After one year of dormancy, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) came back to life with the appointment of a new council and a chairman by President Mamnoon Hussain on November 3, 2017. The previous council, chaired by the much spotlighted MNA of JUI (F), Molana Muhammad Sherani, had attracted unprecedented public outcry for its controversial statements on women and child marriage. On the prima facie, the image of the council has been tarnished not just nationally but also on the international front as well. Western media relished on covering these controversial and ultra-conservative pronouncements of CII on all things women. So the newly appointed council, unlike its predecessors, is left with little room to maneuver the legislations it deems repugnant to the injunctions of Islam, and to freely move its tentacles in the polity of Republic. However, the appointment of its new chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz has been hailed as a step in the positive direction both by the left and right wings of the society. An erudite academician known for his moderate views on Islam and society, Dr Qibla Ayaz is expected to pull the council back from shambles to a position in which it can work in cahoots with the legislature and not become an impediment to it.

Founded in 1961, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is a twenty member constitutional body that advises the government on religious aspects of law and society. The council is mandated to bring laws in conformity with the injunctions of Islam but its recommendations are not binding. A major concern that is raised by the critics of the council is that, in a freely elected democratic polity, should there be space for CII to operate? Is CII thwarting the passage of progressive legislations? These are delicate questions and have been debated a lot in the past. When seen through the prism of women development, the council has proved as a hurdle for passage of new bills. But when seen through the lens of myriad of other exigent issues faced by Pakistan, the council still is very much pertinent. To put things in context, the CII can play a pivotal role in addressing the plethora of problems ubiquitous in Pakistan. The Council derives its legitimacy from the Objective Resolution 1949. The resolution, among many other principles (that are also debatable), laid emphasis on the right of the citizens to democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and most importantly, social justice.

Any society replete with social justice on all levels faces the larrup of intolerance, anxiety and eventually, anarchy - Pakistan is a case in point. Even after 70 years of its existence, Pakistan has not managed to dispense a justice system that is timely or just. It has predominantly served the interest of the opulent while the destitute have been left at the mercy of Jirgas and Panchayats. The CII , in its mandated scope, should cross the Rubicon in advising the legislature and executive to uphold social justice in the country – a dictum which is also enunciated by Islam.

Among other responsibilities, role of CII is of essence in creating a counter narrative to curb the growing extremism in Pakistan, especially in youth. CII in collaboration with Higher Education Commission and Ministry of Interior can work together to create a new narrative embedded in the ethos of Islam and Ideology of Pakistan, and embellished with the values of tolerance, inclusiveness and plurality. The recent saga of Faizabad lockdown characterized by the succumbing of government to the demands of the protesting political party has set a dangerous precedent for religious parties to hold the capital under siege and disrupt civic life. It was not only a challenge to the writ of the state but also a test of its institutions: in this case, situation escalated to the extent that state had to compromise a lot for its writ. In any case, the country needs a strategy to counter any such future confrontation. In my opinion, the CII , as an independent body, can help devise a framework for religious parties based on a consensus to avoid any future situation in which state’s writ is being compromised – albeit dharna culture has taken root in Pakistan’s political fabric.

Needless to say, the stakes are high for the new CII and so are the expectations from it. Nevertheless, how much it delivers, depends entirely on the space it has and the extent to which it is willing to oppugn these pervading problems.