Powered by UITechs
Get password? Username Password
Menu << Go Back Home New Articles Popular Articles Top Rated Articles Submit an Article
Bringing Change and Transforming the Public Sphere in Pakistan: Politics in Pakistan's Democratic Transition and Consolidation in the Future
Author/Source: Muzaffar K. Awan  Posted by: admin
Hits: 7895 Rating: 0 (0 votes) Comments: 0 Added On: Thursday, May 9, 2013 Rate this article

By Muzaffar K. Awan, Grand Rapids Michigan, USA

Similar to other Islamists in the several parts of the Muslim world, Pakistani Islamists have also used intolerant and exclusivist rhetoric. They have abused religion in a heavy-handed manner as the dominating tool of their political ideology and have confined religious concepts and values to certain parties and groups, nationalizing, modernizing, Islamizing and politicizing them. Pakistani Islamists have also envisaged taking over the state and using it to socially engineer a top-down Islamist transformation in society through state centralism and or militarism.

Three issues have been central to Pakistan's political development over the decades: first, Islam and Islamist's relationship to the state, second, democracy and third, civil-military relationship. These issues have been separate and yet interdependent, as they have unfolded in tandem with shaping Pakistan's politics and its civil society. In the 1980s, Islamists supported the military's drive for power and suppression of the democratic forces. Since 1988, the military, Islamist forces, and democratic parties have cooperated and competed with one another, seeking power and position in defining the rules of the game. The complexity of the interactions between the three actors during the decade of civilian rule (1988-99) precluded the institutionalization of democracy and facilitated the return of the military to power in 1999. General Pervez Musharraf's regime had also been no exception to this trend. Its secular military rule proved untenable and had to rely on Islamist forces to manage civilian-military relations.


The case of Pakistan has been instructive in what it reveals about the changing role of Islamic factors in determining the balance of power between civil-military relations, and how democracy -Islam - military-state relationships – are to influence one another, deciding how Pakistani politics will unfold from this point forward.


With Pakistan’s track record of assassinations, military coups, corruption allegations and much more, leading the way to Pakistan’s nascent and shaky democracy defying every prediction, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), having come to power in February 2008, has by hook or crook managed to complete a full five- year term in office. This is still history making in the continuation of   this feeble democratic process and says something about a country that for more than half of its existence has been ruled by the military.  It has endured national affairs through sham democracy even in times of civilian rule. No previously elected government in Pakistan’s history ever survived five year term. Indeed, some of the PPP government’s accomplishments, despite all the flaws, are noteworthy.  To give it some credit, the government did take several steps to institutionalize democracy. Notably, it brought in amendments to cleanse military interventions in the constitution, reducing the powers of the president, restoring the executive supremacy of the prime minister, and gave the provinces more power. In the case of Pakistan’s relationship to India, there have been small but positive indications of improvements due to the recent relaxation of visa regulations and trade agreements. But as the country prepares for the upcoming elections on May 11, the PPP, having spent most of its term looking over its own shoulders to safeguard itself from imagined and real threats, has little else to show off on governance.

Militarism and militancy represented as a mindset that has bred since the earliest days after the creation of Pakistan (starting with President Ayub Khan, continued by Yahya Khan, Zia-al-Haq and most recently Musharraf). The Islamist’s success in instituting many assumptions in popular political culture and framing key debates in an Islamist frame of reference eventually weakened the grip of secular politics in Pakistan, contributing first to the fall of the Ayub Khan regime (1958-69), the tragic conflict that led to the creation of Bangladesh as a separate nation in 1971, and ultimately to the collapse of Prime Minister Zulfiqar AIi Bhutto's experiment with socialism (1971-1977). The Islamist vision became somewhat more secure in the state during the Zia ul Haq era (1977-88). This period witnessed further the Islamization of laws, public policy, and popular culture, producing a unique case of systematic propagation of Islamism.   The Zia regime embraced the Islamist vision of state and society and used it not only to shore up state power by ending its war of attrition with Islamism, but also to expand its own powers domestically as well as regionally. The Mullah-Military alliance provided even further legitimacy to military rule which justified its suppression of democratic forces by claiming to build a so-called Islamic order. The alliance between Islamism and military rule produced temporary stability, but was ultimately fraught with too many inconsistencies and divergent interests of its key actors to survive.

In August 1988, within months of dissolution of assemblies by Zia ul Haq, the ultraconservative ruler died in a mysterious plane crash. It also ended the formal alliance between Islamists and the state.  With the autocratic Islamo-military ruler gone, a new hope for democracy’s revival sprang among politicians who were either waiting on the sidelines in self-exile or were barred from contesting election. With the return of democracy and the growing power of civilian politics the military and Islamists confronted diverse and divergent interests in a changing political scene. Since 1988 Islamists, politicians, and generals had sought to manage relations between Islam and the state. The continuous negotiations, debates, and confrontations between them had changed the nature of both Islamism and Pakistani politics.

Then onwards, it had seemed like a game of musical chairs between Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Both their governments could not complete the stipulated five-year terms, after being ousted on allegations of corruption, deteriorating law and order and a host of other reasons.

In the1988 election, the PPP gained 94 seats out of the 207 and Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan’s first female prime minister. However, the euphoria was short-lived as her government was ousted in 1990 by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on charges of corruption and failure to maintain law and order.

In 1990, a general election was held   again and an Islamic Democratic Alliance Party, headed by Nawaz Sharif, emerged victorious. Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister, but he resigned in 1993 in the wake of a power struggle between himself and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Another election was held in October 1993 that saw Benazir Bhutto making an other comeback despite allegations that her government faced dismissal over corruption charges leveled against her and her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Strife in the Sindh province, a stand off with the Supreme Court, and the death of Benazir Bhutto’s brother Murtaza Bhutto in a ‘police encounter’ also factored in to the dismissal of her government by President Farooq Leghari. Murtaza Bhutto’s controversial death benefited Nawaz Sharif in the election later held in 1997 as it had turned public opinion against Benazir Bhutto her husband. 

However, Nawaz Sharif could not stay much longer in power after his conflicts with the Supreme Court and the military became public knowledge. After dismissing Jahangir Karamat from the position of the army chief and installing Pervez Musharraf in the former’s stead in 1998, Sharif also had a falling out with the latter that staged a coup and took on power in October 1999.

Pervez Musharraf took on the position of the country’s president in 2001. He initially seemed “progressive” by analysts.  Thereafter, Musharraf agreed to partake in the U.S. war on terror without rational and constructive discussions (that eventually and unfortunately also became Pakistan’s war on terror).  With the poor handling of mutual interests and ties between the United States and Pakistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001   attacks, Musharraf’s reputation began to take a nosedive.

Musharraf also became highly unpopular in the latter part of his dictatorial rule. The killing of Akbar Bugti in 2006, the sacking of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Red Mosque incident and the imposition of emergency in the country in November 2007 all marked the end of his dictatorial rule. Rising unrest in the country and the lawyers’ movement to reinstate the deposed judges turned public opinion increasingly against him.

The country’s media, which had seen significance progress in the first few years of Musharraf’s rule, experienced a number of instances where their freedom was curbed. Moreover, during the same time, Benazir Bhutto made a comeback with speculations regarding a deal with Musharraf. Later, Nawaz Sharif also joined her in hopes of making a coalition government with the PPP. Bhutto’s return to Pakistan was marked by a botched assassination attempt on her life.  In spite of these life threatening attacks, she held a number of public meetings where she spoke on the lack of security in the middle of apparent threats to her life.

However, the former two times Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who many considered charming and popular despite the corruption allegations, was assassinated in December 2007. Her death sent shock waves across the nation and pressures further heightened on Musharraf, who subsequently held the 2008 general elections.

In the wake of Bhutto assassination, the PPP swept the largest number of seats in the National Assembly and brought in the then recently-widowed Asif Ali Zardari as the party’s co-chairman. Yusuf Raza Gilani took oath as the prime minister in an emotionally charged session of the National Assembly and Zardari later took office as the country’s president.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s early reluctance to reinstate judges sacked by his military predecessor Pervez Musharraf ensured that when Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary was eventually restored, the government was already locked in a debilitating battle with the Supreme Court, giving rise to damaging news that the judiciary was a proxy for the army. The government’s attempts to reclaim foreign policy from the military sent its relations with the United States on a roller coaster ride, while ties with India plunged further after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and still desperately needed to recover fully.

