We, as Muslims, believe that Islam is a complete code of life which provides its social, economic and political systems. But if we look at Muslim states throughout the centuries we rarely find any social, economic or political system perfectly based upon Islamic ideals. The absence of real Islamic values in the Muslim world, historically speaking, can safely be associated with the Muslim rulers and thinkers who could not adequately acquaint the general masses with the spirit of Islam.  History, both ancient and modern, compels us to conclude that there always has been a dire need of a strong constitutional body for the proper understanding, analysis and interpretation of Islam to make it compatible with the prevailing socio-political realities.  Also, history confirms that almost always there has been a lack of one such ‘strong’ council or body that could have performed the required function properly. In case of Pakistan since 1973 there has been a constitutional body named Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for the above stated purpose. But because of technical and some intellectual lacking the council hasn’t been able to perform the function it was established for. On the contrary, most of the times, it causes social polarization.

Keeping in view the present national and international socio-cultural and religio-political trends we suggest the state of Pakistan to review the purposes, scope and powers of the CII including the qualification for its members.

A journey of Muslim scholarship from Ghazali to Khaldun

If we turn back the pages of history and look into Muslims’ intellectual realms, the prominent names we come across are Imam Ghazali, Al-Mawardi, Al-Farabi, Ibn-e- Timya and Ibn-Khaldun. Interestingly, their contributions have a profound impact on the growth of modern knowledge. But it is also a fact that their ideas, philosophies and interpretation were time bound. They were confined to their specific periods apart from their political affiliations. Also, their work after their times couldn’t flourish due to intellectual stagnation in the Muslim world unlike western societies where they keep their intellectuals and scholars alive by modernizing their ideas according to the needs of the time.

Now let’s have a look at the works of the above towering figures.  Ghazali, who was more a reformer and less a philosopher (A careful examination of his destructions of philosophy compel us to conclude in this way), is, ironically, considered the father of Muslim philosophy. His basic idea was humans’ character building within prescribed religious premises. Al-Mawardi wrote for his own time and merely described the qualities of a ruler and his administrative staff. Al-Farabi, who was the Plato of the tenth century, proposed an ideal state which is, by principle, no different from that of Plato’s utopian state. Ibn-e-Timya is said to be the sole architect of present extremist thinking and anarchist mindset by interpreting Islamic theory in an extremist paradigm. His radical views may be justified by some of the thinkers from Timayan school of thought by incorporating the politics of his age. Last but certainly not the least, Muslim sociologist Ibn-e-Khaldun is widely recognized for his sociological contribution. But there is confusion that we too often regard him as a political thinker which he certainly was not.

So, in this whole intellectual journey of Muslim we can infer that all of the philosophers are either time specific or greatly biased towards their respective rulers. The cherry on the top here is that they work have been widely ignored by the rest of the Muslims world and couldn’t be updated, which made it simply outdated.

Globalization: Challenges and options for modern Muslim theorists

This is the age of Facebook and Twitter where social, political and economic borders have been broken down. And homogenizing forces of globalization are rapidly making the world more and more complex, globalized and cosmopolitan. In this highly integrated, secularized and complex modern world, religions and particularly Islam are facing severe setbacks. In the age of the rise of analytic science, Muslim thinkers need to accurately perceive the challenge of globalism and respond accordingly.

Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Pakistan and UAE are though a part of a world what Ulrich Beck terms as ‘second modernity’, yet they’re unable to become a core part of it. These countries have severe reservations regarding human rights, women empowerment and freedom of expression. Therefore, as a rule, they are incompatible with the rising force of modernity.

There is a wide perception in the western world that Islam is a violent, outdated, inhumane and primitive religion and its practices are simply dangerous for the whole humanity. In fact, Islam is said to be a threat for modern liberal democracy. Hence, it should be wiped out completely from this world.

Therefore, Muslims are left with few options to defend their religion and to revive their status.

The first and foremost, is to utilize the tool of ‘ijtihad’ to re-interpret the ideals of Islam to deal with the existing forces of modernity. Interestingly, Islam is the only religion that has room for human legislation and reinterpretation to make it compatible with the time and space, but ironically it is considered the most orthodox and rigid religion on the planet. Therefore, Muslim thinkers need to come out of the Arabic culture and need to focus on the real spirit of Islam.

The age of sectarian clashes: is Council of Islamic Ideology a workable solution?

Present social instability and political unrest in Muslim world reminds us of the 17th and 18th century Europe when there was a long standing battle between Catholic and Protestants which destroyed their socio-political fabric. Moreover, in order to get out of that socio-political chaos they separated religion from the state affairs. However, there is, theoretically speaking, a visible difference between Christianity and Islam. The later provides comprehensive social and political ideals on the other hand the former lacks it.

Despite the clear message of Islam of brotherhood, unity and discipline, Muslims have been factionalized and fragmented into different sects. They do have their own identities and rigid set of beliefs which is damaging the roots of Muslim identity and brotherhood altogether.  To cater to this complex and horrific dilemma, there is a dire need of constitutional reforms within the Muslim states.

In order to carry out such principle reforms there has always been a need of an acclaimed constitutional body/institution/council but none of the Muslim thinkers draw the comprehensive structure of that body with reference to power politics of the present era. In case of Pakistan, we however, find one such council with the name of Council of Islamic Ideology that was created for the above outlined purposes.

But it could not perform its due functions; on the contrary it has caused social confusion. As most of the time instead of modernizing Islam it pushed the religion back to the medieval ages. It creates confusion for the lay media and public. Any development regarding human rights and especially women empowerment is simply rejected and declared un-Islamic, as a consequence less-educated and overly-emotional segments from Pakistani society get frustrated between religious orthodoxy and modern liberalism. Our CII failed to find out any middle way to make Islam and modern democracy compatible.

We in our humble capacity suggest a framework to create an effective Council of Islamic Ideology for reinterpreting Islamic values. We will start with the qualifications of the members of the council, their functions and finally we will outline a process of their selection.

Qualifications

Traditionally, we rate someone as religious or irreligious on the basis of his/her appearance, which should not be the way to go about it. We need to come out of the shackles of rotten traditions to revive Islam in its actual spirit. To achieve this goal, following are some suggested qualifications for selection of the members of the Council of Islamic ideology .

a.       The member should have done PhD in Islamic studies and should also  have  a  degree in any other social science subjects preferably from abroad

b.      He should have a command over three languages Arabic, Urdu and English

c.       He should be well acquainted with the modern world and concept of Ijtihad.

1.      Process of Selection:

Keeping in view the sensitive nature and extraordinary importance of the issues and this council we need to devise a competitive method, free from nepotism and biases for the selection of its members.

a.       There should be an advertisement asking for application in newspapers and on TVs so that all the eligible candidates can apply

b.      There should be  a comprehensively designed test for the evaluation of knowledge and skills of the applicants

c.       There should then be  a panel interview, consisting of renowned religious scholars, social scientists and psychologist  including the Chief Justice of Pakistan

*A member should be selected for 10 years.

2.      Functions:

a.       The council should have actual say in the legislative matters of the state

b.      They must  use the tool of  Ijtihad to bring a balance between Islam and modernity with regularity and logicality

c.       By using their knowledge and skills they must find out some common grounds in order to reduce the gaps amongst different sects

Concluding Remarks:

To conclude, whenever there has been any discussion to revive Islam, we show dependence on individual personalities. But now it’s time to realize that the importance of institutions is pivotal in the modern world. This is why we manage to suggest a comprehensive framework for the formation of a model institution that could comprehend, analyze and interpret Islam to make it compatible with the challenges of globalization and modernization.