Shehrbano Taseer, speaking on the Express 24/7 show “Faceoff with Munizae Jehangir”, which aired on Friday, said that everyone is collectively to be blamed for the assassinations of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti.
Anam Khalid Alvi
News has it that the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) has restricted its residents from dance parties at home while allowing other events such as Quran Khwanis and dars gatherings. There is nothing wrong with this, in that the authorities of our country are free to do whatever they may please (read sarcasm) but one wonders what, if any, good will this bring to the community at large?
Disclaimer: I am not going to preach or protest anything. I will merely state what I have observed and felt.
Based on my personal experiences, dars events aren’t exactly the moral epitome of discipline, sympathy and everything Islamic. Let me share an account of my experiences with you to elucidate my point.
So here is me sitting in a dars, listening to the amazing teachings of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Holy Quran, trying to retain as much as I can, when the aunty (who is giving the dars) concludes with a note:
“We should all try to live a simple life, free of materialism, free of hypocrisy, free of apathy. We should give in the name of Allah and be modest towards those in need. We should try to be indifferent to the world because that is how our beloved Prophet (pbuh) lived his life”.
The very next conversation that occurred after this conclusion was regarding the emerald necklace hanging around the aunty’s delicate neck, glittering and shining, the centre of attention of the whole room. Poor woman, if only she knew that her pendant was going to bag all the attention! What followed was a verbal stampede of questions inquiring its price, its make and where to get it made from. One aunty even admittedly said:
“Meri nazar poora waqt sirf aapke is haar pe thee, concentrate hi nai kar payee, kitne karat ka hai yeh stone?”
(The whole time my eyes were glued to your pendant, I couldn’t concentrate at all. How many carats is it?)
I was shocked. Whatever happened to the not-show-boating your wealth and living-a-simple-life lesson?
I sat there thinking, wasn’t the whole point of attending a dars to learn what we didn’t know and then have a healthy discussion about it afterwards? Weren’t we meant to share whatever new knowledge we had just acquired and ask what we didn’t understand afterwards?
This ordeal enunciated the very nature of people prevalent in the privileged segment of our society that eats, sleeps, drinks, breathes and feeds off the class gap and the self imposed sense of royalty.
It disheartened me to listen to these women discussing wasteful expenditures on extravagance whereas piety and modesty should have been the subject matter. My question is, what exactly is the point of these ‘religious’ gatherings when we manage to stray so far from our religion right after the Holy book is closed? To DHA, I would like to ask, will banning dance parties and allowing Quran Khwanis make any difference to this class of people?
I feel like we all know the answer to this question.
Forcing religion down someone’s throat will not automatically make them ‘good’ people
Let’s be logical here, shall we?
Maybe if we could overcome the idea of ‘keeping up with the Kardashians’ style of living (the desi way), we will be able to open our eyes to the difficulty of our fellow Pakistanis and actually do something about it. Do I even need to state that those designer labels won’t save the thousands struck by poverty? Yes, there are far more important things in life than custom-made clothes or jewellery in.
So by prohibiting dance parties or musical programmes, DHA isn’t really making a huge difference to society. Who does what or hosts what event in their homes is a private matter. By promoting dars in the elite inhabitant area like DHA, no public service or moral revolution is being procured.
There are graver things that we need to ban other than dance parties, like human trafficking, illegal drugs and alcohol, the red light areas of our country and extremism being fed in Madrasas.
So to all authorities, I would like to say, by moral policing the lives of other citizens, Pakistan won’t become any less or more pious religiously. What is needed is a change in perceptions, change in class differences, change in the way people perceive religious gatherings or to the contrary, dance parties.
This refers to the article, “Fleeing Hindus seek shelter” by Sandhya Jain (November 22) where she talked about the plight and the persecution of Pakistani Hindus who are forced to seek shelter in India.
