A vicious circle by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

The Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 are in full swing where young men and women are competing for medals. But it is sad and depressing to note that almost 60% of the humanity is missing in action from these games. This includes people from Muslim countries, Africa and South America. There is one thing common in all these regions that is an unstable political environment. It seems that people in these countries are still not fully liberated at least intellectually. Muslim world in particular seems to be moving in a vicious circle. The circle starts with an oppressive, autocratic and dictatorial ruler that suffocates people. These oppressed people then rise up to overthrow the dictator but the process is usually hijacked by extremists who emerge at the top. These extremists then impose their intolerant and repressive ways on the people but are eventually overthrown by military establishment that grab power in the process and initiate the next cycle of a new dictator. Almost all Muslim countries from Turkey to Indonesia are stuck in this vicious circle.

The key questions to ask are why is it so? And what is the possible solution?

The key hurdle for Muslims to cross is to define the role of religion in the political order as a Godless secular democracy is not acceptable to them. It is particularly important as the moral values are being pushed to the extreme left in secular societies which is not acceptable to majority of Muslims. For instance, gay rights or insatiable economic greed fed through an interest based derivatives. At the other end ideology of extreme right, preferred by a vocal minority of Muslims, curtail citizen rights especially of women and non-Muslims. Both these extremes are suffocating and impinging on establishing a stable social and political order.

The answer lies in adapting a middle course proposed by Quran and adopted by early caliphs. During the first four rightly guided Caliphs women had complete emancipation which is evident from their participation in government, business and war. Similarly, non-Muslims had equal rights of citizenship as evident from Charter of Medinah and treatment of people in conquered areas. Even social values promoted by Quran do not give priority to Muslims. For instance every verse related to charity suggests that it should be distributed to close relatives, neighbors and those that pass through the city. It does not say that these people have to be Muslims as well. Similarly it proposes that best among you are those that are righteous not pious as these are two different things. Piety is related to an individual act while righteousness is social in character.

Why is it that it became regressive and rigid in later generations despite progressive political order adopted by first four Caliphs? One probably answer is that we have abandoned the continued debate and discussion on temporal life. It is a consequence of promoting this wrong idea that the other world (after life) is more important than this world in which we live. Although Quran makes it clear repeatedly that the bounties of this world are for the people to enjoy. Secondly democratic political order was replaced by introduction of hereditary monarchy. These monarchs were more interested in continuing their own family rule rather than allow evolution of a social system in tune with new discoveries of science. This phenomenon of a dormant thought was not prevalent in political science only. In other sciences as well liberation of thought was curtailed despite earlier advancement when Muslim scholars translated Greek philosophy to Arabic. There was a span of 450 years between Ibn Khaldun’s Muqadimah and emergence of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Jamaluddin Afghani. This freezing of thought in a distant past has damaged the evolution of a social order that could accommodate the changing demographic of the underlying community.

Since it is not possible for Muslims to separate politics from religion it is important that the message of Quran is properly understood and applied in our daily lives. In contemporary times the Quranic education is imparted by teachers that are not properly trained to understand its finer points in the light of modern scientific and social knowledge. It is critical that a new curriculum and system of certification of religious scholars is developed. Educated parents should read translation of Quran in their native language and then take personal interest in the religious education of their children. It is not possible to reform the political order until systems of religious education is reformed first. The success of first four Caliphs can be attributed to the fact that they learned the message of Quran from the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) himself and applied it during their ruler.

There is a mistaken notion in Muslim countries that State has to be Islamic. There is no creditable information available from history or Islamic texts that a state should have a religion. The message of Islam is that boundaries of social and moral values are provided in Quran. These values have to be adopted by individuals voluntarily and can not be imposed on them through the coercive force of a state apparatus. Islam promotes humanity and respect for individual rights.

The failure of Arab Spring can be traced to the absence of a political thought. The movement was able to overthrow the status quo but did not offer an alternative that can be adopted by the people. TTPs insistence that a particular form of Sharia should be imposed through barrel of a gun is against the spirit of Islam. Islam proposes a consultative approach to developing a stable community in which majority decision prevails over few. Any proposed law has to ensure that no social red lines are crossed which are emancipation of women; rights of non-Muslims and establishment of social justice.

Quran in many verses recognizes the cultural difference among people and its accommodation in a social order. But it does not recognize that culture should also derive a political power that has precedence over larger community interest. This fact was endorsed by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in his last hajj sermon when he instructed that Arabs will not have preference over non-Arabs. It means that all members of a community have equal rights and responsibilities regardless of their race, color or social standing. It is an important ingredient to ensure social justice in a nation state.

As a Muslim majority country, it is difficult for Pakistan to adopt secular democracy but at the same time a mistaken interpretation of religion could produce social divisions and injustices. It is important that a new political system is developed through an in-depth debate on the message of Quran and Islamic history.

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