Why Imran Khan’s Invocation of Medina is Deeply Regressive

When politicians fail to deliver basic promises related to food, shelter and security, they normally turn to religion. Promising an illusory hope, they think that the dope of religion will help people forget their daily struggles of keeping their body and soul together. People get carried away for a while but then when confronted with the very real issues of hunger and education, they start reminding the leaders the promises they had made. The current leadership is replaced with one another one and new leadership makes another set of promise, and the circle continues.

But what is mightily interesting is that the new prime minister of Pakistan has started using religion right at the start of his career. Perhaps, he already knows that he will not be able to deliver on issues of employment and corruption which he had made into the central focus of his election campaign. A mark of a good leader is his foresight and perhaps Imran, knowing fully well that he will eventually fail, has started opiating his people right from the very beginning!

His promise to bring the welfare state of Medina to Pakistan has made the Muslim world sit up and take notice. Commentators, even seemingly progressive ones within Pakistan, have come out in total defence of Imran Khan and his concept of New Pakistan. Only time will tell if Imran Khan lives up to his expectations.

However it is his invocation of Medina which should be the focus of critical scrutiny now. The important question to ask is whether any nation, including a Muslim nation, can have as its role model, not a country which is modern and progressive but an oasis of 7th century Arabia. Not just Imran Khan but legions have invoked this part of the earth and there must be a reason for doing so.

From revivalists to the modern Islamists, all have revisited and reconstructed the city of Medina to suit their own political program. While for Maududi, this Medina was the start point of a triumphalist Islam, where the state first starts enforcing the Sharia, for Husain Ahmad Madani, the Medina charter was the best guarantee for minority rights, especially for the Muslims of India. For Imran, Medina becomes the modern welfare state where the rights of weak will be protected. But what is this Medina charter that we are so fond of referring and in what way can this fulfil our present requirement?

One of the first impression that one gets from the Medina charter is that it is overflowing with the notion of blood money. Now the very concept of blood money is problematic. A murderer can go scot free if he has the ability to pay blood money. The whole idea is that if one has money, then he can get away with anything. There are scores of example in Saudi Arabia where people, especially from poor migrant communities, are forced to accept blood money so that they can write off their case in courts. The very existence of the concept of blood money is predicated on class and status asymmetry within society: those who have money will be able to pay blood money and thus rescued from the clutches of the law while those who do not will have to face the music. The very notion therefore flies in the face of modern notion of equality before law. One is not quite sure, if in the deeply unequal society of Pakistan, this is the model which needs to be followed.

Another clause within the charter of Medina relates to women. Complaints of individual women will be taken up only with the consent of their families or respective kinship groups, according to the so called revolutionary charter. Historians have rightly noted that the charter did not want to disturb the existing social balance of forces which treated women as chattel. Now it is up to Pakistan to decide whether it wants to continue the same tradition and treat women as the property of men and communities or whether they want to treat women as individuals in their own right. We hear so much from Muslim apologists that Islam gave revolutionary rights to women. While this may be hyperbole, Muslim societies can always chart a new course in terms of gender equality through modern jurisprudence. What one finds disconcerting is that western educated leaders Imran Khan also talk of the Medina model knowing fully well that it will take women of Pakistan into dark ages. Women in Pakistan have fought hard battles to win some of their existing freedoms and they should not take lightly the supposedly pious words of their leader.

The fledgling Medina state has at times been eulogised as a shining example of pluralism and co-existence. While pluralism is certainly a positive thing, a closer scrutiny of the charter of Medina reveals that it pluralism is not a principle which should be followed for its intrinsic merit. Rather pluralism in this case is dependent on the supremacy of the Muslims. Muslims have been given exalted place within the charter and it is their version that is sought to be imposed on other inhabitants of Medina. One clause within the charter says that all Muslims are friends to the exclusion of all non-Muslims while another says that a Muslim should not help a non-Muslim. It is this kind of Islamist exclusionism which informs the incipient society in Medina. But then perhaps, this is what appeals to those in Pakistan. A look at the oath of office of the prime minister tells us that Pakistan has no place for any other religion and that the whole oath is designed to reinforce the concept of Islamic supremacism.

 The prime minister of Pakistan has to believe in the ‘unity and oneness of Allah, the books of Allah, the Quran being the last of them, the Prophethood of Muhammad as the last of the Prophets and that there can be no Prophet after him, the Day of Judgment, and all the requirements and teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah’. Now if this is the oath that the prime minister takes, then it is understandable why Medina would continue to appeal. After all, the first experiment to establish Islam took place in Medina and the first country which got created specifically in the name of Islam was Pakistan. As Venkat Dhulipala suggests in his book, Pakistan was indeed imagined as a new Medina. The similarities perhaps do not end here. Islamic Medina was grafted on an earlier city which had its own code and style of life. Similarly, Islamic Pakistan was foisted on a population which had for centuries followed their own customs and traditions. After Islam came into the scene, both places got changed beyond recognition.  

The need to create a welfare state within a feudal Pakistan is most welcome. But a welfare model should not hark back to seventh century Arabia where there was no welfare but just charity and no conception of individual, minority or gender rights. If at all, Imran Khan is serious about establishing a welfare state, he should look at modern solutions like the ones being experimented in Western Europe.

Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com

Courtesy: New Age Islam



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