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Spare Islam and Iqbal

April 25, 2013
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. -File photo
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. -File photo

GEN Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s warning against separating Islam from Pakistan’s polity or politics should not surprise anyone because Islam has been used as a battle cry by almost all Muslim warriors across the globe and throughout the ages, even when both sides have recited the same Kalima and the issue is nothing more than ownership of the throne or a piece of land.

Also not surprising is the way the general’s words have been flashed by a section of the media as if he has supported the pseudo-religious parties’ challenge to the non-theocratic forces in the country’s general election.

This interpretation may not be correct because while Gen Kayani refers to religion as a unifying force, the politicians in religious robes are using it to divide the people. That the army chief should have been aware of the possibility that his speech on the eve of a crucial election could be exploited for partisan purposes cannot be gainsaid.

Reference has been made to the armed forces’ resolve to defend the Islamic republic as envisioned by the Quaid-i-Azam and by Allama Iqbal. Pakistan’s religious lobby has never accepted Jinnah as an authority on Islam. Nor did he himself claim that distinction except for his assertion that Islam viewed marriage as a civil contract and that it did not sanction child marriage. For that reason Ziaul Haq adopted the policy of denying and suppressing Jinnah’s vision of a secular Pakistan and tried to use Iqbal, quite inappropriately and unsuccessfully, to justify his illegitimate rule under a religious facade.

That Ziaul Haq’s plans to turn the democratic state of Pakistan into a theocracy of the most primitive variety could derive no support from Iqbal can easily be shown.

Iqbal’s basic premise was that Islamic thought had been deprived of its essential dynamism by being kept frozen and immobile for 500 years. He therefore called for ijtihad to revive “the principle of movement in the nature of Islam”. Ziaul Haq, on the other hand, through his scheme of so-called Islamisation, extended constitutional protection to the frozen and immobile Islamic law and barred the door to ijtihad.

The issue has acquired contemporary relevance because religion is being used by diverse forces to exploit the opening provided by the general election to capture the state of Pakistan.

On the one hand, some elements want to impose their version of religion at the point of the gun or the butcher’s blade. And on the other hand, quite a few parties are invoking religious symbols for establishing a theocracy or a caliphate to replace democracy. Both groups are using Islam as a divisive force. While they often quote Iqbal to justify mixing religion with politics they deliberately distort the poet-philosopher’s argument.

For instance, Iqbal’s support is sought to denounce secularism without appreciating his argument. Iqbal says: “The ultimate Reality, according to the Quran, is spiritual, and its life consists in its temporal activity. The spirit finds its opportunities in the natural, the material, the secular. All that is secular is therefore sacred in the roots of its being.” (Emphasis added).

Pakistani advocates of theocracy often summon Iqbal in their defence and deliberately conceal his concept of a theocracy. In Iqbal’s view, “the state according to Islam is only an effort to realise the spiritual in a human organisation. But in this sense all state, not based on mere domination and aiming at the realisation of ideal principles, is theocratic”.

Again he argues: “The essence of ‘tauhid’ as a working idea is equality, solidarity and freedom. The state, from the Islamic standpoint, is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an aspiration to realise them in a definite human organisation. It is in this sense alone that the state in Islam is a theocracy, not in the sense that it is headed by a representative of God on earth who can always screen his despotic will behind his supposed infallibility.” (Emphasis added).

Those raising the slogan of ‘khilafat, not jamhooriat’ may also take note of Iqbal’s endorsement of ‘Turkey’s ijtihad’ “that according to the spirit of Islam the caliphate or imamate can be vested in a body of persons, or an elected assembly”, and his firm view that “the republican form of government is not only thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam, but has also become a necessity in view of the new forces that are set free in the world of Islam”.

On the impossibility of reviving the one-man caliphate in modern times Iqbal fully endorsed Ibn Khaldun’s verdict.

The danger Pakistan faces today is from the plea to return to what Iqbal called an uncritical vision of the past. There is a great need to ponder over his warning against reviving ancient modes of managing public affairs. “Thus a false reverence for past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedy for a people’s decay,” he says.

What this means is that the problems the people of Pakistan have been facing in establishing a functional and durable democracy cannot be solved with remedies evolved in the period before democracy.

It is possible that the conservative sections of society have run out of political options to oppose the growing movement for reconstructing the state in accordance with Jinnah’s ideals of people’s democracy, nationhood on the basis of a common citizenship, federalism, gender equality and the rule of law.

In sheer desperation they are whipping up a wave of religiosity to prevent Pakistan’s transition to a modern democracy. In this situation, the less one speaks of the role of religion in public affairs and avoids expropriating Iqbal’s thought the better it will be.