Can left offer a seculer alternative (30th Jan, 2010)

Iranian Constitution provide for an institution of the “Religious Guardianship (Velayat Faqiye).” This “Guardianship of the Just Man of Religious Law (Fiqiyeh-e-Adl) is on “the basis of the continuous Guardianship and leadership (Imamate) …under all conditions…” According to my limited knowledge there is no precedent of such an institution in the Muslim states history. ‘Religious Guardian’ and his council have a right to disqualify many potential candidates from contesting the election of Iranian parliament as they do not consider them pious and religious enough to be elected by the people. Thus decision is not left to the people but is made by a small coterie of clergy.

What reminds me of this institution is the recent decision on NRO. It has referred to some clauses of the constitution which has raised alarm-bells. General Ziaul Haq, who considered himself a kind of religious guardian of the country, added some disputable clauses to Article 62 of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan. These clauses of article 62 say that “A person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) unless:

62 (d) “he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions;

62 (e) “he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins;

62 (f) “he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and ameen; (Emphasis is mine)

Until the judgement of the Honourable Supreme Court’s these clauses of the constitution had remained as dormant. Nobody has sought disqualification of any member of the parliament, the president and the prime minister by invoking these clauses. Now if these clauses are invoked will the superior judiciary acquire the role of “religious guardian” a la Iran? Who else would make a decision on such subjective issues whether a member of parliament (or for that matter the President who is the bulls eye here) does not violate Islamic injunctions, has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings, abstains from major sins and is honest and ameen.

Who would decide what are the Islamic injunctions? One sect believes that going to a saint’s mazar is sacrilegious; to the other it is Islamic. Now if one would go with Saudiased Islam then both our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and many other parliamentarians should be disqualified because they are heirs of the saints of South Punjab or Sindh. Who would decide then, the worthy judges that what is adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings, what a major and a minor sin is, and which parliamentarian is honest or dishonest.

By invoking such dormant clauses a window has been opened for ‘inspired litigants’ like Maulvi Iqbal Haider to challenge the qualification of more than half, if not more, members of the parliament. Would our judges then be qualified to make decision on such wide ranging religion-loaded issues? Perhaps the Honourable Court would not like to be put in this tight spot.

One view is that the superior judiciary should not be blamed for referring to what is in the constitution. I asked a member of the Raza Rabbani Constitution Amendment Committee whether deletion of these clauses is on the agenda. He said we have bigger issues to discuss and nobody is interested in including these clauses. The point is that the court has heavily relied on Islamic clauses and the leading parties are in no mood to reform the constitution. While the PML (N), is right-of-the-center, the PPP has always tried to appease the Mullah unsuccessfully. Only ANP and MQM, who are in the parliament, are clear on the issue of separating religion from politics.

The whole issue is ultimately attached to taking out the objective resolution and other religious clauses out of the constitution. Many analysts and rightist politicians scoff at the idea of a secular state. They have failed to understand that mixing of religion with politics has brought us today to the most violent juncture of history. It gives enough space to the fundamentalists to operate with impunity in the country. Because we mix religion with politics we have not even deliberated seriously on the dangerous implications of this approach on our national security policy, on our relations with our neighbours, on our education system and on countering the ideology of pro-jihad forces.

A recent survey done by Herald magazine asked the questions to the youngsters with a mean age of 21 years: “Do you think Pakistan should be an Islamic State? 64% of the respondents said yes; 22% supported secular state; and 12% were undecided. Interestingly, education-wise break up of the samples shows that 27% of the uneducated supported secular state. But this rate dropped to 7% among the primary educated, then starts rising with the level of education and is around 32% among the graduate and post-graduates. The supporters of a secular state were 56% in the students who were doing their “A” levels. This should be an eye-opener for the progressive secular forces as it clearly shows that the biased education indoctrination reduce the support for secular state among the less educated. And that the students who have access to expensive liberal curriculum of “O” and “A” level are more inclined to support a secular state concept.

This survey also shows that in an environment where there is no space for discussing secular politics and ideas, still a sizeable number of youngsters are for a secular state. On the contrary all the opinion-making forums are pre-dominantly preaching ideas and politics that support the idea of an Islamic State. The progressive secular forces should be taking cue from this and should claim their rightful place in preparing the public opinion in favour of secularism.

In Bangladesh the Supreme Court has recently upheld the ruling given by in the court in 2005 which threw out the 5th Amendment of their constitution. This amendment had allowed formation of religion-based political parties. Now the Supreme Court decision, a Bangladeshi politician Shafique Ahmed said would help in reinstating the original 1972 secular constitution.

Pakistan may not be able to ban the religion-based political parties in the near future, but it should move towards expunging ridiculous constitutional clauses that are mentioned above together with Article 247 and the objective resolution. It would be a long and hard struggle, but it is doable. The leadership for such a courageous initiative would have to be provided by ANP, MQM and left parties. Otherwise we may have our holier than everybody “Guardians” upsetting the democratic evolutionary process — all in the name of Islamic morality. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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