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Syed SadathullahHussaini is the new President (Ameer) of the Jamaat e Islami Hind. He was elected on April 3 for a four-year term by the 157-member Representative Council (Majlis e Numaindagan).

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
An electronic engineer, he hails from Aurangabad, but had spent considerable part of hislife in Hyderabad. He has also authored a few books. At 48, he is the youngest person ever to be elected the Ameer of the Jamaat which has been meticulously democratic in its organizational structure all through its 70 years of history. Mr. T. Arifali is the new General Secretary (Qayyim) of the Jamaat while Mr. Ameenul Hassan from Tamil Nadu and Mohammed Jaafer from Patna are new vice presidents.
The change at the apex has come about after nearly 12 years when the top post was held by Maulana Jalaluddin Umari for three terms.
The new set of office-bearers ismuch younger and is expected to bring about new changes in the policy and performance of the JIH which is the only cadre-based organization with pan-Indian presence. However archaic the Jamaat may appear to an external observer, given its insistence on orthodox Islam, the Jamaat apparatus is modern in its structure inasmuch as democracy prevails at all levels and most of the office-bearers mainly come from modern educational institutions, rather than madrassas.
That the Jamaat has survived in its present shape for 70 years is a tribute to its tenacity. Nearly all Muslim organizations have suffered splits latest being the TablighiJamaat during their course of life. Credit for the same must go tothe Jamaat’s structure and organization which absorbs shocks and accommodates differences. Ideology rather than personalities have reigned supreme. No dynasties can take roots within its organization which bases itself on altruism rather than projection of individuals.
In a Groove
Yet there is a general perception that the Jamaat has entered a groove and finds it difficult to come out of it. Its main ideologue and founder, Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, who hailed from Aurangabad but migrated to Lahore after Partition, was a great organizer but had less than adequate exposure of the new sciences, particularly humanities and modern languages in which the new scholarship germinated. He wrote nearly seventy books, all in Urdu, and raised a well-knit organization and left training modules which tailored articulate and devout workers. The Jamaat has largely followed the same ideology despite passage of around 40 years after his death. The changes in the ambience since his death have been breathtaking due to arrival of new technology which essentially goes into the organization of the society. Except for a book titled Maqasid e Shariat by Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqui, no new literature has been added to the corpus of books that crystallize the Jamaat ideology. An average worker of the Jamaat still takes the aims and objectives laid down by Maulana Maudoodi to be the be-all and-end all of all ideas.
Constricted Space
Though the Jamaat at one time considered secularism, nationalism and democracy to be the bane of modern civilizations, it has come to realize the futility of opposing them, especially now that the rise of Hindutva is constricting space for diversity. It is more out of compulsion rather than conviction. Similar is the case of ‘composite culture’. It was berated by the Jamaat journals till the late 1980s. But no longer so.
Clerical Stranglehold
Jamaat has failed to break free from the stranglehold of clerics from UP and Bihar who are unfortunately thought to represent mainstream Islam in India. It has towed their line on major issues in which most of the cleric-dominated bodies be it the Muslim Personal law Board, Majlis e Mushawarat, JamiatulUlema or the Milli Council have pursued the reactionary path. This acts as an albatross around the Jamaat’s neck. Predominance of rhetoric on ittehad (unity) restrains them from taking a progressive stand on issues that are touted as central to the Shariat. This Shariat fixation has led the Jamaat to be part of the crowd on issues like Shah Bano case, Babri Masjid and Triple Talaq. While many within the Jamaat would privately concede that Shariat is not a fixed code, the Jamaat as a whole refrains from breaking ranks. This dilemma however, dogs the Muslims as a whole and few have the guts and gumption to stand upto the clerics who are out to serve their vested interests and protect their livelihoods in a much narrower sense. One would watch with keen interest how the Jamaat approaches the issue of entry of women into the mosques. Except recycling the old literature and postulations on Shariat, the Jamaat has failed to offer any new insight in the light of the 20th-21st century context. It is smug with satisfaction that all that could be said for the peace, progress and prosperity of human society has already been laid down in the holy text and nothing other than its rewording can be attempted. This attitude of comfort zone-living has led to romanticisation of the past and over-glorification of history. It smothers innovation and creativity.
Jamaat’s stand on human rights, gender rights, freedom of expression etc too has been extremely selective. It failed to condemn the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen, nor did it voice its opinion on murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. While on the issue of Hadiya’s conversion to Islam, it rightfully supported freedom of religion, one failed to hear anything on murder of Hindu boy Ankit (in the Nangloi village of Delhi) who was in love of Muslim girl Shehzadi Begum leading to boy’s murder by parents and other kin of the girl. However, such dichotomy is commonplace among all Muslim bodies which makes their championing of modern values such as human rights, gender rights, freedom of expression and commitment to the Constitution less credible. It is reflective of the religion-based organizations compulsions in the modern context.
The Jamaat has taken some steps in the field of socio-economic welfare of the community such as school and hospitals. This is indeed commendable. Its services in rehabilitation of victims of riots in Muzaffarnagar and floods in Kerala won it wide acclaim. It would need to widen the ambit of its social service, particularly in the field of modern education which is key to economic development. One hope, the new and young Ameer would bring in changes that would align the organization with the trends of the times we live in currently. But more meaningful participation would urge living down the old shibboleths and contextualizing the mindset.