I have been following the discussions regarding the formation of Islamic State/s with quite some interest. This has been a topic of great debate on many newsgroups such as soc.culture.india & soc.religion.islam for some time.
I would like to pass on an interesting sermon by an Ahmedya Muslim regarding this very topic, which I managed to preserve.
This is directed towards the people on this forum who feel so strongly about creation of Islamic governments. It deals with the enactment of the Sharia in Pakistan (or rather with the impossibility of such an enactment); but could be applied just as well to any other Islamic country making such an attempt.
This is the text of a speech delivered by the present Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. His name is Mirza Tahir Ahmed and called effectionately "Hazoor" by Ahmadi Muslims.
<some portions cut for brevity>
Recently Pakistan has been the seat of this hot, sometimes violent, controversy about the Shariah. It is understood generally that if the majority of a country constitute Muslims, then the Muslims have a right -- rather, an obligation - to enact Shariah law. It is argued that if they believe in the Holy Quran and if they believe also that the Holy Quran is a comprehensive Book which relates to every area of human activity and directs man as to how he should conduct himself in every sphere of life, then it is hypocrisy to remain contented with those claims. They should follow the logical conclusion and enact Shariah law and make it the only law valid for the country.
Now, this is what is being said on the one side. On the other side, many difficulties are pointed out - such as proposed legislative problems - very serious constitutional problems as well as very serious problems in almost all sphere of the enactment of Shariah. So, let me first briefly tell you, why Shariah law cannot be exercised or imposed on a people, who practically, as far as their normal way of life is concerned, are not the ideal Muslims, much to the contrary. In those areas where they are free to practice Islam, they fall so much short that one wonders when they willingly cannot exercise Islam, how could they be expected to do it by coercion and by force of law. This and many others are the areas where debate is being carried on and pursued hotly, but I'll now, very briefly enumerate the points to make you understand all the sides of this issue.
Personally, I have also been participating in this debate which was going on in Pakistan and many a scholar who came to London or who wrote to me for guidance, were helped by me. Though I did not entirely dictate notes to them, yet to a great degree they were helped by me to understand the problem in larger perspective. Thus many an article that have been published in Pakistan did have my opinion also expressed in them.
Shariah is the law and there is no doubt about it; the law of Islam, the law for Muslims. But the question is how far can this law be transformed into legislation for running a political government. On top of that many other issues get involved in it. For instance, if a Muslim country has a right to dictate its law to all its population, then, by the same reasoning and by the same logic, every other country with majority of population belonging to other religions would have exactly the same right to enact their laws.
The entire world would become a world of not only political conflict but also of a politico-religious conflict, whereby all the laws would be attributed to God, yet they would contradict each other diametrically. There would be such a confusion that people would begin to lose faith in a God Who speaks one thing to one people and another thing to another people, and Who tells them to enforce this law on the people or 'they will be untrue to Me'.
As such, you can well imagine what would happen in India for instance, if the law of the Hindu Majority is imposed on the Muslim minority. As a matter of fact a large section of the Indian society is gradually being pushed towards this extremist demand - by way of reaction, I suppose, to what is happening in some Islamic countries. What would happen to the Muslims and other minorities of India? Moreover this is not a question of India alone. What if Israel enacts the law of Judaism - the law of Talmud - I have read it and I know it will be impossible for any other non-Jew to live there, normally and decently.
In the same manner Christianity has its own rights and so has Buddhism.
PARTICIPATION IN LEGISLATION
The next consideration is the very concept of the state: This is the most fundamental issue which has to be resolved and addressed by those who are concerned with politics or international law. The question is that anyone born in a state has a right to participate in its legislation.
In the secular concept of the running of governments and legislation, everyone, born in a given country, whatever be his religion or colour or creed acquires the basic fundamental civic rights. And the most important among these rights is the chance at least, to participate in the shaping of the legislation.
Of course, parties come and go; majority parties today may turn into minority parties tomorrow. Everybody's wish is not fulfilled or carried out. But in principle, everybody has a fair chance and an equal chance to make his say heard at least by the opposition, on matters of common principle. But what would happen if one Shariah or one religion is imposed as the law of that country? If Muslim law were imposed in a country, all the rest of the people who are inhabitants of the same land, would have to be considered as second, third, or fourth rate citizens of the same country with no say whatsoever in the legislation. But that is not all; the problem is further complicated within Islam itself: Because Islam has a Book revealed by God and the Muslim scholars claim that it is their right to interpret the Book.
