By Saad Hafiz
December 29, 2018
Is Prime Minister Imran Khan encouraging the dream of installing an Islamic state (Islami Hakumat)? It would be a natural progression from the Islamic welfare state which we know is very close to Khan’s heart. Radical Islamists in Pakistan have long harboured the vision of a theocratic state, governed by Shariah laws.
It is exciting stuff indeed! No need to bother with untrustworthy and corrupt democratic institutions, when the Islamic state of Pakistan could serve as a model of governance in a chaotic world. Moreover, Pakistan as a Fortress of Islam, a true successor to the State of Medina, will be a promised return to the golden age of Islam.
The formation of an Islamic state would clear up any ambiguity that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. The state would enshrine the fusion of politics and religion. Finally, the people would find refuge from the perversion and immorality imposed by the secular West. Presumably, the Islamic state would be led by Khan himself as the commander of the faithful (Ameer-ul-Momineen).
But let’s pause a bit. Didn’t Khan’s hero, our founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, desire a secular democratic state as the country’s tiny secular minority like to tell us at every opportunity?
Jinnah initially a firm supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity came to the late realisation that Hindus and Muslims were distinct. He surmised that Hindus and Muslims were essentially two nations, who couldn’t possibly evolve into a common nationality and share power. Although a secularist, Jinnah decided then to use the “two nation” theory as a bargaining chip to protect the Muslim minority.
Later on, when the “two nation” theory graduated to a “two-state” solution, Jinnah still wanted Pakistan to be a secular democratic state. He hoped as well that Pakistan would live, side by side, in peace and harmony, with a secular India.
Since the word ‘secular’ was considered an anathema to the Muslim masses, a secular state was an unsalable idea. Jinnah, ever the consummate lawyer/politician, did whatever it took to create Pakistan. He donned a karakul cap and jumped on the religious bandwagon. Jinnah publicly advocated the more acceptable idea of Pakistan as an Islamic welfare state – that Khan supports today.
However, Jinnah’s vain gloriousness got the better of him. Jinnah thought that he could use the religion card and change course later to establish a secular state.But he didn’t have time on his side. However, like Jinnah himself, the kind of state he may have wanted is irrelevant to the debate in Pakistan today. The leaders that followed Jinnah successfully sold the argument that if Pakistan became a secular state without Islam, it would collapse.
The dream of an Islamic state got an official fillip with the passing of the Objectives Resolution by Parliament in 1949. Since then Pakistan has built the edifice of an Islamic state. A parallel state based on revisionist history, a state religion, and a Shariah court system.
Since the country’s creation, the ongoing Islamisation project served as a tool for insecure governments for self-preservation. It was used to appease the religious clerics (Mullahs) and the Islamist lobby. The pernicious influence of the Mullahs on state and society has increased manifold. Mullahs have historically exploited religious sentiments and sectarian fissures in a bid to acquire political power. With the clout that radical Islamists enjoy in the country, there is always a danger that a benevolent Islamic welfare state can morph itself into a hard-line Sunni majoritarian state.
As expected, proponents sell the idea of an Islamic state as a panacea for all ills. Such a state would eradicate poverty, create full employment and deliver high rates of growth, promote monetary stability, maintain law and order, and ensure social and economic justice. The state would work to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and the dispensation of impartial justice to all irrespective of their status.
Nevertheless, an Islamic state, in economic terms will face similar challenges to a western welfare state. It can’t remain isolated from external economic and political pressures. The high taxation needed to sustain a welfare state will stifle economic growth. Besides, a sense of entitlement among the people would encourage dependency and discourage hard work and wealth creation.
Furthermore, there are few examples of socially harmonious, just and equitable states in Islamic history. The so-called Islamic welfare states today suppress the freedom of thought, subjugate women and minorities, and monopolise power.
But the slogan of an Islamic state will remain an inviting prospect in Pakistan. For its allure to go away, the elitist democratic system must change to be seen to deliver tangible benefits to the people.
Khan’s born-again Muslim persona, his fundamentalist outlook, and the strong presence of Islamists in his party are worrying signs. Instead of flirting with the idea of an Islamic state, Khan must focus on strengthening grassroots democracy in Pakistan.
A modern, progressive and democratic state arguably would serve the people more. Khan may do well to remember that, time and time again, the country’s much-maligned voters acted as the vanguard against dictatorship and obscurantism.
Khan too should reinforce the spirit of the 1940 Lahore Resolution. The Resolution imagined a Pakistan not solely as a homeland for Muslims, but as a state where pluralist ideologies and beliefs could survive and flourish, amidst tolerance and protection. It’s the only path to a better Pakistan.
Saad Hafiz is a freelance contributor.