Allama Iqbal was convinced that an elected parliament could fulfill the function of Ijtihad (creative interpretation of Islamic law) in an Islamic society. He had mentioned this opinion in one of his lectures contained in his book the Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam. Many experts have said that Iqbal was under the influence of the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire when he made this observation part of his lecture. Concretely, this would mean that Iqbal allowed the Islamic legislature to interpret or reinterpret the principles of Islamic Shariah in light of new developments in Muslim society and in the world.
Iqbal was not alone in this opinion. Many of his contemporaries came to the same conclusion after being confronted with Western political systems and institutions. But this axiom is not without problems in itself. Dissent is the essence of parliamentary democracy – not just political dissent, but dissent on social, political, cultural and philosophical issues. Will citizens of an Islamic State be allowed to disagree with decisions of parliament made after it has practiced Ijtihad? As a tool for interpretation, Ijtihad is as old as the process of formulating Islamic Fiqh, which began to take shape in the 8th and 9th centuries CE. Conclusions drawn, fatwas issued or court verdicts pronounced by Qazis in past Islamic societies have been accepted as interpretations of the word of God by later generations of Muslims. And you cannot disagree or disagree with the word of God. Will ordinary Muslims be prohibited from disagreeing with parliamentary Ijtihad in an Islamic society, according to the Iqbal model? This is a problem that can untangle Iqbal’s system of Ijtihad and a parliamentary democracy that practices it.
This problem and many others like it have always played a role in stunting sustainable political institutions in Muslim societies. Parliamentary democracy is not successful in a single Muslim society across the world. Muslim societies have failed to emerge smoothly from traditional ethical and moral systems and have proven unable to come to terms with the ethical and political values of modernity that are seen as a prerequisite for parliamentary democracy. The traditional ulema added the condition of the approval or sanction of religious scholars for the legislative process in a Muslim society by an elected parliament – Khomeini and Maududi expressed similar views on this point in their writings. This principle is intrinsically opposed to what Iqbal had to say about the legislative process or democracy in Islamic society. Pakistan is close to Maududi’s view rather than Iqbal’s in its legislative processes under the 1973 constitution.
According to Islamic principles, it is the duty of the ruler to eradicate evil from society. In a parliamentary democracy, the preservation of the opposition is as essential for the government as the need to preserve its majority in parliament.
Parliamentary democracy can no longer be described as alien to our political culture – it was brought to united India by the British colonial administration over 100 years ago. Since then, it has remained in place at various levels of governance in our society. Now both the administrative structures of the state and society as a whole are familiar with the dynamics of parliamentary democracy. He is well integrated into the state and into society. But at the ideological level, the Pakistani political elite or segments thereof espouse and propagate ideas and philosophies that have always hindered the growth and consolidation of parliamentary institutions and values in our society.
Imran Khan’s recent appeal to the people to invoke the Islamic principle of “commanding good and forbidding evil” (al-Amr bil Maruf wa Nahi anil-Munkar) in a political struggle with opposition parties in is a good example. Calling the opposition evil or portraying evil is utterly problematic for parliamentary democracy.
First, you do not negotiate with evil according to Islamic principles. Meanwhile, in parliamentary democracy, you cannot take a step without negotiating with your opponents. According to Islamic principles, it is the duty of the ruler to eradicate evil from society. In parliamentary democracy, the preservation of the opposition is as essential for the government as the need to preserve its majority in parliament. In many well-established democracies, the opposition is considered a shadow government and therefore could potentially and legitimately invoke the Islamic principle of “commanding good and forbidding evil” against previous governments which invoked this principle in the first place.
In such a situation, the persistent and continuous invocation of this principle could potentially lead to civil war in a religious country, if the society is sufficiently armed, as is the case in Pakistan. Last but not least, dissent is the essence of parliamentary democracy – dissent with government policies, dominant beliefs and narratives, and social and political philosophies. And who dares to disagree with a person who invokes the Quranic principle of “commanding good and forbidding evil” and remaining unscathed in a religiously unstable society like Pakistan?
Imran Khan invokes this principle in a highly unstable and violent society – where psychologically disturbed people are punished for blasphemy, where someone can be killed for simply removing a religious sticker from an industrial machine, and where mullahs without instruction can bypass the court system and convict anyone. There are very powerful threats to the survival of parliamentary democracy in our society. And our intellectuals and predecessors did not leave a very good record of precedents and intellectual heritage that could facilitate a smooth integration of Islamic principles with parliamentary values. Parliamentary democracy is an obstacle to the complete anarchy which extends its tentacles in our society.
Will Imran Khan be compassionate enough to spare this society and this parliamentary democracy?