Politics and religion


Nowhere in the Islamic world has Islam been instrumentalised for the sake of political ends and gains, like the way it has been in Pakistan. This is because everybody has the freedom to interpret and apply Islam as they want here. All those people who declared Salmaan Taseer as liable to be murdered in their fatwas were not even capable of issuing fatwas, according to an interview by Allama Ashrafi on television. The lay Muslim is not even informed of whose fatwa they should adhere to. If ordinary Muslims knew this, then the Islamabad tragedy could have been prevented. The fatwas that incited Mumtaz Qadri were not certified or authoritative.

Did those people even have the authority of issuing fatwas? What kind of fatwas are these which are not authoritative yet get a lot of airtime and provoke people to murder? Why dont our religious scholars issue a directive for the common people detailing these facts so that innocent people may not be murdered? And cant the government restrict the media to check the credentials of the mufti before giving it print and airspace. In light of the facts surrounding the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, it is now incumbent on religious scholars to educate the public about these issues.

Every head of a madrassah in Pakistan does not have the authority or license to issue a fatwa. The scholars of every school of juristic thought issue a fatwa as per the fiqh of that school. We have five schools of thought: Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali, Shafai and Jaafari. If some other school exists and issues fatwas, I am not aware of it. The leaders of the Barelvi fiqh feature quite prominently in the Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (PBUH). The most renowned mufti of this school of jurisprudence, Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, went on record on a TV channel to express his regrets regarding the murder of Salmaan Taseer. But leaders of the same fiqh continue to issue fatwas claiming that even expressing regret at the death of the governor is not allowed. It would have been better if these so-called muftis had consulted Mufti Muneeb before issuing their edicts. When unauthorised muftis were issuing fatwas regarding Salmaan Taseer, wasnt it the duty of the righteous scholars to come forward with their views? The governments security system failed badly in preventing this murder, but if I may be permitted to add, the honourable muftis also did not do their job properly.

The protection of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)s dignity is the part of every believing Muslims creed. Nobody disagrees with that. But the death penalty for this crime is stipulated only in the Constitution of Pakistan. The number of Muslims in Pakistan is around 17 crores. Most of them have their own muftis and scholars. Every country has its own authorised muftis. But nowhere else in the world has the death penalty been deemed for a crime of blasphemy. This punishment is only in Pakistan whose Muslims constitute a mere 15 percent of the world Muslim populace. Muslim majorities exist in some 15 countries. Neither of them have any clause in their constitution stipulating the death penalty for a blasphemer. BBC Online gave a comparative analysis of the constitutions of these 15 countries.

Pakistani politics manipulated religion in such a way that our Islam now differs quite significantly from that of the rest of the world. Only Saudi Arabia is a country where a system which can be deigned as Islamic is being run. But Pakistanis cannot adopt that system. The people of our land have been democratic for almost two centuries. Many dictators tried to blight this system. One of them was General Zia-ul-Haq. He used Islam to legitimise his dictatorship but he still couldnt manage to mar the democratic constitution of our people.

It cannot be denied that wherever autocracies, monarchies and emirates exist, examples of Islamic system of government have always been invoked to justify autocratic and oligarchic rule. We, ourselves, have been subjected to such experiments. But it is also worth remembering that the countries that opted for a democratic system on the road to development did not impose any religious restrictions on their citizens through their respective constitutions. Even though Turkey has been a secular country for the longest time, religiously inclined parties still managed to bag majorities in the election. But they are still operating under a secular constitution. Their political analysts and intellectuals know that the day they start to run the state on religious grounds, matters will fall into the hands of those people who have divided themselves into different sects and creeds.

Bangladesh was bathed in rivers of blood under the shadow of the slogans of the Ideology of Pakistan and kept struggling with the undemocratic remnants of dictatorships for 39 years. After a lot of torturous problems, Bangladesh was eventually declared a secular country and politics in the name of religion were forbidden. Malaysia is also an important part of the Muslim comity of nations. Yet it is a secular country. A lot of powerful and influential elements use religious politicians to perpetuate a system of corruption and injustice. We will have to struggle a long time for the restoration of our democratic rights.

I believe that in light of the way fatwas have been misused in the previous few days, we will also have to move away from the tradition of using religious beliefs for politics in a wrongful manner. These fatwas have made this need clear to even the religious scholars. The tragedy of Salmaan Taseer hasnt opened one but multiple doors for us. Firstly, there must be an authoritative body that issues fatwas. As I have said earlier, the heads of all the madrassahs do not have the required authority to issue fatwas. For instance, Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania is a very old and established institution where almost 17 to 20 thousand gain religious education. Yet, the head of that institution was not authorised to issue fatwas up until recently.

I would also like to humbly add that at least where the media is concerned, religious scholars and muftis themselves can prepare a list of certified clerics who have the requisite authority and knowledge to issue fatwas. This list needs to be then released to the media so that they know whose fatwas should reach the audience and whose shouldnt. Then it will be the responsibility of the media to exercise discretion.

The writer is one of Pakistans most widely read columnists.