Some blindly speak of implementing democracy, with a religious zeal that would give any ‘extremist’ a run for their money, without considering its practical consequences. This is a problem for any country. Encouraged by Western sponsors, be they governments or Western think tanks, Pakistan and indeed the rest of the Muslim world is being constantly cajoled or harried towards adopting democracy. Yet, democracy has a consistent track record of utter failure in Pakistan.
Whilst many are forever complaining that democracy has never established itself in Pakistan or been given the chance to flourish, they fail to appreciate both the finer philosophical/ideological underpinnings of democracy and the practical, societal and political set up of Pakistan -which would reveal why democracy is doomed to fail.
Democracy is championed as the means of progress – whilst the issue of Western nations supporting and doing business with dictators, tyrants and despots like Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah of Jordan, Pervez Musharraf, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and others, is brushed under the carpet. Pakistani political elites, being somewhat victims of an inferiority complex at Western technological advances, economic supremacy and cultural depth, rush to add their voices in agreement.
Pakistan is a country dominated by the super-rich industrialists, the feudal landowners and the army. These three interest groups have a stranglehold on the levers of power in Pakistan and often work together or against each other – as pragmatism would dictate – in order to maintain the status quo. Any idea that the common man can actually have a say through the ballot box in such conditions is naïve, at best. With many feudalists bringing with them a ‘chor bank’ instead of a vote bank, the industrialists being able to buy their way into power and the army able to just take power at the barrel of a gun, utilising the ballot box is an exercise in sheer futility.
Furthermore, the fact that the country finds itself in an economically stagnant condition, leaves it reliant upon external sources of finance which in turn make it politically dependant on foreign powers. This further entrenches the power of these three interest groups, as foreign powers such as America simply turn to the group that would best serve its agenda at any given time. Carrots are offered in terms of international recognition, being feted on the global scene, turning a blind eye to domestic corruption and offering financial ‘bailouts’ (read bribes) in exchange for implementing their agenda and strengthening their grip on the country.
Philosophically, democracy is promoted as a natural progression for mankind – including Muslims – as it is said to simply be a system where the people can have their say on who rules them and how. Democracy is said to be compatible with Islam, with some Muslims even citing the traditions of Shura in Islam as being democratic traditions, going so far as even saying that the Western world took democracy from Islam.
Yet, the essence of democracy is fundamentally opposed to Islam philosophically. At its core lies the concept that man shall rule over man by popular consent. Issues of how this is administratively carried out are secondary and do not change this core aspect of the system.
Whether this is the result of a parliamentary system or a presidential system, does not alter the fact that the collective or aggregate wisdom of the population is deemed appropriate to establish laws to regulate and govern society.
Laws are established to enforce the values of a society, and in a democracy, all laws are subject to change pending the will of the people. What is legal at one time may be illegal in another, and vice-versa. For example, in many countries in the Western world homosexuality, just a few decades ago was considered illegal, yet now is not only legal but a form of ‘marriage’ recognising gay couples is commonplace.
Islam is philosophically at loggerheads with such an approach to governing. At the core of Islam lies the concept of Tawheed, which establishes the worship of Allah (ﷻ) alone, having no other partners. The concept of worship includes not only engaging in acts of ritual spirituality, such as the five daily prayers or fasting during the month of Ramadhan, but to fundamentally hear and obey all the commands of Allah also. In the Quran, it is stated:
“…Do you then believe in a part of the Book and disbelieve in the other? What then is the reward of such among you as do this but disgrace in the life of this world, and on the day of resurrection they shall be sent back to the most grievous chastisement, and Allah is not at all heedless of what you do.” [Al-Baqarah : 85]
“It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.” [Al-Ahzab : 36]
“They have taken as lords besides Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Maryam, when they were bidden to worship only One Allah. There is no Allah save Him. Be He Glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him)!” [At-Taubah : 31]
“Once while Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) was reciting this verse (9:31), ‘Adi bin Hatim said, “O Allah’s Messenger! They do not worship them (i.e. the rabbis and monks).” Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “They certainly do. They (i.e. the rabbis and monks) made lawful (halal) things as unlawful (haram) and unlawful things as lawful, and they (i.e. Jews and Christians) followed them; and by doing so, really worshipped them.” [Narrated in the books of Hadith by Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Jarir]
These citations from sources of Islamic law clearly state that the idea of following Islamic law in all spheres of life is inextricably linked to the concept of worship. To attempt to alter, dispute or reject any law set by Islam is tantamount to disbelief. Yet in a democracy the representative(s) of the people are empowered, on behalf of the people, to establish a set of laws of which none are sacrosanct, being forever subject to the ever-changing will of the people.
The rabbis and monks in a modern context, it would appear, are the MNAs, MPAs and Senators.
Even in periods of military dictatorship, including the General Zia era, ultimately the ability to legislate remains within the hands of man whilst paying lip service to Islam rather than matters being deferred to the Quran and the Sunnah. A perfect example of this is the Zia era’s ‘Shariah Appellate Court’, which is subservient ultimately to the secular Supreme Court of Pakistan – which is based upon laws left behind by the British and made by Parliament.
It is clear that it is not just the superficial act of bowing one’s head towards a physical idol that is considered as having made partners with Allah, but also obeying anyone or group of people over and above the commands of Allah is also considered as having made an association with Him in worship. Thus democracy is a violation of the concept of Tawheed and is, therefore, shirk – the most severe sin in Islam.
Democracy is built upon the ideals of secularism, which removes the role of God from the state, promotes the idea of freedom – including the role of man to freely establish whatever laws he may wish. Democracy sets up man as a rival to God/Allah, by assigning him the role of Law Giver.
In Islam, the tradition of consultation (Shura) is well established, as it is mentioned in the Quran:
“…So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. Then, when you have taken a decision put your trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).” [Aal-Imran : 159]
Some mistakenly equate this Quranic injunction recommending the ruler to consult the ruled, with the administrative side of democracy whereby Parliament/Congress/Senate debate matters amongst themselves. Hence, they believe that democracy is compatible with Islam and an ‘Islamic Democracy’ can exist. This confusion is reflected in some poll results where many in the Muslim world want democracy, yet at the same time a similar percentage (if not greater), want Shariah law and a Caliphate. It is only when both democracy and Islam are understood from a creedal level, that it becomes clear that the term ‘Islamic Democracy’ is a misnomer, as you cannot have two contradicting philosophical values such as Tawheed and secularism coexisting within one system.
Pakistan’s salvation lies in moving past this schism in the state.
Pakistan needs to decide whether it wishes to live and abide by Islam and in doing so adopt all of it, or whether it wishes to move away from this and attempt to become a fully-fledged secular liberal democracy and abandon Islam completely.
It cannot continue to sit on the fence, for this dithering between wanting to remain a spiritual Muslim in the personal sphere yet be secular in the public one is a malaise that is pulling the country apart. And for those who cannot decide, perhaps they should turn to the Quran for some political advice,
“And verily, if you ask them: ‘Who created the heavens and the earth?’ Surely, they will say: ‘Allah (has created them).’ Say: ‘Tell me then, the things that you invoke besides Allah, if Allah intended some harm for me, could they remove His harm, or if He (Allah) intended some mercy for me, could they withhold His Mercy?’ Say : ‘Sufficient for me is Allah; in Him those who trust (i.e. believers) must put their trust.’” [Az-Zumar : 38]