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How “Islamic” is Pakistan’s Constitution?

–Dawood Ahmed, University of Chicago

During peace negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) in Pakistan, Taliban leaders declared that they did not accept the Constitution of Pakistan as “Islamic” and therefore did not believe in holding peace talks under it. Indeed, they alleged that there was not a single Islamic clause in the Constitution. On the other hand, the government argued that all talks must be held within the framework of the constitution and countered that the constitution was in fact, Islamic.

Such debates are not new: throughout the constitutional life of Pakistan, there have been recurring questions about the nature and function of Islam within the state. What does it mean to be an “Islamic” state? Was Islam meant to be a symbolic marker of national identity or was it intended as the foundational building block of the state itself? Was the founder a secular or an “Islamic democrat”? Over six decades and several constitutions and constitutional amendments later, these questions remain unsettled. And they’ve once again re-surfaced during these major peace talks.

One can only wonder whether the TTP actually engaged in any thorough analysis of the constitution before attaccking its Islamic credentials; an allegation that Pakistan’s constitution is devoid of Islam seems all the more perplexing considering that sometimes foreign commentators are only too quick to casually declare Pakistan as “Islamized”.

So, what is the correct answer? In our study investigating the “Islamicity” of constitutions of Muslim countries, my co-author, Moamen Gouda (Department of Economics, Philipps University Marburg) and I coded the constitution of every Muslim majority country to produce an ordinal ranking of Islamicity (based on a “model” Islamic constitution) in what we call the Islamic Constitutions Index (ICI). In this index, we found the Pakistani constitution to be very, very “Islamic”.

Amongst other statements regarding Islam, the text declares Pakistan as an “Islamic Republic” (Article 1); it opens stating in the preamble that “sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone”; it makes Islam the state religion (Article 2); and the president and prime minister must be Muslim and must swear an oath referencing Islamic idiom (e.g. Article 41). Further, the oath declares that the president, prime minister and other ministers “will strive to preserve the Islamic Ideology which is the basis for the creation of Pakistan” (Articles 42, 91 and 92). Article 227 also declares that “no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to Islamic Injunctions”. Only 5 other countries in the Muslim world have such a strong form of an “Islamic supremacy” clause, according to a forthcoming article I’ve written in the Virginia Journal of International Law with Tom Ginsburg.

Further, in clauses that are unique only to the Pakistani constitution, the constitution declares that: “steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam” (Article 31); that “the state shall eliminate riba (usury) as early as possible” (Article 38); members of parliament must have “adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings” and not be “commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions” (Article 62); establishes a Federal Sharia Court to monitor the “Islamicity” of laws (Article 203C); and declares that “all existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah” (Article 227).

Further, unlike any other constitution in the Muslim world, the constitution even defines who is a Muslim (Article 260), thereby excluding some unorthodox Muslim minority groups who declare themselves Muslim. Of course none of this is to say that the constitutional text reflects how the clauses are enforced on the ground, but based on our analysis, the TTP’s argument that the constitution is un-Islamic does not seem well founded.

To sum it up, the Constitution tries very hard to be “Islamic”. In fact, in our index, only two countries (out of more than 40 Muslim majority countries we surveyed) have more “Islamic” constitutions than Pakistan: Saudi Arabia and Iran. Even the other perceivably more “Islamic” Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and others lag far behind Pakistan in terms of their formal incorporation of Islam into their constitutions. Presumably, the Taliban is not interested in establishing an Islamic state based on the Iranian constitution, due to stark opposition to Shia ideology – which, out of all Muslim majority countries, leaving only Saudi Arabia as a more Islamic Sunni state than Pakistan.

Suggested citation: Dawood Ahmed, How Islamic is Pakistan’s Constitution? IConnect Blog, May 17, 2014, available at http://www.iconnectblog.com/2014/05/how-islamic-is-pakistans-constitution/

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Published on May 17, 2014
Author:          Filed under: Analysis
 

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