Pakistan’s   economy has been in shambles, in large part due to flawed policies not only over the last five-years but also over the decades, and also owing to the terrible security climate and the over-all uncertainty in the country.  The government has unsuccessful in shaking off   its reputation for corruption. And it was simply beyond its capacity to rein in militant groups — born out of the military’s pact with Islamist extremists — that have ferociously turned inward on Pakistan’s own citizens.

The army has been living down the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan.  However, if there was no coup, it could have been because the country has undergone so much chaos that the military would rather let politicians take all the blame for it. The PPP could, with its own justifications (and even correctly), accuse the Musharraf military regime for its failures. After the country’s first democratic transition —for which the humiliated Musharraf has oddly enough but boldly returned from self exile wanting to participate in the upcoming elections - the weight of people’s expectations will fall squarely on the next government after the May election. The political party or group that comes to power will have to deliver, or risk damaging Pakistan’s tiny roots of democracy.

Civil-Military Relationship Imbalance in Pakistan

There is no clear sign that any concerted efforts are underway to change that ingrained military mindset in the near future.  For decades, psychological war tools have been deployed repeatedly in civil-military relations, in U.S.-Pakistani relations and in dealing with internal policy critics. All this has become worse since the time of Zia-ul-Haq, post 9/11 and to the present. The story presently makes many Pakistani intellectuals; the US think tanks and the Western officials discuss a needed new doctrine instead of continuing to dwell on pressures about the continued presence of non-state actors in Pakistan.

Following 9/11, and even most recently, Pakistan’s military leaders have used public relations and media as a substitute for actual policy change. Taking the example of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, and instead of ever seriously checking out that possibility, General Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues simply used media stories to suggest that bin Laden was either dead or sick or in Afghanistan, as if that would solve the problem.

To begin with, the U.S. and Musharraf jointly made blunders and a wrong deal with each other back in 2001 following 9/11. Having pressured Musharraf on a phone call, "You are either with us or against us," made him accept (without any rational discussions and/or strategic mutual planning) all the seven points, set before him as demands, by Colin Powell. This was the start of a disaster for the world that in retrospect amazes all logical thinkers and has been criticized since in Pakistan and the West. The U.S. basically gave away everything to Musharraf (disbursing billions of dollars in various forms of aid over the past decade for poor level of support they received in return.) as a military dictator of Pakistan. [1]

The Pakistani military half-heartedly participated in a war against terrorism, being quite uncooperative when it came to Afghanistan since Pakistan has had its own strategic military interests in Afghanistan which have not been compatible with U.S.  Interests. In fact, the Taliban resurges would not have been possible without the explicit Pakistani support.

 Pakistan had gotten military hardware and elevated Pakistan to the status of a close American ally in the war against terror while the outcomes have not been satisfactory for the U.S. and for Pakistan. To this day, militants are ruling parts of northwest frontier province of Pakistan while the Afghan Taliban still control almost all of the Afghan territory except Kabul. Despite the unwarranted bloodshed of innocent victims and ongoing economic strife, the Pakistani military has not been able to accomplish much in terms of gaining control against the Pakistani Taliban and their supporters. 

However, post 9/11 and politically, Musharraf had strengthened his own dictatorial control of Pakistan and strengthened the military hardware. The U.S.  had provided him with the funds for the security fight. Musharraf  became politically, militarily and personally power-drunk  as a dictator bringing about the destruction of political institutions in Pakistan; taking leading politicians and sending them to exile, and then ripping their political parties apart, violating the constitution of Pakistan and gaining self-centered advantages in the political process. He repeatedly broke the law without any one stopping him from damaging Pakistan’s evolving political structures. Ultimately, the Pakistanis themselves stood up to him bringing his downfall.

When Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani took over as the army chief in late 2007, he seemed to understand the need for a change. Some even believed that the end of 2008 completed his new military doctrine. From the surface, the appearance of change may have seemed as a positive development but it was clearly not enough as it turned out later on.

To the serving and most retired military generals, India still remains the eternal enemy and “cutting India down to size” with the help of non-state actors remains a viable strategy for Pakistan even if the people of Pakistan have had it and would like to live in peace and harmony with all their neighbors including India. In any case, the media story regarding the change in doctrine was planted in the view of many. The military’s own intellectuals later had denied any change. The Pakistani military ever looking away from India is still a bit nonsensical.

The military planted such a story in the media to denote one opinion within the army. We do hope, however, that sooner than later the army would learn as to what can and should be done in the real world of today as opposed to what they would like to do or have continued to do. Unlearning past clichés for the military is difficult but it certainly needs to be done for Pakistan’s own sake at this point in time.

Pakistan definitely needs to change its doctrine of military superiority within the Pakistani civil society and state.  Until that happens, any change in the military doctrine will be insufficient and ineffective in changing the country’s direction and road to internal and regional peace. The military has the right to give views; opinions and inputs but the nation must determine its own priorities as a whole. Pakistan has been falling terribly behind in education. Its economy is underperforming and has reached the lowest ebb. The entrenched terror and conflicts of which Pakistan has become a part and parcel of are largely responsible for this unbearable and chaotic situation. Hyper-nationalist rhetoric, often preached by the military, must give way to rational discourse about serious issues and solving of serious problems. The military must understand the benefits of creating a partnership with the people and giving them ownership of national writ, security and sovereignty.

Underperforming Pakistani politicians have been a problem in a civil society that has been turning apolitical and Pakistan has still a powerful military. Unless politicians improve their performance, the military will remain dominant and supreme. However, democratic transition has been very weak and slow.  It will take time to gain public supremacy. A civil-military genuine dialogue between the serving military generals, retired military officials, the civilians, politicians and intellectuals is a must with the army avoiding to infiltrate the civilian [participants] through its agents.  The dialogue should take place confidentially while out of the media’s sight.

The general headquarters’ psychological war operatives are making it impossible for civilians to create national consensus against non-state actors when these non-state actors are now increasingly becoming an existential threat to Pakistan itself have often supported Islamist and hyper-nationalist elements within the media.

The military has a pool of its own retired officials who are intellectuals.  The military is bound to grapple with serious problems at home and the region.  It urgently needs to enter into a new and peaceful relationship with India.  It is no longer enough to do old things more efficiently; the rules of the military’s games have changed in the region. The army needs to rethink many of the larger strategic issues — allowing trade with India to move really ahead was certainly a dramatic step in the right direction. The Pakistan’s military, however, needs to do a lot more and very soon for national/regional reconciliation and peace making.

A new military doctrine must stem from the process of defining national interests. The society and the parliament, not the military alone, must redefine those interests. The army still considers itself the sole arbiter of national interest. The debate must shift from just how can the process of setting the military priorities right be launched, given the fact that the parliaments have almost always had been failing to stand up to the military on security, strategic and foreign policy issues. Civilian leadership in setting strategic priorities is still a long way off. The military’s hegemony of the realm of discussion and debate must change. Criticism of the army’s decisions is not and should not be construed as opposition to the institution of the army. The national debate on foreign policy and the way it is conducted must change before civilians can assert themselves.  The problem we have is that there are too many instruments of intimidation against those who simply seek to redefine national interests from within the government.

In Pakistan, the process has been short circuited for a very long time. Certain meaningless beliefs have been created. Anyone saying we do not need to install a pro-Pakistan regime in Afghanistan but rather stay as friends with whichever regime is in power [in that country] is immediately branded as an anti-Pakistan activity. There has been little room for diversity of opinions about the U.S. and India .The nationalist discourse glorifies some terrorists, insisting that they be only called militants, and those who want to oppose all terrorists are often oddly and strangely described as foreign agents.

This manner of discussion and labeling must end for genuine and logical discussions and for real civilian supremacy to develop and prevail. The military has a respected place in the nation but it cannot be the only respected institution. It doesn’t help when the military goes around castigating anyone who questions its own formula as anti-Pakistani. The parliament must realize this and must take the bull by the horn. Theoretically, no military force has voluntarily surrendered its power or allowed constructive debates thus far.

