[On August 29, a constitutional amendment - the fifteenth - making the Qur’an and Sunnah the supreme law of Pakistan, was presented to the National Assembly. This series of articles by K M Azam written before the latest constitutional amendment, sheds light on the factors behind the debate in a much broader context.]
Pakistan is fast approaching a threatening social chasm, representing not the conventional divide between the secular and the religious but within the religious community itself. The opposing sides represent forces entrenched in dogmatic literalism on the one hand and those trying to capture an enlightened, spiritual interpretation of Islam on the other.
On one side are the religious fundamentalists, who merely want to move the society back to the period of Khulafa-e Rashideen in its outward forms, and on the other stand thinkers like Dr Muhammad Iqbal and Ali Shari’ati who, while remaining in passionate touch with the past, want to move the society dynamically into the future.
No doubt, this divide is unnecessary as both factions are committed to Islam. The religious fundamentalists seem to have fallen prey to post hoc (false cause) fallacy by believing that mere copying of traditional forms would automatically bring about change in human thinking. Thus, they tend to emphasize outward forms over morality and inner spirituality. It is in pursuit of this trait that the ulama have made a fundamental mistake of entering into secular politics instead of performing the real task of nurturing generations of ideal Muslims.
Syed Qutb Shaheed of Egypt had rightly observed that it is not the Shari’ah that produces an Islamic society, it is the Islamic society that produces the Shari’ah.
It is a pity that contrary to the vision of its founding fathers, Pakistan should become a primary battleground for this conflict. While Dr Iqbal’s 1930 presidential address to the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad is well known, few have actually studied it and fewer still have realized the significance of the following statement he made:
‘The character of a Muslim State can be judged from what the Times of India pointed out sometime ago in a leader on the Indian Banking Inquiry Committee. ôIn ancient India,ö the paper points out, ôthe State framed law regulating the rates of interest; but in Muslim times, although Islam clearly forbids the realization of interest on money loaned, Indian Muslim States imposed no restrictions on such rates.ö I therefore demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim State in the best interest of India and Islam. For India it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power; for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilize its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and the spirit of modern times.’
Wary of calls for the immediate introduction of the Shari’ah in Pakistan, Maulana Abu ul A’la Maududi was constrained to say:
‘We fail to understand that in a place where neither the society nor the morality is truly Islamic and the educational system is still progressing on non-Islamic lines and where an abstract political movement had led to the creation of an independent State, the establishment of an Islamic order there would be dependant merely on the presentation of an Islamic constitution to the people in power, who will adopt it promptly.’
In another context but in the same vein, similar views were expressed by Murad Hofmann, a former ambassador, when he said: ‘It should be clear to all Muslim economists that an Islamic economic system, in the ideal sense, must be preceded by an Islamic Ummah in the ideal sense. Personal relationship between man and God plays an essential role in the Shari’ah. True prayer, the Qur’an says, makes man overcome evil. However, when prayers deteriorate into mechanical rituals, they fail to bring changes in the hearts of men. Without the spiritual spring of Islam erupting in the hearts of men and women, no true Islamic order could be established and any attempted outward observance of Islamic laws would amount to no more than an exercise in futility.’
Iqbal was seized by the immensity of the problem faced by the Ummah in implementing a true Islamic order in the contemporary era. He was pained at Muslim idleness instead of spreading the universal message of Islam. In order to meet the new challenge, he felt Islam needed a new ilm ul-Kalaam (Theological Philosophy) and new fiqh (Canonical Jurisprudence). His concerns on this vital issue are reflected in the following statements:
‘There is lot of enthusiasm in heavens in respect of the victory of Muslims but those on earth are silent. They do not understand the heavenly voices. May God have pity on them. Our religious scholars and divines have turned Islam into an ancient Asian creed... I am sorry the Muslims have never recognized the modernity of the Qur’an. They instead have interpreted its subjects and truths in light of the thinking of ancient peoples and have thus mutilated its real sense and intent... I pray to God Almighty that He, for the sake of His beloved Prophet, upon whom be peace, produce such an interpreter among Muslims who acquires the ôlost wisdomö once more and offers it to the Ummah.’
Reflection on the current Muslim situation highlights the necessity for a new ilm ul-Kalaam in support of usul ad-din. Similarly a re-interpretation of Islamic law is needed by eminent jurists possessing the finest qualities of head and heart to impart the depth and breadth to principles of Islamic law to present adequate answers to all the social and cultural exigencies of contemporary times.
Indeed it is an immense tragedy of the Ummah that having received such glorious spiritual guidance through the Qur’an and the life-example of the Last Prophet, upon whom be peace, for centuries it has failed to arrive at a clear, unambiguous and commonly agreed-upon concept of law through which that guidance could be brought to bear upon the practical life of the believers. Is it not a pity that among the more than 50 Muslim States and more than a billion Muslim souls, there is not a single community that really lives according to the tenets of Islam to show to the world how Islam solves the social and economic problems besetting mankind today.
The principal reason why Muslims have not applied the law of Islam to the real problems of their individual and collective lives is because the law itself has been obscured from them - and, therefore, made impracticable - by centuries of juristic speculation and differentiation. Moreover, this law lost its practical relevance as Muslims stopped thinking about these matters for centuries and have merely relied on what previous generations of Muslims thought about Islam.
The general confusion with regard to the form, content, and purport of the Shari’ah is reflected in recent newspaper columns of eminent religious scholars and leaders and the general public in Pakistan. One thing is quite clear: unless the prevailing confusion and complications are resolved and Islamic law brought back to its original clarity and simplicity, Muslims will remain lost in the maze of conflicting concepts and controversial opinions as to what that law really is and what it demands of its followers.
(K M Azam is a former senior Economic Adviser to the United Nations).
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1998