THE issues raised by the Maulana Sheerani-led Council of Islamic Ideology’s keenness to ensure that wife-beating does not end in Pakistan will be solved neither by protests by women activists nor by the growing storm on social media. The real issue is whether the Muslims of Pakistan can afford to be led by the nose by a state institution determined to prevent their release from concepts unjustly described as Islamic.
No informed Pakistani should have been surprised by the CII’s latest broadside because the council has been proclaiming its love of retrogression quite regularly. Its liking for corporal punishment in schools and child marriage, its rejection of co-education in post-primary institutions and women’s working with men in offices and factories, and its closed mind on the rights of non-Muslim Pakistanis have long confirmed it as the champion of narrow-minded conservatism. What it has done now is to sum up its case for denying women’s basic rights.
These efforts of the CII have off and on revived debates on the justification for its existence. It has often been pointed out that the CII opposes the Muslim people’s right to interpret Islam so as to enable them to face the challenges of the age and defreeze the Islamic fiqh, an objective for which Iqbal had called for a Muslim homeland in the subcontinent. Iqbal had also specifically opposed the creation of a body of ulema to advise democratically elected representatives on religious issues on the grounds that parliaments alone were competent to rule on religious questions as well as on other issues.
The Council of Islamic Ideology has been proclaiming its love of retrogression on a regular basis.
Further, the need for an Islamic research body to help Muslims get rid of concepts and practices rooted in superstition or feudal culture has often been recognised. At one stage, Dr Fazlur Rahman, the great scholar who fell foul of Ayub’s dictatorial regime, had conceived of the CII as a national body presiding over the work of provincial research and reform councils that could help the country benefit from ijtihad. Perhaps it is time to retrieve the Fazlur Rahman plan and reconstruct the CII as a dynamic institution to rid Islam in Pakistan of its un-Islamic accretions.
Those who demand disbandment of the CII rely on Article 228 of the Constitution, which describes review of the existing laws as the council’s primary function, and Article 230, which requires the CII to submit its final report within seven years of its appointment. The council completed the task of examining the existing laws many years ago. As for fresh legislation, the need to end the council’s encroachment on the rights of parliament as advised by Iqbal is manifest.
However, the CII is not going to be dissolved soon because no government is likely to give up, in the foreseeable future, the policy of appeasing the religious orthodoxy. Besides, Muslims in Pakistan, as a whole, have not even begun to realise the horrible consequences of mixing religion with politics. Thus, neither the state nor society is in a position to appreciate the harm a CII dominated by retrogressive elements could cause to their future. Realism demands that, while waiting for the rise of a secular Pakistan, priority should be given to restructuring the CII so as to enable it to better serve Islam and the people’s interests.
First of all, it is necessary to re-examine the principles that should guide the government while selecting CII members, especially the body’s chairman. (This issue will acquire additional importance in December this year when Maulana Sheerani’s second term as CII head comes to an end.)
Considerable confusion has been caused by the authors of the Constitution by providing for the CII immediately after the article that calls for bringing all laws in conformity with Islamic injunctions and prohibits the making of any law that is repugnant to such injunctions.
This has tended to limit the CII’s functions as the final authority for determining the legitimacy of laws, and this impression is further strengthened by the language of Article 230 which defines the CII’s functions. It also extends indefinitely the period of the council’s encroachment on parliament’s authority to decide upon legislative measures’ repugnancy or otherwise to Islam.
The CII was never intended to be dominated by traditionalist ulema. Its members are to be chosen from two groups: “persons having knowledge of the principles and philosophy of Islam” and those having an “understanding of the economic, political, legal, or administrative problems of Pakistan”.
The council must comprise eight to 20 members, and it is reasonable to expect that the two groups referred to here should be evenly represented on it. Further, it is not necessary that the CII should be headed by a traditionalist aalim. In fact, various governments have avoided appointing tradition-bound ulema as CII chairmen, except for Allauddin Siddiqui, Maulana Kausar Niazi and Maulana Sheerani. Out of the 12 heads the CII has had, five were retired judges, three non-traditionalist scholars (Prof Halepota, Dr S.M. Zaman and Dr Muhammad Khalid Masud) and one lawyer-politician (Iqbal Ahmad Khan).
If the CII is to work towards freeing the Pakistani people from the effects of a ‘frozen fiqh’ and enable them to reinterpret their faith through ijtihad, a few changes in its composition are absolutely essential.
First, the CII head should be a scholar who understands the socioeconomic problems of Pakistan and can engage the ulema in a progressive discourse.
Secondly, the ulema, should be chosen from both traditionalist and progressive schools.
Thirdly, the quota for women members should be raised to at least one-third (if not 50pc) of the total membership. For every two women appointed to the council, one of them must represent the forward-looking woman.
At some stage, the government may consider giving the National Commission on Human Rights, the National Commission on the Status of Women and the National Commission on Minorities (whenever it is set up) observer status at the CII.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2016