By S Iftikhar Murshed
April 14, 2013
“The sublime faith called Islam will live even if our leaders are not there to enforce it. It lives in the individual, in his soul and outlook, in all his relations with God and men, from the cradle to the grave, and our politicians should understand that if Divine commands cannot make or keep a man a Musalman, their statutes will not.” These are not the imported words of those who have no understanding of the timeless message of the Quran. They constitute the distillate of the compendious report on the Punjab disturbances of 1953 authored by Chief Justice Muhammad Munir and Justice M R Kayani.
Both men have since passed away, but unfortunately the wisdom of their thoughts was ignored and soon faded from the tablet of public memory. Through Pakistan’s short but troubled history, politicians have unfailingly exploited religion to promote their selfish ambitions. In 1973, two decades after the Punjab disturbances, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto promulgated what was touted as “Pakistan’s first ever consensus constitution.”
The claim was advanced that an “unstoppable constitutional revolution,” which would result in the emancipation and empowerment of the downtrodden masses, had been set in motion. But closer to the truth was that the seven constitutional amendments enacted by Bhutto prior to his ouster in Ziaul Haq’s military coup in 1977, were prompted by no higher a motive than the perpetuation and the consolidation of his own powers. However, it was in the second amendment, which excommunicated Ahmadis, that Bhutto committed the fatal blunder of yielding ground to the religious right. He had unwittingly sowed the seeds of a whirlwind that would eventually propel him mercilessly to the gallows.
It was political expediency, and not religious belief, that had prompted Bhutto to shepherd the passage of this amendment. This is corroborated in an informative article recently carried by a Lahore-based newspaper which recalled that he had to persuade Dr Abdus Salam to remain in the government and had even promised that he “would undo the second amendment one day.” Two years later, in 1976, Bhutto wrote to Sir Zafrullah Khan extolling his services for the Muslims of South Asia, particularly during his one-term presidency of the All India Muslim League.
With the adoption of the second amendment, Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate and its first foreign minister were, in one sweep, declared non-Muslims. It is strangely ironical that during his recent visit to Islamabad, Egypt’s Islamist president, Muhammad Morsi, did not have the least hesitation in saying that Dr Abdus Salam was a source of pride for the entire Islamic world.
Decades earlier, yet another Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, expressed gratitude for Sir Zafrullah Khan’s defence of the Arab and Palestinian cause at the UN in a similar, but much stronger, vein.
The quest for power in the guise of piety has always defined the politics of Pakistan. Ziaul Haq, supported to the hilt by the religious right, had a field day in further disfiguring the 1973 Constitution on the pretext of bringing the basic law into conformity with Islamic injunctions. Through the Revival of the Constitution Order, 1985 changes were incorporated in Articles 62 and 63 which pertain to the eligibility criteria for membership of the Majlis-e-Shoorah (parliament).
Article 62 (d) insists that a candidate for parliamentary elections must not be “commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions”, whereas the next clause mandates that he must have an “adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings,” carries out his religious obligations and abstains “from major sins.” These hare-brained additions to the constitution are difficult to reconcile with several passages of the Quran which unambiguously affirm that only God can determine who is or is not a good Muslim.
But the hypocrisy is laid bare in 62 (h) which stipulates that only those who have not “after the establishment Pakistan, worked against the territorial integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan” qualify for election to parliament. In other words those who had fought tooth and nail against the concept of Pakistan and had condemned Jinnah to eternal damnation as Kafir-e-Azam were exonerated.
For the first fifteen years after its emergence as an independent state, nobody knew what the country’s ‘ideology’ was. It was only in 1962 when the Political Parties Bill was being discussed in the third National Assembly that a solitary member, Maulvi Abdul Bari of the Jamaat-e-Islami, moved an amendment that sought to outlaw any party opposed to the ‘ideology of Pakistan.’ When Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry, who, eleven years later, was to become the figurehead president of Pakistan, objected that the ideology of the country would first have to be defined, he was curtly told by the cleric that it was Islam. Not a single parliamentarian dared raise any further question and the amendment was accordingly accepted.
Jinnah understood only too well the extent to which Islam is liable to be exploited by religious parties. In his address to the Muslim University Union in Aligarh on February 5, 1938, he declared: “What the Muslim League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish games are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of Maulvis and Maulanas.”
He was completely wrong. Barely six months after his death, the Objectives Resolution was adopted by the constituent assembly and Islam became the state religion. The rationale advanced by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was: “Islam is not just a matter of private beliefs and conduct... (it) is essentially based upon spiritual values. For the purpose of emphasising these values and to give them validity, it will be necessary for the state to direct and guide the activities of the Muslims...” Jinnah’s impassioned presidential address to the same assembly on August 11, 1947 in which he said that religion had nothing to do with the business of the state was all but forgotten.
When the Objectives Resolution was tabled, a member of the opposition from the former East Pakistan, Bhupendra Kumar Datta, pleaded: “Let us not do anything here today that may consign our future generations to the furies of a blind destiny.” He warned that in course of time “a political adventurer” could use the Resolution and particularly its preamble “to impose his will and authority on this state.” His words were prophetic.
Since the adoption of the Objectives Resolution politicians have chased the mirage of an Islamic state. The Munir Report asked: “What then is the Islamic state of which everyone asks but nobody thinks...The Ulema were divided in their opinions when they were asked to cite some precedent of an Islamic state in Muslim history...The phantom of an Islamic state has haunted the Musalman throughout the ages and is a result of the memory of the glorious past when Islam rising like a storm from the least expected quarter of the world – the wilds of Arabia – instantly enveloped the world, pulling down from their high pedestal gods who had ruled over man since the creation, uprooting centuries old institutions and superstitions and supplanting all civilisations that had been built on an enslaved humanity.”
S Iftikhar Murshed is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly.