Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tinkering with Ideology: A Rejoinder


Maryam Sakeenah

George Orwell wrote of the past as malleable and ever-changing in his celebrated work ‘1984.’ In Pakistan this is particularly true, given the attempts_ quite commonly projected by the liberal-secular popular media_ to tinker with Pakistan’s ideological premise in order to make it fit the narrow framework of thought subscribed to by a clique of Pakistan’s liberal intellectual elite.

In his article ‘At Ideological Crossroads’ (Daily Times, March 14, 2011), Yasser Hamdani has underscored the need for Pakistan to shun ‘retrogressive religiosity’ in order to find its place in the comity of civilized, progressive nations. He believes the concept of Islamic statehood has been injected into Pakistan’s historical narrative and assumed a virulent character of a Shariah-based Islamic theocracy under the dictatorship of Zia ul Haq in the eighties. The pre-Zia constitutions of 1956 and 1962, he states, did not set down with any clarity that Islam would be the state religion. However, the untenable and disposable nature of these documents becomes obvious given their inability to survive beyond the tenures of their wily architects. One also wonders if it is by mere oversight or something more deliberate that Mr. Hamdani glosses over a much more significant constitutional development, one that was by far more authentic, reflected a broad national consensus and set an important direction for constitution-making in the country_ the Objectives Resolution of 1949 which sets down the highest goals of all political endeavour and the principles state and government would be directed by: “1. Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust. 3. The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed. 4. Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”

Throughout his article, Hamdani has used the term ‘liberal’ as something exclusive and in fact diametrically opposed to the concept of Islamic statehood. The ‘liberal values’ he advocates in opposition to an ‘Islamic theocracy’ are in fact intrinsic and central to political Islam. Jinnah had understood this when he had referred to Islamic social justice, democracy, human rights and tolerance. Yet Hamadani dismisses it as a secular Jinnah’s attempt to play up to his mass audience, to ‘speak in a language comprehensible to his constituency.’ Zia ul Haq’s controversial ‘Islamization’ agenda may have undermined these universal liberal values, but what Hamdani does not appreciate is the fact that these very values are at the core of what Islamic scholars have called the ‘maqasid ul shariah’ (values and objectives of Muslim law). It is erroneous to conclude from the failure of Zia’s clumsy experiment the undesirability of Islamic law in this day and age.

The writer also seems to be confused about theocracy in Islam. A theocratic state is odious to Islam, as Islam rules out clerical monopolization of religion, or the prospect of a clergy heading the state. Throughout Islamic history, Islamic scholars have never assumed political roles or government offices, but have acted as advisors and guides and operated as agents to bring into effect a system of checks and balances for the Islamic state and its rulers. This dissociation of theologians and jurists from the state machinery is important to protect the laws and principles of Islam from political abuse, exploitation and manipulation; to maintain their independent character. In ruling out theocracy in the state of Pakistan, Jinnah showed this astute understanding he shared with his mentor Dr. Muhammad Iqbal: “…I am sure that our constitution is going to be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, these are as applicable in modern times as they were 1300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught us equality of men, justice and fairplay to everybody…in any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocracy to be ruled by a priest...’

Iqbal and his contribution so central to the Pakistan ideology in fact is conspicuously missing from Hamadani’s analysis of Pakistan’s ideology. It demonstrates ignorance of the fact that while Jinnah was instrumental in materializing the Pakistan idea, spearheading its struggle and leading the Muslims, the ideology of the nation does not have its genesis in Jinnah’s thought. It is more far-reaching, more deep-rooted. The vision of Iqbal clearly the ideological ‘father of the nation’ for Pakistan is unequivocal and very eloquent on the role of Islam in the new Muslim state: “... I am not despaired of Islam as a living force for freeing the outlook of man from his geographical limitations. I believe that religion is a power of the utmost importance in the lives of individuals as well as states. I believe Islam itself is Destiny and will not suffer a Destiny... Is religion a private affair? The nature of the Prophet (PBUH)’s experience as disclosed in the Quran is wholly different... it is creative of a social order . Its immediate outcome is the fundamentals of a polity with implicit legal concepts whose civic significance cannot be belittled... Therefore the construction of a polity on national lines displacing Islamic principles is simply unthinkable to a Muslim.” (Allahabad, 1930)

This too was the theme and undercurrent in all Islamic reformist endeavours in the subcontinent since the decline of Muslim rule in India_ to restore political ascendancy and autonomy to the Muslims of India. Writers patronized by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan all wrote of the return to glory of the Muslims of India, of their self-determination and realization of a state where they could live by the law of Islam. Iqbal said in his 1930 address: “It cannot be denied that Islam, regarded as an ethical ideal and a polity_ by which I mean a social structure ruled by certain legal principles and animated by an ethical ideal_ has been the chief formative factor in the life history of the Muslims of India.” That the masses took up the theme with vigour and passion is beyond the shadow of a doubt, as the streets resounded with ‘Pakistan ka matlab kia, La ilaha ilallah.’ It is incorrect and unfair to give a character to the Pakistan ideology that betrays the popular sentiment of those who made innumerable personal sacrifices in the pursuit of that national dream.

