Respecting the law

28 Oct 2010


WITH the birth of Pakistan, the Muslim community of the subcontinent not only created a new country but also a new nation. The first goal of this nation was to achieve a kind of organic unity, and Pakistan itself was the tool for achieving it.

Respecting the law was the ideal. Studying the history of Pakistan in this light, one finds many indicators suggesting that that particular goal was achieved by 1966.

Obviously, this requires us to understand three concepts first. They are (a) organic unity; (b) Pakistan as a tool for achieving it; and (c) the significance of respecting the law in this special context.

The organic unity intended here is based on a portion of Verse 28 of Surah Luqman.

It is translated by Iqbal as, “Your creation and resurrection are like the creation and resurrection of a single soul.” Creation and resurrection are biological concepts, and hence the kind of unity implied in this verse is a biological unity, as if entire humanity was a single organism and individuals were its parts. If such a connection exists between all human beings, then obviously it is moderating the worldly and spiritual power of each individual, whether he or she knows it or not.

Giving us awareness of this connection is the aim of religious thought, according to Iqbal. However, thought alone cannot be sufficient. We need a practical tool as well. Hence, in the preface of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930), Iqbal says, “A living experience of the kind of biological unity, embodied in this verse, requires today a method physiologically less violent [than the methods devised by the past masters] and psychologically more suitable to a concrete type of mind.”

The same year, when he presided over the annual session of the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad, he seemed to be suggesting that the achievement of a Muslim homeland in the region could become, somehow, the new method through which this kind of organic unity would be realised. In his presidential address, after proposing and predicting the birth of a Muslim homeland, he went on to suggest, “One of the profoundest verses in the Holy Quran teaches us that the birth and rebirth of the whole of humanity is like the birth and rebirth of a single individual. Why cannot you who, as a people, can well claim to be the first practical exponent of this superb conception of humanity, live and move and have your being as a single individual?” Hence, if we could “live and move and have [our] being as a single individual”, we would experience what is meant by the Quran when it says that the creation and resurrection of humanity is like the creation and resurrection of a single soul (and it seems that neither Iqbal nor Jinnah meant to exclude non-Muslim citizens of the Muslim homeland, since according to the Quran, this organic unity is a biological fact that moderates the existence of every individual on this planet).

If Pakistan was the tool — “a method psychologically suitable to a concrete type of mind” — for discovering this organic unity, how was this tool going to be used? The most logical answer was, by respecting the law. This was how the homeland had been achieved in the first place, and even against the bitter opposition by powerful and unfair adversaries.The first 20 years of Pakistan present a curious case study when visited in the light of this ideal. It seems as if the educated elite and the intelligentsia were on one side, often ignoring the significance of the ideal and the implications of contemporary history. Apparently, due to 150 years of British domination, much power was left in the hands of liberals who favoured secularism in some form. It’s another matter that quite often they were found guilty of abusing that power, for instance when Chief Justice Muhammad Munir, a secular man, upheld the decision of Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad to seize the elected parliament.

Conservatives and socialists, when they perceived that the state was suppressing the just demands of the people, invited the masses to agitation and direct action. When the masses chose to ignore such calls, they were accused of lacking in political awareness. Hence, the unschooled masses of Pakistan seemed as standing on the other side, clearly distinguishable from the reactionary educated elite and the rightist intelligentsia at the time.

At least three successive events in the last three years of this period should have vindicated the masses against the widespread accusation of being politically unaware. These were: the tremendous unity displayed in supporting Fatima Jinnah against Field Marshal Ayub Khan in the presidential election of 1964, display of patriotism during the 1965 war and the general outcry against Ayub Khan after the signing of the treaty at Tashkent in 1966.

These are some indicators in terms of the broader current of history only.

Understanding and experiencing their deeper meaning requires us to revisit our literature, politics and religious thought with a new approach, which has never been attempted (and unfortunately, our education offers us little preparation for such a task). However, in terms of the general outline of the story of our ideals as a Muslim nation, the year 1966 seemed to be the moment when the ambiance of being a ‘new country’ had ended, and the nation seemed poised for starting a new stage, together.

The writer is the author of Iqbal: an Illustrated Biography and other works on the history and culture of Pakistan.