In my opinion, there are two factors responsible for it. One is that Pakistan is an Islamic state. At the time of its creation in 1947, the argument in its favour was that it was a homeland for Muslims, who were incompatible living with the Hindus. For the past 64 years of its existence it has been practicing this ideology which has permeated its polity. Islam became its state religion and, therefore, all the privileges and benefits of the state religion go to the people following this faith. But India is secular. The citizen constitutes the fundamental unit of the Constitution which does not discriminate among any group, community or religion.
The cumulative impact of the religious ideology as a dominant force of politics of Pakistan impacts harmonious relations between the Hindus and the Muslims. This results in the emergence of majoritarianism which prevents the doctrine of equality from becoming a reality.
The other factor has its roots in the wars the two countries have fought, and all of which Pakistan has lost. The complex that Pakistan has lived with since then is best exhibited by the ‘thousand year war with India’ statement made by former Pakistani President Zulfkar Ali Bhutto some decades ago.
This complex has somehow preoccupied the mental space of the religious ideologues of Pakistan which has found an expression in the civil society responses towards its minorities, especially Hindus, where religious intolerance has reached high. A recent example of intolerance was evident in the assassination of prominent liberal voices of Pakistan like the former Governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer.
It would not be wrong to say that successive rulers of Pakistan have become instruments to rule over this toxic form of politics even though the social life of its own civil society got adversely affected as a consequence.
Therefore reformation can happen by encouraging and giving more space to liberal voices within Pakistani society.
“The claim of the present generation of Muslim liberals to reinterpret the foundational legal principles, in the light of their own experience and the altered conditions of modern life is, in my opinion, perfectly justified.” – Allama Muhammad Iqbal
The word “Liberal Islam” provokes very diverse responses in Pakistan. Some laugh it away as an oxymoron, the more secular of us see it with cynicism as consisting of ‘moderates’ and non-practicing Muslims, and the orthodox treat it scornfully as heresy, justifying that Islam was already revealed as the perfect and unchanging religion, the complete code of life for all times to come. Amidst all this skepticism, the existence of Liberal Islam as a real phenomenon within the Islamic theological tradition is neglected. The marginalization of this mode of Islamic thought from public discourse and the resultant dominance of orthodoxy has resulted in grave consequences all over the world.
The practice of Islam as it exists all over the world, including Pakistan, can broadly be categorized into three traditions. The first is the Customary tradition, which is noted by the incorporation of regional practices and beliefs, such as reverence for saintly figures, forms of music and beliefs in spirit and magic. The other rapidly spreading tradition is Revivalist Islam, also called fundamentalism or Wahhabism, which aims to rid religion of all un-Islamic influences and envisions a return to the past in which Islam in its ‘true’ form was practiced. The third and much-neglected tradition of Liberal Islam is critical of both Customary and Revivalist traditions and maintains that Islam is compatible with the spirit of modernity if interpreted properly. It is a tradition within Islam that subscribes to liberal and modern values, such as opposition to theocracy, support for democracy, guarantees of the rights of women and non-Muslims in Islamic societies, defense of freedom of thought, and belief in the potential for human progress.
There are different approaches that theologians of Liberal Islam have taken to support their claims, and the tradition itself encompasses a heterogeneous group of thought. I see it as forming a whole spectrum of beliefs, progressing in a ladder-like fashion. Let’s begin with the Brute-Force Liberal Islam. This approach separates religious law from public life and politics without attempting an adequate theological explanation of how or why it is justified in religion. Ataturk and his modernization of Turkey is a poignant example of it, and this is also very commonly adopted in Pakistan by the ‘moderates’, who can neither let go of Islam nor secularism, and hence live with an uneasy compromise.
Then we have a view-point that Quran and Sunnah if properly understood are already liberal in nature (Liberal Sharia). This is also a popular form of Liberal Islam, and understandably so, promoted these days by Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and the likes of him. It is also, however, the most vulnerable to attacks of conservative-minded scholars, as the proponents generally struggle against the well-developed orthodox theology with all the references to Koran and Hadith and Sunnah worked out in detail.
