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Loyalty and individualism by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

When Makhdom Amin Fahim, President of Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) died recently of cancer many eulogies were written praising his loyalty to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. There is no doubt that Makhdom Sahib remained committed to PPP despite many opportunities present to him when he could have benefited personally including an opportunity to become Prime Minister. As President of PPPP, on which platform current MNAs and MPAs are elected in 2008 & 2013 general elections, he could have maneuvered to control the party but he did not. Makhdom sb failed to exercise his authority to convert PPP into an institution rather than let it remain personal property of Bhutto and Zardari families. This raise a question whether a person should be loyal to an ideology or a person. One argument in favor of Makhdom sb could be that he understood that our society is more culturally oriented towards personality dominance rather than being loyal to an ideology. He may have felt that changing the mindset was beyond his capacity. Here I am purely speculating on what might have motivated him to remain committed to the family rather than create his own legacy of charting a new direction for the party which is now in complete disarray.

I can empathize with Makhdom sb because in my own party PTI whenever voice is raised opposing the policies of Chairman Imran khan it earns labels of being a traitor or an agent of PML N. Cult followers of Imran Khan also do not hesitate to call me a mad man, son of poor dreaming to become a Chaudhary, so on and so forth. In our conformist society where individuality is suppressed from young age it is difficult to raise questions for a rational debate or refuse to accept views of a dominant figure. This attitude of conformity to have uniformity in Muslim majority societies has severely damaged progress in philosophy, science, technology and social evolution.

Since the advent of Islam this question of individuality verses adherence to tradition has been raised. In the first few centuries rationalist, called Mutazilite, had an upper hand before monarchy took its roots and replaced quasi democratic earlier governments. Individualism which is an important prerequisite for rational thinking was considered a danger to the social order. In the middle of Abbasid rule (around 1000 C.E.) finally traditionalist or conservative were able to strangle the individualism and from then on wards started a gradual decline of rationalist thinking and free inquiry. Islam as a rationalist religion instructed that human condition is evolutionary and hence its message will evolve with it. But the rise of traditionalists froze religion in the past by superimposing a dogma over it. Any inquiry about its message was turned down for fear of introduction of bidda or innovation. Hadith and rein of the first four caliphs was considered the final guide in matters related to spiritual and temporal message of Islam respectively. This had profound effect on the intellectual progress of Muslims in all fields of life including science, philosophy and politics. One proof of that is that no significant discovery can be credited to a Muslim philosopher or scientist in last 1000 years with the lone exception of Ibn Khaldun the author of famous treaties on government called Muqqadimah.

In our part of the world Allama Dr. Mohammad Iqbal revolted against this suppression of individuality and encouraged Muslims to break free from the shackles of conformity. He instructed Muslims to seek self-awareness which gives rise to individualism. Through the concept of khudi he rejected the idea of predestination which was one of the main sticking point between Mutazilite and traditionalists. But he linked this liberation of free will with the divine sanction when he wrote the phrase khudi ko kar buland itna ke her taqdeer se pehley – khuda bande se khud pooche bata teri raza kia hai. Meaning that when an individual embark on the road to enlightenment and exploration then God grants the permission for the free will to achieve whatever the outcome is intended. In his view for God intention, passion and drive of the executioner is important in allowing the free will to be exercised. It has nothing got to do with the faith of the person. God is beyond faith of an individual in terms of success in the temporal existence. Any rejection committed about Oneness and supremacy of God will be judged in the afterlife.

Free inquiry is discomforting because it demands from everyone to get out of their comfort zone. When a student answers a question in an unconventional way than it would require from a professor to spend extra time to understand it instead of rejecting it outright. That would be the correct course but in a conformist society, that we are, the most usual response from a professor is rejecting that answer and taking away valuable marks required to pass an exam. This kills the initiative that the student could have to dare it next time if he wants to graduate and have some decent chance of successful career.

The similar discomfort will be faced by the person if he challenges the established norms in a work environment. Here I am not suggesting that a young person that lacks experience could be right in his views about realities around him. But in the absence of an effort he would never know whether he was right or wrong. In an innovative country like USA youth are encouraged from the beginning of their education to continue questioning the status quo and are dared to challenge the established norms. It is because of this encouragement to take risks America is able to produce cutting edge technology companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Oracle. On average 6 out of 10 of innovative ideas fail but four that succeed produce more than enough return on investments to continue encouraging next 10 ideas.

Hierarchy is a necessary condition of human existence and it is encoded into the human genes because of reliance on each other to achieve full potential. Suppression of individual liberties to save hierarchies that are customary in a society is a bad compromise. Hindu caste system is a blow to individual development. Similarly imposing family hierarchy in Muslim societies to control individual choices are another example of suppression.

It is true that the extreme form of individualism can be disruptive as an anarchist movement is based on encouraging each individual to act on his own. But the limits on individualism has to be carefully defined in a social contract to allow continuous evolution of a society in a non-disruptive manner. For instance freedom of expression, religion, assembly, ownership and thought are five main pillars of allowing individualism. These freedoms have to be balanced with respect for privacy, mutual respect, shared responsibility and equality of individuals.

Our first loyalty is to ourselves, second to our family, third to our neighborhood, fourth to our city and fifth to our nation. You can choose to apply it in whichever order you like. Even Quran instructs us to follow it when it tells us to spend the charity to your family, neighbors, and those passing through your city. Our nation will get stronger if we maintain our individualism and remain loyal to the people around us to mutually benefit each other.

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