Turkish and Indonesian Experience from Military Rule to Democracy                                                           

How did Turkey and Indonesia overcome their own civil-military imbalance? How can we replicate that in Pakistan and other democratizing Muslim nations? It took Turkey many decades to overcome the civil-military relationship imbalance. Faith based civil societal transformation (not faith-based politics) in Turkey has been increasingly seizing worldwide attention. How do we see Islam in Turkey today?           

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                What are our Turkish brethren pleased with, and what are they worried about? Of course no nation is politically or democratically perfect.  Turkey still has problems of its own within its own politics and culture. Yet it is only fair to say that the Turkish Republic and public sphere has had a much healthier interaction and experience with democracy in the Islamic cultural context. Many Turkish folks and outsiders (like Musharraf and his like-minded military and autocratic predecessors) would readily say that Turkey owed all this change to Ataturk and his ultra-secularist and nationalist reforms. But, Turkish masses today and many intellectuals like Mustafa Akyol (author of a brilliant and recent book) [2] argue that they in Turkey actually and truly owe its Islamo-democratic homeostasis to the softening and reconciliation of Ataturk’s hard secular tradition, brought about by men such as Adnan Menderes of the’ 1960s, Turgut Ozal of the ’1980s and presently Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey over the last decade.


The mainstream Islamic view in Turkey today is at peace with the secular (soft) (not the secularist-hard) state, and how this came to be is a curious and interesting story that Mustafa Akyol clearly related in his book[2]. Nursi and Gulen faith-based movements over the decades have also contributed indeed by transforming the Turkish civil society in parallel with Islam-democratic homeostasis rooted in Ottoman later years and the works of the Muslim scholars and politicians named here. 


The military in Turkey, to begin with, has had a different relationship with its people.  It had initially promoted the Turkish ultranationalist ideology.   After 1983, the Turkish military created a new constitution and new parties. Even then, for close to two decades the military’s meddling in politics continued .The generals used courts to disband the Refah Party. Later on, it was obliged by the European Union to support and strengthen democracy and pluralism in order for Turkey to be accepted by it. 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan organized the Justice and Development Party (JDP) and patiently neutralized every attempted political adventure by military one-by-one, which helped Turkey’s democratization process tremendously over the last decade. The major parties had also agreed that they would deal with one another and not cut deals with the military. It has been a gradual process; and something similar might yet happen in Pakistan, Egypt and other Middle East and North Africa (MENA) nations in the near future and in the blowing winds of change.

Political science literature in Turkish and Islamic context argues that via electoral participation, radical, extremist (Islamist and secularist) and even anti-system political ultranationalist or Islamist parties do eventually moderate their agendas in order to benefit from opportunities created by a pluralist democracy. This writing argues that the opportunities provided by the pluralist tradition and the democratic experience of Turkey from Ottoman times to present has helped Turkish Islamists and secularist transform their ideologies into post-Islamism and post-secularism. Thanks to these pluralist experiences,

Turkish Islamists have not only participated in elections, competed for voters, and even democratically came to power but have also discursively and physically interacted with various secularists, Muslim groups, intellectuals, scholars, businessmen, communities and so on, in a pluralist setting. As a result, Turkish Islamists/secularists have been able to modify their ideologies in tune with pluralist and democratic ideals. Other Muslim nations can and would learn important lessons from Turkish experience to achieve their own democratic ideals without necessarily copying exactly the Turkish model.


During   the first five years since the 1998 fall of Indonesia’s President Suharto after 32 years, Indonesia has had three presidents— Bacharuddin Yusuf Habibie (from 1998–99), Abdurrahman Wahid (from 1999 to 2001), and Megawati Sukarnoputri (from 2001–04) —all of them took power by democratic means. The people of Indonesia have enjoyed freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of information, checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government, and a depoliticized military.

The military, in Indonesia had then decided to let its influence be handled through retired generals in the political sphere, thereby isolating the serving officers from the politics.  The election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (a retired general) as a president came about in the eventual culmination of that process by 2004. This could too serve as an example for Pakistan and other Muslims countries.

In Indonesia, in the military context, it was also mainly after the Asian financial meltdowns that the military had to further surrender its power. Furthermore, Islam-democratic homeostasis culminated in Indonesia through the works of enlightened Muslim intellectuals like Ahmad Syafii Maarif (born 1935), Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005) and Abdurrahman Wahid (1940-2009) also a politician and president from 1999 to 2001.


The debate between two earliest Indonesian leaders   Kusno Sukarno (1901-70) and Muhammad Natsir (1908-93) was the classic example of the disagreement between secularists and Islamists over various issues regarding religion and politics early on in Indonesia. “Sharia for Muslims” in Indonesia was the words originally in the Indonesian constitution, but following the protests by a Christian delegation, in August 1945, the Preparatory Committee of Independence removed them. Throughout recent Indonesian history, Islamists had been struggling to return those words back to the constitution. They tried during the Sukarno times, but failed. They had also tried in the Suharto times, but it was just impossible to do so as his regime did not allow any talk about political Islam. 

There have been indeed conciliatory changes in the political mindset of Indonesian Muslims over the decades. Partly due to the external factors that were boosted by secular-militaristic regime under Suharto and partly due to internal factors, which were pushed by liberal Muslims intellectuals themselves, and the way they constructively perceived democracy and plurality in the Islamic context. The opportunity for Islamists had just come once again to reinsert those words again into the constitution when Indonesia became a democratic country after Suharto’s fall in 1998. They had put their hopes in the 1999 general election but still it never happened.

To begin with, Indonesia, since Sukarno’s era, had been a state based on an Indonesian national ideology and philosophy called “Pancasila” (Five Principles). These five principles were: (1) Belief in one supreme God or monotheism; (2) Just and civilized humanism; (3) The Unity of Indonesia; (4) Democracy; and (5) Social Justice. 


Living harmoniously in the religiously pluralistic Indonesia had only become possible, when two conditions were met: (1) Pancasila as state ideology was whole-heartedly accepted and supported by the Indonesian Muslims, the largest religious groups in the country; and (2) Indonesia as a country was governed democratically. Thanks to the Reformation Movement (Gerakan   Reformasi) that had brought an end to Suharto’s dictatorship in May 1998, the two conditions had begun to be met again in the post-Suharto Indonesia. There is no stronger indication of this than the rejection by the majority of Muslim politicians in the newly and democratically-elected People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat or MPR) of the “Syari`ah amendment” in 2002. Although some politicians who came from Islam-based political parties supported the amendment, they only constituted about 15%  minority of the total membership of MPR. In Indonesia’s history, this was the first and the most democratic decision in which Indonesian people (including majority of Muslim politicians in the People’s Consultative Assembly fully and heartedly) accepted Pancasila as a state ideology and rejected the Jakarta Charter for the state to implement Islamic law and become “Islamic State”.


This happened because of the changes that had been taking place over the many decades in Muslim intellectual thought and practice in Indonesia providing further Islamic justification for the acceptance of pluralistic and democratic Pancasila.

Through lectures, writings, and actions, the three most enlightened and influential Muslim thinkers and reformers in Indonesian contemporary history advocated liberal democracy and delegitimized Islamist political parties. Unlike in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, but very much like Gulen and Nursi movements that too had begun in Turkey earlier, the Indonesian reform movements have always been through large organizations. Intellectuals such as Abdurrahman Wahid (1940-2009), Ahmad Syafii Maarif (born 1935) and Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005) were Muslim leaders who chaired these large organizations. They spread their liberal and pluralistic ideas to Muslim society through these organizations. Wahid did it through Nahdlatul Ulama (40 million members), Maarif through Muhammadiyah (30 million members), and Madjid through Islamic Student Association and its alumnae (over 10 million members).

Madjid developed his support for the modern ideas of equality, tolerance, pluralism, consensus, opposition, and popular sovereignty from Islamic doctrines and traditions. He argued that any ideas developed by Muslims that contradicted these modern social and political ideas should be subjected to historical criticism. By taking this approach and stating it publicly, coupled by his being an effective writer and orator, he became an important agent of Islamic cultural change among his contemporaries. He had been, for several decades, a major force in developing a modern Islamic discourse and political practice in Indonesia.

