contemporary anti-caste discourses, since its emancipatory aspects are very much outside Indian modernity.

Most of the anti-caste criticism about ‘secularism’ is primarily concerned with the question of ‘secular’ rather than ‘secularism’ as a political philosophy. It frames its critique of hegemonic forms of secularism and the restructuring of the same. Even though the ‘secular’ is a hegemonic entity, the Muslim problem thereof is more concerned with the political philosophy behind it. The same is applicable in the case of state as well. In that sense, the Muslim problem stems from its philosophical discontent with modern political values which have been largely employed in contemporary anti-caste movements. More importantly,an anti-caste Muslim is fundamentally and predominantly an ethical subject than a solely political one, and whose language and discourse find their origin in religion. In other words, an anti-caste Muslim must be a religious fundamentalist/conservative than ‘progressive’ and ‘secular’, and the radical sociality against ‘caste/anti-caste sociality’ is extremely explicit in his/her/their religion for a Muslim.

Hence, ethical sociality of the Muslim subject is not the same as anti-caste secularism of contemporary Bahujan politics. This anti-caste secularism is extremely inconclusive to the critique of political philosophy (of Secularism, state) which is inherent in the Muslim question and politics. Consequently, contemporary Bahujan politics, even as it is critical of the hegemony of the modern political philosophy, is still immanent in the same. In that sense, it has become almost impossible to imagine a transcendence from the Oedipal collaboration of modernity and caste society.

On the other hand, Usthad Sayyid Maududi interestingly develops an antagonistic, outside form of modern political philosophy from a theological perspective. In that sense, Maududi is immensely problematic for the left, right and even the Ambedkarites. In the same way, he is thereby, for everyone, a strong proponent of ‘Islamic supremacy’. His understanding of secularism, democracy and nationalism is not entangled with the contemporary political critique of hegemony. Rather, it has a deep underpinning of philosophical critique which is derived from theology, thereby creating a potential for imagining a radical sociality which is entirely outside the caste relations subsumed in Indian modernity. So an ideal Islamic engagement with contemporary modern politics by participating in the anti-caste critique, does not at all imagine a reconstruction of sociality (which is anti-caste) but its total abolition altogether. However, this is not purely a Maududian movement, but such abolitionist tendencies can be seen throughout the movements of Islamic theo-politics. One of them was what might be the first recorded slave revolt in universal history. In ‘Zanj’ (Iraq), over a period of 15 years, half a million slaves, peasants and workers organized themselves and seized a significant region of the Iraqi empire and overthrew the existing Caliphate under the leadership of Ali Ibnu Muhammed, with the banner that “There can be no masters but only Allah”. Eventually they established a new Caliphate. Events during the Mappila riots in 19th-20th centuries have been shaped by this abolitionist nature, which eventually made the caste locations of later converted Muslims radically imperceptible. Cheroor is one of the riots during which several members of the Pulaya community converted to Islam and took revenge against upper caste landlords and exiled them to Travancore.

These moments of transcendence and anti-determinism in fact constitute the ‘radical inside’ of Islamic sociality. Here, Susan Buck-Morss appears insightful in another way as she finds Islamism as a critique of the form of modernity. Interestingly her work entirely draws directly from Qutb, Gannouchi, Shariati, Taha etc., instead of Agamben, Zizek, Derrida or Habermas, in order to articulate the critical value of Islamism in the modern political context. As there are plenty of attempts being carried out in order to unveil the potential of Muslim theo-politics, drawing a simple parallel between Muslim politics and right wing Hindu politics, Maududi and Savarkar, is nothing short of a Hindu reluctance to acknowledge the imagination of another radical sociality in the caste context.

Instead of sharing the left, right rhetoric against Maududi, thinking about caste/hegemony from a zone of ethical and theoretical antagonism which was already made possible by Maududi as well as other Islamic thinkers needs to be reinitiated today, and not foreclosed.



Muhammed Shah (Shan) is pursuing his M.Phil in comparative literature, University of Hyderabad, who is closely engaging with Dalit-Bahujan discourse trying to think about caste question from an ethical-religious location. He can be reached at:


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