By Yasser Latif Hamdani
December 10, 2018
What had led to the partition of India has nuanced reasoning and to put the long story short, Jinnah had wanted a consociational Indian state where the Muslim minority would have an effective share in power. This scheme was unacceptable to the Congress and they called Jinnah’s bluff in a game of high stakes political poker. By January 1948 Jinnah had been inundated by letters from various quarters demanding an Islamic democracy, all of which have been part of the record. Therefore taking the opportunity on the occasion of Eid Miladun Nabi, Jinnah told his largely Muslim audience at the Karachi Bar Association that an inclusive democracy was a cardinal principle of Islam and that the future democratic constitution of Pakistan thus would not be in conflict with Shariat.
This statement of his has been distorted repeatedly by Mullahs and even some self styled “secular” academics as an example of him reversing his stance on 11 August speech even though anyone who reads the speech in entirety and does not cherry pick a sentence or two can see that he was not reversing his position at all. This was enough though to permanently put a question mark on Jinnah’s clear secular vision for Pakistan. He was the one person who should have known better because in 1920 it was Jinnah who had warned Gandhi against using any religious rhetoric whatsoever and bringing religion into politics.
Gandhi and Jinnah were, as Faiz Ahmad Faiz called them, the two most humane leaders of the subcontinent who were above religious bias even though the former was a devout Hindu. Gandhi’s use of religious rhetoric was twofold. He spoke of Ram Rajya i.e. the rule of Ram as an exemplar for fair and just rule. He also supported the Muslim religious cause of Khilafat.
However Gandhi’s introduction of the terminology of Ram Rajya has taken a life of its own. It goes without saying that how the Hindu right wing uses the term Ram Rajya in India today bears no relation to Gandhi’s ideal. Nor does Gandhi’s support of cow protection and his various sermons against cow slaughter — meant as a moral imperative — can be said to be the basis for the growing “Gau-Mata Bhakt” syndrome in India which has led to violence repeatedly in modern India.
In Pakistan also Jinnah’s statement that the future democratic constitution of Pakistan not being in conflict with Sharia has been distorted to mean something entirely different and we have seen what General Ziaul Haq’s assault on Pakistani constitution has done to that idea. Both founding fathers therefore made a terrible mistake invoking religion to justify progressive ideals. Mullahs and Hindu fanatics who otherwise would have burnt them at the stake now use their words to justify their own narrow-minded agendas.
This brings us to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s use of the term Riyasat-e-Medina. It is probably true that when Imran Khan invokes the term repeatedly and he is the first Pakistani ruler to do so, he means a humane and just society based on timeless principles of humanism that Islam preached. When the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) brought the message of Islam, he galvanized a backward people into a great nation that became over time the strongest and most advanced Empire in the world for centuries. The basic underlying principle of Islam was the eternal movement and evolution. Islam did not remain bound to Medina but went on to establish great Empires elsewhere. So long as early Muslims remained wedded to the idea of Ijtehad, they made great strides in science, law and humanity.
Thus it was Muslims who played the role of a catalyst in reinvigorating a Europe that was in dark ages. Europe emerged out of the dark ages, went through an age of enlightenment, followed by Industrial revolution and thus became the standard bearer of the march of humanity. The contribution of Arabs and Muslims to this is an undeniable part of history. When Imran Khan and others say that the west has learnt from Islam they are not that far off the mark. When Iqbal spoke of “Muslim Ain hua kafir Tau Milein Hoor O Qusoor”, he did not mean one particular era or geographical model. The dynamism of Islam as taught by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is contained within the principle of eternal movement.
So when one is alarmed by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s use of the term “Riyasat-e-Medina” as a slogan, it is not because one is unaware of the contribution of Islam to human civilization nor does one necessarily question Imran Khan’s intent behind the use of this slogan. What one is afraid of is what this means to religious reactionaries and bigots who frankly — due to a lack of Ijtehad and reconstructive religious thought — have lost the principle of the eternal movement completely. How do foul-mouthed self styled clerics of Islam interpret the term? We got an example of this at the Rahmat-ul-lil-Alameen Conference where in the presence of the Prime Minister, a so-called Islamic scholar called for genocide in the name of Riyasat-e-Medina. This is not the ideal of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W).
By reducing this to a mere slogan, Imran Khan is therefore inadvertently doing a disservice to the very idea of Islamic civilization. Islam should mean the most progressive ideals of the day. As times change, Muslims are commanded to change with times and to take up the banner and the standard in the march of humanity. It is the eternal principle of movement which is the cardinal principle of Islam that needs emulation, not some undefined concept of Riyasat-e-Medina which the reactionary Maulvis are always going to use to advance their own ends. This is the problem with the use of religious rhetoric in politics.
Despite your best intentions, you throw yourselves at the mercy of the orthodoxy which inadvertently is damaging the very essence of Islam and the teachings of our Holy Prophet (S.A.W). By coming up with this new innovation in the name of Riysat-e-Medina, you are not going to do any service to Islam. You will only do untold damage to the true eternal message of Islam.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is practicing lawyer and was a visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School in Cambridge MA, USA