Madjid rejected the idea of Islamic theocratic state. He argued that for many Muslims, Pancasila is, from the Qur’anic perspective, a common term (kalimah sawâ’) between different religious people that God commands to seek and find. He quoted a verse from the Qur’an (3: 64) addressed to the Prophet Muhammad: “Say: O people of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons, other than God….”Thus the principle of monotheism, for Madjid, is the common term of all divinely inspired religions. But he quickly added that the adherents of different religions could also agree to a set of common terms that included more values than one of monotheism alone. “And the more values that the adherents of different religions could agree upon as common terms, the better it should be,” he wrote.  This means, to have five subjects as common terms between different religions or factions, such as with Pancasila for Indonesian people, is better than to have just one subject. In that way Pancasila became the firm basis for the development of interfaith dialogue, tolerance and pluralism in Indonesia. Madjid was known for his secularization motto, “Islam, Yes, Islamic party, no,” which meant that Muslims did not have to support any political party using Islamic name or symbols.

Madjid ideas found cordial support from his close colleague Abdurrahman Wahid (1940 –2009), another major agent of the modernization of Muslim thought and political culture in Indonesia. In fact, given his background and social status, Wahid’s agency has perhaps been even more decisive than that of Madjid’s. A grandson of the founder of NU Hasyim Asy'ari, (The NU- Nahdlatul Ulama founded in 1925 has been for decades one of the largest independent faith-based social but non-political movement in Indonesia. The estimates of its membership range are as high as 40 million or higher. NU has been acting as a charitable and socially transforming movement, helping to fill in many of the shortcomings of the Indonesian government in the civil society; it has been funding schools, hospitals, and organized communities into more coherent civic groups in order to help combat poverty and ignorance) and a son of Wahid Hasyim, the long-term NU Chairman. In 1984, Abdurrahman Wahid, inherited the leadership of NU from his father, and he was later elected President of Indonesia in 1999.


In addition to his own intellectual Islamic thought and teachings, Wahid had also been known for his close attention to Western intellectual, civilizational and artistic tradition. Although he was less inclined than Madjid in anchoring his ideas in Islamic teachings and tradition, his voice strongly resonated in and was widely accepted in NU circles, importantly because of his social standing.


For decades, Wahid’s major concern had been with plurality and tolerance in the context of the modern Indonesian nation-state. He argued that in order for Indonesia to be a modern nation-state, and for the sake of the public interest it and the core values of Islamic teachings; every citizen in the country must be treated equally regardless of his or her religious affiliation. Since Indonesia is a religiously plural nation, in which Islam is only one among many other religions, then treating someone as a second-class citizen simply because he or she is non-Muslim was entirely intolerable. For this reason, Wahid had argued, putting Islam and other religions as complementary, not antagonistic, was necessary for the sake of the public interest. He also believed that Islam could indeed thrive spiritually in the Indonesian multicultural state that is not formally based on Islam. He wrote, “NU adheres to a conception of such multicultural nation state that was in accordance with the Pancasila and the Constitution of 1945.”NU had become the pioneer in ideological affairs. This has been the case even though throughout the entire Islamic world there is still a problem between nationalism and Islam. All the Saudi writers consider nationalism a form of secularism. They do not yet comprehend that nationalism such as in Indonesia was not   hard-core secularist, but rather soft secular that respected the role of religion.  During the New Order (Suharto) period, Wahid’s idea of an inclusive Islam led him to support Pancasila as the sole foundation of Indonesian politics. And under his leadership, NU was the first major faith-based social movement and organization that had accepted Pancasila as the final state ideology. Moreover, NU declared that Pancasila is its organizational foundation, a decision that had a powerful effect on NU’s role in national politics. Among others, under his leadership, NU withdrew from partisan politics and declined its support for PPP, an Islam-based political party. And in 1984, NU returned to the 1926 khittah (“the guideline of 1926,” the year it was born), meaning that it became once again a purely social and faith based movement, but not a political movement. Under this principle, as if echoing Madjid’s secularization motto, the members of NU were free to participate and vote for any political party, regardless of its religious affiliation. Since then, NU members can be found in many parties, Islamic and secular, including the NU-based PKB political party that had rejected the “Syari`ah amendment” in 2002.


What many Islamophobes around the world were relieved about was the fact that Indonesia, not unlike Turkey, did not descend into an exclusivist Islamic state. Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia and the Muslim world as a whole too in my view will not be endangered or destined for any theocracy ever.


Arab Spring uprisings and lessons


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, since December 2010, has been facing some of the dilemmas that other societies had to deal with during their own processes of political transition. These included the conundrum of how to move from the authoritarian regime breakdown to democratic reform, the division between liberals and conservatives, civil-military relations and a weak and fragmented opposition.

Current reform challenges in the post-revolution Arab world are connected to a long trajectory of transitions from authoritarian regimes to democracies in Southern Europe, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. Drawing lessons from the past democratization experiences could provide a better understanding of current events in the MENA region, and help Arab policymakers to better face the challenges of democratic institution-building.

Drawing from past experiences may also help external actors like the European Union, the United States and international organizations avoid past blunders. Faced with rapidly changing situations in the Middle East, what can policy makers learn from past efforts to support reform in these countries? Which policies have worked, which challenges Americans always overlooked, and what best practices can be identified?

Of course, Americans always admit that freedom and democracy was not the province of one people or culture, but a universal right. And yet America’s misplaced caution, hedging of bets, and fetish for gradualism—previously the hallmarks of hardheaded realpolitik—proved both foolhardy and naïve in MENA. Also, to extremists’ dismay, real change does not come through force, violence or terror. It even doesn’t necessarily come through social movements alone.

The United States and the West has had a checkered, tragic history in the MENA and other Muslim regions. For decades, the U.S. and the Europeans have been unfortunately on the wrong side of history, supporting and funding Arab/Muslim autocrats/dictators and undermining nascent democratic movements when they seemed to threaten American/Western interests. So critics of Western meddling and interference have always had a point.  Whenever the U.S. and Europe interfered in these regions, they seemed to get it wrong. That is precisely why it’s so important that, this time around, they better getting it right. But getting it right requires that the West fundamentally reassess its own Middle East policy, be an honest broker and align itself fairly with Arab/Muslim/Jewish populations and their democratic aspirations. This has not quite happened yet.

Arabs/Muslims kept on waiting and are still waiting for America to change its policy and at least divest itself of Arab and Muslim world dictatorships. This is something that even Obama had promised in his 2009 Cairo speech but still failed to deliver. It still did not happen. So they themselves had to initiate the process of change. Arabs discovered a revolutionary power they did not know they had. These revolutions, as others in the recent past, told a story of strength, security and safety in numbers. In so doing, they powerfully started impacting the U.S. to rethink its over six decades of failing policy in the Middle East and the Muslim nations.

These revolutions are far from being complete. A great deal is at stake.  Egypt and Tunisia, despite all their problems, remain the most promising cases. Elsewhere, the situation is considerably graver. Thus far, the Obama administration has been behind the curve in nearly every country, reacting to rather than shaping events. President Obama adopted a slow and deliberate approach, and refused to take a stronger stand with America’s Yemeni and Gulf allies. Even enemies such as the Syrian regime have so far escaped any real pressure. If anything is clear, it is that Arabs have shown that something more than caution and gradualism is called for in historic moments of change. This time, they–not the international community–are leading the way. But they and their countries need the international community to follow and support. Otherwise, their revolutions may still fail.

America was rightly credited for helping facilitate transitions in many Eastern European and Latin American countries. The international factors now and in the future will be even more relevant. International pressure from masses of the world or governments still propelled by public and social media played a critical role in undermining support for the dictatorial regimes that just months earlier were thought by many to be not vulnerable. If the U.S. is seen as helping make another transition possible, this time in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in MENA, it will give Americans much needed credibility in the region. Successful transitions could herald a reimagined relationship between the U.S. and the Arab/Muslim world.

