Of organic unity

26 Nov 2010


A NEW goal that appeared before the people of Pakistan in 1967 was to discover a synthesis of socialism and democracy through Islam. The tool for achieving it was the organic unity that Pakistan had achieved in its first 20 years as a new state. The ideal kept in mind was to unite organically, i.e. unity through ideals. Some indicators may show us that a synthesis had occurred, in some ways, by 1986.

This may sound like a far-fetched hypothesis because we are not used to reading the history of modern Muslim thought in this manner. However, such a conclusion seems natural when the matter is revisited in the light of the propositions of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam.

For that, we may begin with three essential concepts: (a) synthesis of ideologies through Islam; (b) organic unity as a human resource; and (c) definition of ideals.

When the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was founded on Nov 30, 1967, its credo was stated to be ‘Islam is our religion;

democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; people are the fountainhead of power’. The intellectuals who wrote the foundation papers of the party, as well as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who founded the party, may or may not have been aware, but the ideas mentioned in this credo had a long history in the collective consciousness of society. As it was, Maulana Shibli Nomani and Allama Iqbal had stated democracy to be the political ideal of Islam long ago; Quaid-i-Azam had talked about Islamic socialism and the very idea of Pakistan was based on the presumption that all power lay with the people.

Hence, the enormous popularity of this credo, as evident from the results of the elections of 1970 in West Pakistan need not have meant that the people were willing to embrace a new ideology. After all, they had not said ‘yes’ to socialism alone, but to its synthesis with democracy and Islam (plus the condition that all power remains with the people). Such a synthesis would not have been unprecedented in the history of Islam, since a primary function of Islam had always been assimilation of alien ideas and beliefs and their re-evaluation for practical use in Muslim cultures.

There was no reason to believe that Islam would not do the same for modern ideas and beliefs, such as western democracy and socialism. (In fact, as early as 1920, Iqbal had forewarned the orientalist, R.A. Nicholson: “Islam certainly aims at absorption.

This absorption, however, is to be achieved not by territorial conquest but by the simplicity of its teaching, its appeal to the common sense of mankind and its aversion to abstruse metaphysical dogma.”)

This synthesis of ideologies could not occur through dogmatic arguments presented by the intellectuals, as they seemed to presume in the late 1960s. The synthesis had to occur in the conscience of individual citizens, and indeed that is what happened between 1967 and 1986. The intellectuals failed to come up with any idea that could synthesise socialism, Islam and democracy without betraying the essence of any of these. Hence, it could only be expected that the synthesis would happen through a tedious, painful and unconscious process.

Pakistan had to first withstand the harsh socialist measures taken by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his first tenure, i.e. 1971-77.

Then a certain kind of Islamisation was introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq during his regime. Just a year before the end of that regime, it became obvious that all schools of thought, now also including the right-wing conservatives who had earlier supported martial law, had come to an agreement for the adoption of western democracy without any indigenous modifications made. The 1988 election was contested in that spirit.

Superficially, it may seem that the nation moved on from socialism to Islam, to democracy, without making adequate arrangements for ensuring any continuity between these experiences. That might be true at the level of politics, and about the minds of the intelligentsia. But is it at all possible that the hearts and souls of the people retained nothing of one experience while moving on to the next?

This brings us to the second concept, i.e. organic unity as a human resource. Organic unity means unity through shared ideals.

Obviously, the conscience of the people must have retained something from each experience through which society passed collectively. There, at an unconscious level, some form of synthesis may also have occurred, because our unconscious minds and our souls do not have those watertight compartments that the schooled mind makes for different ideologies, such as socialism, Islam or democracy.

Hence, while the intelligentsia may have failed to synthesise socialism, Islam and democracy, the masses almost inevitably must have synthesised these diverse experiences at least at an unconscious level. Therefore, a synthesis is sought at the level of ideals, even if not in terms of day-to-day reality. In this sense, ideals are those aspirations that form in the depth of our hearts or souls. They are formed through action, and as an aid to action.

Once formed, ideals express themselves in their own way. This may also explain why the experiences of Bangladesh and Pakistan, even after their separation in 1971, reveal some striking similarities. It is quite possible that despite being completely independent of each other, as self-respecting sovereign states must be, both have retained some common ideals from a common past — especially when they had struggled to shape Muslim nationalism in South Asia.

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