A thousand years before the age of enlightenment and before the idea of religious toleration took root in the west, the Holy Quran said, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
It is often forgotten, when we speak of Islam, that Islam’s approach was reformist. For example, the punishment for stoning to death for adultery existed long before Islam but Islam set the bar for evidence so high that it became virtually impossible for anyone to be stoned for adultery. For slavery, Islam created obligations on slave owners in terms of treatment of slaves and encouraged slaves to be mandatorily freed on the flimsiest excuse. Similarly, Islam strictly regulated the prevalent practice of polygamy by limiting it and further setting a standard for equal treatment that is hard to achieve.
Now our mullahs have forsaken substance and adopted form. Whereas Islam sought to civilise a tribal society, our mullahs’ take is to tribalise all civilisation. Where Islam sought to regulate polygamy and eradicate its social evil, our mullahs’ take is that marrying more than once is a necessary part of faith — ironically a Mormon idea. Whereas Islam humanised and rationalised existing customs and tribal traditions such as rajm (stoning) by introducing strict proof, our mullahs want to de-humanise all laws and while Islam spoke of equality of all mankind and religious freedom at a time when these concepts were unheard of, our mullahs want to end equality and religious freedom in the information age.
Manifest hypocrisy that vitiates the spirit of Islam is on display in even small things. General Zia introduced an ordinance inappropriately named ‘Ehteram-e-Ramzan (reverence of fasting) Ordinance’ as if before Zia came around, God forbid, Ramzan was not respected or observed. Ehteram-e-Ramzan Ordinance seeks to criminalise eating in public from sunrise to sunset during Ramzan. The irony is that there is no precedent in Islamic history for this. Our mullahs quote the example of a Jew in Hazrat Umar’s (RA) time who instructed his son not to eat in public because it would hurt the feelings of Muslims. Our mullahs’ argument is that this means the state should forcibly close down eateries in the holy month. What is forgotten is that the same anecdote shows that the state in Hazrat Umar’s (RA) time did not stop people from eating in public during Ramzan and it was out of his own good will that the said Jew told his son not to eat in public.
The closest precedent for Ehteram-e-Ramzan Ordinance comes not from Islam but from Christian fundamentalists in the Midwest who had enacted the ‘Blue Laws’ that forbade selling of non-essentials on Sunday out of respect for the Christian Sabbath. These laws were struck down by the US Supreme Court as being in violation of the First Amendment and the principle of freedom of religion. Now our constitution does not quite recognise the wall of separation between the Church and the state that the US First Amendment creates but our constitution does speak of religious freedom (Article 20), right to life (Article 9), right of trade (Article 18) and right to equality before law (Article 25). It also makes — through Article 2-A — the Objectives Resolution a substantive part of the constitution, which is violated by the aforesaid Ordinance in two ways: 1) The so-called Ehteram-e-Ramzan Ordinance violates the Quranic injunction, “There is no compulsion in religion.” 2) The rights of religious minorities to freely (reintroduced by the 18th Amendment) live and develop their cultures.
Who will bell the cat though? No one can dare challenge a law like this in court. By creating fear in society and killing off voices of reason, our mullahs have closed all doors of progress in this country and in the process have brought the name of Islam into disrepute.