As the MENA region struggles to shift from autocratic to democratic governance, a number of elements influence how well the democratization process may progress. In all countries involved, an inclusive constitution that represents a broad societal consensus is essential to the sustainability of the transition process. While transitions must strike a balance between stability and decentralization of power, a concentration of powers in the same hands paired with a lack of effective checks and balances – even if proclaimed temporary as recently in Egypt – is almost certainly detrimental to democratic development. In this regard, examples of transitions across the globe have demonstrated that parliamentary and judicial oversight over the executive is a precondition for the accountability and public scrutiny needed to gradually re-establish the public’s faith in government institutions. The return of powers into the hands of elected representatives, including the de-politicization of civil-military relations and the establishment of civilian control over the national security forces and foreign policy, is essential. That said evolution might happen in a gradual but systematic manner in order to avoid a collapse of state institutions and ensure security during the fragile transition period. In order to reduce the spoiler potential of the ‘losers’ of transitions, inclusion of all ethnic, religious and political groups (including former regime stalwarts, within the margins allowed by transitional justice) is key for the emergence of a peaceful and sustainable democratic consensus of society.

Lessons learned from both successful and failed transition processes also provide a number of guiding principles for external actors seeking to support democratic development in the MENA region. First, they must resist the temptation to pick political favorites. Second, they must refrain from promoting ready-made solutions, and instead allow local actors to take ownership of reform efforts and priorities in an inclusive manner. Third, because transitions are long-term and non-linear processes, donors must take a long view and avoid short-term support and involvements. Due to pressure to show results, external actors often focus on rapid results and shift policy directions according to the prevailing and current political climate. In Ukraine for example, donors had switched support from civil society to government when reformists came to power, but the government proved unable to implement many of the reforms it was committed to. With external support missing, civil society was weakened. In contrast, generous, long-term external financial and technical support to Central and Eastern Europe during the two decades post-1989 facilitated the implementation of politically unpopular but much-needed structural reforms. Fourth, top-down or insensible external involvement can negatively impact the legitimacy of domestic actors and make them vulnerable to accusations of supporting undue foreign interference.

Islamo-Democratic Homeostasis

When properly understood, Islam is certainly compatible with and positively conducive to democratic pluralism, religious tolerance, and respect for human rights all being integral part of basic Islamic values. Islam as it actually exists presently around the world sadly exhibits the very opposite of true foundational values and qualities.  Distorted Islam has to be dismissed, as ossified and false since authentic Islam has been hijacked by radical minority. Enlightened and true Islamic intellectuals and scholars in the 21st century propose nothing short of rediscovery of Islamic foundational principles as they originated and were practiced in the days of the Prophe Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the earlier Islamic history. They are determined to reinterpret it, reconstruct it, and make it compatible to the present century. The basis for this rediscovery and reinterpretation lies in the Quranic scripture and the practical model of the prophetic State of Medina that was exemplified by Islamo-democratic homeostasis through the Rashida period. Through a meticulous sifting of the Quranic exegetical materials, both classical and contemporary, numerous scholars believe, hold the tremendous potential of revealing possibilities of reinterpretations. Only through such a creative re-appropriation—one that revives the original pluralism of Quran in early Islam—will it become possible for Islam to be inclusive in the modern world once again.


This is, to put it mildly, an ambitious project, requiring considerable erudition but also considerable courage against the falsehood so prevalent. Of particular note, it is a project that the scholars have undertaken as much on behalf of the West as on behalf of the Muslim world itself providing the sole and coherent worldview of holistic Islam—for only through Islam can even the West resolve the contradictions with which it finds itself beset-among world belief systems and cultures. When it comes to the West’s relations with the Muslim world, there need be no “clash of civilizations.”


It is not a fundamental principle of civilizations that they stay stuck in a state of clash with each other. Neither is it a fundamental principle to end history with one system over all other concepts. Mankind is witnessing the painful rebirth of a new geopolitical and social order in which other, non-Western and rising civilizations are certainly required to come to the fore:  Chinese, Indian, Islamic, and Euro-Asian, Russian etc.


Islam must consequently serve as the only vital external perspective on the modern project of a soft secular world order. It is, indeed, the only thoroughly religious critique of the international public order with its secularist and liberal presuppositions as Islam stands out as the only monotheistic tradition that can help deepen the West’s self–understanding in its liberal project of international interest and order.


This is, without any doubt, a huge claim and—to a believer who is not a Muslim— sort of a putt off. Still, in the aftermath of September 11, with the United States engaged in a war on terror that is more accurately a war against militancy, radicalism, distorted religions and any plausible argument that holds out the prospect of a more benign alternative that merits respectful consideration. Its methodology is akin to that of a legal brief. In marshaling evidence in support of true belief, these scholars invite attention to specific and carefully selected scriptural understandings, some of them apparently ambiguous on their face value, explain how, if correctly deciphered, they actually testify to a (once) pluralistic and most tolerant faith-Islam. Anticipating the arguments of skeptics, they cite numerous reinterpretations, seemingly unambiguous in expressing illiberal sentiments, and explain how their actual meaning is other than what had been misinterpreted. An important point here is the contention that the Quran accepts pluralism as given, and even required basing this contention on the passage of Qur’an that states:


“The people on this planet as a whole were one community (umma); then the Creator sent forth all the Prophets, with good tidings to bear and the warning, and He sent down with each prophet the Book, that he might decide the people touching on their differences” (Al-Baqarah 2:213).


The concept of community as a universal (global) civil society and democracy, the Islamic notion of all of humanity as one community, recognition of differences between people, principles concerning human morality and integrity are among numerous other concepts that could certainly be transmitted into the universalizing civilization of today. The reinterpretation of these concepts is crystal clear today. The concept of Community based on Quran [2:13] explained here is universal to begin with ‚ is glocalizable in today’s times where people are becoming citizens of one world, sharing the same destiny, and facing similar problems.  They are in reality members of the same human community. Thus, the Umma of Islam (Ummat al–Islâmiyya) is integral part of the Umma of humankind (Ummat al–Insâniyya). Another fact is that Islam is alien to racism, teaching universality and equality among all human beings. As quoted by Arnold Toynbee, “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.’’[3] Thus over fourteen centuries and on a world scale, Islamic civilization has provided various societies, otherwise divided along the class, ethnicity, tribe, clan, or race, with a common platform upon which to negotiate and stabilize patterns of mutual/pluralistic coexistence.


In the citation above that introduces this Qur’anic chapter (Al-Baqarah 2:213), three facts emerge, the unity of humankind under One Creator (Tawhid); the particular and different religions brought by the prophets; and the role of scripture (the Book) in resolving the differences that touch communities of faith. All three are fundamental to the Qur’anic conception of religious plurality. On the one hand, it does not deny the specificity of various religions and the contradictions that might exist among them in matters touching on correct belief and practices; on the other; it emphasizes the need to recognize the oneness of humanity in creation and to work toward better understanding among peoples of faith.


In the modern age, however, traditional Islamic law, whose functions included constraining arbitrary power, failed to update itself, and had been gradually rendered ineffective via "modernization." As Noah Feldman illustrated brilliantly, this process had produced not the liberal democracy of Islam or the West, but various secular (and sometimes fiercely secularist) autocrats -- such as the Atatürk of Turkey, Reza Shah of Iran, or the Nasser of Egypt amongst many others.

Islamism, the totalitarian ideology that had aspired for an "Islamic state," was more of a reaction to the modern crisis, rather than a direct continuation of the Islamic democratic and pluralistic tradition. It was also based on an importation of the worst and westoxicating harmful ideas of the West. One of the founders of the Islamist ideology, Pakistani Islamic scholar  Sayyid Abu al-A'la al-Mawdudi, had openly acknowledged that his "Islamic state" would "bear a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states," in the way it would dominate the whole society.

One of the troubling questions about Pakistan had been Mawdudi’s follower Zia ul Haq, an Islamist and a military dictator’s attempt to synthesize Islam with totalitarianism, while the enlightened Muslim scholars had wanted to bring about homeostasis between liberal public democracy, Quranic and traditional teachings.

The future of MENA and other slowly but surely democratizing Muslim nations today do not seem as grim as some had suspected (at one time due to the negative impact of Maududism and Qutabism), as many enlightened scholars argue in the most constructive details in more recent times, and as explained in a recent book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty” by Mustafa Akyol. [2]

 With ongoing deeper intellectual discussions among Islamic centrists and even political parties show positive signs. Turkey's incumbent Justice and Development Party, Indonesia’s People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and Ennahda of Tunisia have played very important roles, by showing that pious Muslims can well be a part of the democratic process and gain from it. Interestingly, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of Egypt, political Party stemming from Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood party of Syria and Maududi’s Jamaat-i-Islami party in Pakistan seem to have and continue to take important lessons from the Turkish, Indonesian examples, and are getting slowly but surely transformed from the radical and oppressive groups to moderate and relatively liberal ones.

