By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
27 August 2018
When politicians fail to deliver basic promises
related to food, shelter and security, they normally turn to religion.
Promising an illusory hope, they think that the dope of religion will help
people forget their daily struggles of keeping their body and soul together.
People get carried away for a while but then when confronted with the very real
issues of hunger and education, they start reminding the leaders the promises
they had made. The current leadership is replaced with one another one and new
leadership makes another set of promise, and the circle continues. But what is
mightily interesting is that the new prime minister of Pakistan has started
using religion right at the start of his career. Perhaps, he already knows that
he will not be able to deliver on issues of employment and corruption which he
had made into the central focus of his election campaign. A mark of a good
leader is his foresight and perhaps Imran, knowing fully well that he will
eventually fail, has started opiating his people right from the very beginning!
His promise to bring the welfare state of
Medina to Pakistan has made the Muslim world sit up and take notice.
Commentators, even seemingly progressive ones within Pakistan, have come out in
total defence of Imran Khan and his concept of New Pakistan. Only time will tell
if Imran Khan lives up to his expectations.
However it is his invocation of Medina
which should be the focus of critical scrutiny now. The important question to
ask is whether any nation, including a Muslim nation, can have as its role
model, not a country which is modern and progressive but an oasis of 7th
century Arabia. Not just Imran Khan but legions have invoked this part of the
earth and there must be a reason for doing so.
From revivalists to the modern Islamists,
all have revisited and reconstructed the city of Medina to suit their own
political program. While for Maududi, this Medina was the start point of a
triumphalist Islam, where the state first starts enforcing the Sharia, for
Husain Ahmad Madani, the Medina charter was the best guarantee for minority
rights, especially for the Muslims of India. For Imran, Medina becomes the
modern welfare state where the rights of weak will be protected. But what is
this Medina charter that we are so fond of referring and in what way can this
fulfil our present requirement?
One of the first impression that one gets
from the Medina charter is that it is overflowing with the notion of blood
money. Now the very concept of blood money is problematic. A murderer can go
scot free if he has the ability to pay blood money. The whole idea is that if
one has money, then he can get away with anything. There are scores of example
in Saudi Arabia where people, especially from poor migrant communities, are
forced to accept blood money so that they can write off their case in courts.
The very existence of the concept of blood money is predicated on class and
status asymmetry within society: those who have money will be able to pay blood
money and thus rescued from the clutches of the law while those who do not will
have to face the music. The very notion therefore flies in the face of modern
notion of equality before law. One is not quite sure, if in the deeply unequal
society of Pakistan, this is the model which needs to be followed.
Another clause within the charter of Medina
relates to women. Complaints of individual women will be taken up only with the
consent of their families or respective kinship groups, according to the so
called revolutionary charter. Historians have rightly noted that the charter
did not want to disturb the existing social balance of forces which treated
women as chattel. Now it is up to Pakistan to decide whether it wants to
continue the same tradition and treat women as the property of men and
communities or whether they want to treat women as individuals in their own
right. We hear so much from Muslim apologists that Islam gave revolutionary
rights to women. While this may be hyperbole, Muslim societies can always chart
a new course in terms of gender equality through modern jurisprudence. What one
finds disconcerting is that western educated leaders Imran Khan also talk of
the Medina model knowing fully well that it will take women of Pakistan into
dark ages. Women in Pakistan have fought hard battles to win some of their
existing freedoms and they should not take lightly the supposedly pious words
of their leader.
The fledgling Medina state has at times
been eulogised as a shining example of pluralism and co-existence. While
pluralism is certainly a positive thing, a closer scrutiny of the charter of
Medina reveals that it pluralism is not a principle which should be followed
for its intrinsic merit. Rather pluralism in this case is dependent on the
supremacy of the Muslims. Muslims have been given exalted place within the
charter and it is their version that is sought to be imposed on other
inhabitants of Medina. One clause within the charter says that all Muslims are
friends to the exclusion of all non-Muslims while another says that a Muslim
should not help a non-Muslim. It is this kind of Islamist exclusionism which
informs the incipient society in Medina. But then perhaps, this is what appeals
to those in Pakistan. A look at the oath of office of the prime minister tells
us that Pakistan has no place for any other religion and that the whole oath is
designed to reinforce the concept of Islamic supremacism.
prime minister of Pakistan has to believe in the ‘unity and oneness of Allah,
the books of Allah, the Quran being the last of them, the Prophethood of
Muhammad as the last of the Prophets and that there can be no Prophet after
him, the Day of Judgment, and all the requirements and teachings of the Holy
Quran and Sunnah’. Now if this is the oath that the prime minister takes, then
it is understandable why Medina would continue to appeal. After all, the first
experiment to establish Islam took place in Medina and the first country which
got created specifically in the name of Islam was Pakistan. As Venkat Dhulipala
suggests in his book, Pakistan was indeed imagined as a new Medina. The similarities
perhaps do not end here. Islamic Medina was grafted on an earlier city which
had its own code and style of life. Similarly, Islamic Pakistan was foisted on
a population which had for centuries followed their own customs and traditions.
After Islam came into the scene, both places got changed beyond
The need to create a welfare state within a
feudal Pakistan is most welcome. But a welfare model should not hark back to
seventh century Arabia where there was no welfare but just charity and no
conception of individual, minority or gender rights. If at all, Imran Khan is
serious about establishing a welfare state, he should look at modern solutions
like the ones being experimented in Western Europe.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in
Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In
Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women
in West, Islam Women and Feminism