In a recent article, a scholar has advised the intellectual in the Pashtun region of Pakistan to take the lead in the country’s search for solutions to Talibanisation. Earlier, Pakistan’s martyred leader Benazir Bhutto in her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West wrote, “And the living reformers like Muhammad Arkoun, Abdur Rahman Wahid, Wahidudin Khan and Khalid Masud would be able to preach and teach their modernising theology without facing repression or marginalisation by the state” (p. 284).
The last named (Dr) Khalid Masud is the current chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in Islamabad. Muhammad Arkoun is an Algerian genius who is recognised in the West as the most gifted exponent of Islam who may not be able to live in Algeria. Abdur Rahman Wahid, an Indonesian religious and political leader, served as the President of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001. Maulana Wahidudin Khan is the Indian moderate scholar whose message is appreciated all over the world but is rejected by extremist Muslims because of the dominance of moderation in his thinking.
Benazir Bhutto mentioned our CII chairman Dr Khalid Masud because of his scholarly contribution to our fundamental understanding of Islam, including the Sixth Lecture of Allama Iqbal where the national philosopher had bravely “reinterpreted” the concept of hudood in Islam, recommending that punishments such as cutting of hands should not be imposed in our times.
General Zia ul Haq who ruled Pakistan after hanging prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rejected Allama Iqbal’s ijtihad and not only imposed the cutting of hands for theft but also fired the then chairman of the CII who had opposed stoning to death which is not specifically mentioned in the Quran. It is not surprising that Bhutto’s daughter too was killed in Pakistan because she possessed a level of intellect that Pakistanis usually reject as being heretical. The people who killed her will not allow innovative thinking in Pakistan. They will allow the dissenting intellectual least of all. And the foremost task of the organic intellectual is to disagree with the status quo and formulate new ways of seeing and doing in conformity with changing times.
Dr Khalid Masud and the other members of the CII are being pilloried today by extremists for proposing to the sitting government that the rights of women should be restored to them in regard to the institution of “khula” (demand for dissolution of marriage). Some heads of the religious parties — with hardly a notable book to their name — have rejected the proposal and said unsavoury things about the CII members who supported the proposal. Muftis, who are supposed to be learned in Islam, have gone back to their schools of jurisprudence (fiqh) to reject the CII.
There is nothing anyone can do, not even the PPP, whose leader mentioned the CII chairman in her book, because it would be politically embarrassing to support him even if the government cannot formalise the concept of khula as interpreted by the CII. The reason is that the PMLN and PMLQ opposition will join the religious parties and the muftis in accusing the CII and its members of being a part of the “baaqiyat” (remains) of General Pervez Musharraf and his American patrons. No newspaper has presented an objective analysis of what has been argued by the CII. Therefore readers at large have more or less accepted the view that the CII has gone crazy or is serving America. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The CII, which the Constitution says may contain any number of members between eight and twenty, was much loved in the past under General Zia when it passed down outlandish edicts. It had banned co-education, all lotteries like the prize bonds and recycling of paper used for Holy Quran. It had criticised the Supreme Court for postponing the abolition of bank interest. Its old chairman had said that it was not an economic issue. It had earlier endorsed the destruction of Afghanistan’s archaeological heritage by the Taliban. It repeated the recommendation that “kalima tayyaba” be inscribed on the Pakistan national flag along with Allahu Akbar. It declared that it was wrong to label jihad as a defensive war alone. It had also outlawed the picture of the Quaid on banknotes.
The death of intellect is a pan-Islamic phenomenon and has coincided with the rise and empowerment of the cleric, and, in the case of Pakistan, through state-funded jihad. All over the world, as noted by Ms Bhutto, the Muslim intellectual is in retreat and has had to survive through self-exile. In Pakistan today the uniformity of mediocre thought is most disturbing. It stares one in the face during any discussion. From the IMF to the UN Security Council and the IAEA, no institution is properly understood but is used to do the rival down.
The intellectual culture of the Pashtun, which is the legacy of the ANP, is being decimated on a daily basis. Yet, it is the ANP which is being criticised by sections of the media and those who go around killing the thinking section of the population. No one cares that the ANP has been chosen by the voters in the 2008 elections who clearly rejected the clerics. (Daily Times)