Progressing on the ladder, we come across Silent Sharia, the idea that Quran and Sunnah are silent on a number of matters, and this silence allows room for progress within Islam. This is another well-known position, but limited in its extent because as it turns out, Sharia with its claim to being a complete code of life is not silent on a whole lot of matters! Abd al-Raziq, an Egyptian scholar, provides an example of this thought when he argues that Sharia is silent on the specific form a government has to take, and thereby he paves the way for democracy in Islam.
Things begin to get heretical from here onwards. We have the Quranists, the group of theologians who claim that the Quran alone is valid as a source of Islamic law and Hadith must be rejected in general for a number of reasons that these scholars present (and debate very furiously!). Ghullam Ahmed Perwez of the Tolue-i-Islam movement is one of the familiar proponents. Being restricted to the Quran allows for greater leverage than having to deal with the whole of Shariah, and also allows for more creative ways of interpretation.
Next we have Contextual Islam which believes that the legal, moral and social dictates of Islamic law are context dependent, and therefore subject to modification with change in context. This may apply to Hadith only, or for some to both Quran and Hadith. There are proponents such as Allama Iqbal who believed that hadiths of legal nature were context-dependent, and Mahmoud Mohamed Taha from Sudan who believed that all the Medinan verses merely refer to the historical applicability of the Quranic essence revealed in Meccan verses to the society as it existed in the Prophet’s time and place. Therefore, it is only the general principles elaborated in the Meccan verses that are to be followed, while the rest have to be reconstructed according to the needs of the time.
The most daring of Islamic scholars currently belong to the Interpreted Sharia mode which says that Sharia is divinely revealed, but the interpretations are human and fallible and can be subjected to critique. These theologians argue that interpretation is always based on human perspective and therefore cannot be granted a universal applicability, even though the scripture is divine. Fazlur Rehman of Pakistan is a well-known theologian of this tradition. He said that the Quran is the divine response, through the Prophet’s mind, to the moral-social situation of the Prophet’s Arabia, and a proper interpretation of the Quran would consist of two steps. The first step would be to understand the Quran’s specific responses to specific situations; and the second step would be to generalize those answers and enunciate them as statements of generalized moral-social objectives that can be distilled from the religious texts in the light of socio-historical background. Another established thinker of Interpreted Sharia is the Algerian-French scholar Mohammed Arkoun, who applied Western hermeneutical techniques borrowed from structuralism and postmodernism to the Quran, and preferred a secular analysis keeping in view the historicity of tradition. Arkoun believed that traditional Islamic thought has restricted itself by creating boundaries of interpretations determining what is “thinkable”; Arkoun uses techniques of Deconstruction to uncover the “unthinkable” in Islamic tradition, the meanings which have been marginalized and oppressed. He argues for pluralism within Islam and acceptance of multiple interpretations.
While Muslim scholars have challenged interpretations, there are very few who have contested the literalism that is associated with the scripture; it is possible to maintain, like many Christians, that Quran is not the literal word of God, but was inspired by God and clothed in human language because of the constraints of the human condition. It is also consistent with the view that may see Islam as a mystic tradition rather than a revealed religion. This doctrine has not yet seen any significant adoption among Islamic theologians, but has been expressed in certain neo-Vedantist reviews of Islam and remains a potential mode of thought.
This is another popular version of Liberal Islam in Pakistan, often adopted by people who label themselves (mistakenly) as ‘Sufi Muslims’. These adherents of Essence Islam, as I call it, maintain their distance from theological debates by stripping Islam to its bare essence and believe that to follow Islam is not to follow the rules of Sharia, which are human sociopolitical developments, rather it is to follow the essence of what Islam prescribes, such as morality, rationality, justice, modesty, etc., i.e. to be a good human being.
Such is the diversity and richness of Liberal Islam which has been much ignored. We have here a number of theological traditions in which Islam can be made compatible with modernity and liberalism. The only way these solutions can work is if Muslims are willing to do so, which sadly they still are not. As Daniel Pipes astutely remarks: “Islam can be whatever Muslims wish to make of it.” The possibility of a modernist reform is there; templates and prototypes exist. The only question for Muslims is: Are you up for it?
