Editorial: Sufi Muhammad shows true colours
Highly charged discussants who appeared on TV to defend the Nizam-e-Adl of Sufi Muhammad in Swat must have been dismayed by the TNSM boss’ latest statement in front of a mammoth gathering at Mingora: “The country’s superior courts are un-Islamic and cannot not hear appeals against decisions of the newly set up qazi courts”. He did not leave it at that and told his audience that there was no room for democracy in Islam and western democracy was a system of infidels that had divided the clerics and the people of Pakistan into factions.
Defying another benign interpretation of the “harmless” text of Nizam-e-Adl Law, he demanded that the government withdraw all judges from the Malakand-Kohistan jurisdiction and appoint qazis for courts at the district and tehsil levels. It goes without saying that he will have the power to approve or disapprove the qazis as and when they are appointed. This will be necessary to streamline the functioning of the qazi courts, venturing into areas of adjudication where the law is still uncodified. He has ended his statement with a warning that tells us where the authority lies: “The government will be responsible for all the consequences if our demands are not implemented”.
The Deobandi ulema have already signalled their acceptance of Sufi Muhammad’s Islam. One must however keep in mind that all madrassa-linked clergy has been opposed to the sharia enforced under the Constitution and has consistently insisted upon their own brand of law which functions without the “polluting” presence of such British Raj leftovers as the Penal Code. They also reject the fundamental principle of the Constitution that any law which is not repugnant to Islam should be acceptable as a part of the sharia system. Now, they will have to reconcile to the edict of Sufi Muhammad that democracy itself is repugnant to Islam.
If the religious parties — who not long ago functioned as MMA in national politics — choose to look into this edict closely, they may have much to adjust to. Maulana Samiul Haq of JUIS will have to review his observation that Nizam-e-Adl has been a fulfilment of his dreams. He will have to disband his party because taking part in politics under a democratic system is un-Islamic in the eyes of the Swat lawgiver. If the Islamic order of Sufi Muhammad rejects democracy it must, like Iran, reject all political parties, and the system of regular elections. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the most pragmatic cleric of them all, will have to pull out of the federal coalition too.
Sufi Muhammad is right in his own way when he says the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court must be ousted. The sharia his qazis are going to practise will not accept such “infidel” accretions as the Family Law Ordinance that still guides an important area of adjudication in Pakistan. The Sufi will be particularly interested in ousting them so that they do not intervene to cancel such punishments meted out by the qazis as the cutting of hands and stoning to death. Pakistani sharia has these punishments on the statute book but the superior judiciary has always held back their execution under the Islamic concept of istehsan (benign approach in light of circumstances).
The ANP will be upset too even if it doesn’t show it. The text of the Nizam-e-Adl law was quite harmless. It thought that the provincial judiciary will get to appoint the qazis and will then exercise some supervisory role in the setting up of Darul Qaza appellate courts. Its claim that the law will fulfil the long-standing desire of the Swat people to reintroduce the sharia of the Wali of Swat will be falsified soon after the courts start handing down punishments that the Wali’s judicial system never did. The Wali’s system was cheap and quick but it was not based on sharia as there were no hudood punishments under it.
An Al Qaeda website in February this year lauded a Somali court run by an armed militia called Shabab for sentencing to death a 55-year-old politician for being guilty of “showing sympathy for Christianity”. After being riddled with bullets, his corpse was thrown into the infidels’ cemetery. And Somalia today is counted as a “failed state”. *
Second Editorial: Altaf Hussain and Pakistan’s conscience
The MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain has emerged as the conscience of the nation as Sufi Muhammad of Swat apostatises him for rejecting his qazi courts. Mr Hussain was the only prominent leader — barring a hesitating President Zardari — who first expressed scepticism about the decision of the ANP to give in to the Sufi and his eccentric sharia, and then attacked it as a conspiracy to destroy the state of Pakistan.
As the politicians sitting in the Islamabad parliament supinely accepted the Sufi’s sharia courts, Mr Hussain gathered an Ulema and Mashaikh Convention in Karachi and gave a disempowered but dominant section of religious leaders an opportunity to express their reservations about the Islam that is coming to Swat under the tutelage of the Taliban. Dominated by the Barelvi scholars but including the clergy of all other denominations, the convention rejected Nizam-e-Adl and announced that “suicide attacks and murder of any person on the basis of sectarian differences is forbidden in Islam”.
Addressing the convention by telephone, Mr Hussain was able to give accurate statistics about the popular religious leaders of Swat, including more than 23 Sufis and Pirs like Pir Samiullah, Pir Sharifullah and Iftikhar Habibi, killed by the Taliban before the sharia of Sufi Muhammad was enforced in Malakand. He critiqued Sufi Muhammad’s off-hand declaration of takfir (apostatisation) of his person and raised serious objections to what the Sufi was intent on enforcing in the Malakand division of the NWFP.
Mr Hussain and his party are speaking out when most of Pakistan’s polity has been intimidated into silence. He took the moral high ground when he ousted from his party a TV anchor who had caused the death of Ahmedis in Sindh by airing a highly tendentious discussion on his programme. He has fearlessly rearticulated the pluralist ideals of the Quaid-e-Azam and announced the determination of his party to fight the Taliban when even the Pakistan army is not willing to face them. *