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Posted by Nadeem F. Paracha in Featured Articles, Pakistan on 06 11th, 2009 |
How the intellectuality of Political Islam turned into the brutality of faithful fascism: Nadeem F. Paracha
In Pakistan even the traditional Muslim practice of reasoning in matters of religion – originally introduced by the 9th century Mutazilites – is at times treated like some kind of an abomination to be feared, discouraged and repressed.
It is easy to accuse the proverbial mullah for this. And it is equally easy to blame him for being anti-intellectual and regressive.
However, over the years the conventional mullah has already lost a lot of face and respect. But this seemingly anti-mullah trend didn’t always mean the opening up of society to a more enlightening and pluralistic alternative.
On the contrary, the gap created by the conventional mullah’s gradual downfall was filled by religious scholars who only seemed to have intellectualized, modernized and politicized obscurantism. 
In Pakistan, Islamic scholars like Abul Ala Maududi and the far more moderate, Professor Fazalur Rahman Malik, were some of the first to occupy this gap.
Their tirades against the conventional mullah were welcomed by the more ‘educated Muslims.’ 
Working as the head of the Central Institute of Islamic Research formed by the Ayub Khan dictatorship in 1961, Prof. Fazalur Rahman laboured hard to find that elusive middle-ground between Pakistan’s colonial secular heritage and its somewhat ambiguous ‘Islamic Republic-ism.’
Maududi’s elaborate treatises however, concentrated more on undermining the constructive role being played by the less puritanical Islamic sects in Pakistan. 
And even though both Maududi and Fazalur Rahman were staunchly anti-left in equal degrees, Maududi soon turned his intellectual weaponry against Rahman as well after the later published his short but highly acclaimed book ‘Islam’ in 1968.
Maududi and his Jamat Islami accused Rahman for undermining the importance of the hadith and for claiming that not all text of the Qu’ran was eternal and (thus), it should be understood allegorically. 
Maududi’s staunch stance against the non-puritanical strains of Islam was a counterproductive move. Because in an ethnical, sectarian and religiously pluralistic society like Pakistan, the factions that Maududi challenged were/are comparatively moderate in essence: Barelvi-ism, Sufism and the Hanaifi school of jurisprudence – which is the most liberal of the four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam – are still at the forefront of faith in Pakistan, boasting a large following. ; ; ; 
Many believe they are the very reasons that help keep tensions between religions, and religious sects in the country at a bare minimum. At the root of this is the pluralism-friendly factor emerging from these strains’ historical make-up generated from a healthy cultural fusion between distinct peoples in the subcontinent. 
That’s why a ‘progressive Muslim’ in a country like Pakistan must be more pragmatic than either idealistic or political. He may be aesthetically and theologically opposed and repulsed by the more ‘superstitious’ strains of the faith, but he must understand that ironically, the large number of adherents that such strains have in Pakistan, they remain to be the social engine behind the consensual need in the society at large to keep matters like sectarianism and inter-Islamic polarisation in the country largely de-politicised. 
But Maududi not only shunned these ‘superstitious’ strains, his alternative of a more ‘unembellished’ and concrete version of Islam was also highly political and compartmentalized. 
This meant that not only were the more ‘blemished’ strains of Islam challenged by him, modern western philosophical and political ensembles like democracy, liberalism, socialism and especially Marxism too were rejected.
Maududi’s alternative was an ‘all-encompassing Islam.’ He purposed a single, exclusive version of the religion; a version that discouraged any previous interpretation of the Qu’ran and the Islamic Law (Sharia) that his own analysis did not approve of. And though he was skeptical of all modern secular concepts of ideology, paradoxically, he wasn’t all that allergic to the notions of modern state politics. ; ; .
Calling for the imposition of this politicized and puritanical version of Islam in a socially pluralistic and religiously sectarian society like Pakistan was not only Utopian, it was also dangerous.
