By Ishtiaq Ahmed
Benazir Bhutto’s book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West (London: Simon and Schuster, 2008) published posthumously is very different from her Daughter of the East, in which, besides saying some sensible things, she freely boasted, and exaggerated her paternal ancestors’ landed property and high station in Sindhi feudal society.
This time round, we meet a woman who is devoted to her idea of reconciliation between Islam, democracy and the West. Many years ago, I presented her my first book (which was also my doctoral dissertation), The Concept of an Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan (Frances Pinter, London, 1987), through her close adviser at that time, Fakhar Zaman, the Punjabi writer and intellectual.
There is no doubt she read it thoroughly and carefully, though it is not referred to in her book under discussion. I had argued that it is possible to derive an argument for the most unenlightened, as well as the most progressive, state model by selectively quoting the sacred sources and early Islamic history, but that in the modern period at some point Islam and the state will have to be separated in practice if democracy is to prevail and consolidate.
Her thesis, on the other hand, is that her selection of the sacred sources and pristine Islamic history is the correct representation of the Islamic ethos, while all the fundamentalist and extremist versions that are around are distortions of true Islam. She believes that in practice too Islam and the state can be interdependent, without democracy suffering injury.
In any event, Benazir Bhutto’s book is an admirable exercise in arguing that Islam and democracy are reconcilable. With the help of a team of researchers and advisers, especially Husain Haqqani, Ms Bhutto proceeds to demonstrate that the core spirit of Islam and the Quran is democratic.
She quotes verses from the Quran, Hadiths (sayings and doings) of the Prophet and examples from the way the pious caliphs were chosen to lead the pristine Muslim community, to demonstrate that Islam prescribes freedom of choice and thinking and tolerance for difference of opinion. Continue reading