VIEW: “Freedom is a condition for goodness” —Ahmad Ali Khalid - Thursday, March 17, 2011

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‘Islam the Ideology’, as we see in Pakistan, is an attempt to forge constructs of identity rather than constructs of reason and faith

The title of this article is a quote from Allama Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Freedom is necessary for religion to flourish, and we need it to ask critical questions and speak out against injustice. Without freedom there is no Islam.

What does Pakistan stand for? What are our values? Where lies our repository of truths? What is my role? What has caused this malaise and the spate of recent tragedies? Questions rather than answers and proclamations should be asked. Our notions of Islam need to be deepened; we should revisit many aspects of this great faith in all its diverse and pluralistic traditions. We should resist succumbing to the rejectionist tendencies and reductionism of denial like most Pakistanis. We should not reject that there are serious problems in Pakistan, and not reduce the problems’ causes to a single factor or to divert responsibility to ‘external forces’, nor should we suggest the solution in such a vague and crude manner by simply parroting “Islam is the solution” without even realising what we are talking about.

Our condition, as it is, cannot change unless wilful and candid introspection and self-criticism is bolstered. This notion of pride and honour as a justification to hide our blemishes and faults has no religious, intellectual or common sense basis. It is a desperate attempt to avert reality.

An atmosphere of self-criticism needs to engulf Pakistan in totality before we can even begin to discuss the answers and solutions. A culture of dignity and humility arises from self-criticism; we become humbled, appreciate our fallibility and come to realise and appreciate our human nature. Avoiding self-criticism inspires a culture of hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal, and these traits are abhorred by religious traditions and common sense. Hypocrisy is perhaps the most hated of traits in the Islamic traditions, and for good reason as well. It is a stumbling block to progress and change. There is nothing ‘un-Islamic’, or ‘western’ about self-criticism; it is simply a social process to understand our predicament in order to search for answers.

In Pakistan the curious paradox is that religious parties and religious leaders, far from embracing self criticism, reflection and introspection, which is so clearly evident in Islamic teachings, grab on to hatred and rejectionism, shutting down all intellectual faculty for shameless and hollow submission. Although not all religious leaders and organisations exhibit these traits, one cannot help but feel this is the majoritarian stance. Even ‘enlightened’ secularists or non-religious parties engage in this depravity. It seems no one, regardless of faith, has the courage to indulge in self-criticism. It is an epidemic that plagues us, and in the West this attitude is caricatured beyond belief.

However, re-imagination is needed now. To re-imagine our current crisis within the realms of sober rationality and deep and meaningful religious faith, rather than petty identity politics, is paramount. A faith that goes beyond ritualistic dictates and touches the inner realms of consciousness is desirable. To re-imagine Islam not as an ideology or as a political entity but to appreciate it as a religion in the purest sense is crucial.

Much damage has been caused by ideologues crudely promoting an ‘Islamic system of politics’ or ‘Islamic science’. I am all for a strong religious presence in our public life provided it is self-aware and not imposed; provided it has a deep meaning and not simply used for shallow political purposes.

For instance, I appreciate the attempts of some Muslim thinkers engaged in the ‘Islamisation of knowledge’ project, since I can see it as a thoughtful and reasoned proposal as an alternative model of education and knowledge, but when people just proclaim an ‘Islamic state’ and actively call for its implementation and do not understand and cannot explain this concept clearly, rationally, using sound religious scholarship, then it is frustrating and useless.

Many cling on to Islam as Identity, rather than Truth. This is the view of AbdolKarim Soroush, the contemporary Iranian philosopher, though Khaled Abou El Fadl, the American-Muslim jurist, and Tariq Ramadan, the Islamic Studies professor, have also discussed this in detail in their works. ‘Islam the Ideology’, as we see in Pakistan, is an attempt to forge constructs of identity rather than constructs of reason and faith.

Islam is seen as a retreat from western modernism; hence notions such as ‘Islamic state’ (rarely found in classical Islamic literature) are constructed as a direct reaction to the western model of the nation state rather than a construction of reason and rationality.

We need to return to the deepest question of what role does Islam have today in Pakistan and what are our expectations from Islam. These are crucial questions, which require the attention of scholars, intellectuals and laymen alike.

We need to appreciate Islam is a religion not an ideology. It was up to God Almighty to reveal His Revelation through his last Apostle Mohammad (PBUH), who delivered the Holy Quran, but it is up to human beings to interpret this Revelation to gain its full import.

The Quran affirms in many places the worth and value of wisdom; it is indeed a most precious entity, shedding light on the darkness of human explorations. However, wisdom can be attained through many avenues. It can be attained through a deep and profuse study of the Islamic traditions, in an inclusive and sophisticated manner. The study of Revelation indeed through scholarly analysis can be a repository of truths. Or we can exercise our God-given reason as well, but perhaps the best combination is an interplay and inclusion of both sources. Revelation as light, and reason to comprehend it should be seen as a blessing. Reason as another route to understand other fields of human knowledge should be appreciated. Hence philosophy is invoked, since philosophy itself means love of wisdom, or love of knowledge.

The answers will not yield themselves; effort is required. Intellectual effort no less (ijtihad). What is more, it should be an inclusive process; Pakistanis of all faiths should share their thoughts and grievances. Solutions from all sources need to be contemplated first rather than rejected or blindly accepted simply because of their origins.

Faith is a radical and dangerous thing, and we need to control it. Radical and dangerous, because religion from its beginnings, whether in early Christianity or early Islam, challenged the status quo of society. It is radical, because faith is a powerful idea that can spur human beings to either deeds of great virtue or unspeakable horror.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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