M Ziauddin

Thursday, May 21, 2015 – IN PAKISTAN we have developed this dangerous habit of condemning as unpatriotic anybody who does not agree with what is known as ‘officially certified truth’ and we excommunicate and even kill those who do not subscribe to our religious school of thought. But no Pakistani, no matter what his position, has the right to call another one unpatriotic unless it has been proved beyond doubt in a court of law that the accused has actually knowingly harmed the national interests of Pakistan as defined in the Constitution. And similarly no one has the right, no matter how staunch a Muslim he or she is to declare his/her co-religionist as apostate unless the accused has been found to have knowingly repudiated his religion by a Mufti qualified to issue such a fatwâ.

A fatwâ in the Islamic faith is the term for the legal opinion or learned interpretation that the Sheikhul Islam, a qualified jurist or mufti, can give on issues pertaining to the Islamic law. The person who issues a fatwâ is called, in that respect, a Mufti. This is not necessarily a formal position since anyone trained in Islamic law may issue a fatwâ on its teachings. However, during what is often referred to as the Islamic Golden Age, in order for a scholar to be qualified to issue a fatwâ, it was required that he obtained an ijazat attadris wa’l-ifta (license to teach and issue legal opinions) from a Madrasah in the medieval Islamic legal education system, which was developed by the 9th century during the formation of Madh’hab legal schools. A madhhab is a school of thought within fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

In the first 150 years of Islam, there were numerous madhâhib; several of the Sahabah (“companions” of Prophet-PBUH) are credited with founding their own. Over centuries they have variously grown, spread, split, and been absorbed; some have become obsolete. As of the Amman Message, eight are officially acknowledged by the leaders of the international Muslim community – five Sunni schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Zahiri, two Shia schools (Ja’fari, Zaidi). The Amman Message is a statement calling for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world that was issued on 9 November 2004 (27th of Ramadan 1425 AH) by King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan. Subsequently, a three-point ruling was issued by 200 Islamic scholars from over 50 countries, focusing on issues of defining who a Muslim is; excommunication from Islam (takfir), and; principles related to delivering religious edicts (fatawa).

As mentioned above the institution of Madrasah was developed in the 9th century. The Madrasahs of all madhhabs produced hundreds and thousands of highly qualified scientists and scholars during this period. The list includesastronomers, astrophysicists, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, economists, social scientists, geographers, earth scientists, mathematicians, physicians, surgeons, physicists, engineers, political scientists and inventors. The contribution of the work done by these scientists and scholars to the present day advances in these fields is enormous and is recognized universally. In fact most of the latest developments in these fields can be traced directly to to the work done by the scholars graduating from these Madrasahs.

When the institution of Madrasahs was being revived in Pakistan in early 1980s, most Pakistanis welcomed the development in the hope that these would once again start producing highly qualified scholars and scientists at par with the best of the world ranking universities. Unfortunately this did not happen. Instead those who were funding these Madrasahs—the Americans and the oil rich Middle East kingdoms—seemed more interested in producing fighters dedicated to an American version of Jihad to fight the occupying Soviet troops in Afghanistan with the help of American weapons, US dollars and the Middle East petro-dollars. When the Americans left the scene along with their dollars after the collapse of the Soviets these Madrasahs were taken over mostly by one or two particular schools of thought dedicated to teaching their particular version of religion rather than reviving the faculty that was developed by the 9th century Madrasahs.

Most of these institutions were seemingly adopted by some of the oil rich Muslim countries of the Middle East to promote their school of religious thought in the region which resulted in proxy wars within Pakistan. The then successive governments in Pakistan instead of bringing these under its control and discipline them into our mainstream education system let them proliferate using their graduates to sustain two of Pakistan’s own low-intensity wars spread over almost ten long years, one on the side of freedom fighters inside the Indian Held Kashmir and the other on the side of Taliban against the Northern Alliance in the hope of creating the so-called strategic depth. We have lost both these wars but the proliferation of jihadi elements has brought the state itself in what appears to be under heightened terrorist pressure.

It is time, therefore, that we bring these institutions under our national discipline and forcefully withdraw from them their self-aggrandised right to kill or issue excommunication certificates to any one who disagrees with their education system. Over the years, at best these institutions have produced graduates fit only to serve the limited openings that our mosques offer or become fodder in the hands of those who are waging wars against the states of Pakistan and Afghanistan to establish the rule of their version of Sharia.

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