Dr A Q Khan — the man who has, through clever propaganda, unfairly presented himself as the father of Pakistan’s bomb when he is not even its uncle — has recently started writing ‘thought provoking’ articles in an English daily. One of these has been a series of articles on Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s ‘predictions’ made to journalist Agha Shorish Kashmiri of the Majlis-e-Ahrar.
Much of that interview does not square off. It finds no mention in Azad’s papers. There is no original copy of the interview. The interview itself has Azad, an authority on Islam, confusing Jang-e-Jumal with Jang-e-Siffin.
How far the grand Ahrari agitation that began against Jinnah’s Pakistan soon after partition has now taken over the narrative and discourse on Pakistani nationality is self-evident in the nation’s laws. Physical manifestation of Ahraristan is found in our passport offices where to get a passport you have to resort to choicest abuse against Ahmedis and their religion — if indeed it is a separate religion. Ahrar’s ugly history against Pakistan and its founding father is well documented. Needless to say, the epithets Kafiristan and Kafir-e-Azam were invented by these uncles of Islam in the subcontinent. The great irony: pre-partition Ahrar had championed composite Indian nationalism; in Pakistan they became advocates of Islamist sectarian bigotry. Now that our Baba-e-Bum (bomb), Dr A Q Khan, has taken to journalism, such willing national suicides are more likely to seep into our national consciousness.
The real fight for the soul of Islam and the Muslim world has always been between those who believe in a straitjacket ‘models’ approach to Islam versus those who want to extract from their Islamic heritage the higher ethical principles of social justice and equity (the erstwhile Maqasidi tradition within Islam, which is as old as Islam itself). The former want form over substance, while the latter argue that ethical objectives of social justice trump form; therefore, the former want straitjacket Islamic rule, while the latter argue that a just and egalitarian society is, by definition, Islamic. To the former, secularism in a Muslim majority country is anathema even if it is desired in non-Muslim majority countries. In India they are hypocritically the proponents of secularism. To the latter, an inclusive democratic state is the higher ideal of Islam, call it secular or Islamic, for a Muslim majority state to follow.
The Islamic opponents of Pakistan and Mr Jinnah belonged without exception to the former category — the Majlis-e-Ahrar, Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind and Jamaat-e-Islami. Some of them sided with Congress, not out of an undying love for Hindus but because they saw that the modernist Muslim leadership of the League largely saw Islam in latter terms. Thus, they feared that a Pakistan of this kind would seriously undermine their monopoly over Islamic law. Jinnah’s early demise and the problems faced by Pakistan however slowly gave them a foothold in the form of the Objectives Resolution. Bhutto’s surrender in 1974 and General Zia’s 11-year rule delivered the country to them. In 2014’s Pakistan, they have the monopoly while those who had seen in Pakistan the fulfillment of that higher ethical ideal have been forced out of the country or declared non-Muslim.
Many years ago, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and other bigots drove out the Muslim modernist, Dr Fazlur Rahman Malik, a great scholar of Islam and the head of the Central Institute of Islamic Research, from Pakistan because he favoured the Maqasidi approach to Islam. Fortunately, the University of Chicago recognised his genius and authority on Islam and he died there in 1988. It is a tragedy that great men who can help reform the polity and its skewed narrative of religion are not given the recognition they deserve within Pakistan. Dr Akbar S Ahmed, Ibne-Khuldun chair at the American University in D C and first distinguished chair at the US Naval Academy for Islamic Studies, is another Pakistani scholar who has been recognised by the west but not adequately enough by the country of his birth. The past 20 years of his life have been spent in the service of humanity, Pakistan and Islam. Through his inter-faith dialogue initiative, Dr Ahmed has fought first hand some of the stereotypes about Islam and the Muslim world. Pakistan can learn a lot from this man. Unfortunately, his efforts are ridiculed and he is mocked by seemingly serious and responsible journalists in the country. Pakistan has never been kind to its patriots.
The present government will do well to take under advisement the idea that Dr Akbar S Ahmed be appointed Pakistan’s ambassador at large for interfaith dialogue and human rights. Scholarship of Islam should not be narrowly defined by the orthodox clergy but by thinkers like Dr Akbar S Ahmed and Dr Fazlur Rahman Malik who show the way forward for co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims the world over.
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