Not surprisingly, ever since the late 1960s, Maududi’s philosophy has off and on found itself being used to encourage self-righteous coercion, political intrigues and violence - as seen in Jamat Islami’s role in the 1953 and 1974 anti-Ahmadiyya violence (for which Maududi was imprisoned); the role of the party in supporting (and taking part) in the Pakistani Army’s controversial actions in the former East Pakistan; and the role of the party’s student wing, the Islami Jamiat-e-Taleba (IJT), which was accused (in the 1980s) of introducing the violent ‘Kalashnikov Culture’ on the country’s campuses. ; .
Worst of all, Maududi-ism (as it is sometimes called), was also exploited by dictators (General Zia-ul-Haq), ulema and, of course, the Jamat Islami, as a way to deflect, deflate and denounce any other form of Islamic reformism. It actually eschewed tolerance. 
A number of politico-religious forces in Pakistan, as well as many television anchormen, print journalists and publications, are both directly and indirectly influenced by Maududi.
That’s why one is not surprised to watch most of them dutifully derailing any idea that looks inwards at the present state of Islam as a cause for the violence perpetuated in its name.
These gentlemen and publications continue to offer hyperbolic Maududist tracts pointing at ‘western powers’ and faith-based ‘distortions’ for all the ills befalling religion and society in Pakistan.
Outdated Maududist thoughts are being aired in a reality where Communism, Cold War tussles, ‘secret societies,’ and ‘distorted sects’ are not the ‘problem’ anymore. On the contrary, most of the present crises are clearly stemming from a violent, psychopathic and totalitarian version of the faith. Thus, the socio-political disconnect in these gentlemen’s otherwise widely published and televised arguments is now starker than ever.
The fact is, Maududism in the post-9/11 Pakistan stands to be little more than an outdated relic of the Cold War, offering what now sound like rhetorical and hyperbolic clichés.
What’s more, Maududi’s ideas are also being used to make a veneered defense of the actions of anarchic militants in the North (as heard from politicians like JI’s Munawar Hussain and Qazi Hussain Ahmed; PTI’s Imran Khan, and even from some PML-N leaders who were once part of JI’s student-wing, the IJT. 
It is interesting to imagine how Maududi himself would have reacted in the current scenario. However, there is no doubt that the way his thoughts and ideas have evolved, they have been at least one reason why the current trends of reformism in Islam have failed to find any valid expression in Pakistan.
The present-day reformist inclinations in Islam include two variations. One is being led by staunch secularists and the other by ‘progressive Muslims.’
Both may disagree with one another but their aim and goal seem to be common: To expunge Islam as we know it from laws and exegeses that, though man-made, have been handed down through the centuries as being ‘divine’ and thus unalterable. 
One of the many examples in this context is the law of stoning adulterous men and women that is practiced in some Islamic societies as ‘God’s law,’ but it is actually not found in the Qu’ran - (the law was formed in the 8th century from a hadith whose credibility many scholars have questioned). 
Another is the literalist way the hudd or Hudood laws have been interpreted. Even though most Islamic countries (through the process of ijtihad/collective consensus), have avoided enacting ‘Hudood Laws’ due to these laws’ incompatibility with changing times and circumstances, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (until 2007) were the only two countries having these laws as part of their respective legal cannons.
Nevertheless, the Hudood Ordinances (enacted by the Zia dictatorship in 1979 in Pakistan), were finally scrapped by the Musharraf regime in 2007.
This was one of the foremost acts by the state of Pakistan directly challenging the ‘Islamisation’ milieu left behind by Zia who had been a staunch ‘Maududist.’ 
Yet another example suggesting a gradual backlash against the Maududist politico-theological model was the recent unprecedented verdict by the Federal Shariat Court that declared drinking alcohol as a comparatively minor crime in Islam, and changed the punishment (of drunkenness) from 80 lashes (from a whip) to light strokes from a stick (made from a date tree leave). 
Alcohol had always remained a largely tolerated indulgence in Muslim societies across the centuries. Many scholars maintain that though the Qu’ran has ‘advised’ Muslims to stay away from wine (as opposed to forbidding it like it does pork, carrion meat, blood and idolatry), it does not prescribe any punishment for its usage. .
