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Islam and Politics ( 10 Dec 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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In Islam’s Name Our Disservice to Islam



By Ayaz Amir

December 10, 2013

Can any irony be greater than this: that in a country created in the name of Islam – Muslim separatism and the two-nation theory amounting to that – the flames of hatred should be fanned and people should be killed in the name of Islam?

This is what is happening here: sectarianism gone wild and becoming more volatile and dangerous by the day. It is not just the usual sectarian outfits at this game. Even the Taliban are an expression of the same phenomenon: sectarianism.

The Taliban are not representative of all Muslim sects. They are votaries and standard-bearers of just one denomination of Islam, drawing inspiration and spiritual sustenance from far-off desert sands and believing that only theirs is the correct path and those not in accord with its tenets and hard-line beliefs are not only outside the pale of Islam but are fit for, or rather worthy of, death. These are not empty words either. Wherever the Taliban have prevailed or where their flag flies, there is room neither for any other sect nor for the ‘moderate’ Islam of the saints and the Khanqahs which arrived in the Subcontinent all those centuries ago. No wonder, all hard-line sectarian outfits have been drawn to the Taliban as their spiritual kin and natural allies.

Baloch separatists may be fighting for an independent Balochistan. However much we in the rest of Pakistan disagree with their point of view, their demand is a political demand about which there can be talk and negotiation. (Dumped bodies, a policy the security agencies seem to favour, are no answer to Baloch grievances.)

But how do you talk to people – the Taliban – who insist on imposing their beliefs on you? Who, if they were in that position, would tell you what to wear and how long to keep your hair…who would insist on the segregation of women and so on. Is there, can there be, any common ground with such holy warriors? Those dying to talk to the Taliban have yet to adequately answer this question.

But how have we come to this point, the point where sectarianism has lost the capacity to surprise, where it now seems part of the regular order of things? It’s no good saying Gen Zia took us down this path, although his responsibility for this is not to be dismissed easily. It is also not very helpful to keep harking back to the Iranian revolution and Saudi funding for certain types of madressahs, even though these are factors in the rise of sectarianism. But their influence would not have been that great if Pakistan had not been fertile soil for such religious exploitation.

So where do we start? How began our fatal descent down this slope?

In a political sense there was nothing wrong with the demand for Pakistan. The Muslims of the Subcontinent, or at least their leadership organised in the Muslim League, wanted a separate homeland. The American colonies wanted independence from the British Crown. In our time Soviet republics broke away from the Soviet Union. Slovakia has broken away from the Czech Republic. The Scottish National Party is struggling for Scottish independence (and I hope it gets it).

But while perfectly legitimate in the political sense, the demand for Pakistan was an anomaly in the context of Islam, a religion whose message is universal and not confined to any territory, a religion indeed in which there is no place for the division of territories on the basis of religion. The ummah, the brotherhood of Islam, is one, transcending geographical boundaries. Nation-states are a fact of modern life. But the ideal, the Islamic ideal, remains the ummah.

It can be said, and with justice, that the demand for Pakistan had its own compulsions and that to achieve it Islam had to be put at the service of politics. This is entirely understandable. When Jinnah got up to speak in the Constituent Assembly on August 11, just three days before the birth of Pakistan, he tried to convey to his audience the sense that a watershed had been crossed. The past was the past and the future demanded a different approach.

For the previous ten years Jinnah had been speaking a different idiom, emphasising Muslim separatism: that Muslims and Hindus were different, not just in their modes of worship but in their ways of life. Now when the goal for which he had striven so hard and with such single-minded determination was finally at hand, he was suddenly saying something else: that the divisions of the past should be left behind, that Muslims and Hindus, indeed followers of all religions, would be equal citizens in the new state.

If only Jinnah had lived longer, if only his successors had some of his breadth of vision. But that was not to be and instead of becoming a secular republic, which was the meaning of Jinnah’s words, the new state went off in a different direction, its Islamic character stressed more and more, the Constituent Assembly passing the Objectives Resolution – a document which gives a theocratic interpretation of the source of authority in the new state – the air filling more and more with Islamic rhetoric, and over time a polity coming into existence in which those not of the Islamic faith found themselves to be second class citizens.

To reiterate, the demand for Pakistan was not secular. We have to be clear about this. An appeal to religious separatism could hardly be called that. But the message in the Aug 11 address is out-and-out secular… “you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques…” etc. The Objectives Resolution was a regression, a going back to the religious baggage of the Pakistan movement.

What’s wrong with that?, you will say. Much…that’s the short answer. The politicisation of Islam, Islam as a tool of politics, a device of expediency, a means of acquiring political legitimacy as happened under Zia, has not taken us closer to Islam. It has taken us further away from it. Do love and tolerance prevail in this country created in the name of Islam?

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and his gift of looking into the future…it is almost terrifying to read the interview he gave in 1946 to that man of letters and unsurpassed orator, Agha Shorish Kashmiri (Dr A Q Khan in his column has been carrying excerpts from this interview). He could see Pakistan breaking up and the remaining Pakistan becoming a victim of religious strife and empty dogma.

The point is not to lament the present state of affairs. We can keep at this and gain nothing. We can interpret the past endlessly. But to echo Marx, the point is not just to interpret the world but to change it. How do we do this? How do we get out of the mess we are in? How do we put to rest the demons of the past?

What does our own experience tell us? The more lip-service we have paid Islam, the more from the housetops we have beaten the drums of Islam, the farther from Islam we have strayed. So how do we come closer to the spirit of Islam? How do we lessen the gap between word and deed in this supposed citadel of the faith?

The answer born of our experience comes in the shape of this paradox: if Islam is rescued from the hands of its professional exploiters, if religion is taken out of the business of the state and becomes a matter between an individual and his Creator, maybe the strife tearing our society apart is reduced, and we move closer to the true spirit of Islam.