Even if some of these political Islamic groups still seem to believe in an “Islamic state” and will have tendencies to impose an “Islamic way of life” on their respective societies like Egypt, Pakistan or MENA. The problem with that is not just authoritarianism. It is also that whoever imposes Islam (that is against the foundational teachings of Islam) via the state or any institution will be imposing the “Islam” that he or she understands. However, since no Muslim or any other denominational school of thought can claim an ultimate access to exclusive truth, the state must remain neutral when it comes to religious matters. Whether Jamaat-Islami of Pakistan, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and their counterparts in other Arab countries will be humble enough to see that is the next big question. Will Arab Spring and democratic transition in Muslim nations make things better or worse? As for the Arab Spring/Muslim states in transition, many of us are of course very supportive of it, for it is toppling or challenging the dictators who oppressed Arab /Muslim societies for decades under the false pretext of Islamic extremes taking over. Presently, we are keeping our fingers crossed for the fall of the Baath tyranny in Syria. But democracies—let alone liberal democracies—do not emerge overnight, and the post-revolutionary countries and even Pakistan will need some time and lots of effort to build them.

To be sure, a probable transformation of the Muslim mind from authoritarianism to liberalism still remains a very challenging process, which would still face many obstacles. As was indeed the political evolution of Christianity that had historically been equally difficult. It certainly took a lot of effort to move from the Spanish Inquisition and the "divine right of kings" to the liberating motto of Benjamin Franklin, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." Islam, many believe, is just no less capable of going through the same distance and the process rooted in its origins.

The most significant issues facing Muslims in the 21st century is the necessity to reopen the doors of religious interpretation—to re-examine and correct false interpretations, replace outdated laws and formulate new doctrines that respond to changing social contexts. Always using the Quran as a yardstick, the book demonstrates how and why Islamic law came to reflect political and social influences, leading to regulations that violate the spirit and the letter of the Quran. It analyzes critically Muslim teachings on issues of pluralism, civil society, war and peace, violence and self-sacrifice, the status and role of women, non-Muslims, and even capital punishment.

As referred to here, the writings and works of Turkish scholars Mustafa Akyol, Budiuzzaman Nursi, Fetullah Gulen, Indonesian scholars, Ahmad Syafii Maarif (born 1935) Nurcholish Madjid, and Abdurrahman Wahid, the Egyptian Wassatteya intellectual group (Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Tariq al-Bishri, Kamal Abu al-Majd, and Muhammad Salim al-‘Awwa), and Tunisian Scholar Rachid Ghanouchi are all profound and thought provoking in this context. Pakistani intellectual and scholar Tahir-ul-Qadri (like the Egyptian Wassatteya intellectual group) has had very similar ideas that have begun recently to impact Pakistani politics and   will be equally applicable/beneficial to Pakistan’s own present crisis and other Muslim nations including MENA. A Genuine Islamic scholarship, with deep understanding and background in Islamic Sharia resource and Western law, and their broader intellectual ideas as a global public intellectuals, activists, writers and thinkers of international repute and standing; they are all destined, in my opinion, to facilitate Islamo-democratic homeostasis in Pakistan, MENA and beyond.

Many have argued Pakistan’s and MENA experiences are deeply important and relate to the south Asian region, the Middle East, the Islamic and the rest of the world. In this context, whether or not one agrees with the intellectual thought that deserves to be more widely understood and applied, —for us all in the Muslim world today, not unlike Turkish and Indonesian intellectual history; Islam, democracy and liberty are not merely reconcilable, but—well reconciled on foundational basis, as we can compare and see the Islamic democratic roots in the city state of Medina, Ottoman Tanzimat and most recent Turkish and Indonesian examples and the evolving democratic effort presently ongoing in Pakistan and MENA.

The insights of these intellectuals into the problems of freedom in Islam individually and collectively argue that Islam, at its very core, has been a religion that has been liberating the individual from the bond of the tribe and similar collective bodies. They also show how the initial impetus of the faith was partly overshadowed as a result of some early theological controversies, and some political historical decisions of the past meaning that some of those early debates could be reopened, and coercive elements in Islamic law and culture be reframed and reformed. All this is within their individual and collective interpretations that are very similar though little known or talked about history of liberty and freedom in Islam that had reemerged in the late Ottoman Empire, amongst modern-day Turkish - Indonesian scholars and those named from Egypt, Tunisia and Pakistan in recent times.

Multiple and revealing writings in this context are available for both Muslims and non-Muslims who firmly believe that Islam and liberal democracy are fundamentally incompatible. Obviously, we can now in thought and practice show them clearly that a genuinely Islamic yet liberal worldview is certainly available based on these multiple interpretations and writings mentioned here and in practical examples (of Turkey and Indonesia). Muslims can even tolerate “freedom to sin,” for example, not because they condone sin, but simply because the judgment about personal sin should be left to the Creator.

Liberty in Islam, based on the interpretations of scholars and intellectuals named here, is certainly also a political and economic system, which limits the powers of the state or head of the state, and gives individuals, and their voluntary associations, freedom to shape their own destinies. They all certainly believe that liberty has been an Islamic value system throughout   Islamic history, while liberalism became a full-fledged ideology in the West in the modern times, and modern state had threatened freedoms in unprecedented levels at times. Many Muslim scholars also think today, as always, that liberty presented the best medium for Muslims to live Islam in the various ways (not monolithic) that they had always understood.

It is true that most interpretations of Islam place a strong emphasis on the social, the communal, often above the individual ---and if we stress the liberty of the individual from larger collectives, does Islam play any role in the greater social questions of our times? Should Islam also speak to the intermediary institutions, between state power and individual life, to temper that power and protect the individual?

Of course Islam does have a strong sense of the community and, that collective sense implies a strong basis for civil society and its ongoing transformation, which is of course very important for empowering and protecting the individual in the face of threats coming from the modern state. However, Rachid Ghanouchi and   numerous   other scholars believe that the Qur'an, with its strong emphasis on the individual’s personal freedom of conscience and deeds [The Qur’an itself champions this sentiment, emphatically declaring: “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (2:256)], presented a more individualistic worldview than many Muslims ever appreciated. These intellectuals and many others actually believe that the individuality in Qur'an was gradually overshadowed by a more communitarian mindset that shaped Islam in its formative centuries. They   explored such differences between the Qur’anic and the post-Qur'anic tradition, and that is how they came to be insightful, in their own writings.

Of course, Muslims not unlike most other cultures don’t tolerate some sins— like murder, cheating, lying in many circumstances. Are there sins that we must object to socially? And if it were not a matter of state power, should Muslims still condemn sins? This is a great question—and that is something Akyol discusses in his book chapter, named “The Freedom to Sin.” There, he has suggested   a distinction between sin and crime. Sins are acts of personal disobedience to the Creator, like drinking alcohol or refraining from daily prayers and other obligatory rituals of Islam. But crimes are acts that hurt others, like murder or theft. Most crimes are also sins, but most scholars say that not all sins should be considered crimes. And they say that by looking at what Qur'an really penalizes and what it does not.

The overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims already reject extremism, terrorism and authoritarianism that remain contrary to Islamic teachings, law and culture. But not all of them tend to agree when it comes to the issues such as apostasy, blasphemy, and sin due to different interpretations of Islam.

A secular (soft) state is neutral to religion, and respects religious practices (including Sharia in Muslim culture) in public sphere unless they cause harm to individuals and society. A secularist (hard) state, however, bears an ideological hostility to religion, and wants to radically secularize society by banning all religious practices or institutions. Most communist dictatorships of the past century were indeed radical secularist states. Kemalist Turkey, too, had been a secularist (laic) state—which banned the headscarf, Sufi orders, or religious education—and it gave a bad name to secularity among the world’s Muslims. Luckily, though, that hard-core secularism of Turkey has been tamed down and defanged to great extent in the recent years.

