Is it Islam that obstructs democracy in Pakistan or is it illiteracy, ignorance and economic depravity? Is it not feudalism and its pernicious effects that impede social justice and an egalitarian society in Pakistan?
‘Pakistani society needs reforms: political, socio-economic and, yes, religious too. But – and this is important for the western critics of Islam to understand – Pakistanis need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect embodied, for example, in Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) letter to the monks of St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai’
By Javed Amir
Allama Iqbal did not live to see the birth of Pakistan. But Jinnah did. He became the founder of
Pakistan in 1947 in spite of vehement opposition from the British and the Hindus, who were the majority population in India. A modernist Muslim politician M.A Jinnah whose intellectual development in Britain was rooted in modern law and constitution, embraced the ideal of liberation and independent nationalism. He looked clearly at modernity as a path to national progress. His speeches are a testimony to this fact.
Unfortunately, with the early death of Jinnah in September 1948 the issue of national identity of the new state of Pakistan became an unending debate between the conservative Ulemas and the western educated political leadership, especially in the drafting of the country’s constitution. The issue was how to reconcile the Ulemas demand for introducing sharia law with the inherited body of laws from the British.
After Jinnah’s death, Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, another modernist, moved the famous Objectives Resolution in the constituent assembly in 1949 that began by declaring that “sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone”. However, it went on to affirm the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, social justice and fundamental rights to all its citizens, including minorities. As a result, the 1956 constitution was finally passed after nine years of intense wrangling and gave the conservative Ulema no major role.
Under President Ayub Khan the second constitution of 1962 at first removed from its title “Islamic Republic” by simply calling it the Republic of Pakistan. He established the advisory council of Islamic ideology and the Islamic research institute to assist the government in reconciling all legislation with the tenets of the Quran and the Sunna. Their functions were advisory and their members appointed by the president, so the Ulema had no real power base.
Ayub Khan also passed the Muslim family laws ordinance in which he reformed sharia laws, something the orthodoxy disapproved.
As Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal wrote in his book ‘Asian Drama’, for all intents and purposes Pakistan under Ayub Khan was a modern Muslim state.
However, the 1971 civil war left Pakistan, truncated and demoralized. The extraordinary optimism that had characterized modernist circles in Pakistan’s early years had badly dissipated by this point. It was against this backdrop that Z.A. Bhutto, another modernist, assumed power in December 1971 and proceeded to frame a new constitution in 1973, the country’s third.
Bhutto came to power under the slogan of ‘Islamic Socialism’, which was vehemently opposed by the orthodox Islamists of Pakistan. So, Bhutto had a difficult time proving his Islamic credentials. He held with a lot of fanfare the famous Islamic Summit in Lahore in 1974 in which 40 Muslim countries’ leadership took part. I as a young foreign service officer then posted in Brussels also had the privilege to take part in it.
In spite of all these desperate efforts by the Bhutto government to burnish its pro-Islamic image, the Ulema and the Islamist groups under the guidance of the orthodox scholar Maulana Maududi, started a massive movement which created unrest in the country and inevitably led in July 1977 to a military coup and the imposition of martial law by general Zia. Bhutto was hanged two years later and Zia ul Haq stayed in power till 1988 and oversaw the most extensive effort thus far to ‘Islamize’ the society.
The one personality who had the greatest influence on Zia ul Haq was Maulana Maududi, an Islamist philosopher. For him, the Quran was the law and not the source of law. He was against any minority rights in his Islamic state and rejected pluralism as a pillar of a contemporary society. Maududi’s influence reached far and wide, including Hassan al-Banna of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt and Syed Qutb, who was the mentor of Osama bin Laden.
After Zia ul Haq’s plane crash and death in 1988, little changed in the next decade. However, there was a determined effort to imbue modernism with new life during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan from 1999 to 2008. He called his approach “enlightened moderation’.
In a recent book titled “Afghanistan and Pakistan; conflict, extremism and resistance of modernity” by Riaz Mohammad Khan, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, writes that “starting with the 1980s, resistance has developed towards modernity, particularly in two respects, neglect of any improvement of the economic condition of the people and resistance towards tolerance of pluralism.”
Looking back, we see that the turning point in Pakistan’s struggle to adapt to a rational interpretation of Islam by reforming medieval jurisprudence that the orthodoxy promoted, came in the Zia years, and efforts at adapting to modernity suffered a huge setback.
To conclude, the question arises, what now? How to bring about a Muslim renaissance as dreamed by its founding fathers like Jinnah and Iqbal? I am still optimistic. But the task seems enormous today.
The solution lies in addressing the core problems which get lost in this intellectual debate between modernists and Islamists. Is it Islam that obstructs democracy in Pakistan or is it illiteracy, ignorance and economic depravity? Is it not feudalism and its pernicious effects that impede social justice and an egalitarian society in Pakistan?
Needless to say, Pakistani society needs reforms: political, socio-economic and, yes, religious too. But – and this is important for the western critics of Islam to understand – Pakistanis need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect embodied, for example, in Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) letter to the monks of St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai, or the “convivencia” or co-existence of Muslims with Jews and Christians in cities like Toledo and Cordoba, among others, in Moorish Spain.
For this, we need strong, competent and honest political leadership in Pakistan that must possess administrative skills and understand the country’s heritage and a well-educated class of religious leaders, trained both in traditional religion and modern discipline. If we miraculously find these ingredients, Pakistan can bridge the gap between tradition and modernity and reach a consensus on the true nature of Islam.