We often blame “the West” for constructing and perpetuating unjust stereotypes about Muslims and Pakistanis, while not realising that we’re constantly returning the favour without even knowing it!
So, on behalf of the “burger-society,” I’d like to speak a little in defense of “the West.” Ready your rotten eggs if you must.
Let me start by saying that “the West” does not exist.
If it does, could someone please delineate it for me?
Is Japan included in your definition of the West, despite being a Far-Eastern nation?
What about Russia, industrialised China or Romania?
When radicals make blunt statements like, “the West is waging a waron Muslims,” do they also mean countries like Germany and France, who in 2003, formed a formidable coalition against the Iraq war? What about the fact that 57 per cent of Germans called the United States a nation of war-mongers?
Heck, do they even consider the fact that roughly half the American public itself was against the invasion in 2003? The number rose to 61 per cent in 2007 and is still on the rise.
It’s unfair to cluster up all these nations with a single term – the West.
The typical American weltanschauung differs markedly from that of the European countries, which appear to be a lot more secular. And even within Europe, people are not very united on issues like the Iraq war, drone attacks, hijab etcetera.
Now, coming to “Western” culture – the first thing that pops into the mind of an average Pakistani on hearing the words, “Western values,” is the image of a scantily clad blonde chugging down beer in a sleazy bar. If you ever find yourself being referred to as a believer of Western values, know that the word “allegedly” is implied.
Whenever one dares to rise and speak up for the rights of women, religious minorities and individual freedom, he’s often shot down with the “westerner-wannabe” taunt. Are feminism, secularism and plain personal liberty such alien and outlandish concepts for us?
Freedom does not have an area-code. There’s no such thing as “Western” freedom or “Islamic” freedom. It’s just freedom, plain and simple. The liberty to speak out and express oneself openly is a “value” worth adopting by every nation on the planet. The liberty to live your life the way you want to, as long as you’re not impinging upon somebody else’s freedom to do the same, is the right of every man and woman in the world.
There are lessons that the developed world can learn from us.
Why are we so reluctant to admit that we can learn something important from them as well?
Why do many of us choose to hide away in a cocoon of nationalism, delude ourselves that we’re perfect and refuse to change for the better – by taking lessons from the developed world?
By: Dr Ayesha Siddiqa
6 August 2007
Liberalism can only flourish when socio-politics becomes free of top-down constraints. Let the society breathe naturally and both politics and culture will become more normal.
Many viewers have applauded a recent BBC documentary on Pakistan as an effort to present a soft image of Pakistan. Among other things, the documentary showed transvestites and eunuchs and dancing girls. The idea seemed to be to show that Pakistan has sufficient space for things and behaviour other than religious extremism.
Like expatriate Pakistanis, particularly liberals, I was also happy at this positive image building. But some questions kept nagging my mind: why is the soft image debate restricted to dancing women and eunuchs? Are we trying to tell the world that despite what people think about us we are actually quite cool in our attitudes towards sexual preferences? Does, indeed, a society’s reaction towards an individual’s sexual preference dictate the extent of its liberalness? Perhaps there are other ways to present Pakistan as a vibrant, complex, and liberal society different from some of our neighbouring states, especially Islamic ones. There is the outcome of the Chief Justice issue. The manner in which the civil society took to the streets in support of the rule of law and for their liberties; the way the judiciary protected the honour of its institution; the acceptance of the decision by the government; the freeing of a political leader; the judiciary’s position over the missing persons’ case etc can all be cited as reflective of a vibrant civil society and the available political space in the country. Continue reading ‘Liberalism and extremism – a society divided?’
By Moez Mobeen
Pakistan’s intelligentsia are worried about the direction in which the country is headed, and they should be, given that they form the intellectual elite who are supposed to be the custodians of the thoughts and emotions which dictate how this society should be managed and governed.
However, it is the reason why they are worried which is disappointing and which brings in to question their ability as thinkers and whether they are actually connected to the masses. The dilemma of the intelligentsia today is the growth of extremism and society’s march towards the right; to be more precise the increasing belief and conviction among the masses that Islam should form the basis of the political organisation of society.
