The distinguished Pakistani communist journalist, writer, and activist Abdullah Malik (1920–2003), wrote a letter—never posted—to the founder and leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Maududi, during the former’s pilgrimage to Mecca in the winter of 1973.
This unposted letter forms a small part of Malik’s Haj travelogue titled Hadees-e-Dil (Hadith of the Heart), which I am translating into English at the moment. It is recorded by Malik under the heading ‘A Letter Which Was Not Posted’ and gives a revealing expose of the Jamaat’s politics of surveillance and spying against its opponents even during a holy occasion as the Haj at the height of the Cold War and worldwide anti-communist hysteria.
The letter itself is preceded by Malik’s journal entry on 29 January, as well as another preamble to the letter giving a context of why he chose to write the letter and is being presented here for the very first time in the English translation.
The first post–COVID Haj culminates with Eid al Adha in Mecca. On this holy day, readers of this valuable letter may find themselves being grateful to Malik for peeling off the veil from the face of hypocrites.
Translation of Abdullah Malik's Journal Entry
I went down to find our Muallim (government-appointed guide for pilgrims) Abdullah Attas sitting on a raised platform at the shop of the owner of our rented house. We exchanged salutations and I, too, sat near him. He asked me about why Jamaat-e-Islami folks were so much after me. Then, Abdullah told me the doings of the people of Jamaat-e-Islami about me in detail which include everyone including Khalil Hamidi, etc.
These things really upset me and I began to think that these ‘religious’ and lovers of Islam were involved in politics even after arriving here. I was extremely anguished…
…we went into the Haram and I wrote a letter to Maulana Maududi sitting there, narrating the full incidents. I am thinking of sending this detailed letter to Maulana Maududi and have its copy sent for publication and run a whole campaign on this, otherwise they will try to use the ceremonies of the whole Haj gradually through the government of Saudi Arabia for their own ends.
Now I feel that in the rumours about Pakistan which begin to go around here daily, there's the hand of the agents of this very Jamaat-e-Islami. Their enmity against Bhutto can take them to any limit. I don’t know if I have written somewhere before or not that despite serious disagreements with Jamaat-e-Islami I always had a continuous conjecture about the people of this party; but the events of 1970 and 1971, for example, the burning of the Koran, the attempt to have individual journalists fired from jobs and then at the very end, when a case was brought against me for making a speech in favour of Bangladesh and against the army action during Martial Law, the workers of Jamaat-e-Islami and their student supporters firmly gave evidence from the side of the police.
At that time I felt that No, this is a very inferior sort of party and Maulana Maududi has created fascist wolves in the name of Islam. A party which does not hesitate from fabricating an incident about burning of the Koran for its political ends, how would it shun making false cases against its political opponents or trapping them; and now indeed it is absurd to mention the workers of this party, since a party which has created assassins in the name of God, the party which has the blood of thousands of East Pakistanis on the hands of its workers, it is useless to hope for any type of decency or principles from them.
A Letter Which Was Not Posted (Preamble)
Just now I have written a letter to Maulana Maududi sitting in the Haram Sharif! My relations with, and obedience, to the Maulana are from before the creation of Pakistan, when the Maulana was in Pathankot; so whenever he came to Lahore, Khwaja Abdul Waheed organised some occasion or the other for him and there would be parties at friends; so I would also be part of them.
Pakistan was created and the Jamaat-e-Islami began to fully participate in politics. So, despite all disagreements the Communist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami ran a campaign for civic freedoms and made arrangements for holding meetings; so I kept participating in these meetings as a representative of the Communist Party and Maulana Maududi himself kept addressing the meetings as the Emir of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Then, one kept meeting him in the field of journalism but in all conditions the respect for the Maulana remained and whenever I got the privilege of meeting him, I always met him very much with obedience, since decency and respect in politics should nevertheless be a compulsory and permanent quality and one should never leave its grasp.
My feelings have always been the same and I always expressed obedience to the Maulana under the same feelings. Therefore, when he arrived ill in London—I too was in London in those days but, unfortunately, ill and in a hospital—I wrote a letter to the Maulana and sought an apology for being unable to visit him and he answered me with kindness.
Hence, when I got to know about these things from Abdullah Attas, I wrote a letter to Maulana Maududi but when I read this letter to Ayesha (wife) she forbade from posting it. The reason she gave was that if this letter came in the custody of the Saudi government, some further calamity might befall and besides, what would be its use? But the reality is that this matter really disturbed me so I also wrote an article in English for ‘Outlook’ with the title “Haj and Politics” but I did not send that as well.
