Monthly Archives: July 2008

Dynamics of Change in Islamic Law (III): Grundnorm, a cosmological myth

by Aasem Bakhshi

Please refer to part 1 and 2 for the background.

To effectively address the original Weberian objection i.e. normative pluralism is substantively irrational, it is mandatory to reformulate the problem in concise terms, starting point being that change in Islamic law takes place by means of some interpretive mechanism called Ijtihad. What exactly constitutes it: Is it the interpretation of the textual source ab initio; is it merely a pseudo-clandestine thought experiment to seek out verdicts on issues on which there is no past consensus among jurists; or is it merely a different solution to an old problem, but one which is in sync with contemporary social reality?

Irrespective of the particular theoretical inclination favored, there is no doubt that multiple norms will be generated in any interpretive undertaking; a fact which is amply observed by the term ta’addud al-ahkam in traditional Islamic literature. That this multiplicity of norms gives an irrational character to the law is the contention I am presently trying to analyze.

In my view, basis of this contention can be traced back to Islamic legal history and literature with some effort. After the post-recognition phase of Madhabs (the schools of Islamic Law), Muslims jurists increasingly found it hard to espouse the concept of Ijtihad “proper” through the medium of ifta’a, thereby limiting the response of an independent jurist to the ambit of his own juridical school. At times, some of these jurists resorted to quasi-artificial casuistic methods in order to achieve equity between presumed universality of complete legal paradigm, i.e. Sharia’h, and its practical manifestation when it comes to application of law to facilitate the functions of a society. Most of these casuistic developments – for instance Istihsan (Juristic Preference), Istishab (Presumption of Continuity), Urf (Custom) – in medieval times were arguably instigated by the desire to achieve a rational character of the law, thereby circumventing an almost subjective and probably mistakenly understood and emphasized universality of norms. And if all these developments and the enormous literary genre evolved from them achieved a kind of “practical wisdom” in line with social reality of times, it seemed rationally inconsistent to a modern critical mind.

But there is more to this discourse than casuistry acquiring a contemptuous nuance in Islamic law. Continue reading


Filed under Islam, Law, Religion, Society

NWFP HISTORY 5: Bacha Khan and his legacy

by Yasser Latif Hamdani

Other than Jinnah and to a certain extent Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Bacha Khan is the only politician in Pakistani history to have sustained a following beyond his death. The tall Pushtun – who adopted Non-violence as a creed in a very violent society- is still remembered fondly by the Pushtuns as Fakhr-e-Afghan. In India he is remembered as the Frontier Gandhi for his close association with the Indian leader. In many ways he was more committed (even if at times inconsistently) to the so called Gandhian values of non-violence than Gandhi who was at the end of the day a shrewd politician before a non-violent saint. And yet this is precisely why this great leader of the Pushtuns was not able to achieve much. Continue reading


Filed under Pakistan

A Bangladeshi’s Visit to Pakistan

Fariha  writing on her trip to Pakistan with such heartfelt emotion and sincerity. I must thank my friend AJ for pointing out this excellent piece.

“ Apko kia pata, ke humara dil apke liye kitna rota hai. Jab aap logo ko koi taklif hota hai to humain lagta hain k taklif humain ho raha hai. Bohot pyar karte hai hum aap se. alag ho gaye to kya hua. Bhai to bhai hota hai. Bangladeshi to humare bhai hai.”
Rafe, 60-something, Bus-driver, Lahore

I’ve met people from different parts of the world and traveled to a few places myself. But never, not once, in any of my interactions or travels, have I ever come across a race of people who have made me feel so proud of my nationality: Bangladeshi. But then, I visited Pakistan. I was born in an independent Bangladesh. I’ve never had to struggle to get my voice heard, I was allowed to vote (till quite recently) and I’m allowed to speak my mind. Until my trip to Pakistan, I had never realized how precious all these things are. I had always regarded Pakistan, a distant country, as a bitter chapter in our history. But only after meeting the people did I realize how close we could be and how much my heritage means to them. Never before have I received so much respect for just being Bangladeshi.

Till quite recently, I had never visited Pakistan. Neither had my parents. Since the only Pakistanis I’d met belonged to the educated bourgeoisie class, I had assumed that it was only this select lot who were aware of the atrocities committed in 1971. I had always believed that most Pakistanis believed that Bangladeshis were Kafirs who had let India take them over and regarded us with disdain. Don’t ask me why I thought all of this or what explanation I have for my notions. My notions had stemmed from the prevalent attitude of our pro-liberation buddhijibis, who have, through their own glorifications of our War of Liberation, somehow equated patriotism as anti-Pakistani feeling and instilled that in some of us. In fact, I still know people who think that to be a true patriot you would have to hate Pakistan, with all its institutions and people. Our elders in Bangladesh, somehow always let us think that Pakistanis don’t care about Bangladesh. I’m not blaming them for my ill-conceived ideas. I was partly to blame for judging a whole race simply on the basis of the half-truths I had heard. I am not proud of what I thought. But my recent trip to Pakistan has made me feel proud of who I am and I am proud of my newly acquired views. Though I think that I now face the threat of being termed a ‘paki-lover’ or ‘Rajakar’, I am writing this because I think that our generation needs to know the other side of the story. Continue reading


