This Editorial from Pakistan’s Daily Times, “Taliban, Pakistan and modernity,” (thanks to DFS) discusses the ironies of Musharraf’s statements about Islam’s compatibility with modernity, as compared to the more generally neolithic sentiments of Pakistan’s foremost cleric, Mufti Munib ur Rehman. It shows the difficulties that confront Muslim reformers, as I have long noted, when their positions are branded as not truly Islamic.
Note also the Mufti’s interpretation of Qur’an 2:256, “There is no compulsion in religion,” as being completely in line with the death penalty for apostasy. This shows the hollowness of the arguments of Western Muslim pseudo-reformers who blandly cite 2:256 as sufficient in itself to establish that there is no death penalty for apostasy in Islam, or should not be. If they were really serious about reform, they would acknowledge, confront, and refute arguments like the one here presented by Mufti Munib ur Rehman.
Note also the article’s acknowledgment that many non-Muslims convert to Islam solely in order to escape dhimmi status.
President Pervez Musharraf has stated that Islam is compatible with modernity as modernisation means access to good education, civic government, development, justice and democracy, and not mere Westernisation of society. Just as his words were being digested by the nation, the “local Taliban” in South Waziristan executed a 25-year-old man under their idea of “Islamic” law or sharia. The “Taliban” had announced their government under the sharia earlier this month although the government has been in denial. The execution distinctly says that a part of Pakistan has turned its face away from modern times in imitation of the Taliban rule that brought grief to Afghanistan in 2001.
Other more ironic things happened the same day President Musharraf delivered himself of the wisdom about Islam and modernity. A Muslim convert to Christianity in Afghanistan was saved by subterfuge (it was said he was mentally sick and therefore couldn’t be held accountable under any law for converting to Christianity) by the Kabul government from being done to death, triggering protests from the Islamists who wanted him killed. The clerical view in Pakistan that appeared in the press, too, wanted the man killed. Then Pakistan’s top cleric, Mufti Munib ur Rehman, who chairs the moon-sighting committee on Eid days, came on TV and announced that “if a state is truly Islamic” it would have to kill the apostate.
Pakistan has all sorts of laws it cannot implement because they are completely out of tune with our times, but one idea that it has thankfully not made into a law is death for converting away from Islam. The cardinal principle behind this resistance to give death for conversion is the Quranic dictum La Ikrah Fi Din (no coercion in faith), but Mufti Munib ur Rehman misapplied the dictum without fear of reprimand simply because these days it is fashionable to fly in the face of the times and insist on endless recidivism of thought. He said the dictum applied to those non-Muslims who wished to convert to Islam. It was not permitted to force anyone to convert to Islam, but if any Muslim converted out of Islam he had to be asked to do tauba (expiation) or die. (In the case of women, they simply had to be confined till death.)
It was tacitly accepted by the TV channel that let Mufti Munib shoot off his mouth that Pakistan was not “truly Islamic”. One supposes that in his mind and those of his like-minded fellow-clerics only Mullah Umar’s Afghanistan was “truly Islamic” for five years without bringing about the utopia the Muslims were promised. Schools for girls were closed down, women were beaten up on the roads if they went out to find work, and men were thrashed if they didn’t keep beards or wore shorts. After so many executions no improvement in the character of the people was in evidence. They simply suffered and accepted that it was dog-eat-dog in a Hobbesian state.
Pakistan is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which has an article allowing freedom of religion including conversion. The clergy has been demanding that death be awarded to those who convert out of Islam. So far only insane and otherwise disabled persons have announced their conversion; and their fate has been quite scary. Because of bias and sheer ignorance, such individuals are thrown in jail where they die mysteriously. The result is that no one in his right mind would announce any internal change of belief. On the other hand, Mufti Munib’s fatwa that no one should be forcibly converted to Islam is belied by cases where non-Muslims have converted simply to avoid discrimination and a second-class status. The latest case that came out in the press was that of our Christian singer A Nayyar who was beaten up by goons asking him to convert. No cleric came to his defence and a week later he was still receiving death threats.
The Islam that Allama Iqbal envisioned was in line with modern times. (He was opposed to the enforcement of hudood and abolition of riba.) These days the clergy “” dominant by reason of its high public profile “” is clear that democracy is not permissible under Islam. The MMA may be seeking pure democracy by ousting Pervez Musharraf but the dominant parties inside it favour a sharia of the Taliban. Some of the laws in force in Pakistan “” for instance, the Blasphemy Law and the law of cutting hands and stoning to death “” already fly in the face of modernity. We have to do much yet to enter the 21st century because we missed the bus in the 20th.