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Islam and Pluralism ( 3 Jul 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Raison D’être of Pakistan


By Yasser Latif Hamdani

July 2, 2012

For raison d’être, it is enough to state that a democratic and prosperous Pakistan, which is blind to considerations of faith or ethnicity or gender, is as good a reason as any for the country to exist

The ‘Destruction of Pakistan Council’ (DPC) is said to be behind the rickshaw marketing campaign that states: ‘Bharat se rishta kiya, nafrat ka intiqam kiya’ (What is our relationship with India...hatred and revenge). Heartily, the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) has launched a laudable initiative out of its meagre resources called ‘visa kholo’ policy, which calls upon the South Asian neighbours to grow up and develop a mature relationship on the basis of mutual coexistence and permeable borders.

It is for Pakistanis to decide collectively as to what the rationale for the founding of Pakistan was: was it perpetual hatred and animosity towards India or was it that Pakistan would be a peaceful settlement between the two main communities of India who would contribute to the betterment of South Asia? At least Jinnah, the man most commonly credited with or blamed for the making of Pakistan, depending on what point of view one takes, was quite clear that it was the latter. He believed that Pakistan and India would have open borders, treaty arrangements and joint defence — in other words, a European Union-type arrangement long before the European Union was even conceived. Jinnah believed that Pakistan and India would ideally follow the US-Canada model of ties and referred to examples from European history where nations with centuries of animosity had normalised their relations. To Mountbatten, he quoted the example of a partition suit he had been part of between two brothers who once the partition of their property had been effected became best of friends. This does not fit the DPC’s narrative of ‘nafrat’ and ‘intiqam’(hatred and revenge). It is then fair to say that Pakistan’s raison d’être was to achieve peace in the subcontinent, which still eludes us and therefore we have failed in that respect.

Of course, others have their own idea of the raison d’être of Pakistan. At a recent public meeting, Imran Khan, the Chairperson of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), declared that the creation of Pakistan would be useless without the establishment of an Islamic welfare state (IWS). What Mr Khan means by IWS is not always clear but one presumes that it is some form of a democracy, which incorporates Islamic values and works towards the welfare of the citizenry. That much is clear from the otherwise ideologically confused membership video the PTI has recently put up on its website. It is also clear that this IWS is somehow linked to Allama Iqbal who serves as the unofficial mascot of the PTI. Without going into what relevance an early 20th century Indian-Muslim poet-philosopher, who was writing in reaction to the colonial onslaught on Islamic lands, has for the 21st century Pakistan, one must investigate whether this perceived raison d’être has any chance of translating into something concrete for us today. Iqbal believed in the idea of ijtehad or reinterpretation of Islamic values according to modern times. He believed that the body most suited to carry out such an exercise was a national parliament of a Muslim majority country. In other words, Iqbal believed that a legislature elected by popular franchise in a Muslim country would decide what Islamic values are or should be. This was a revolutionary idea in the religious sphere, which Iqbal called ‘spiritual democracy’. Spiritual democracy meant an equal say for all people of such a state in temporal and spiritual affairs. This is why it was not called ‘spiritual dictatorship’ or ‘spiritual authoritarianism’.

Now consider Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s recent statement that if parliament legislates against the constitution or Islam, the Supreme Court would be well within its rights to review such legislation and strike it down if necessary. Presumably, Imran Khan agrees with the chief justice on this issue. The only problem is that this presupposes a repository of Islamic knowledge with judges of the Supreme Court, which is derived, logically, from established religious opinions of Islamic scholars. In other words, contrary to the Iqbalian idea of Ijtihad through a democratically elected parliament in a Muslim country, the Islamic standard is to be determined by the judiciary based on credible existing opinions of religious scholars. Thus in the end, any revolutionary move by parliament to reinterpret Islamic values according to modern times is likely to be challenged and decided by a few judges, depending on their own personal views on religion and possibly, biases that they might have. How then would this be Ijtihad? Remember there is a hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that the ummah cannot err in consensus. Can a few unelected public servants and their favourite religious scholars shape this consensus? No. It is tantamount to closing the door of Ijtihad altogether and empowering a few men with a divine mission to rule against the will of the majority based on selective religious interpretation.

IWS of the kind that Imran Khan probably envisages, in the presence of an overreaching judiciary and weak democratic institutions, is a non-starter. Therefore the raison d’être as imagined by Mr Khan and his party is not likely to be realised. In the absence of genuine democracy and in the presence of an all-powerful, partisan judiciary, any mirage of IWS is more likely to resemble the theocratic dystopia against which liberals (who Imran Khan refers to as ‘scum’) have been warning. The most important thing in Pakistan is to establish the supremacy and sovereignty of the people above all else. Once that happens people will be free to decide what form of IWS, if any, they want in the country. Meanwhile for raison d’être, it is enough to state that a democratic and prosperous Pakistan, which is blind to considerations of faith or ethnicity or gender and which is at peace within and without, is as good a reason as any for the country to exist.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practising lawyer.