Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sharia laws must be reinterpreted in Pakistan through Ijtehad

August 23, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi

Quite a sizeable number of Pakistanis are drinking anyway. Islam does not conclusively ban the drinking of liquor. Some forty years ago when west and East Pakistan were together, there were night clubs and liquor stores that remained opened till midnight.

Life was peaceful and people were united despite ethnic, sectarian and regional demarcations. Karachi was a city where the night and day were equally full of hustle and bustle. Lahore used to be the nerve center of the cultural galore and extravaganza.

People drank and still behaved as nice human beings, loved each other, helped other. There used to be social homogeneity, peace and sense of belonging to Pakistan. The people were safe and their businesses were secure and boomed.

Bazaars were always full of commodities of daily uses, vegetables, and fruit that were affordable even for the lower middle classes. It was seldom that the citizens expressed their aversions for each other on the basis of different faith or race.

Pakistan globally enjoyed an image of respect and a fast developing country whose pace of development was worth emulating for less developed countries. Social life was full of amusement with observance of seasonal cultural traditions and customs such as kite-flying, horseracing and other fun making ventures.

The hotels were safe, the negborhoods were safe, and the roads were good for traveling. Railway traveling was comfortable and safe. The terrorism that we have witnessed during the past several decades and undergone was unheard of.

And suddenly two major developments made the Pakistani society topsey turvey. It went upside down. It started moving in the reverse gear. One was the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. The second was the involvement of Pakistan in Afghanistan war in late 80s on the side of the Weston bloc that opened the gateways for religious zealots and militants. East Pakistan exercised a check on the religious extremism and faith-based prejudice.
Besides, Pakistan was flooded with all kinds of dangerous weapons and lethal drugs and the infiltration of mafias that traded, used and spread these drugs in Pakistanis society.

Also the unlawful exports of the drug like heroin by mafias and weapons traders involved Pakistanis in these highly nefarious activities. For the first time Pakistanis got addicted to the use of heroin and other dangerous intoxicants on a huge scale.

The creation of Taliban Frankenstein made a gigantic stride towards deterioration of already abysmal social degradation of Pakistani society. The Taliban were ferocious, uncivilized and ignorant Muslims. Their swift and lightening sway in Afghanistan with its corresponding deleterious fall-out on Pakistan started the drift from liberalism towards religious extremism and social obscurantism.

The Taliban’s gaining power and strength and their savage rule in Afghanistan also reinforced and empowered the dormant and less virile religious circles and lobbies in Pakistan. The religious outfits in Pakistan took it as a life time chance to assert themselves for a social and political take over of this country by every conceivable means. They inter alia, employed highhandedness, intimidation, oppression, religious edicts, militancy and the creations of countless religious seminaries and mosques to establish their fiat.

Every sect that was inactive or slumbering got engaged and started sectarian wars by throwing tantrums against their opponents. They let loose a specter of terrorizing the people on one hand and bombing and attacking the worshipping place of the rival sects on the other.

But while they were waging a sectarian war on each other they were intent and pressing for the society to be totally reshaped and colored in Islamic taboos in line with their narrow and skewed perception of Islam. The society was pulled in different directions on the turf of colliding faith.

General Zia being himself a religious fanatic though hypocritical and a mentor and chief patron of the religious right took giant leaps towards Islamizing Pakistani society with full brutal force of state.

It was a wonderful and pleasant time for the religious entities that enjoyed state patronage and perks and privileges. The real Islam was practically put on the back burner and another one, a sham, spurious revengeful, narrow, self-perpetuating, making money and merciless brand, came into being.

But before that in a bizarre and loathsome betrayal of his vision and ideals of liberalism, modernism and emancipation and equal society, the arch revolutionary for the free world Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made dubious decisions that placed Pakistan into the lap of ignorant and reactionary clerics.

Pakistan suffered irredeemably as it went into permanent and iron-clad clutches of Mullahs. The symbolism like declaring Friday as closed holiday, the sale and drinking of liquor was prohibited by law and similar superficial constitutional measures strengthened the gangs of the cutthroats bigoted religious forces.

As a result the society suffered a paradigm shift from good to worst, from liberal to obscurantism, from enlightenment to narrow-mindedness and from social emancipation to the slavery of the backward looking fanatics.

I would not blame general Zia more for unleashing a culture of religious extremism, dogmatism, degeneracy and oppression in Pakistan but a progressive, forward-looking Bhutto who in his zeal to remain in power further chained the society and handed it over the Mullahs in ransom for all time to come.

The constitutional amendments made by Bhutto provided a carte blanche to the religious parties to be free to turn Pakistan into primitive medieval religious state and spurred collision between sects and denominations. The religious legions started dictating the state.
If Pakistan is to stay as a modern and enlightened society, with equality of gender, with social liberty, with the blossoming of human rights, it should be renamed as Democratic Republic of Pakistan.

Every possible effort should be bent, state regulations be enacted and civil society be mobilized to diminish and erase the overbearing impact and pervasive fear of the extremist religious parties and self-serving conglomerations. Religion should be separated from the state affairs.

The construction of new mosques should be made contingent upon the size of minimum population. It is ludicrous to build several mosques of afferent denominations in a small locality of a hundred or so citizens. One mosque should be allowed to be built not less than ten or twenty thousand population. All the sets should pray in the same mosque if Islam is one religion.

There should be no bar on brewing selling, or drinking liquor. There can be strict rules and corresponding punishments under law for those violating the social peace as are implemented in Islamic countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and even in Gulf States.

The theocracy that the rigid and orthodox clerics want to establish in Pakistan cannot succeed in the longer run. Even the society in Medina during the time of the prophet of Islam and his worthy successors was not a theocracy. Islam factually is a liberal, tolerant and developing religion. Theocracy is against the human nature, social liberalism and human spirit for legitimate enjoyment.

All the religious seminaries must be affiliated with the country’s established educational systems with religious teaching and islamiat as one of the subjects. Students should have choice to choose subjects according to their discretion and desire. However Islamiat can be made compulsory till the middle grade levels.

The rights of women should be protected as equals in the society. The obsolete mode of teaching holy book Quran or religious knowledge by sitting on the ground and cramming and repeating it should be replaced by normal teaching in class rooms.

We in Pakistan do not need religious radicalism or fundamentalism but an open society that treats its citizens with respect and honor and gives them rights that they receive in developed and modern societies. The religious bigotry and backwardness based on sectarianism and a maze of fruitless rituals should be discarded.

The state should be sovereign and independent of the pressure and encroachments from the religious lobbies that have their own narrow agendas, ever plunging the society into chaos and sectarian feuds.

As we all know people are still drinking albeit not openly. The liquor is brewed in mohallah (wards) in cities and in villages. The charas or hash (green in USA) is smoked on large scale in Pakistan. These domestically and unscientifically manufactured alcoholic drinks are dangerous for human consumption.

So it would be socially and even economically legitimate if the old times are revived and liquor sale and drinking is allowed under the strict watch of law. The other venues for legitimate entertainment such as the horse racing, pursued by Saint Pir Pagara should also be permitted. Society must be stopped from slipping into the medieval paradigm.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.
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