Hamdani’s ‘group nationalism’ theory fails to take into account the strongest and most powerfully articulated sentiment of the ‘group’ he claims to speak for. Besides, the socio-economic factors which according to Hamdani were more significant than ideological reasons, actually stem from the distinct religious identity of the Muslims which they were not prepared to dilute in a united secular India. This is also a necessary understanding in order to make sense of the ‘Two Nation Theory’ which Hamdani interprets as based upon cultural, historical and linguistic distinctions more than religious identity. This again fails to see religion as the basis of cultural, linguistic and historical distinctness, especially in the context of pre-partition India. The role of religion as the primary force shaping identity, infusing nationhood, shaping tradition/culture and directing the course of history goes entirely unappreciated by Hamdani.

Asserting Jinnah’s secular credentials, Hamdani refers to the fact that no attempt to refer to Islam as the state religion was made in the making of constitutional documents. Again, the political context is totally ignored. The fact that the new state was thrust into a feverish battle for survival dealing with an ocean of crises under the leadership of an ailing, exhausted, lone Jinnah is utterly ignored. As Pakistan grappled with survival issues and dealt with the shock and horror of the partition bloodbath, rehabilitation of millions, controversial boundaries, trouble in the princely states and war in Kashmir, struggling for resources, infrastructure development, establishment of an administration to name a few, constitution making had to be put on the back-burner, and never could assume priority in these maddening times. Soon after, Jinnah left the world. To then point out the absence of visibly ‘Islamic’ constitution-making endeavours is unfair and uninsightful. Besides, there is no dearth of speeches and statements by Jinnah both before and after Pakistan, referring to the law and values of Islam as central to statehood: “It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, the Prophet (SAW) of Islam.” And again, “Every Muslim knows that the injunctions of the Quran are not confined to religious and moral duties… everyone except those who are ignorant knows that the Quran is the general code of the Muslims. A religious, social, civilizational, commercial, military, judicial, criminal and penal code, it regulates everything… and our Prophet (SAW) has enjoined on us that every Muslim should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest and guide. Therefore, Islam is not confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines or rituals and ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslim society, every department of life collectively and individually.”

Maulana Maudoodi chose not to side with Pakistan for his own reasons and accused the new state of having an ‘infidel government.’ While it may reflect Maudoodi’s inaccuracy in this particular matter, it does not reflect Jinnah’s ideological rift with the Muslim ulema of the age, many of whom including the learned Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani were close associates of Jinnah till the end of his days. It was Usmani too whose efforts_ tacitly endorsed by Jinnah_ materialized in the Objectives Resolution of 1949. A man of spine and principle hating political theatrics and demagoguery, Jinnah would never advertise or go public with his deep religious convictions he became firmly attached to in his later days, as attested to by his close affiliates.

Quoting M.J Akbar, Hamdani calls for ‘dropping Pakistans excess ideological baggage’ in favour of ‘ideas universally acceptable as the basis for nation-building.’ This approach is again symptomatic of an inability to appreciate the values of Islam as universal and essentially liberating. The social justice, egalitarianism and sanctity of human life that Islam upholds and emphasizes perhaps more than any other philosophy of life are essentially ‘universal’ and ‘liberal’ in character. The inability or unwillingness to admit it reflects the writer’s own tainted perception and deep-seated bias that goes loud when he terms it ‘retrogressive.’

The writer underscores the urgency of making our ideological choice out of ‘retrogressive religiosity’ by referring to the mass frustration of extremist religious elements in Pakistani society. While extremist tendencies need to be shunned and the role of religious scholars is immense in this regard, one must also take into account the deeper causes of the trend_ of a polarized society where the conservative majority is under-resourced, underprivileged and disempowered by a liberal-extremist elitist minority parasitizing on resources and empowered by state institutions and the powerful ‘free media.’ Writers like Hamdani would be better advised to respect the sensitivities of the deeply conservative population in order to be part of the healing process, to seek solutions within and not without the clear ideological premises and parameters of the state. An approach of this sort only helps the polarization and widen the ideological divide between the Westernized and privileged intellectual elite and the marginalized, conservative Muslim majority. And it threatens to rend us apart.