By Pervez Hoodbhoy
PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan says naya Pakistan shall soon resemble the seventh-century state of Madina. Beginning with his inaugural address of Aug 20, he has repeated his vow on no less than 11 separate occasions. Although all Muslims acknowledge the Madina state as a model of perfection, Khan leaves unsaid just how closely naya Pakistan shall be its image. Is achieving egalitarianism and welfarism the goal? Is the Madina state also a template for Pakistan’s political and judicial reconstruction?
To create a prosperous welfare state is an admirable — and universal — objective. Serving the needs of their citizens without prejudice, a few modern states already have operational systems in place. To join them, just five minutes of serious contemplation can tell you what needs to be done here in Pakistan.
It’s almost a no-brainer: eliminate large land holdings through appropriate legislation; collect land and property taxes based upon current market value; speed up the courts and make them transparent; make meritocratic appointments in government departments; change education so that skill enhancement becomes its central goal; make peace with Pakistan’s neighbours; choose trade over aid; and let civilians rule the country rather than soldiers.
That’s pretty hard! Implementation shall need no less than a revolution, bloodless or otherwise. But if Imran Khan wants to emulate the Madina state as a political entity, it will be way trickier. Modern states have geographical boundaries, a practice that followed the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) between European powers. But for the Madina state, borders were irrelevant — where you lived did not matter.
Built around a tribal accord, Misaq-i-Madina, citizenship required only that an individual submit to the authority of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Perhaps anticipating that his followers would someday spread beyond the oases of Makkah and Madina, he very wisely left unspecified which territories constitute Dar-ul-Islam.
How to reconcile the contradictory notion of a borderless ummah versus an Islamic state with borders? Islamic scholars from the time of Al-Mawardi (972-1058) to the anthropologist genius Ibn-i-Khaldun (1322-1406) have differed. Another, Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, while residing in pre-Partition Hyderabad (India), opined that creating Pakistan as a separate entity was contrary to Islamic teachings and traditions. Instead, he said, India as a whole must be converted to Islam. This wasn’t easy and so ultimately he supported the demand for Pakistan.
Time has increased, not decreased, territorial affiliations. Everywhere, inside and outside Islam, large national armies protect borders and nationalism competes fiercely against religion as an emotive force. Imran Khan’s pledge to grant citizenship to 1.5 million desperate Afghan refugees was potentially a first step towards the Madina state, one inclusive of all Muslims.
Human rights activists were ecstatic. But, once the adverse reaction set in, Imran’s U-turn followed. He cannot be blamed alone: previous Pakistani governments refused to naturalise Bengali refugees and Burma’s persecuted Rohingya minority. Nationalism often trumps religious solidarity these days.
Moving on: what about judicial matters? Shall laws of the Madina state apply in naya Pakistan? Viewed through the prism of history, the accord negotiated by the Holy Prophet was perfectly logical at a time of bitter intertribal wars. The interested reader may consult Dr Tahirul Qadri’s PhD thesis on the Misaq-i-Madina. This lists 63 rules for determining diyat (blood money); ransoms to settle tribal feuds; life protection for Muslims and Jews; apportioning of war expenses; etc. These led to peace within the framework of Arab tribal justice.
But justice is an ever-evolving concept in every culture and religion. So, for example, 2,000 years ago, Aristotle had argued that some individuals and races are “natural slaves” better enslaved than left free. And, until 200 years ago, socially respectable Americans were slave owners. Kinder ones treated slaves better but slave-owning is now viewed as utterly abhorrent.
Among today’s Muslims, apart from the militant Islamic State group and Boko Haram and a few others, no one defends slavery. Countries legally forbid it even if slaves are to be treated extremely well. In Pakistan too, owning slaves is a criminal offence. Pakistani law also makes it illegal to barter women as goods or as booty. Owning another human being was considered okay once but isn’t kosher anymore and anywhere — and under any circumstance.
The notion of egalitarianism has evolved as well. Nearly all societies now accept, or give lip service, to the idea that all people are equal before the law. Limited to men at first, it was extended later to include women as well. In 2009, Pakistan legally recognised transgender as a separate category; earlier this year some transgender candidates ran for elections, albeit unsuccessfully.
Blood money, common in earlier times, also takes on a very different flavor. Pakistanis were outraged when a grinning Shahrukh Jatoi emerged from jail after murdering 20-year old Shahzeb Khan in cold blood. Jatoi’s wealthy parents had purchased his pardon through diyat, probably by pressuring Khan’s family. Months earlier, CIA contractor Raymond Davis had been released after the families of the two men he had killed were paid $2.4m as blood money.
The world of yesterday and the world of today bear no comparison. One marvels at the Holy Prophet’s sagacity in negotiating a better deal for all warring Arabian tribes. Still, we should appreciate just how different the world has become from those times. The combined population of Makkah and Madina was less than Kharadar’s, a typical Karachi neighbourhood. Joblessness and lack of housing were non-issues; air pollution and load-shedding hadn’t been conceived; and white-collar crime was awaiting invention centuries later. No police or standing army existed in the Madina state. There were no jails.
It is easy to see why certain religious slogans appeal to the popular imagination. In a country that is deeply unequal and plagued by huge class asymmetry, people yearn for an unblemished past when everything was perfect. But when political leaders promise to take us there, how seriously should we take them? The masses had responded favourably when Gen Ziaul Haq had raised a similar slogan in the 1980s — that of Nizam-i-Mustafa. Disappointment soon followed. Can it be different this time?
(The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.)