The Letter to Maulana Maududi of Jamaat-e-Islami
Dated 28 January 1973
Mecca Respected Syed Maududi sahib
Salam! I am sending these lines in your service with respect. I hope that you will reflect on these objections. Whatever be my political beliefs and however much you may disagree with them, you or any of your supporters do not have the right, in principle and morally, to doubt my Islam or my Haj obligation, or to attempt to make me a target of the rage and fury of the Saudi government by spreading jealousy among the ummal (agents) of the Saudi government against me using your influence and approach.
I have said these introductory lines, now coming to the real story. I request forgiveness for the length of the talk, but anyways I want to definitely deliver my full story to you.
I along with with my wife reached here via plane on 28 December. While coming here, I had brought a letter of introduction composed of three-four lines from Mr Ehsan Elahi Zaheer addressed to the Muallim Aqeel Attas. I reached here and gave this letter to Abdullah, the son of Aqeel Attas who now runs the business of this firm. My wife and I resided here after renting a room. Afterwards, our contact with the Muallim was rare, we—husband and wife—spent more time in the Haram and remained busy in fulfilling the obligation for which we had come.
Meanwhile, when the ceremonies of Haj began, I met Mian Shafi in Mina. I had no information about his arrival; he began to say that he came to know of my arrival through Iqbal Suhail. He said he was looking for me, Iqbal Suhail wanted to meet me. I, too, was desirous of meeting him. Right after Isha, we went to Suhail’s place where we talked for three to four hours. While leaving, I asked for details about Suhail from Mian Shafi who replied with information on his family and belief. I asked what was Suhail's arrangement for livelihood. Mian Shafi said that Suhail worked for the Saudi government but did not want to publicise it. I was not supposed to mention it ever.
We sat for a long time at Suhail’s. On our return, Mian Shafi asked me whether I had brought the letter of Ehsan Elahi Zaheer. I asked," How do you know that? You have arrived from Pakistan before me". He replied that Suhail told him. "He must have been told by your Muallim because he belongs to Jamaat-e-Islami." I said OK.
Until that time, I had no knowledge about my Muallim, nor did I try to find out his political affiliation. The truth is that these things were not even remotely in my mind, since I had arrived here with a totally different objective and different condition. However, I was saddened by this matter.
A few days passed after this incident. One day, after Isha, I went to look for mail. Abdullah suddenly began to say that the letter of Ehsan Elahi Zaheer which you had brought was lying here. It used to be seen by the Jamaat-e-Islami folks daily, and now they have lifted it off because it’s not in my drawer. I asked, "What difference does it make?"
This morning, I came out of my room to find Abdullah sitting outside near the shopkeeper. He began to say, "Who are you, after all? Do tell me in detail. Why are the people of Jamaat-e-Islami so worried about you? They ask me daily as to why I have arranged for you to stay. You are not a Muslim with proper beliefs, You are is a communist etc. First, they kept looking at the letter of Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, then one day they asked, 'Do you need this letter?' Doubts would be expressed upon this letter. Then, the officials of the Saudi government began calling. Their ummal came and demanded your passport. After this, the secret police of the Saudi government watched you for two days."
All these things have been told to me by Abdullah Attas, he is a great follower of yours, though he does not have a good opinion about Khalil Hamidi, etc and was saying that these are the pensioners of our government and are professionals but Maududi is a mujahid and a scholar.
Now, you tell me is this fascism or not? Will one have to come with permission from your people for Haj in future and be screened by them and now are these people of yours insistent upon fulfilling the duties of the Gestapo for the government of Saudi Arabia? Maulana, the ‘enmities’ in the field of politics indeed do not fall principally within the category of enmity, in fact come under the category of disagreements; but the people of your party have transformed these disagreements into enmities. This very enmity took them to the witness-box of police witnesses against me in the Martial Law case. Is this same the political training of these people, every sport has some rules, whoever deviates from these rules whether done by a socialist or a person of Jamaat-e-Islami will be deemed a criminal.
Maulana again I seek forgiveness for the length of the conversation but I thought to make you aware of the situation, since despite all disagreements I still have faith upon your knowledge and principles. I have dared write these lines based on this very faith.
(All translations are by Raza Naeem. He is a Pakistani award-winning researcher, translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book ‘Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi’, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)