By Yasser Latif Hamdani
March 07, 2016
In this space, I have continuously written about the threat that an overbearing clergy poses to a state that is attempting to relearn moderation after spending a large part of the last three decades, Musharraf years excepted, radicalising a moderate population. I was surprised at the surprise shown by some of our liberals at the outpouring of grief and mourning by a significant number in our population over the execution of a murderer. It is symptomatic of not just the fact that the state has since General Zia-ul-Haq’s time deliberately radicalised the citizens of the state but also of the fact that liberals in Pakistan have not engaged with or tried to talk sense to the man in the street. There has been a class divide at play. Five different kinds of curricula and several different kinds of education systems have made the various social classes in this country incapable of speaking to each other in comprehensible terms.
It is however a mistake to imagine that the layman, the aam aadmi (ordinary man) is an insufferable fool. If you try to reason with him in his own language, he will understand. On the issue of blasphemy and in particular the Mumtaz Qadri issue, liberals need to ask poignant questions. Was there anything blasphemous in asking for change to a law made by a dictator? If there was indeed blasphemy committed, why did Mumtaz Qadri not attempt to resolve the matter by recourse to the law? Did the Holy Prophet (PBUH), in whose name the fellow acted, not repeatedly forgive those who slandered him and attacked him? Many of these questions were asked by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its landmark judgment rejecting Mumtaz Qadri’s appeal. That judgment needs to be translated into Urdu and distributed throughout the country.
The liberals in Pakistan need to modify their discourse. The common man is convinced that the salvation of the country and its people lies in following the Islamic way of life. Instead of trying to convince them otherwise, perhaps the idea is to convince him that the Islamic way of life does not entail use of force. By declaring that there is no compulsion in religion so forcefully, Islam in its essence closes the door on any kind of moral and religious regulation by the state. This is the true Islamic ideology, which must become the weapon of choice for the Pakistani liberal. We need to revive the idea of Irja, an age-old Islamic doctrine that literally means ‘postponing’. Mustafa Akyol, one of the most brilliant Muslim voices at present, wrote in his article “A Medieval Antidote to ISIS” (New York Times, December 21, 2015) the following lines, which need to be repeated again and again:
“It was a theological principle put forward by some Muslim scholars during the very first century of Islam. At the time, the Muslim world was going through a major civil war, as proto-Sunnis and proto-Shiites fought for power, and a third group called Khawarij (dissenters) were excommunicating and slaughtering both sides. In the face of this bloody chaos, the proponents of irja said that the burning question of who is a true Muslim should be ‘postponed’ until the afterlife. Even a Muslim who abandoned all religious practice and committed many sins, they reasoned, could not be denounced as an ‘apostate’. Faith was a matter of the heart, something only God — not other human beings — could evaluate.”
This principle is actually at the core of the true Islamic ideology, which is at heart a liberationist doctrine aimed at freeing people from reactionary orthodoxy and helping them chart a path to God on their own. This is why Islam has never had a church. It was never meant to have a church. This brings us to the question of religious parties that are agitating against the Women Protection Bill passed by the Punjab Assembly. The essence of their argument is that if you empower women and if you afford them minimum protections, it would destroy our family structure. What may one ask is so great about a family structure that allows women to be beaten black and blue? What is so worth preserving about a family structure that leads to ‘honour’ killings and acid burnings? More importantly though, who has made the religious parties, and especially people like Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman, the guardians of Pakistan’s family structure?
The greatest test for the state of Pakistan is before it now: Will the PML-N government capitulate in front of these priests with a divine mission of their own choosing or will it stand by its own decision to liberate women of Pakistan from misogyny and tyranny of the so-called family structure, which resembles more the family structure of pre-Islamic Arabs who used to bury their daughters alive. It is only the PMLN — the largest Pakistan Muslim League — with its centre-right orientation that can ensure reactionary members of clergy are firmly put in their place. If Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif can weather this storm and prevail, they will not just go down in history as good politicians but actually as great reforming statesmen who helped usher in a new era where reactionary clergy was not only put in its place but its business of religiosity was irrevocably closed down. In this they must be supported, wholeheartedly, by Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. All of our political leadership should put their weight behind the present government on this issue because it is not just a question of the PML-N’s survival but that of the democratic principle, which is that the elected legislatures in this country, and not priests with a divine mission, should determine our destiny.
I feel hopeful for Pakistan’s future. There is much that has happened in the past few months that is encouraging and shows that Pakistan’s leadership, civilian as well as military, is on the same page vis-à-vis putting an end to the tamasha (spectacle) that some mullahs have been engaging in for long now. May we march on towards a progressive and democratic future, together as Pakistanis, Muslims and non-Muslims, where no one is discriminated against and where religion is not an excuse to retard progress.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality.
Source: The Daily Times, Islamabad.
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