By Ayaz Amir
April 08, 2014
Islam in today’s world should not be about obscure points of doctrine, Fiqh and Shariah. Mujtahids and reformers have been at the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam for the last 1400 years without any success. They can be at it for the next 1000 years and the result will be the same, doctrinaires and dogmatists who hold sway over the wastelands of theory not ready to concede an inch.
To be of any practical relevance today the ramparts of the Fortress of Islam have to be about practice, theory going beyond the realm of theory and becoming fact. Dubai where the basic needs of its native citizens are met is Islam in practice, despite its skyscrapers, social freedoms and even its fleshpots. Malaysia where economic development has taken place is Islam in practice. The Ottoman Empire’s decrepitude, the label on its face proclaiming the ‘Sick Man of Europe’, was an insult to Islam, despite the Caliphate. The birth of modern Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal was Islam redeemed…this despite Mustafa Kemal’s iconoclasm and open contempt for form and ritual.
Where fear and want stalk the land, where suicides can take place because of hunger, where basic needs are not met and there is one law for the privileged and another for the down and out, it is an insult to call such a society Islamic…even if mosques stand at every corner and loudspeakers run riot when the call for prayer is given. A society based on lies and deception, hypocrisy and self-righteousness…how does that fit into the Islamic paradigm?
The essence of Islam, indeed the whole of Islam, is distilled into that one cry of Omar that if a dog goes hungry by the banks of the Euphrates, he, Omar, will be held accountable on the Day of Judgement. And that one dictum of Ali that an un-Islamic dispensation can last awhile but not an order based on tyranny and injustice.
Why in Pakistan are we such slaves to ritual and the externals of religion while so distant from the essence of Islam? Even if one soul lies hungry of a night, if the head of a family can contemplate death because of starvation, even if one mother with her children under her arms can drown herself in a swift-running canal, to put an end to the wretchedness of her life, how in that land, that city, those environs, are Mughal showpiece projects justified?
If the food for patients in Mayo Hospital is to be funded by private donations – and I give this one example at random – if healthcare for the mass of the people is on no one’s agenda, and emergency wards and ICUs are destitute of medicines for the poor and needy, will anyone call this an Islamic Republic?
If government schools are starved of funds and across the land children have to sit under the shade of trees to receive the apology that passes for their education, where there are different systems of education to cater for different classes of wealth, what name should be given to such a country?
Look at the totality of this abdication: the state walking away from security, health and education – security privatised, health privatised, education privatised. What is left then of the state’s purpose?
Today things have arrived at such a pass that across the political spectrum, from one end to the other, there is a consensus on the essentials of socio-economic theory: that anything like social justice can wait while economic advance picks up at the hands of unbridled capitalism. This is to plant Thatcherism on the arid soil of a society still more peasant in its outlook than urban or modern.
With my sinful ears I have heard Nawaz Sharif say that the way forward to economic glory is a ten percent income tax rate and no more. I have heard Asif Ali Zardari say that when China starts shifting some of its basic industries to Pakistan, say in the next 20 years, Pakistan then will be able to take off economically. The third alternative, Imran Khan’s PTI, is firmly in the grip of an entrepreneurial class which thinks along much the same lines.
As for the Islamist parties they are into fund collection and hides collection and their own agenda of power, and on the slightest pretext, relating mostly to imagined insults against the faith, whipping up frenzy in the name of religion.
Pakistan’s number one issue is not religion. It is not the agenda of the Islamist parties. It is the vast and growing gap between haves and have-nots, those who have power in their hands and those who have nothing, except of course the hope and solace of another world when the Towers of Jericho come down and the hosts are gathered on the extended plains.
But the irony of it: those who have everything are without any faith in the sturdiness of their Islamic fortress. Even if Pakistan is not a global player, its privileged classes have become global in that they have taken to stowing away their wealth abroad. Is Islamabad really the capital of Pakistan? Dubai seems more like the real capital. Doesn’t everyone have a villa there? And those who don’t, don’t they want a slice of the action?
This is a land of many migrations – the migration of Partition, the migration of labour to the Gulf kingdoms, and now the migration of the privilegentsia. The labouring class retains its links with the homeland. The privileged classes have mentally migrated from the Fortress of Islam, in their hearts giving up on it.
So why should anyone be alarmed at the growth of madressah education? When the state is walking out on public education, and an entire stratum of the population has no other option, why should the armies of the deprived not join religious schools of instruction? At least they get food and shelter there.
I keep writing about the ban on YouTube because it is my primary source of music. I get my songs, my classical music, my old films, old TV shows of Orson Welles and Richard Burton, from there. And the ban I consider silly and outrageous. But tell me, my masters, of what concern is YouTube to a man in Lahore or anywhere else who wants to put an end to his life because he can’t feed his family?
This is the third reference to suicide in this column…because these things happen. For those living on full bellies hunger sounds like a fashionable turn of phrase. But for countless others it is a stark reality. In the true Islamic society there should be no distribution of alms and langar at holy places like Data Darbar because there should be no hunger to drive people to seek alms. At the last urs of Ali Hajveri there was a picture in the papers showing a long, long line of men, women and children awaiting their chance to get a free glass of milk. Imagine the wrath of Omar were this to happen in the Republic he commanded.
What is blasphemy? Starvation is the biggest blasphemy of all. Injustice is blasphemy. The throwing of stones while living in glass houses is blasphemy. The burning of Joseph Colony in Lahore was blasphemy. In the eyes of the Prophet of Islam who decreed cleanliness to be the half of godliness, the dirt of our cities and towns is an insult to his memory.
We can dispute points of doctrine for the next 500 years. We have interpreted Islam to death. Our Fortress of Islam we have built on the bedrock of fiction. If we can’t do anything better, can’t we at least wash the stains of self-righteousness from our sleeves?