Imam’s rebuke to clerics
By Kunwar Idris: Dawn, June 10, 2007
MAULANA Abdul Rashid Ghazi, deputy chief and spokesman of the Lal Masjid-Hafsa-Faridia establishment, has called upon Gen Pervez Musharraf to abdicate in favour of the then visiting imam of Kaaba, anoint him as Amirul Momineen and let him govern Pakistan under the laws of Sharia with the help of a consultative council of the ulema.
The suggestion may sound frivolous but it is hard to imagine the Lal Masjid clerics jesting. Their continuing disdain and defiance of the authority of state and the intimidating visits of their students to music shops, revellers at wedding parties and to the capital’s premier hospital to investigate blasphemy charges against some Christian nurses show their relentless belligerence, and not a jocular streak in their pursuits or behaviour.
To vindicate their right to enforce the Sharia in Pakistan (they want to settle for nothing less in bargaining with the government ministers and Chaudhry Shujaat Husain) they have now chosen the wrong person to look up to. Though a scholar of some distinction who is respected for his precise and emotional recitation of the Holy Quran, Sheikh Al-Sudais is, after all, only a paid employee of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia where even the monarch is content to be recognised as the servant of the holy places of Islam.
Sheikh Al-Sudais, thus, could have no pretensions to being the commander of the faithful nor would he be accepted as such by the general body of Muslims in Pakistan or elsewhere. The kingdom of which he is a subject allows public expression and enforcement only of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam (its practitioners are in a minority in Pakistan) and that too as interpreted by the government.
The other doctrinal schools — the Hanafi, Shaafi and Maliki — and the Shias are left out. The Shias who make up nearly 10 per cent of the population feel particularly sequestered for the Jafari fiqh does not even form part of the kingdom’s judicial structures nor are they included in the royal consultative councils.
The Arabian peninsula comprising many independent regions was unified by the puritanical ideas of Ibn Abd al-Wahab and the combat strength of the Ibn Saud clan both hailing from Najd and campaigning together for well over a century. The combination of this austere religious creed and raw power has endured and remains the hallmark of present-day Saudi Arabia. Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud captured Riyadh in 1902 and, riding a wave of conquests that followed, expelled the Sharifian Hashemite ruler of Hejaz and founded the Saudi dynasty in 1924.
Against this background the imam of Kaaba had no option but to react to the flattering suggestion of the Lal Masjid clerics with a rebuke. Enforcing Sharia, he told them, was a business of the state and not theirs. The imam then went on to beseech the Almighty to save President Musharraf from the machinations of the envious and the wicked so that he and King Abdullah together could defeat the forces of Islamic extremism and exterminate the enemies of Islam.
Overwhelmed by a public reception that could well rival the pope’s in the Philippines or Brazil, the imam described Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as citadels of Islam. In a narrow liturgical sense perhaps they are but, woefully, international humanitarian organisations widely and frequently disseminate their findings that the freedom of thought, conscience and religion in both countries is severely curtailed by the laws of the state and arbitrary decrees of the clergy. In today’s Saudi Arabia, the government and the ulema blend into one harmonious whole. In Pakistan they are sometimes in cahoots and sometimes in conflict.
Truly speaking, if there is a country today that comes closest to being called the citadel of Islam it is Iran. It has its own version of Amirul Momineen in Ayatollah Khamanaei, a consultative council of Islamic scholars and an elective parliament. The women are compelled to observe a code of behaviour but are free to join any profession alongside men. But this statement carried any further would open doors to a controversy that is best avoided.
Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, like every other country of the world, Muslim or otherwise, are territorial states each having its own form of government, laws and national interests which are not entirely linked to religious beliefs. If beliefs were to weigh, Indonesia and Malaysia wouldn’t be so closely and profitably involved in Asean or Saudi Arabia in the Arab League while all three are content to pay only lip service to the moribund OIC.
The people here showered flowers and affection on Imam Al-Sudais because he came from the land of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and leads prayers in the House of God there. While the welcome he received cannot be taken as an endorsement of the ideas and values that the present-day Saudi kingdom represents, the imam’s advice must be heeded.
The litmus test would be whether the Lal Masjid clerics submit to the his view that implementing the rule of Sharia is not their job, and that they must not reduce a place of worship to a centre of mischief where the students, especially veiled women, are used as pawns in their political ambition.
As schools of thought go, clerics Aziz and Rashid are closest to the imam’s doctrine. Maybe, at the end of the day, they are left wondering whether the imam came only to convey this dampening message from the king and clergy of Saudi Arabia. Whatever the purpose of the imam’s visit and the authority behind his view, the people of Pakistan have the right to hope that their dithering government would now feel fortified enough to enforce its writ at least at the centre of its power