Legislative body subordinate to Religious Scholars
On issues of differences of opinion, the legislative body stands subordinate to the scholastical opinion of such scholars who specialize in understanding the Holy Quran; or who CLAIM to specialize in understanding the Holy Quran. What would be their mutual relationship. A body is elected to legislate. They legislate and you hear from some scholars of Islam that 'what you have proposed as a law is against the fundamental principles of Islam. lslam has no room for such nonsense'.
Whose voice should be heard? On the one hand, it would apparently be God speaking behind those people; but only apparently. On the other side, there will be voice of the majority of the people of the country. So the dilemma becomes almost impossible to be resolved.
All religions split up into sects with time But that is not all: Every religion, at the source is one and single, and unsplittable, but as you pass along in period of time, the religion begins to diverge and split within and multiply and become more and more in number, so that the same faith which, for instance, at the time of Jesus Christ (peace be on him) was one single Christianity, turned into many hundreds of Christianity. Looked from the vantage point of different sects, the one single source appears to be different in colour. Different-coloured eye-glasses are used by various followers of various sects. The same is true of Islam. It's not just a question of Sunni Islam and Shia Islam and how they interpret the Shariah.
Within Shia Islam there are 34 sects whose interpretation of Shariah differs with each other. Within again, Sunni Islam there are at least 34 sects whose interpretation of Shariah differs with each other. There are issues on which no TWO ulema of different sects agree. Not on superficial issues; even the fundamental ones. You have only to read the Munir Inquiry Report. Justice Munir, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was one of the two judges who were appointed to investigate into the background, reasons and the modus operandi of the anti-Ahmadiyya riots in 1953. Who was responsible and who was not?
How to define a Muslim? During the course of the inquiry, Justice Munir pointedly asked every muslim scholar who appeared before him if he knew of a definition of Islam which could be acceptable by the other sects as well; which could equally apply to everyone and by the help of which we could define, 'Yes, this is Muslim', and 'That is not Muslim'. In the report Justice Munir submits that no two scholars of all the Muslim scholars interrogated, agreed on a single definition of what Islam was.
In the case of one particular scholar, he wanted some more time to think over it, and Justice Kayani, who was a partner with Justice Munir, had a very peculiar sense of humour. His answer was: 'I cannot give you more time, because you have already taken more than thirteen hundred years to ponder over this question. Is that not enough ?
If thirteen centuries, plus some years are not enough for you to be able to define the very fundamentals of Islam - what is a definition? - how much more time would you require?'
So this is a very grave issue. If the Shariah interpretation of one sect is imposed, then it will not just be the non-Muslims who will be dispossessed of the fundamental right of participation in the country's legislation, but within Islam also there would be many sects who would be deprived of this right.
The Interpretation of which sect is to be imposed on Shariah Law? Again there are so many other problems: For instance, according to some Shariah concept, the punishment for a crime is so much different from the concept of another sect, that Islam would be practised in the world so differently on the same issue, that it would create a horrible impression on the non-Muslim world. What sort of faith is that which advises one punishment for the same crime here and another there. And in some other places it is just the very thing to do and it's no crime at all.
These and many such issues make the question of imposition of Shariah almost impossible.
Moreover, the fundamental rights of other sects are also tampered with, or trampled upon, in many possible situations. For instance on the question of drinking of alcohol. Alcohol is forbidden in Islam, all right; but, the very question of whether it is a punishable offence and whether the punishment, if any, is imposed by man in this world, is a fluid issue. It is a controversial issue and has not yet been agreed upon by all the people involved. What is the punishment of drinking? The Holy Quran does NOT mention any punishment. This is a fundamental law, the Book of law and it is inferred from some Tradition, by some scholars, that; that should be the punishment. But that inference is far-fetched and the Traditions themselves are challenged by others not to be authentic.
So, will a large section of not only Muslim society, but also a large section of non-Muslim society, be punished for such reasons as in themselves are doubtful. Whether it's valid or not, this is the issue. Yet there are extremists, everywhere and particularly those who go for Shariah to be imposed.
You will find many extremist who are totally intolerant of others' opinion. Consequently, such grey areas also will be taken as No Doubt areas by the extremists. They will say, 'Yes, we know; it's our opinion. It's the opinion supported by a medieval scholar or our thinking. And that is law.
