Masood N. Khan M.D.
Even though some of us will be offended if Islam is reduced to categories, yet for the purpose of understanding and discussion there should be nothing wrong in examining it through various analytical prisms. Without going into the spiritual dimension of Islam since that is a very personal and individual experience, broadly speaking there could only be two aspects of Islam civil and political that effect society collectively whereby the former would encompass all aspects of human conduct at social, interpersonal and individual levels and the latter would deal with the mode and structure of governance specially in relation to human rights, military power, its proper use, and policies in dealing with peoples of the world. It is not incorrect to say that there has been a quiet demise of political Islam, the part which deals with aforementioned issues.
When Islam was introduced to individuals and society, as a divine message, a community was shaped and established in which the center of command and overall power structure was converged into Prophet’s personality. The moral message in the way he dealt with the issues and the decisions he took in the matters of governance and military expeditions, did provide guidelines for a nationstate with righteous and God-conscious power structure. Nevertheless, no clear rulings in structuring a system of government were divinely ordained. The underlying wisdom probably was to provide flexibility to let the system evolve with time with due accommodations for the indispensable changes life will bring in future. Muslims thus are at liberty to seek the guidelines the Prophet provided and tailor them to the demands of modern times: a fact so foolishly ignored by the so called religious scholars of today.
However this flexibility and freedom could not have been absolute because it had to be within the belief structure, compliant and subservient to basic inalienable divine injunctions (Mahkamat), at par with the order of creation in this universe which Quran names as Al-Islam. The most fundamental truth that was not for compromise at any cost was the recognition of the sovereignty of God and submission to His authority. This was meant to free human beings from man-made gods, and give them their inherent honor and dignity.
Unfortunately such a power structure based upon qualitycontrolled flexibility and freedom could not be evolved in the Muslim lands because of two reasons – the inverse progress of Islamic scholarship that gradually degenerated into rigidity and stagnation, and secondly, on the political front, the devolution of a short-lived Model Caliphate into kingship, oppression and subjugation of human beings.
It could be argued that in spite of the ills and vices of such a degenerated system, there still was a power structure that in its outward form and style was Islamic and had institutions with Islamic paraphernalia. But with the advent of colonialism this façade and whatever substance it contained was completely destroyed; and post colonial power units that emerged in Muslim world, in the form of fragmented nation-states and countries, being unprepared to meet the challenges of modern world, slipped into either very regressive modes of governance with dictatorial regimes, or an immature experimentation with western democracy that proved incompatible and unsuitable to Muslims’ social, cultural and traditional demands. Besides, it remained unproductive due to lack of education and political awareness.
نہ خدا ہی ملا نہ وصال صنم
ادھر کے رہے نہ ادھر کے رہے
Then came period of ‘Modernity’ as an ensemble of certain socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices that arose in post-medieval Europe. It began with questioning or rejection of tradition and moved to the refreshing concepts of individualism, freedom, belief in scientific and technological progress, human perfectibility, rationalization, professionalization, industrialization, urbanization secularism, and capitalism with market economy”.
Modernity posed very challenging questions to Islam such as, what is understood by Islam? Is it a religion or an order of creation in the universe? How valid and applicable is Islamic jurisprudence in the modern world? Who has the right to Ijtihad? And what is the strength of authenticity and applicability of the sayings of the Prophet? What should be Islam’s political power structure?, And how Islam will deal with the question of human rights, women’s rights, equal opportunity, freedom of thought and expression. The religious institutions and religious scholarship where research and investigation should have taken place to find answers to such compelling questions were either unwilling to or incapable of thinking out of the box, being regressively rigid in their understanding of Islam and insecure to accept any change. To compound this unfortunate situation, the custodians of religious scholarship (The maulanas) enjoyed huge audiences in Muslim countries, of religiously ignorant, suggestible and vulnerable masses. While this was happening, the Muslims with exposure to modern education, secularism, humanism, scientific and technological knowledge were intellectually timid and lazy in the matters of faith and religion.
The tragic consequences of such an unfortunate state of affairs were evident in the miserable failure of the Arab Spring on one hand and emergence of terrorist movements like Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Lashkare-Taibah and ISIS and many others in the Islamic world. Even though, globalization and a desire for change, the revolutionary spirit it evoked among young Muslims, nevertheless failed to bring any successful change except in a small country of Tunisia. This was because of their sheer illpreparedness, of which, Egypt is an index case. Even the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic movement with a political philosophy and long history, when took up power through elections and popular mandate, not only failed miserably but put the country under the worse autocratic rule than before. The reasons were obvious. It had political philosophy but no political shrewdness, had good fund of theoretical guidelines for a successful movement but no awareness of the demands of a globalized and socio-politically changed and informed world. It had the mass appeal to be able to acquire the reins of power but no wisdom to be able to retain them. A long awaited opportunity was thus lost.
So where is a successful Islamic political structure in the world ? Yes there are few Muslim countries which are stable enough to exist. These countries are either ruled by regressive autocracy or repressive theocracy and sometimes by western democracy that is sustained more by good economy than real sense of democracy. .Muslims have failed to present to the world an Islamic political structure, a democracy which gives absolute sovereignty to God but takes care of human rights and freedom with extreme degree of sensitivity for the ultimate betterment of mankind. The journey is long and lot of work is needed. Islam has to catch up with the modern world through a process of reassessment and reinterpretation. Until then, for all practical purposes, Political Islam is in cardiac arrest and time is running out for its resuscitation.