Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It seems that for every step we take forward, we take two steps back. Pakistan has been unsuccessfully struggling with the concept of land reform for decades. As other Muslim societies move forward, ours is still debating whether or not the concept is Islamic.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s recent condemnation of the MQM land reform bill is unsurprising, but frustrating.

Keeping in mind that our constitution is not secular and religious hurdles to legislation will always be present, religious debates over certain issues have outlasted our tolerance for them. As long as our religious parties are populated mostly by political stakeholders, rather than Islamic scholars, their statements will be difficult to swallow.

It may well be true that Islam - narrowly defined as what was practiced during the lifetime of the prophet and ignoring all the religious scholarship that has been undertaken since - does not put a cap on how much wealth an individual can own. However, in the same vein, “Islam” in such a narrow context also does not have an opinion on modern farming practices. Or the MQM. Or feudalism in South Asia.

The list of things that Islam does not expressly forbid simply because they may not have existed 1,500 years ago is endless. It is vital for the JUP, or any political party for that matter, to advance beyond their present rhetoric and allow for deeper and broader interpretations of religious law. Simply saying that a law does not exist is not enough; certainly not when millions of Pakistanis are bonded labourers or languishing in the personal prisons of wealthy landowners.

Unfortunately, a resistance to either the bill or its detractors is likely to be turned into a brawl with bias and name-calling from both sides. The debate about whether Pakistan was intended as a secular or Islamic state rarely progresses beyond the simplistic allegations of “what Jinnah wanted” and turns ugly far too quickly.

With our (lack of) land reforms preventing economy or society from progressing, it is high time that creative dialogue is initiated on the subject. Until then, it is likely that the discussion about vitally important developments, such as breaking the backbone of feudalism, will remain mired in accusations of being either extremist or godless.

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