DIFFICULTIES FACED BY PAKISTAN GOVERNMENT FOR THE ENACTMENT OF SHARIAH LAW
Now this difference resulted in a debate in Pakistan very recently and Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister, had ultimately to decide that Shariah of no one sect will be adopted.
The law passed in Pakistan is that they will accept the supremacy of the Quran, and they will agree that no legislation will be made contrary to the fundamental Quranic teaching. But beyond that they will not adopt any rules and regulations which spring from laws as if they were legislative instructions from God.
So, leaving that alone, what is left with of Shariah is the general principle as enunciated in the Holy Quran, in the light of which an attempt would be made to islamize the country's laws.
So far so good. I think, the Prime Minister has been able to extricate himself from a very difficult situation, but not for long. The Ulema are already at his throat. Also, they are insisting that a Shariah Court should not only be continued - there is already a Shariah Court - to work, but its power should be enhanced. The final authority about whether the law is according to Islam or not should lodge with the Shariah Supreme Court.
As such, again, the power-balance will be shifted from the elected members of the country to the extremist Mullahs. So, once you accept something, which is impractical to be imposed, then this will always lead to various troubles and it is impossible for you to carry on without further complications.
THE LIFESTYLE OF TODAYS MUSLIMS NOT TRULY ISLAMIC
That is one area of difficulties. But there is another very important area of difficulty: That is, the life-style of the Muslims in most countries is not truly and profoundly muslim.
You see, you do not require a law of Shariah to say your prayers five times. You do not require the law of Shariah to make you behave honesty. You do not require the law of Shariah to be imposed to make you speak the truth and to appear as witness in court - or, wherever you appear as witness - honestly and truthfully. A society where robbery has become the order of the day, where there is disorder, chaos, usurpation of others' rights, where the Courts seldom witness a person who is truthful, where filthy language is a common place mode of expression, where there is no decency left in human behaviour, what would you expect Shariah to do there? How the law of Shariah would genuinely be imposed in such a country, this is the question.
SUITABLE ATMOSPHERE REQUIRED FOR THE IMPOSITION OF SHARIAH LAW
I have given a different form to this question and this was raised of course, and so far, I have not heard of any answer which really could resolve the issue.
The question is that every country has a climate and not all the flora can nourish in that climate. Dates flourish in deserts but not in the chilly north. Similarly, cherries cannot be sown in the desert; they require a special climate. Shariah also requires a special climate. If you have not created that climate, then Shariah cannot be imposed.
Every prophet - not only Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) - every prophet first created that healthy climate for the law of God to be imposed, willingly not compulsorily. And when the society was ready, the laws were introduced and stiffened further and further, until the whole code was revealed. That society was capable of carrying the burden of the law of religion, whether you call it shariah law or any other law. In a society for instance, where theft is common place, where telling falsehood is just an everyday practice, if you enact Shariah law and sever the hands of those who steal, what is going to happen? Is that the purpose of Shariah? It's not just a question of sentimentality about religion. God's Will will be done no doubt, but it will be done in the orderly way as God wishes us to do.
SHARIAH LAW USED AS A PRETEXT TO SEIZE POWER
I have suggested to certain political leaders that they should invite all the Muslim scholars to reform one small city of Pakistan first, and then have the Shariah imposed there. For instance, Faisalabad is a small city - or a big town - of mainly traders, famous for its corrupt practices.
I proposed that the Ulema should be invited from all over Pakistan to first reform the society of that single town. When the people of that town have become capable of carrying the burden of shariah, then Government should be invited to come in and take over the administration of the law of Shariah. But it will not happen. They don't care. They are not concerned . It is not the love of Islam which is urging them on to demand Shariah law. It is just an instrument to reach to power, to capture power and to rule the society in the name of God. Society is already ruled by corrupt people, by cruel people but that is done in the name of human beings; that is tolerable to a degree. But when atrocities are committed in the name of God, it's the worst possible, the ugliest thing that can happen to man.
So as such, we must think many, many times, before we can even begin to ponder over the question whether anywhere in the world, the law of religion can be imposed as a legal tender. Personally, I doubt it.
Now, that is where I rest the case for a while. If you think there is time to turn to the second question, then I will do so. Otherwise, we'll sit and discuss this, what I have already said.