International Research Council for Religious Affairs, Islamabad is a research and training based institute that is striving for interfaith dialogue, tolerance and peace in Pakistan through its constructive activities. For the past three years, the institute has also been conducting training sessions to promote the democratic principles and values in Pakistan by bringing together scholars from different disciplines on a platform to enhance their capacity. In this way, in November and December 2019, three-days workshops titled as “Islam, Democracy and the Constitution of Pakistan: An Alternative Narrative” were conducted at Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore. Different speakers were invited for the training of Scholars. Through these workshops nineteenth scholars were trained. The present workshop was a continuity of previous workshops organized in Islamabad in collaboration with the International Research Council for Religious Affairs, Islamabad and the Council of Islamic Ideology, Islamabad, in which twenty-five scholars were selected for capacity building.
The first day of the workshop consisted on four sessions. The first session began with the recitation of the Quranic Verses. Subsequently, Maulana Tahmid Jan Sahib (IRCRA’s Executive Director and a very enthusiastic and dedicated man) gave a brief introduction of his organization, highlighted the activities performed so far and narrated the objectives of the present workshop. After Maulana Thamid Jan Sahib, IRCRA’s Director Maulana Muhammad Israr Madni Sahib’s speech was precise and thought-provoking. He said that the future of the entire nation is decided by a few elite class people who make decisions sitting in the parliament and five-star hotels and there is no discourse about what is the basic right of a citizen and whether he is getting that right or not… and the main reason for this is that we do not raise our voices for our rights nor do we understand our constitutional institutions. We have to understand it that these are our institutions, made by the nation’s money and they should have to be accountable. The need of the time is, we have to focus on the issues and problems regarding democracy and being together have to solve out the problems.
Lee Wilson, Senior Program Officer of the National Endowment for Democracy, also addressed the participants. Speaking about the introduction of his Foundation, he said that it is a non-profit organization working for the promotion of democracy, human rights and good governance. According to Lee Wilson, democracy in different countries is applied in different forms and changes are made according to the circumstances and expectations, and the system is changing. This was the most beautiful point of his speech
“Mistakes are probable everywhere, there should be space for correction.”
Responding to a question, “Does democracy succeed in establishing peace while it has failed so far?” He said that the atmosphere that has been established is by the virtue of democracy. If there is democracy, then peace will also be established and as an individual, we have to stay away from the activities of violence and extremism and will have to promote dialogue culture.
The second session was titled as “Democracy, dictatorship, and monarchy: A comparative review” in which former law minister barrister Zafarullah Khan was invited. Barrister Sahib spoke on various issues of democracy, religious concerns in relation to democracy and issues regarding the system. According to him, democracy is not a product, it is a vision that people should decide their own affairs. On the question of what has hindered democracy in Pakistan, he said that an obstacle to democracy is the undemocratic mental structure of the people. They think that a strong man will come who will solve their problems. The second hurdle is our religious thinking, which is under the influence of feudalism, monarchy and dictatorship. He further said that the Prophet of Allah did not set any principle of succession. In the case of Saqifah, the objection was not on the Parliament as it was formed according to the culture there. In addition, the barrister also mentioned the regimes of the Fatimid, Safavi and Koramata governments in relation to the Imamat, and also of the Mughal Empire in relation to the monarchy. Furthermore, he said that the objectives resolution was a good example of political unity. It was an intellectual unity that resulted from the consensus of all schools of thought.on difference of openion among scholars, he said it is a blessing, i.e; Imam Abu Hanifah was the teacher and his studentsImam Muhammad and Imam Abu Yusuf disagreed with thier teacher in several places and we have to look at the contention that their disagreement was based on rationality, and knowledge based.
The third session of the workshop was a review of the objections raised by democracy. Khurshid Nadeem Sahib, a columnist and also a member of the Islamic Ideological Council, started his discussion with Hegel’s thesis that human reasoning and tactics lead to questions and then these questions raise more questions. Consequently, critical thinking arises and then critical thinking plays an important role in shaping democratic society as it goes through the evolutionary stages. On the question of the beginning of democracy, he explained that the origin of democracy is of of Greek thought. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle raised questions on democracy that were purely academic and intellectual, and the first book on scholarly politics is Plato’s “Republic.
Regarding the Khilafah, he said that it was not a given system of religion but religious grounds were just that the collective order was established. The Prophet did not nominate anybody because he wanted the principle of “و امرھم شوری بینھم”. Talking on dictatorship, he said that democracy is better than dictatorship because if democracy is the worst, it does not go against the law and order.
The first session of the next day of the workshop was related to international law and treatises and Islamic teachings. Talking about this, Ahmar Bilal Sufi said that whenever an agreement is made, all aspects of it should be considered because the state’s agreement not only binds the state but also binds the citizens to abide by it. Regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act, he said, “This is a violation of the international law as well as India’s own constitution. It is dangerous for secular and democratic India to pass this bill filled with religious hatred, and for us It is very important to raise our voices in opposition that put pressure on India. In response to the question of why Pakistan has not yet become a permanent system and platform under which law-abiding lawyers and scholars from different disciplines are brought together to respond to their shared capabilities in the interest of the nation, Advocate Ahmar Sahib said that it was indeed our misfortune that we could not provide any platform in this regard. I had this in mind and I would try to start working on it with Dr. Qibla Ayaz Sahib, the Chairman of the Islamic Ideological Council.
In the next session, Dr. Ikram-ul-Haq Yasin Sahib provided answers to questions regarding to the Islamic perspective of electing people, Islamization of laws and the role of the Islamic ideological council in Islamization of laws.
On that day, a visit to the “Federal Sharia Court, Islamabad” and “Parliament of Pakistan” was also organized for the participants. Mati-ur-Rahman Sahib, Senior Advisor to the Federal Shariat Court addressed the workshop’s participants. He told that it was established to examine and determine whether the laws of the country comply with Sharia law. Furthermore, he shed light on the structure of the Federal Sharia Council that It consists of eight Muslim judges appointed by the President of Pakistan on the advice of the Chief Justice of the Court, from amongst the serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court or a High Court or from amongst persons possessing the qualifications of High Court judges. In addition, he also briefed the Federal Shariat Court’s powers and decisions so far and provided answers to questions from participants. After the address, the participants were taken to the Federal Shariat Court Library, where refreshment arrangements were also made for them.
Here I would like to mention that all three days, participants were given exciting activities so that they can learn different skills and play their role in building a better society. That day prof, Dr. Qibla Ayaz’s lecture was on the introduction of “Paigham-e-Pakistan” and the role of religious leaders in promoting democracy. Dr. Sahib described the introduction of the message of Pakistan, and its importance, saying that any kind of armed struggle could prove to be detrimental to the future of this country and neither could it solve the problems. The message that Pakistan discourages the use of weapons against its compatriots and enables the state to tackle terrorism and extremism. On the third day, the activities of the last two days were repeated, and the participants were divided into three groups and were asked to present their views regarding their solution, identifying obstacles to democracy.
Former Ambassador of Pakistan, Jalaluddin Sahib, Dr Tahir Malik from National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, and a few participants of workshop presented their views in the closing ceremony and certificates were distributed to the participants for joining this workshop.
I would like to thank the organizers and their team, on behalf of myself and the participants of this workshop, who provided us a platform to meet up, gave us new visions to work on with the skills learned from this platform.