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Imran Khan’s State of Madina

by Khaled Ahmed

Photo courtesy PID

The Islamic utopia promised by the incumbent prime minister has been in the making for nearly the entirety of Pakistan’s 75 years in existence

Prime Minister Imran Khan, writing in daily Express Tribune on Jan. 17, 2022, posited: “The rise and fall of nations are different from the rise and fall of civilizations. Nations can be raided, redrawn or re-imagined exogenously but civilizations cannot be killed from the outside, they only commit suicide. The core of every civilization is its spiritual principles; when they die, the civilization dies.

“In Islamic civilization, the manifestation of our spiritual principles happened in the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) Madina. Besides many other important principles, there were five very important guiding principles upon which the state of Madina was built. These principles are unity, justice and rule of law leading to meritocracy, strong moral and ethical foundation, inclusion of all humans in progress and prosperity, and finally, the quest for knowledge.”

First symptom: going ‘ideological’

Pakistan was conceived as an Islamic utopia quite early after its birth. First, “ideology” appealed perhaps from the recent “success” of the communist state of the Soviet Union. Article 228 of Pakistan’s Constitution says: “There shall be constituted … a Council of Islamic ideology.” The Urdu word used by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other leaders is “nazriati”—meaning “ideological.” It was never used during the Pakistan Movement that erupted in pre-Partition India before 1947. Today, we often refer to Nazaria-e-Pakistan, the ideology of Pakistan.

Why did we choose “ideological” for Pakistan? The word was used at first during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, coined by Antoine Destutt de Tracy in 1796 while he was in prison pending trial. It was borrowed by Lenin together with “terror” as a legitimate tool of the people. Muslims were inspired by the “equality” (musawaat) of communism as a “collectivizing” creed and called it “Islam without God.” Pakistan was supposed to be “ideological” with Allah presiding over it. Like the Soviet Union, the clerical intellectual thought an Islamic state should have no constitutional opposition. In that sense, theocratic Iran is ideological, Pakistan is not.

Ideology as tool of oppression

It is the word “nazriati” that puts you off because it negates democracy and implies regimentation of thought through coercion. It belongs in the vocabulary of absolutism and has brought nothing but bad luck for the minorities and women of Pakistan. Had Al Qaeda succeeded in conquering Pakistan, its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri would have abolished the opposition to make the state truly Islamic, which he propositioned in his treatise on the constitution of Pakistan. The treatise The Morning and the Lamp was distributed widely by madrassas in Pakistan as the country’s “true” constitution.

Military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq did not think of Riyasat-e-Madina but of the essence of its rule: Nizam-e-Mustafa. His greatest legacy is said to be Islamization; but it had already taken root with the passage of the Objectives Resolution in 1949. The Council of Islamic Ideology, too, had been set up in 1962 by Ayub Khan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s economic socialism had very clear Islamic overtones, while his efforts to unite Muslim countries were also among his major foreign policy initiatives. It was the Pakistan Peoples Party founder’s 1973 Constitution that made Islamic Studies compulsory in schools.

Was Nizam-e-Mustafa any different?

In 1974, Pakistan legally declared all Ahmadis non-Muslims. In 1977, a federal law prohibited the sale of alcohol to Muslims. Even our nuclear program was deemed to be making an Islamic bomb. The anti-Bhutto movement of 1977, too, used the demand for Nizam-e-Mustafa (the system of the Prophet of Islam) to replace Bhutto’s social democracy. All that was before Zia came along. Ideology is coercive in history as shown in the evolution of the “communist state” in Europe. Pakistan was no different except that it lacked the “scientific rationalism” of the European ideological state and stayed away from “modern learning.”

Haseeb Asif, writing in the now-defunct Herald on Oct. 8, 2018, noted: “It is no secret that Zia leaned heavily on Islam and ulema due to lack of popular support. Some of his concessions to ulema still haunt us to this day. The penal code was amended to add the death penalty as a punishment for blasphemy and increase the scope of what constitutes blasphemy. In 1979, he promulgated the Hudood Ordinances with punishments such as lashes for adultery. In 1980, he set up the Federal Shariat Court to hear appeals in cases under the Hudood Ordinances. In 1981, he set up a hand-picked consultative body, Majlis-e-Shoora, to act as the federal parliament. It was packed with ulema nominated by him. He also introduced mandatory zakat deduction from bank accounts, leading Shias to rise in violent protests.

