By Dr Ejaz Hussain
On May 28, almost all TV channels and major newspapers of the country carried a news flash that read, “Religious scholars of all schools of thought declared that extremism and terrorism, in the name of Islam, is haram (forbidden) and the state of Pakistan has jurisdiction over Qital (warfare)”. The excerpt was indeed part of a fatwa (religious decree) issued by thirty-one top religious scholars of each Muslim sect in Pakistan.
The Islamic Research Institute of International Islamic University hosted the seminar entitled “Reconstruction of Pakistani society in the light of Madina Charter and announcement of Paigham-e-Pakistan’’ which culminated into the said fatwa. The seminar was addressed by the President of Pakistan, who is Head of the State. Therefore, the role of the state cannot be ruled out as far as the conduct of the seminar, attendance of the participants and issuance of the fatwa is concerned for it is a herculean task to assemble and expect the Ulema to have unanimity of opinion on any issue given doctrinal differences within (sub) sects.
To begin, the conduct of the seminar and the consequent decree carried symbolic significance, for two reasons. One, the proceedings took place in the International Islamic University which generally is believed to be a place for conservative religious interpretation of jihad and socio-economic values. Two, the fatwa was intellectually grounded in the Treaty of Madina, which manifests religious and socioeconomic diversity in an Islamic state, and made public on the start of the holy month of Ramazan whose philosophy rests on training in the self against (worldly) evil forces.
The fatwa, whose contents are though not new to the scholars of the field, has nine points which can be summarized as follows: a) there is no room for religious extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam, b) those who commit (suicide) terrorism are rebels, c) Fasad-fil-Ard (persecution) is un-Islamic and the Islamic state (of Pakistan) has the right to curb it with military means, d) only the Islamic state (of Pakistan) has the constitutional prerogative to enact Islamic injunctions, and not any (armed) individual or group.
If the state does not act to eradicate religious extremism, the fate of the recent fatwa won’t be any different from that of the NAP. The former would then be seen just as a cosmetic measure
Put simply, vide this decree, the impression one gets is that the religious establishment of Pakistan has demonstrated its will to accept the constitutionality of the state of Pakistan with the effect that all individuals and groups in the society including religious scholars come, theoretically, under the legal and constitutional ambit of the state. From the surface, this seems, by all means, an achievement of the state institutions that might have worked hard to convince the Ulema of competing sects to reconcile their conflicting interpretations on such thorny issues which are central to the struggle Pakistan is making as a society and the state. Indeed, it is pleasing to see our religious scholars, gain comprehensive understating of the subject and reach at a conclusion to which scholars such as Javed Ahmed Ghamidi had drawn our attention long ago. Nevertheless, it is never too late to interpret the religious texts sans any preconceived sectarian biases and present the religion of God with utmost care, sincerity and in the service of the humanity.
Strategically, however, certain questions do arise with respect to the necessity of this fatwa for Dr Qadri, and a few Deobandi and Shia religious scholars in addition to Ghamidi, had already registered similar opinion. Moreover, the much harped National Action Plan (NAP) too aimed at targeting extremist elements, countering terrorism, banning militant outfits and eradicating hate literature.
The present fatwa seems to be a consequence of certain contextual variables which are analysed as follows. Pakistan is faced with religious extremism, reference Mashal Khan case, and terrorism for over a decade and a half. From army operations to military courts, hard measures are employed with little focus on intellectual deconstruction of the enemy. This decree has made it clear that the enemy is initially and ultimately internal and Muslim that is why the term ‘Bagh’ is used. Secondly, the fatwa onwards may serve as a point of reference that none has the religious right to impose one’s understanding of religion on another. Thirdly, this decree may be invoked to make a case that it is the state and the constitution that is supreme and all individuals including the religious establishment are non-supreme. Fourthly, since the new army leadership under General Bajwa is busy carrying out Operation Radd-ul-Fasad (eradication of persecution), it needed religious clarity as the scope of the said operation is the entire country where certain (banned) militant organisations still exist. The latter, in principle, does not put faith in the Pakistan state terming it illegitimate and un-Islamic for having western system of democracy, laws, education and economy. In other words, where General Raheel Sharif had a NAP as framework and Zarb-e-Azb as tools, General Bajwa has the fatwa as conceptual category and RuF as means.
Besides, this fatwa is in resonance with the Islamic thought and practice as well as political philosophy. As mentioned already, by its very being, the fatwa may serve as a point of reverence for intellectual curiosity and public policy. However, any fatwa or policy is rendered meaningless in the absence of a implementation regime and an oversight mechanism. We already have the case of NAP which is partly implemented.
Finally, this fatwa reiterates the Islamic nature of Pakistan state. As we know the religious establishment has traditionally been overprotective over the Islamisation of the state and the society. Thus, this is to be seen whether the state institutions subdue the former or succumb to its ideological appeal and outreach. Further, we are to observe whether Pakistan can eradicate religious extremism and terrorism in light of the fatwa in the months to come. If the state fails to achieve the preceding, the fate of the fatwa won’t be different from that of the NAP and critical minded people, within and outside the country, would term the fatwa as a state-oriented cosmetic measure.
Dr Ejaz Hussain is Head, Department of Social Sciences, Iqra University, Islamabad. He is DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright Fellow.