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Opening up the Muslim mind

The Council of Islamic Ideology has held that DNA tests as primary evidence are not acceptable in rape cases. This comes at a time when there is a dire need to protect the rights of women through an extensive overhaul of the existing legal and procedural system in order to check to the exploitation of women – who constitute nearly half of our population. This becomes even more apparent when offenders routinely get off the hook because of ineffective laws (or their ineffective implementation) while the victims get imprisoned quite frequently on charges of fornication.

New Delhi may well be the rape capital of the world, but it is the hinterland of Pakistan that is now becoming the brutality zone for women as most such cases do not get reported. The CII’s observation will, therefore, almost certainly enlarge the country’s ‘rape map’ which is already unacceptably widespread.

In a well-researched paper on rape laws in Pakistan, Professor Asifa Quraishi has – through a clause by clause comparison – aptly pointed out that except for the word ‘zina-bil-jabar’ substituted for rape, the Zia-era Hudood Ordinance is a ditto copy of British colonial law (circa 1860). It is also incomprehensible that if divine law had ordained four witnesses to prove a crime, why was this requirement changed by man to four male witnesses? It is not known if this change was based on any extensive theological and legal knowledge, but prime facie it is loaded against women.

The CII’s observations clearly highlight the attempts to impose religious fundamentalism and a comprehensive totalitarian ideology and sweep away modernity and reject global advances made by science. This particular incidence is more confusing for people because if scientific procedures such as medico-legal and other tests are already in vogue to establish occurrence of this crime in the first place, why not take the matter to its logical conclusion through DNA tests for the higher cause of a safer and more just society?

It is, therefore, a compelling thought for a wider debate on whether a stifling religious ideology can co-exist with the intellectual dynamism of our society – and if so, to what extent, to what purpose and for how long?

Scholars trace the roots of this dilemma to events in the early days of Islam when its armies conquered territories of Byzantine and Sassanid empires (last pre-Islamic Persian Empire before the advent of Islam). There, Muslim scholars initiated an engagement with Hellenic thoughts which, at the time, had been dominant in philosophy, logic, natural sciences, medicines, engineering, mathematics, alchemy, and astrology.

As a result, they began to articulate philosophical arguments in support of their own faith. This began to affect Islamic thought in an enlightened manner, where it had previously been largely doctrinal and jurisprudential. The outcome was marvellous – just about 20 or 30 million Muslims of the Abbasid era wrote a glorious chapter in in their quest of knowledge and even today their contributions dwarf the entire later contributions of nearly one and a half billion Muslims till modern era.

But then destiny was disrupted as a result of the struggle between two opposing theological schools – the Ash’artes and the Mu’tazilites – that not only had opposing views on Hellenic rationality and scientific orientation, but also differed on the concept of God, for which they both believed they found a reference in the Quran. On one side was God’s will and power and on the other, his justice and rationality.

Their differences eventually came to a head on the status of reason in relation to God’s revelation and omnipotence and revolved around serious questions such as what role reason had in man’s encounter with God, the relationship – if any – between reason and revelation, whether reason can be used to address God’s revelations and most importantly, can reason know the truth. Initially, the rationalist view of the Mu’taziltes prevailed but eventually the irrationalism of the Ash’artes prevailed.

Thus began the blind adherence to a primitive form of theological irrationality and abandonment of the quest for knowledge. The roots of this pervasive attitude are deeply shrouded in ignorance and denial of enlightenment. A more serious consequence of this is a question mark on the ability of our great religion to take in its fold science, democracy and the evolution of the human race with time.

Those opposed to modernity and science conveniently ignore that when constrained by regressive thinking, no social or political model has ever succeeded in delivering prosperity to its populace anywhere in the entire Muslim world.

As a nation of over 180 million people, a majority of whom are Muslims and therefore share a greater responsibility, we have to realise that if we allow this kind of thinking to calcify further, it would cause our decline. We must resist archaic irrational impulses since they can only stump our development and stand in the way of a fair and just society. Subordinating reason to irrationalism will hinder our journey towards a progressive Pakistan and only lead us to a more pitiable condition.

Noted Muslim academic Bassam Tibi observes: “If that medieval rationalism that recognised universality of knowledge continues to be declared a heresy ….then Muslims in the twenty-first century will continue to be unsuccessful in embarking on modernity”.

As another contemporary scholar has noted, “those eager to make a new beginning must accept beforehand that the traditional mind will lead them nowhere. A new Muslim mind is the minimum to start with. Without re-activating our brains, we would even fall short of full realisation of the nature and extent of our malaise”.

The writer is a retired vice admiral.Email: tajkhattak@ymil.com

Taj M Khattak, "Opening up the Muslim mind," The News. 2013-06-10.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social needs , Social issues , Ideology-Islam , Social theology , Hudood ordinance , Society-Pakistan , Islamic laws , Social laws , Muslims , Islam , Delhi , Pakistan , DNA , CIT