We can elaborate on this distinction between secular and secularist. In places like Egypt, and potentially Libya and Yemen as well, democracy will throw forward explicitly Islamist parties, however much some of them might want to deny it (although Islamist doesn’t mean authoritarian). Do we think these parties can contribute to building democratic societies in the Islamic world? Is it possible to build post-secular states, neutral between religion and secularism?

“Islamist” does not mean authoritarian, even if it implies a political party that is inspired by Islamic principles and values, but articulates them within the rules of liberal democracy. The closest and also recent example to that seems to be Ennahda in Tunisia /Wassat party in Egypt, and we are very hopeful about their future based on the thought and works of Rashid Ghanouchi in Tunisia and the Egyptian Wassateya intellectual group behind the Egypt’s Wassat Party.

For the last several decades an influential group of Egyptian scholars and public intellectuals has had a profound impact on Egypt and the Islamic world (beyond Maududi/Qutbian ideology). There remains an impressive portrait of these New Islamists--Islamic scholars, lawyers, judges, and journalists who have provided the moral and intellectual foundations for a more fully realized Islamic community, open to the world and with full rights of active citizenship for women and non-Muslims.

The New Islamists have a record of constructive engagement in Egyptian public life, balanced by an unequivocal critique of the excesses of Islamist extremists. The New Islamists are translating their thinking into action in education and the arts, economics and social life, politics and foreign relations despite being in the middle of   the authoritarian political environment. For the first time, we can hear in   this context the most important New Islamist voices, including Muhammad al Ghazzaly, Kamal Abul Magd, Muhammad Selim al Awa, Fahmy Huwaidy, Tareq al Bishry, and Yusuf al Qaradawy--regarded by some as the most influential Islamic scholar in the world today. A potentially transformative force in local and global Islam, the New Islamists define Islam as a civilization that engages others and searches for common ground through pluralistic shared values such as justice, peace, human rights, and democracy. This is indeed an impressive achievement that contributes to the true understanding of Islam in general and the possibilities of a centrist Islamist politics in particular.

The Egyptian group of Islamist writers and thinkers named above that has constituted a kind of emerging consensus about Islamic constitutionalism and its relationship to democracy. The main focus of some intellectual circles in the West (Bruce K. Rutherford and Raymond William Baker)[4-a] and the Islamic world in this context has been the work of the thinkers like Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Tariq al-Bishri, Kamal Abu al-Majd, and Muhammad Salim al-‘Awwa. Critically, these circles argue that Islamic constitutionalists favor constraints on state power, which, while derived from Muslim resources compared to liberal Western constitutionalism, are nevertheless very much democratic in nature. Even if grounded in sharia resource, Islamic constitutionalists nevertheless affirm that governance is “a prime arena for the development of man-made law”. Through shura, or consultation, Islamic constitutionalists certainly favor a political system with multiple political parties and a parliament that rules on matters unclear in sharia. These theorists also believe that the state is a “moral actor” that should achieve justice through ongoing social transformation.


The state imagined by liberal constitutionalists and Islamic constitutionalists would share many of the same institutional features, but that an Islamic constitutional state would be “far more emphatic than that found in Western liberal regimes”. Only rare and important limitations (hadud) prescribed by Quran would be placed on women and men both, as well as on limitless freedom in any realm. This civil state would nevertheless govern democratically according to Islamic culture without any anti-democratic goals or secret authoritarian impulses. This is a welcome change, making treatment of Islamic constitutionalism very valuable indeed for scholars of the region as well as for the students.

The statist conception of constitutionalism stands in stark contrast to both liberal constitutionalism and Islamic constitutionalism. It was sought by dictators in the Muslim world to eliminate political competition. However, the statist conception of law and constitutionalism does not appear to receive the same meticulous treatment as the liberal and Islamic constitutional perspectives of today.

Most people appear to accept, without much criticism, the claims that liberal and Islamic constitutionalism — and strengthening of an independent private sector — will ultimately lead to democracy in Egypt and MENA. The necessity of developing small and medium-sized enterprises with keen interest in invigorating the electoral system, in order to use electoral politics as a means to gain greater influence over the development of policy.

Much the same could be said of reliance on political science thought and findings about the proper sequencing of liberal Islam and democracy and the benefits of structural-adjustment programs.

While liberty does lead to democracy, the actual evidence linking private-sector development with democratization is somewhat mixed due to uncertain relationship between the state and the private sector. In MENA indeed this uncertainty still exists and has been the topic of some debate. Thus far in MENA, there simply are not enough enterprises and that, therefore, “The private sector has not yet become an advocate of democratic reform”. The longstanding narrative at the public sector in MENA has been unproductive and thus serious cutbacks were made. Since then, MENA has not made great economic gains. Again, this is so, but there is a debate to be had and the very successful example of Anatolian Tigers (Islamic economic/capital) [4-b] needs to be studied.

There is simply no other contemporary work on constitutionalism in MENA with remotely the same level of depth as the centrist and Ennahda movement thought. Like all believers, the Islamic believers’ main purpose is the same like that of all other Abrahamic monotheisms, “To make humans aware of their Creator and His intentions.”  In other words, it is primarily about connecting God and man. Of course, God, through the Qur'an like other scriptures, gives man some rules and principles that will guide his behavior to other men as well—that is where canonical law including Islamic law in human history came from. But we also think that this law, in its divine origin, is intentionally limited and flexible, for times and social structures always change and laws should adapt to that change. What keeps us affiliated with Islamic belief? Well, its main purpose: we believe that we have a Creator, and Islam is one of the paths that we in Islam know to connect us with the Creator.

For all Muslims to study, in addition to the above named scholars, I would certainly suggest a good translation of and commentary to the Qur'an–Risale-Nur by Nursi (his emphasis on “freedom” that is also little known outside of Turkey) and also ‘reconstruction of Islamic thought’ by Muhammad Iqbal.  Then a good book on the history of Islamic thought, which would expose the students to all the different colors of Islamic faith that has evolved in the past fourteen centuries .Finally, the Bible (old and new testaments) should be added to the curriculum. The Qur'an repeatedly refers to it, and it is a pity that we Muslims have taken very little notice of that.


The ultimate goal for Pakistan is to be a balanced, stable, and secure internally and regionally. War on terror including domestic struggles in Pakistan must end permanently. Af-Pak has been  the scene not only of the  Soviet-Afghan war, War on Terror, but also of longstanding Afghan-Pakistani disputes, the India-Pakistan conflict, domestic struggles in Pakistan, US-Iranian antagonism, Russian and Chinese concerns about NATO, Sunni-Shia rivalry, and struggles over regional energy infrastructure. It will not only require political settlement within Afghanistan-Pakistan but also a regional grand settlement.

Pakistan’s economy has to be seriously addressed otherwise the outcomes will not be positive ones. However, good governance is a clear pre-requisite for achieving economic growth. The divisive challenges of provincialism and nationalism, including the division of the federation are to be dealt with and through preferably non-military solutions, mutual dialogue and reconciliation inclusive of the situation in both Baluchistan and FATA that will lead to positive outcomes.


Pakistan continues to face a tough and serious set of challenges again and again. It appears to be teetering on the brink of major change. As often in the past, the pessimists have predicted fragmentation, meltdown, and descent into irreversible chaos and a failed state. But so far, this has not happened as “muddling through” has repeatedly been more the order of the day than any really radical change in a positive or negative direction; and the status quo has prevailed despite dismemberment of its eastern wing in 1971 and ongoing present chaos.

However, the current volatile situation of a failing economy; the growing gap between the rich and poor; lack of robust governance which actually filters down to the level of the masses; increased radicalization of mindsets; the geopolitical circumstances of the country’s neighbors, combined with an apparent lack of a strategic approach to addressing the bigger picture, means that the coming several months and upcoming May 11, elections could subsequently  see Pakistan facing a scenario of something completely different internally and better than ever in the region “from great game to great gain”.[5] Just how that might play out, remains to be seen.

Pakistan has endured a cycle of alternating democratic and military rule since independence. A stable democracy has proved elusive due to the strength of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, religious parties’ support of the military at the expense of democracy, a compliant judiciary, weak and patrimonial political parties, and Western support for Pakistan’s dictatorships.

