By Yasser Latif Hamdani
July 15, 2019
In the on-going political maneuvering and power plays between various state institutions and political parties, Pakistan as a nation state has taken its eyes off the real ideological fault line in Pakistan which lies between Orthodox reactionaries and the Muslim Modernists. Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s excellent study “Muslim Modernism; the case for a Naya Pakistan” succinctly summarises the history of the defeat of the idea of Muslim Modernism in Pakistan. The idea of Pakistan was a Muslim Modernist project that took root in Aligarh Muslim University, the arsenal of Muslim India. It was in the hallowed halls of that great university that the plans of a new Muslim majority nation state were debated and finalized. It had a direct link to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s legacy of keeping Muslims away from Congress, which he charged with being a Hindu dominated body. Men like Jinnah who had joined the Congress and the mainstream of the Indian Nationalist struggle ultimately were forced to accept the wisdom of the grand old man of Aligarh. By the 1940s, the Best Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity had taken on the role of the undisputed Quaid-e-Azam of Muslim India and the movement he spearheaded was the apex of Muslim modernism. Arrayed against him were reactionaries of Majlis-e-Ahrar and Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind backed by the Indian National Congress. They attacked and abused him for being too modern and too secular. Their real ire was against the very idea of Muslim modernism that Jinnah had come to embody.
Muslim modernism in South Asia was an idea that was born out of the fall of the Mughal Empire. It stood in stark contrast to the other modern Muslim ideas including Islamic fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism called for a return to what they viewed as fundamentals of Islam and was inherently sectarian in nature. Muslim modernism rejected the idea of a fixed dogma and instead emphasized the dynamic and ever evolving nature of Islam through the principle of Ijtehad. Muslim modernism also embraced modern education, secular system of government and modern economy. Syed Ameer Ali’s classics “History of Saracens” and the “Spirit of Islam” were written in this vein. Iqbal was another figure in this movement towards modernity who with his “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” laid out a roadmap with identifiable waypoints on the route to Muslim enlightenment and renaissance through an embrace of modern knowledge and modernity. To achieve this, Muslims of the subcontinent needed a state of their own, within or without the Indian whole. This in a nutshell was the idea of Pakistan.
When the idea of Pakistan began to take root amongst the Muslims, leaders of religious orthodoxy calculated that if these men managed to seize the leadership of the Muslim community, the ulema would be left out in the cold. Therefore the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Majlis-e-Ahrar, which were led by men seized of an irrational hatred for all things modern and by extension western and British, put in their lot with an increasingly nativist Indian National Congress under Gandhi. After all Gandhi, who had shunned western modernity, had supported them during the Khilafat Movement. The calculation was that in an India dominated by the Hindu majority, the Muslim community will forever be in the sway of the bearded men with flowing robes educated at Darul-Uloom Deoband. With the help of their Hindu friends, the leaders of this religious reaction set up a university of its own in form of Jamia Milli. They set about trying to divide the ranks of the Muslim League by raising sectarian questions against Shias and Ahmadis, many of whom were in leading positions in the League.
Pakistan from 1947 to 1977 was committed to the idea of Muslim modernism. While some tragic compromises were made on the way in the closing stages of the Ayub regime and by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the state was moving in the general direction of becoming a modern democratic state based on principles of enlightenment. General Zia ulHaq changed all of that. A massive re-writing of the history of the Pakistan Movement was undertaken and Muslim modernism was slowly but surely written out of it. This was done under the auspices of parties like Jamaat e Islami whose historical role against the Pakistan Movement was conveniently ignored and who began a massive re-engineering project to make Pakistan a fundamentalist state. The generation that grew up in the 1980s and 1990s grew up with a world view that rejected modernity. It was in large part aided by Pakistani diaspora who had arrived in the Gulf in the 1970s. Islam was equated with all things Arab. It was a striking departure from Iqbal’s famous Allahabad address where he had put as one of the objectives the idea of liberating South Asian Islam from the stamp of Arab imperialism. Thus from 1980s Pakistan had not just rejected Jinnah’s secularism but also comprehensively buried the very idea which had led to its creation. Jinnah’s ideas had already been marginalized but now Iqbal was sanitized and only those parts of his philosophy were allowed dissemination that fit the regime’s Islamisation.
This is what makes the ongoing political battles entirely out of step with the real ideological issue in Pakistan. The current government’s overbearing attitude towards freedom of speech masks the low-grade conflict between the modernists and the orthodoxy. What is at stake is our future as a people and our attitudes to new problems that face us. Ultimately the direction human progress takes is one and that is forward. Gender rights, freedom of speech and even questions of sexuality will become major points of contention in very near future. Will we then remain wedded to an orthodox fundamentalist interpretation of our faith or will we embrace the idea of modernity itself marching in step with the rest of the world. None of our politicians or other power brokers seem to realize the challenges ahead. As a first step though we must reject the faux national narrative that has been shoved down our throats since the 1980s and re-invigorate the inherently enlightened and modern ethos that led to the formation of Pakistan.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is an Advocate of the High Courts of Pakistan and a member of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London
Source: The Daily Times