Friday, 26 November 2010

Unite Organically

The following is my article, which appeared as Friday Feature, 'On Organic Unity' in Dawn today. The text presented here may vary from the version printed in the newspaper.
A new goal that appeared before the people of Pakistan in 1967 was to discover a synthesis of socialism and democracy through Islam. The tool for achieving it was the organic unity that Pakistan had achieved in its first twenty years as a new state. The ideal to be kept in front was to use this unity, i.e. unite organically, or through ideals. Some indicators may show us that a synthesis had occurred, in some ways, by 1986.

This may sound like a far-fetched hypothesis because we are not used to reading the history of modern Muslim thought in this manner. However, such a conclusion seems to be the only plausible one when the matter is revisited in the light of the propositions of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam.

For that, we may begin with three essential concepts: (a) synthesis of ideologies through Islam; (b) organic unity as a human resource; and (c) definition of ideals.

When Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was founded on 30 November and 1 December 1967, its credo was stated to be, “Islam is our religion; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; power lies with the people.” The intellectuals who wrote the foundational papers of the party, as well as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who founded the party, may or may not have been aware, but the ideas mentioned in this credo had a long history in the collective consciousness of the society. As it was, Maulana Shibli Numani and Allama Iqbal had stated democracy to be the political ideal of Islam long ago, Quaid-i-Azam had talked about Islamic socialism and the very idea of Pakistan was based on the presumption that all power lied with the people.

Hence, the enormous popularity of this credo, as evident from the results of the elections of 1970 in West Pakistan, need not have meant that the people were willing to embrace a new ideology. They had not said yes to socialism, but to its synthesis with democracy and Islam (on the condition that all power remains with the people). Such a synthesis would not have been unprecedented in the history of Islam, since a primary function of Islam had always remained to be the assimilation of alien ideas and beliefs, and their re-evaluation for practical uses in Muslim cultures.

There was no reason to believe that Islam would not do the same for modern ideas and beliefs, such as Western democracy and socialism (in fact, as early as 1920, Iqbal had forewarned the Orientalist R. A. Nicholson, “Islam certainly aims at absorption. This absorption, however, is to be achieved not by territorial conquest but by the simplicity of its teaching, its appeal to the common sense of mankind and its aversion to abstruse metaphysical dogma.”)

The synthesis of ideologies had to occur in the consciences of the individuals. Indeed, that is what happened between 1967 and 1986, but it seems that the intelligentsia failed to notice it due to a “predominantly intellectual culture” (loathed by Iqbal as early as 1926). Hence, the synthesis that occurred was, in the terminology of Iqbal, “an inner synthesis of life”, but unfortunately, it has not been articulated by the intelligentsia to this date.

Mainly due to this failure on part of the intelligentsia, the process of synthesis became tedious, painful and unconscious. First, the country had to withstand the harsh socialistic measures taken by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his first tenure, i.e. 1971-77. Then a certain kind of Islamization was introduced by General Ziaul Haque during his regime, i.e. 1977-1987. Just a year before the end of that regime, it became obvious that all schools of thought, now also including the right-winged conservatives who had earlier played as “B-Team of the Martial Law”, had come to an agreement for a full-scale adoption of Western democracy without any indigenous modification whatsoever.

This brings us to the second concept, i.e. organic unity as a human resource. Organic unity means unity through shared ideals. Obviously, the conscience of the people must have retained something from each experiences through which the society passed collectively. While the intelligentsia failed to synthesize socialism, Islam and democracy, the masses evidently synthesized these diverse experiences at least at an unconscious level. Therefore, the synthesis has to be sought at the level of ideals, even if not in terms of day-to-day reality. In this sense, ideals are those aspirations that form in the depth of our hearts or souls. They are formed through action, and as an aid to action.

Once formed, ideals express themselves in their own way. This may also explain why the histories of Bangladesh and Pakistan, even after their separation in 1971, reveal some striking similarities. It is quite possible that despite being completely independent of each other, as self-respecting sovereign states must be, both have retained some common ideals from their common past – especially when they struggled to shape Muslim nationalism in South Asia.


Akhtar Wasim Dar said...

Very interesting and thoughtful hypothesis, Khurram Sahib.

robert said...


Thank you very much for this article. I'm so happy that I found it today, while searching through your blogs. I'm also glad that I only now discovered it after having progressed through the courses over the past weeks.

All good wishes,