In 2007 and 2008, a mass movement of political parties and civil society succeeded in ousting General Pervez Musharraf, opening the way for a consolidation of democracy in Pakistan. The movement’s success can be credited to a number of factors: a unified coalition of political parties and civil society with the common goal of defending the judiciary’s independence; strong leadership from the lawyers and the judiciary itself; the return of influential political leaders from exile; the existence of private media that could contest the official version of events, promote an alternative narrative, and mobilize supporters; and an agreement between Pakistan’s key political leaders on a charter of democracy setting out a plan for Pakistan’s governance after the end of military rule.

Since Musharraf’s ousting, however, several obstacles have re-emerged to consolidating democracy. Despite the military’s own admission of shortcomings in developing intelligence on the presence of Osama bin Laden, the military and intelligence agencies appear to be tightly guarding their control of defense and foreign policy and operating in other areas of civilian jurisdiction. There is friction between the government and judiciary as they work out the balance of power between them, tension among the political parties as they negotiate the coalition government, a slow pace of reforming parliamentary and party practices, and weak participation by civil society, allegations of corruption, which plagued past civilian and military regimes, keep resurfacing.

To build on the move toward democracy begun by the mass movement of 2007 and 2008, the civilian government should assert authority over the military and intelligence agencies, civil society and the greater public active participation in creating a robust legislative agenda to address the key issues Pakistan faces, and investigate and prosecute corruption. Transforming old political parties and new political parties should be trained and strengthened in the genuine democratic practices. Civil society and the media should likewise be made more effective watchdogs and advocates for true societal reformation. For its part, the international community can become more engaged in strengthening democratic practices in government and civil society through expanded consultations and assistance and by maintaining long-term support for particularly effective civilian institutions and organizations.

Regardless of the outcomes of Pakistan’s upcoming elections in 2013, the country and its rulers will continue to face a number of critical challenges. Addressing the issues of poor management of energy supply and inefficient public sector enterprises could yield economic dividends. However, unless they are supported by improved governance, their benefits will be limited or absent.

Overall, governance issues can be characterized as the repeated failure to regard the people of Pakistan as citizens, rather than clients of a patron state. Furthermore, recent promising constitutional and legislative amendments have yet to be translated into implementation on the ground that is meaningful to the common citizen. 

The question of achieving permanent peace with India through the achievement of internal civil-military relationship balance leading to maximizing the opportunities inherent in the potential opening up of trade with India, beyond the short term alone, and prevent the hawks on both sides of the border from weakening trade agreements to prevent them reaching their full potential presents both an opportunity and a challenge. Taking small steps with confidence building could be the slogan capturing the recent gestures towards peaceful relations between India and Pakistan.  A slow shift towards a relationship building on economic opportunity rather than security threats is epitomized by thinking in small steps that may avoid negative or chaotic outcomes. This sure but gradual approach offers a considerable promise and an open window of opportunity for building peace and harmony between two nuclear-armed nations.

There have been small but positive indicators of improvements due to recent relaxation of visa regulations and trade agreements likely to benefit Pakistan’s weak economy more than that of India. Acting small, thinking big could mean positive bilateral outcomes for unresolved but serious problems between India and Pakistan, including Kashmir. For Pakistan’s political leadership, peace with India remains an existential issue.

As  Khaled Ahmed beautifully put it, “After more than a decade of resistance from the Pakistan Army, and a Pakistani mind nurtured by the textbook narrative of 'enemy at birth', Pakistan has signed a liberal visa protocol with India that will be transformational for the region, not so much for India as for Pakistan, if it is implemented.“  In view of some, this transformation may – or may not – lead to normalization of Indo-Pakistan relations, but could well lead to what can be termed as normalization of Pakistan as a state.  This means that for the first time, both the liberal and (some) conservative elements of Pakistan are on the same page.  Nonetheless, there has been resistance: independent television media, the Defense of Pakistan Council, representatives of the Jamaat i Islami and some retired military personnel see visa and trade liberalization as the slippery slope towards Pakistan’s “final subordination to the joint enemy of the US and India.”[6]

The fact that there are new actors with a stake in the peace process is all to the good.  In 1991, Stephen P. Cohen wrote, “India cannot make peace, Pakistan cannot make war.” However, in 2013, both can make trade, and permanent peace may follow. Small but promising steps towards normalization between India and Pakistan have implications beyond their bilateral relations, given the challenging neighbor-hood the two states inhabit.

With AF-PAK scenario, Pakistan is a critical player for outcomes in Afghanistan, though (the much-hated drone attacks, provoke strongly negative, anti-U.S. reactions across Pakistan and constitute a major irritant in this bilateral relationship with U.S.  Nonetheless, President-Obama is likely to seek Pakistan’s maximum cooperation for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan – at least till 2014 – and Pakistan’s future government must make positive advances towards Obama administration. However, subsequent to elections in Pakistan in 2013, this situation should dramatically change and geared in a positive direction.  For example, Imran Khan’s Tehreek e Insaaf party has pledged to end drone attacks, which is undoubtedly a strong populist stance, and now must invoke positive reactions from Washington and Pakistan both.

The U.S. - Pakistani relationship remains schizophrenic and strained and both nations must overcome this malady. The U.S. has disbursed billions in various forms of aid to Islamabad over the past decade. Yet, the two countries remain at odds over Afghanistan, where based on the assessment of the western experts, the two countries are in fact “fighting a proxy war.” Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, has long been charged with sheltering the Taliban leadership, supporting militant fighters and providing “indispensable” support to the insurgency in Afghanistan – a strategy that some attribute to Pakistan hedging its bets on Afghanistan outcomes post-2014. On the other hand, the U.S. persists with continuing the drone war, despite the explicit request of the Pakistani parliament and foreign ministry that they cease flying, viewing them as an infringement of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The coming transition in Afghanistan from NATO to Afghan leadership in the war in 2014 will be a major challenge for American-Pakistani relations, with major implications for India. A key supporter and largest provider of aid to Kabul, seeking to fill the United States’ shoes in security   and training for Afghan forces. India may well become the Northern Alliance’s main ally in a post 2014-Afghanistan. If so, an American-Pakistan “proxy war” could become an Indo-Pakistan proxy war, instead and must be avoided at all costs by all sides.

Besides all this, the Middle East is the key factor in formalizing a truly changed and effective U.S.-Pakistan relationship through U.S policy change.   The achievement of peace between Israel and Palestine could be a tremendous total game-changer  in the achievement “from great game to great gain” mentioned above  for Pakistan, Afghanistan, India  the entire region and the world at large, as well as for the two countries most directly concerned, for the Muslim world as a whole, and for Iran. The West tends to seriously underestimate the depth of the strong emotional and negative impact of the unresolved Palestinian conflict on the rest of the Muslim world’s geo-political relationships. Obama Administration has clearly stated that he will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a diplomatic priority from day one, working towards the goal of two states, living side-by-side in peace and security. If he can pull that off, not only will his name go down in history, but also the effects elsewhere in the Muslim world, including Pakistan, and in South Asia, could be transformational globally. If it is true, then peace may have yet another and outstanding   chance.


[1] Prof Michel Chossudovsky, “9/11 AND AMERICA’S “WAR ON TERRORISM”, a critical research on 9/11-an important book by Global Research, May, 2011.  Also Peter Dale Scott, “The Road to 9/11” September, 2007

[2] Mustafa Akyol ,Islam without Extremes: AMuslim Case for Liberty (W.W.Norton & Co, published July-2011)

[3] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/arnold_j_toynbee.html# Go6G3hivRO2Lx5by.9

[4]Bruce K. Rutherford, Egypt after Mubarak:
Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World (2008 Princeton University Press). [4-a]Raymond William Baker,
Islam without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists…Harvard University Press, 2006.


[4-b] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/turkey/120411/meet-the-people-behind-turkeys-economic-miracle. (The rise of the 'Anatolian Tigers' has changed the balance of power in Turkey’s economy.)


[5] Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid, From Great Game to Grand Bargain: Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008.

[6] Khaled Ahmed, A breakthrough with India? The Friday Times September 14-20, 2012 - Vol. XXIV, No. 31







Share |

Copyright Studying-Islam © 2003-7  | Privacy Policy  | Code of Conduct  | An Affiliate of Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences ®

eXTReMe Tracker