“By 1984, he was feeling so confident about the strength of his constituents—comprising ulema, spiritual leaders, business community and the military—that he decided to hold a referendum that asked if people wanted Islamic laws in the country and if their answer was to be yes then that automatically meant that they wanted Zia as the president of Pakistan for the next five years.”

More utopias coming up

Next door, there are two religion-based states coming up. India, which began as a democracy, is implementing its own chaotic form of religious laws more ancient than the shariah of mullah-based Islam; on Pakistan’s western border, there is the revived utopia of the Taliban who don’t think that Pakistan’s Riyasat-e-Madina under Imran Khan is such great shakes. The Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha and killed their Hazara community en masse, with the genocide crossing over into Pakistan’s Quetta, where the minority community has been settled since before 1947. Today, the Hazara comprise 10-20% of the national population of Afghanistan, making them an important minority in a country of 38 million. Many “non-state actors” from South Punjab in Pakistan, sworn to the establishment of something like Riyasat-e-Madina, have gone up to Quetta to take part in the Hazara massacres.

The other Islamic “utopia”—after the utopias of Pakistan and Afghanistan—is Iran, at war with the Sunni states of the Gulf. Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have been virtually destroyed because of Islam’s most lethal internal war. Seeing what is happening in the region, Arab states-without-armies—because army generals take over more often than not—have overt and not so overt partnership with the “nuclear power” of Israel. Qatar, at odds with the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia in the past—for which it was keeping American and Turkish troops on its soil—has reached out to its two rivals to make peace, such is the fear of the conceived utopia of Iran. Saudi Arabia is actually parleying with Iran to arrive at some kind of peaceful coexistence. Somewhere, the ideal of Riyasat-e-Madina has been lost.

Our ultimate ideologue

In Pakistan the most revered leader of the Islamic utopia with its separate judiciary was Jamaatud Dawa’s Hafiz Saeed. The world did not respect him as much as Pakistan did after the Mumbai adventure of 2008. Today he is a U.N.-designated terrorist on whom the U.S. has placed a $10 million bounty; and Pakistan has sentenced him to 36 years’ imprisonment in five terror-financing cases. There are other pillars of Islam, men of spiritual greatness that the world is “unfairly” opposed to. They all want to create something like the Riyasat-e-Madina. These include, but are not limited to, the quintessential jihadi Harkatul Jihad al-Islami, which gave birth to Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM); the Harkatul Ansar (HuA); and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) led by Maulana Masud Azhar for whom an Indian plane was hijacked after he stupidly landed in New Delhi “to conquer India” and was caught.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had stubbed his toe earlier when he appeared to blame Pakistani women for being harassed by men. He has also to deal with the highly developed jurisprudence of the religious utopia he is thinking of. Pakistan was always conceived as a utopia—more or less like Riyasat-e-Madina—and has not covered itself with glory. One prays that the task of “reshaping” going on since 1947 is not repeated through “revolutionizing” national education to recreate the state of Madina.

Education as victim

Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote about Imran Khan’s “single curriculum” in daily Dawn on July 19, 2020: “The Punjab government has made teaching of the holy Quran compulsory at the college and university level. Without passing the required examination no student will be able to get a B.A., B.Sc., B.E., M.E., M.A., M.Sc., M.Phil., Ph.D. or medical degree. Even the Zia regime did not have such blanket requirements. To get a university teaching job in the 1980s, you had to name all the wives of the holy Prophet (PBUH) and recite some difficult religious passages such as Dua-i-Qunoot. Still, students could get degrees without that. That option is now closed.

“Starkly inferior to their counterparts in Iran, India and Bangladesh, Pakistani students perform poorly in all international science and mathematics competitions. Better achievers are invariably from the elite ‘O’-/‘A’-level stream. More worrying is that most students are unable to express themselves coherently and grammatically in any language, whether Urdu or English. They have stopped reading books.”

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