In Pakistan too, alcohol was freely sold and consumed until 1977, when first (under pressure from the Jamat Islami), the secular government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned its sale, and then the reactionary dictatorship of Gen. Zia turned its consumption and sale (by Muslims) as a crime punishable under his controversial Hudood Ordinances.
Ironically, Zia’s ban on alcohol gave birth to a thriving bootlegging mafia - even though cities like Karachi have licensed liquor stores that have successfully checked the bootleggers’ influence in this city.
Zia’s ban on alcohol also triggered the widespread usage of addictive drugs like heroin.
For example, until 1979, Pakistan literally had just a single reported case of heroin addiction. But by 1985, it had the second largest population of heroin addicts! 
Though no Pakistani has been flogged for the offence of consuming and selling alcohol ever since 1981, the Shariat Court’s verdict must have come as a blow to the architects of Zia’s Islamisation process that was largely based on Maududi’s politico-religious thesis of an ‘Islamic state.’ A state whose blueprint, many Islamic scholars opposed to Maududi-ism maintain, does not exist in the Qu’ran and is only a generation of Maududi’s imagination.
Waiting for reason
There are a number of progressive Muslim scholars, especially in Turkey, Egypt, Malaysia, Algeria and Indonesia, who seem to be making deeper inroads in the 21st century Islamic reformist psyche. In Pakistan Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, the London-based Ziauddin Sardar and respected intellectual, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy can be named.
In their work on Islam they have taken a scientific and a strictly academic approach, and are not immune to openly question the historicity of the Laws of Islam that have been handed down to us from the 8th century onwards; or a history and versions of the Shariah that started to appear almost two centuries after the demise of the Prophet.
To them the Muslims need to have an interpretative relationship with the Holy text. According to Sardar, for example, we have been relying on an age-old interpretation of the Qu’ran, one that is ice-capped in history. The context of this interpretation is of the 8th and 9th century Muslim societies. It needs to be radically updated through ijtihad.
Most current Islamic reformists are also concerned about the retrogressive tendency in some recent so-called modern Islamists to determine ‘scientific miracles in the Qu’ran.’
According to Dr. Hoodbhoy, by doing this they undermine all the hard work undertaken by early Islamic scientists and philosophers and that this practice in a way also suggests that present-day Muslims should stop getting their hands dirty in labs and universities, thinking they know everything. ; .
Respected Muslim scholars like Prof. Sardar, and monumental Algerian scholar, Muhamad Arkun, have been particularly harsh on French writer, Maurice Bucaille’s controversial book, The Bible, Qu’ran & Science and how this book (financed by the Saudi government), has given birth to a navel-gazing cottage industry of half-baked ‘experts’ distracting Muslims from learning real science. They say the Qu’ran encourages the acquiring of science, instead of creating a pseudoscience by reading wrongly into the meanings of certain surahs of the Holy Book. 
Turkish pseudo-scientist Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar) – who has recently gained fresh new following among Pakistani TV news anchors like Shahid Masood and so-called ‘security analysts’ and TV personalities like Zaid Hamid – too has come under the hammer of neo-Islamic rationalists and secularists alike.
The rationalists have accused Yahya of encouraging Muslims to shun secular sciences as if this act of shunning was ordained by God. 
Interestingly, unknown to most of his Pakistani followers, Yahya has been a constant receptor of police arrests for various drug and sex related scandals. .
Many critics of this trend have described such men as ‘Islamic quacks’ who are discouraging a rational and scientific mindset in present-day Muslims.
Today’s reformists also insist that there never was just one correct way to be a Muslim. As Sardar suggests, the propagation by any group of the single correct way is a totalitarian act. It will eschew plurality, democracy and tolerance, leading the ummah towards a totalitarian situation.
That’s why to modern Islamic scholars like Muhammad Arkun, it is of vital importance that Islamic history and law be critiqued and thoroughly explored in the light of reason and current times. ; .
According to Arkun, it is only then that reason in Islam can be liberated from man-made dogmatic constructs - constructs that have played the foremost role in derailing Islam from its early philosophical and rational path, landing its fate in the clutches of biased power politics and, eventually, in the gun barrels of the fascistic and irrational mutations of the faith (such as the Taleban and Al-Qaeda).