The deconstruction of Islamic thought in Pakistan

By S. Iftikhar Murshed

Neither penance nor expiation can cleanse those responsible for the radicalisation of Pakistan. The cancer has spread far and wide across the fabric of the society for which the educated intelligentsia is as much to blame as the semi-literate clerics.

A vivid illustration of this was last week’s imposition of a ban by the Lahore High Court Bar Association on the sale of soft drinks manufactured by Shehzan from the cafeterias of all the subordinate courts because the company is Ahmadi-owned.

Such bigotry is far removed from Allama Iqbal’s belief that man, in spite of his weaknesses, has enormous potential. In The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam he wrote: “Hard his lot and frail his being, like a rose, yet no form of reality is so powerful, so inspiring, and so beautiful as the spirit of man.” The book which is a compilation of his lectures on the need for a re-examination of Islamic philosophy was published in 1930.

Shortly afterwards Iqbal was compelled to abandon a project on ijtihad (reasoning on matters not covered by the Quran or the authentic Traditions) and was called a kafir (infidel) for writing an essay on the subject. This is recounted by the Indian analyst, A G Noorani, in his superbly researched study, “A Liberal Islam in South Asia.”

Pakistan calls itself an Islamic Republic but scores of ulema (religious scholars) who were consulted by the Munir Commission after the anti-Ahmadi disturbances in Lahore in 1953 were not even able to agree on a definition of Islam.

Justice Munir observed: “…if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulema we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs according” to the others. Being pronounced an apostate lies at the heart of religion-motivated violence in Pakistan.

A chilling reminder of this was the video circulated by the Taliban last July showing the brutal murder of captured Pakistani security personnel after they were declared apostates. There have been many other similar incidents but the educated liberals prefer to remain silent either because they are unaware of the fundamental teachings of their religion or are simply too scared to express their views. They have left the interpretation of Islamic doctrine to the clerics.

Though the Quran is emphatic that “there shall be no coercion in matters of faith” Maulana Maududi justified the death penalty for apostasy because this was the opinion of the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence. He wrote: “We do not compel anyone to come into our religion…But we initially warn whoever would come and go back that this door is not open to come and go.”

Justice Munir, however, believed that the four founding imams of the schools of Islamic thought were expounding law in the abstract because they never held any official position. The law, he said, is best explained when it is applied to the concrete facts of an actual case and this was not possible for the four imams for the reason they were working in a vacuum.

Another former chief justice of Pakistan, Mr S A Rehman, noted that in none of the twenty instances where apostasy is mentioned in the Quran is there any indication of punishment in this world. He had no doubt that apostasy “will be punished only in the hereafter” and questioned the chain of transmission (isnad) in the hadith which proclaims “…kill whoever changes his religion…”

A number of medieval Muslim scholars, for instance, Sufyan al-Thawri (716-778) believed that the hadith cited to justify capital punishment applies only to a political betrayal of the Muslim community rather than for renouncing the religion.

The famous Maliki jurist and poet Abu al-Walid Al-Baji (d. 1081), wrote “…apostasy is a sin which carries no prescribed penalty…” These views were repeated in the writings of the Hanafi exegete, Abu Bakr al-Sarakhsi (d. 1106), who is referred to as “the Hugo Grotius of the Muslims” as well as in the works of the Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) on whose pronouncements Osama bin Laden derived his skewed interpretation of jihad.

Among modern scholars, Wael Hallaq, a professor of Islamic Law at McGill University and one of the world’s foremost authorities of Sunni jurisprudence, is categorical that punishment for apostasy is not derived from the Quran and the death penalty was a later innovation that “does not stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet.”

The late Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi of the Al Azhar University, the author of a 7,000 page exegesis of the Quran which took him a decade to complete, ruled that a Muslim apostate should be left alone so long as he does not pose a threat.

Similar opinions were expressed by Shaikh Ali Goma’a, the Shafi’i Grand Mufti of Egypt and Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a one-time designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini.

Among contemporary South Asian scholars, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi of Pakistan does not accept Maududi’s views and considers apostasy in Islam as a “part of Divine punishment for only those who denied the truth even after clarification in its ultimate form” by the Holy Prophet, hence it was time-bound and no longer punishable. Ghamidi was influenced by his mentor, Amin Ahsan Islahi (1904-1997) and bases his religious philosophy on hermeneutics and ijtihad. He worked closely with Maududi but was expelled from the Jamaat-i-Islami in 1977.

Ghamidi is in accord with the noted Indian scholar Wahiduddin Khan who believes that Maududi had completely inverted the Quranic worldview. He shares Khan’s opinion that the purpose of Islam is not to establish a world order but to serve God which entails help and guidance to humankind in order to enable them to fulfil the obligations for which the religion was revealed. Therefore the question of Muslims, or an Islamic state, perpetually at war with non-believers just does not arise and, furthermore, the establishment of such a state was not even an obligation for Muslims. Death threats compelled Ghamidi to leave Pakistan.

The radicalisation of the Pakistani society has gained alarming momentum. This is evident from the emergence and the burgeoning influence of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an umbrella outfit which includes some 40 parties either belonging to the religious right or at least sympathetic to their rejectionist worldview. Since its rally in Lahore on Dec 18, it has organised demonstrations in Multan, Islamabad and, on Feb 12, in Karachi.

The current DPC chairman is the JUI (S) chief Maulana Samiul Haq, whose madressahs have spawned a sizeable number of the Taliban. Mullah Omar once told me that he considers Samiul Haq his mentor. What is unacceptable is that the DPC is dominated by banned terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba which changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Sipah-e-Sahaba which now operates as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which retains its own name as is it continues to massacre shias with abandon.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief, Imran Khan, who keeps threatening the country with a tsunami, deputed a senior PTI representative, Ejaz Chaudhry, to address the DPC rally in Karachi. But strangely enough the party is also working on a counterterrorism strategy although it has established common cause with those who consider Osama bin Laden a martyr and Mumtaz Qadri a hero.

There is truth after all in the ancient Spanish proverb: “Tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are.”

The deconstruction of the actual teachings of Islam and its substitution by false doctrines and aggressive nationalism is a recipe for disaster. This was Upton Sinclair’s nightmare about his own country when he wrote in the 1930s: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying the cross.”

The writer is the publisher of Criterion quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@

Courtesy: The News

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