By Rafia Zakaria
December 03, 2014
THE project of reconciling faith and constitutionalism is one that enjoys wide popularity in many parts of the Muslim world. Not long ago, Sudan’s President Omar Bashir promised a “100pc” Islamic constitution to his polity. Similarly, when the regime of president Mubarak was toppled in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood elected to power, their first and foremost task was to produce a constitution that embodied the values of Islam while also providing rights to the Egyptian citizenry.
In Pakistan, the question of just how Islamic the Constitution is has been an issue for decades. In its most recent iteration, it became a roadblock in negotiations with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, who alleged they could not conduct negotiations with politicians bound by a constitution that the group does not consider Islamic.
While these debates and battles have raged on in various forms in post-colonial Muslim nations, ever insecure about creating the perfect hybridity of Islamic principles and constitutional structure, consensus on these questions has been elusive.
Into this contentious mix comes a new study entitled Measuring Constitutional Islamisation: The Islamic Constitutions Index. Developed by University of Chicago scholar Dawood Ahmad and Moamen Gouda, a professor of Middle East economics at Hankuk University, the study attempts to create the first empirical measure for the relative ‘Islamicity’ of a particular constitution, consequently enabling the measurement of just how ‘Islamic’ a particular country’s constitution is. An Islamic constitution developed by the scholars at the renowned Al Azhar University in Cairo was used as a model against which the constitutions of the other countries could be measured.
The aim of measuring the ‘Islamicity’ of any particular constitution was motivated by the same questions that fill Pakistani newspapers on a daily and weekly basis. Central to these is a fact highlighted in poll after poll: Muslim publics have a desire to see faith embodied in public life and in their constitutional instruments. Attached to this widely held desire are the thornier questions of whether Islamic constitutions make a polity a democracy or a theocracy, whether the model of constitutional governance and transcendent faith-based precepts is compatible.
On the theoretical level, all have been roundly and soundly debated, and in their study Ahmad and Gouda turn to the empirical plane. The hope is that perhaps in this dimension the questions of computability, the award of rights, the pre-eminence of faith and the protection for individual freedom can be studied with the certainty of numbers.
Their findings are both interesting and thought-provoking. The ‘Islamic Constitutions Index’ ranking reveals the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran to be the ‘most Islamic’ followed by Saudi Arabia and the Maldives. Pakistan’s Constitution of 1973 comes in fourth place followed by Somalia, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq. (Contrary to popular belief, the Saudi constitution is not simply the Holy Quran but contains additional provisions regarding governance and the ruling monarchy.)
Beyond the ranking, the interpretation of the results reveals that not all countries with Muslim majority populations have Islamic constitutions. Notable among these are the Central Asian Republics of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyz Republic as well as Mali, all of whom have majority Muslim populations but secular constitutions. There is a geographic basis to this, for countries in the Middle East and North Africa with active movements for the imposition of Sharia have consequently Islamic constitutions while most Central Asian Republics without such movements have secular constitutions.
There are also some surprises in the data in relation to colonisation and the ‘Islamicity’ of constitutions. Iran and Saudi Arabia, both countries that have never been colonised, are at the top of the ranking followed by former colonies like Pakistan. Given that Iran and Saudi Arabia are spiritual centres for Shia and Sunni Islam respectively, their example, it can be hypothesised, inspires former colonies like Pakistan who see in them a model of what an Islamic state should look like.
While the researchers state that their analysis does not imply causation, when they correlated the Gender Parity Index developed by the World Bank against their Islamic Constitutions Index, they found a negative correlation between Islamicity and gender equality.
To investigate the question of whether such constitutions are more or less democratic, the scholars compared their data against the Voice and Accountability Index developed by Worldwide Governance Indicators. This too revealed a negative correlation, indicating that civil liberties, political rights of due process and freedom of speech are less available in countries that rank highly on Islamicity in the index. Finally, the scholars also tackled the question of political stability, finding that there was less political stability in countries ranking highly on the Islamicity index.
While gender parity, political stability and democracy were found to be wanting in countries that ranked high in the Islamic Constitutions Index, it was also found that this was not so because the countries did not provide their citizens with rights in their constitutions. In fact, most of the countries were found to be granting just as many rights as secular countries, suggesting then that it is the implementation of rights, and the development of mechanisms that actually facilitate governance that may be lacking in these constitutions.
As the data reveals, Pakistan has been quite successful in Islamising its Constitution, ensuring that the principles of the faith are adequately reflected in the document. The way forward then is to end the debate on whether the country is Islamic enough (the numbers say it is) and focus instead on how the mechanisms for stability, gender parity and democracy can be streamlined, a task the data reveals to be not dependent on faith, but on the jurists, scholars who can develop the procedural mechanisms that can ensure positive outcomes.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.