For them the right is winning, the left losing. But what is disappointing on the part of liberals (who form the core of the intelligentsia in Pakistan) is the absence of a sincere attempt to understand the “extremist” viewpoint, a willingness to engage in dialogue, the courage to subject their own ideas to scrutiny and the imagination to accept the possibility of their solution being wrong.
The liberals have convinced themselves that it’s the other side that is not sincere in dialogue, likes to kill ideological rivals, and won’t give up its ideas. They believe this is the natural attitude of a faith-based ideology which pushes and mobilises people with the force of emotions. Is there a better example than the Taliban?
However, by choosing the Taliban, a fringe element from amongst the right wing, the liberals have chosen the easiest ideological enemy. In fact, this choice seems quite deliberate. The liberal mantra is: This is what the Taliban believe, and if you don’t want the Taliban’s version of society, you should switch over to the liberal side – This is equivalent to adopting a propagandist approach rather than engaging in a dialogue.
So at the intellectual level there really isn’t any debate all. Because what the liberals want to do is to prove themselves right and their strategy for showing the strength of their ideas is to package it as an alternative to the Taliban’s violent extremism. Hence, the liberal strategy for ideological debate hinges on the weakness of the opponent’s ideas, not the strength of their own. This is the classic “bogey man” approach.
Moreover, this approach has alienated liberals from the masses at large to the extent that they have become frustrated and angry at the extent of radicalisation being witnessed in society. But the liberals need to understand that the Taliban are not the intellectual elite of the right wing. Even the right wing would gladly concede that. By insisting on making the thought of the Taliban the defining debate on Pakistan’s outlook, the liberals are running away from the debate. In fact, we can perhaps, with some degree of accuracy, now suggest that the liberals have reached a stage of intellectual stagnation where they have trapped themselves in a static intellectual framework; everything is Zia’s fault.
The Muslim world has been transformed. The reformist Islamic politics of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the idea of Islamising the secular state is dead, at least clinically. The Zia era embodied this current of Islamic thought, which focused on working within the ambit of democracy and gradually Islamising the state by working through the secular constitutional framework.
Politics in the Muslim World, Pakistan included, is changing. The idea that the present system is inherently incapable of reform or resurrection has taken deep roots within society. This has consequently led to a debate about the revival of the caliphate, a governance model radically different from and in direct contradiction with the present system implemented in Pakistan.
Zia is history, even for the rightwing. So what is the post-Zia response of the liberals? How do they respond to the changing dynamics in the Muslim World? Whom do they take on in the battle of ideas? The caliphate or the Taliban?
Debating the caliphate as a governance model is by far the greater intellectual challenge for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the Islamic caliphate enjoyed stupendous success as a governance model for many centuries in the Muslim world. Perhaps the strongest argument against it is that it doesn’t exist and with the idea of Westphalian sovereignty having taken root across the globe, it is unfathomable, for some, to imagine the resurrection of a pan-Islamic state.
Again, this argument tells nothing about the strength of the ideas, it merely talks about practicality. While talking about governance models, the liberals would have to put their own ideas on the table as well. So are they ready to debate democracy, pluralism, capitalism, freedom, the abolition of the separation of state and religion?
Finally the liberals are the forces of the status quo. Since the abolishment of the caliphate, the Muslim world has been ruled by ideas, systems and constitutions inherited from the colonialists with the liberals forming the ruling elite. In Pakistan since its independence from the British Raj, governance models based on liberal thought were implemented consistently.
True that dictatorship and democracy alternated but the thought which forms the cornerstone of both systems is the same. The law which formed the basis of court rulings was the same – the economic models the exact replicas, the foreign policy consistent (and subservient to the US). It is this failure of liberal thought, to address the problems faced by society which has catalysed our march towards radicalisation.
Will the liberals then engage in a sincere debate? Or will they opt for David Cameron’s “Muscular Liberalism”?