Don’t make things harder than they already are
By Shahid Alam
Tue, 16 May 2006, 09:11:00
A bold, timely, appropriate and praiseworthy decision was taken by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia when, in a recent parley with an IOJ leader, she declared that Maulana Maududi’s writings will not be allowed to be used as text books in the educational institutions (presumably governmental) of Bangladesh. Maulana Abul A’la Maududi who, during his lifetime, was head of the Jama’at-e-Islami party of Pakistan, but who, as former President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan had written, “had been bitterly opposed to Pakistan” (Friends Not Masters, p. 203). Nonetheless, he sought refuge in that country and “forthwith launched a campaign for the ‘Muslimization’ of the hapless people of Pakistan” (ibid.). This was a normal extension of Maududi’s political philosophy, which will briefly be taken up later on.
After the Partition of India, he migrated to Pakistan and launched a movement for an Islamic Constitution and an Islamic way of life to be adopted by his adopted country by force of circumstances, and was arrested on 4 October 1948, imprisoned, and released in May 1950. Maududi’s intention was, again in Ayub Khan’s words, “to re-establish the supremacy of the ulema and to reassert their right to lead the community. Since the movement for Pakistan was guided by the enlightened classes under the leadership of a man who was the symbol of western education, the prestige of the ulema had been badly damaged” (ibid.). Incidentally, Mohammad Ali Jinnah created Pakistan not as a country for political Islam to be imposed on its citizenry, but as a homeland to protect the interests of the Muslims of the sub-continent. But, as a former Pakistan army chief, Gul Hassan Khan, had once written, the mullahs were clever enough to realize their role in Pakistan –- “to mislead the innocent religious masses” (Memoirs of Lt. Gen. Gul Hassan Khan, p. 77). And, even before Pakistan had come into being, as Hassan elucidates, “almost all politically-motivated mullahs, who had voluntarily taken it upon themselves to pose as the standard-bearers of Islam…had called Mohammad Ali Jinnah, ‘Kafir-i-Azam’ (the greatest of infidels)…(and) had coined a new name, ‘Na-Pakistan’” (ibid.).
Maududi’s writings are laced with liberal doses of the thought process and motivation of those very same politically motivated mullahs and he was in the forefront of the leadership to mislead the innocent religious masses of the country. In 1954, during the anti-Ahmadiyya disturbances in Lahore, which was at least partly instigated by a pamphlet he had written on the issue, he was sentenced to death by a Martial Law Court, but that was later commuted to life imprisonment. It would be hard not to notice the similarity in mindset, as well as the theoretical and rhetorical underpinning driving it, of the anti-Ahmadiyya rioters then in Pakistan and of the anti-Ahmadiyya agitators now in Bangladesh. It is a point that, whether magnified to distorted proportions or perceived in its reality, is negatively harped upon by national and international observers, and most assuredly does not bring accolades for the country or its government.
And, in this age of liberal pluralist democracy, Maududi has vehemently advocated its very antithesis — an Islamic theocracy. And he has said as much about political Islam being an antithesis to democracy. In his magnum opus, Islamic Law and Constitution (2nd edition), he gives his thoughts on the subject: “Islam…is the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. In it, this type of absolute powers of legislation…rest in the hands of the people. Law-making is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… This is not the case in Islam. On this count, Islam has no trace of Western democracy. Islam…altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the vice regency (Khilafat) of man” (p. 147).
Maududi further lays down his and his party’s political philosophy thus: “The establishment of a political authority which may enforce Islamic Law requires a Constitutional Law, and the Shari’ah has clearly laid down its fundamentals…. Besides laying down the fundamentals of Constitutional law, the Shari’ah has also enunciated the basic principles of Administrative Law“(p. 58). Besides the fact that several Muslim scholars have, with compelling arguments, questioned the validity of Shari’ah as being the paramount and only guiding principle of the political, social, economic and personal life of the Muslims, Maududi categorically rejects the concept of Western democracy as being applicable to the Muslims when that idea has become the working polity of a large number of Muslim-majority countries. It is a reality that recognizes the paramountcy of nationalism and the nation-state over that of a notional ummah, besides recognizing the right of the individual to freedom of expression and freedom to choose. The world, and especially the Muslims of various nations and nation-states, does not need a Huntingtonian clash of civilizations. Maududi’s ideas are dangerous and hateful and are antediluvian in this day and age.
The interesting, as well as instructive, phenomenon in Bangladesh is that disparate Islamic political parties are in unison in their objective of establishing an Islamic polity in this country along the lines proposed by Maududi. A number of them have declared their intention to use the Western concept of democracy to gain state power and then promptly impose the Shari’ah code (which is the very antithesis of Western democracy!) on the people! While the Bangladesh Jama’at-e-Islami has on various occasions declared its ultimate objective to form a state run according to the Shari’ah, on the reasoning that there is no way to separate Islam from politics, other Islamic parties have also expressed a similar wish.
While it goes against the grain of parliamentary democracy that is being practiced (however haltingly through some serious pitfalls) in this country, it also does disservice to the overwhelming majority of Muslims of this country who are personally devout to their faith, but are secular in outlook. One cannot ‘Islamize’ an already Muslim population. Such pronouncements provide potent ammunition to the sizeable number of local and foreign individuals and organizations who are constantly on the lookout to characterize Bangladesh as a failed state that spawns Islamic militancy. In the post-9/11 international system this is an opprobrium both thoroughly undeserved as well as worrying. And, in this day and age, theocracy is an anomaly in the state system. We are living in the twenty first century; not the Middle Ages.
Playing politics in the name of Islam contributes to the dysfunctional political culture that has developed to bedevil the country. And other forces, marginal and with negligible public support, may well be capitalizing on that political culture to make a bid for state power through insidious means. Nothing could be more disastrous for the nation than for that to happen. It has been suggested on separate occasions in these columns and in other write-ups that knowledgeable people strongly suspect that these elements, with the support and instigation of local and foreign vested quarters, may try to come to state power through the back door. The government has to ensure that any such move is dealt with the heaviest of hands and crushed before it does any serious mischief to the nation.
The reassuring thing for Bangladesh is that the global power that truly matters, the United States, has complimented the country for practicing pluralist democracy, warts and all, and has expressed its wish to help establish it as close to its tenets as is practicable. Democracy is not a definition etched in stone; it has to take in and make due allowance for a society’s tradition and culture. The culture and tradition of Bangladesh, as well as the transitional make-up of its society, make the practice of democracy a function of some rough-and-tumble politics that has, over the last several years, graduated to unacceptable levels. But only the politicians can conceivably correct that situation, and not the opportunists and ivory tower-dwellers who are often no angels themselves. The foremost objective of the nation should be the development of the practice of liberal pluralist democracy, and neither the proponents of theocracy nor the dark forces should be allowed by the large mainstream political parties to disrupt that. It is up to BNP and Awami League to recognize that the more mutually exclusive they get in their political differences the more they facilitate the ambition of undesirable people and groups to take control over directing the affairs of the state.
© Copyright 2003 by The New Nation