Filed under Pakistan

Invasion of the sound byte snatchers

Khalid Hasan writing for the Friday Times

Pakistan’s politicians, sportsmen, actors, VIPs – in short anyone who is anyone, or is likely to be anyone in the coming days – are under attack from a new breed of guerrillas, armed not with automatics but with microphones in various colours and sizes that they use as weapons of attack. They don’t demand, “Your money or your life,” as any self-respecting robber or highwayman would before taking one or the other. They simply thrust the microphone in their quarry’s face, sometimes hitting him or her on the chin and on occasion nearly knocking out his or her teeth, and demand that their question be answered. The waylaid one risks life, limb and reputation if he or she declines to provide the sound byte being demanded.

Every day I read, hear or get told that President Pervez Musharraf should be impeached. While I will not be marching from Lahore to Islamabad screaming slogans, I hope that to the list of charges against him will be added the free-for-all he is responsible for providing in the form of more TV channels in the Republic than there are mushrooms in Michigan. The microphone marauders on the prowl operate on behalf of one or the other channel. But what on earth are they looking for? A sound byte, three words that can feed the running strip of “feeta” on their screens, provided the perpetually running commercials leave an inch or two for the “breaking story.” Continue reading


Filed under Media

NWFP HISTORY 4: Faqir of Ipi’s uprising and the Frontier Congress

by Yasser Latif Hamdani

In response to the first three articles, an ANP activist who is quite clearly very confused about history attacked me calling me – get this- a Jamaat-e-Islami agent. I have been called many things- indeed I am supposed to be on the payroll of everyone from CIA to Mossad and even Indian RAW but Jamaat-e-Islami was definitely a first and I was caught off guard. Perhaps the poor fellow was not aware of the history of Jamaat-e-Islami’s vociferous opposition to Pakistan and Jinnah. Jamaat-e-Islami believed that Jinnah and Muslim League were of a “Kemalist” bent of mind and therefore too secular and too westernized to lead the Muslims. And Jamaat-e-Islami’s ideologues were not the only one to suggest that- in agreement with them were the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind, the Dar-ul-uloom Deoband and last but not the least “Khudai Khidmatgars” or the Red Shirts. So for the purposes of this discussion at least, the ANP should find itself in agreement with Jamaat-e-Islami’s angle in 1947.

Let us be clear on some fundamental issues: For the KK and diehard supporters of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, secularism and left-ism are afterthoughts. Their alliance with the Congress was based on a belief (not wholly justified) that the Congress stood for independence. Ghaffar Khan was socially conservative and economically/politically a votary of feudalism. To his credit he never claimed to be anything but a champion of Pushtun identity and Pushtun rights. A progressive he was not, standing instead of Pushtun customs and the status quo of Pushtun tribalism. It was only when the Pakistani state marked an decidedly “Islamic” course that Ghaffar Khan and his family began to associate with Nehruvian secularism and socialism, partly because of their role in the National Awami Party – a truly left wing progressive alliance in Pakistan- which included people from all sides of the 1947 political divide. One of the parties that merged into the NAP was Azad Pakistan Party of the renowned leftist Mian Iftikharuddin – who was a stalwart of the Pakistan Movement. Like any society, Pakistan was re-organizing and re-aligning politically and within the NAP, Ghaffar Khan and his family were arguably the most conservative. Continue reading


Filed under Pakistan

Bravo, Senator Obama

Feisel Naqvi

Islam has room for intelligent people in it so it would be nice if the whackos out there would stop trying to take exclusive possession of shared beliefs

“The United States always does the right thing,” said Winston Churchill, but only “after exhausting every other possibility.”

If the history of the US-Pakistani relationship is anything to go by, the United States certainly seems to have explored every bad option, ranging from supporting dictators to threatening popularly elected leaders to benign neglect. My point though is not to mark all the missed opportunities and all the failed policies, but to note that if Senator Obama is elected, we may finally see a sensible US policy towards Pakistan.

For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, Obama gave a major foreign policy speech a few days ago in which he made the following points. Continue reading


Filed under Pakistan

Loneliness is like Absinthe

Loneliness is like absinthe,
The old potion of poets
Of Paris and its quarters
Only to be captured
In words or paint

Sour as you walk,
Feel these droplets of rain
Harder to swallow
The indomitable taste
When offered
The old pain

And in presence amongst us
Like those wild flowers
Scattered in time,
In an unmarked islands
To witness the old mosaics
Survive you may,
But remains in place,
The old prison Continue reading


Filed under poetry, Writers