The unholy search for a saintly Parliament.
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n April Fools’ Day, returning-officer of the Election Commission of Pakistan in Sindh rejected the nomination papers of some Muttahida Qaumi Movement candidates because they did not show “adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings.” The politicians who came to file their papers were subjected to a verbal inquisition under Article 62 of the Constitution which requires that a candidate for Parliament possess said knowledge and is one who “practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins.” This is no laughing matter.
Article 62 is not uniformly enforced by all returning-officers. To that extent, this is a bad law, but the real defect in it pertains to its subjectivity and superficial application. Many of the mandated requirements trespass onto the realm of the deeply private. A politician has to be of “good character and … not [be] commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions,” he must be “sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen [trustworthy in contracts],” one who “has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan,” and who, as per Article 63, has not been convicted “for any offence involving moral turpitude.”
Controversially, Article 62 dismisses anyone who opposes the ideology of Pakistan. Already, in the Pakistan Penal Code, the punishment, though never applied, for going against the ideology of Pakistan is 10 years imprisonment. There are other Islamic punishments inserted into the Penal Code that lump sin done privately together with crime committed publicly. The result has been that, despite instructions to the contrary, the police rank and file has been nabbing young couples sitting together in parks without marriage certificates. It is easier to arrest sinners than face armed criminals.
As with sin and crime, so with ethic and morality. In the West, ethic is linked to work and work in turn is linked to contract. Any ethical violation falls in the category of crime while morality (read sexual morality) remains nonjusticiable since it is private in nature. Muslims first going to Europe are taken aback by the work ethic of the people while being embarrassed by their lack of morality. It is another way of saying that ethical behavior is more in evidence in the West than in our own society. Yet Islam too is supposed to produce a good citizen. Why is the West able to do so without a nonsecular religious order? In Pakistan, lapse from work ethic is rarely punished while “morality”—almost exclusively sexual—is guarded through executive action and also by illegal, vigilante action.
Article 62 was added by an Islamizing military dictator named Gen. Zia-ul-Haq through the Revival of the Constitution Order, 1985. The convention in Pakistan is: remove the wrong insertions made into the Constitution by military dictators, but don’t touch the Islamic amendments. Many questions go unanswered. Is it the function of the state to run itself on the basis of spiritual experience? Did anyone in Pakistan trust General Zia when he said he took all decisions of the state after doing istakhara (opening the Quran at random for spiritual guidance)? Did anyone assess him on the basis of the 20 umrah (Lesser Pilgrimage) he performed during his dictatorship? Most ruling politicians and Army chiefs do umrah today probably because of Article 62.
Other practices are in vogue. Did anyone for a moment believe that Punjab’s chief ministers were spiritual because they passed under the bahishti (paradise) gate in Pakpattan and gave ghussal (bath) to the shrine of Data Darbar in Lahore? Of course, the latest example was ex-prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s visit to India to pray at the tomb of a popular saint in Ajmer. But the Supreme Court has ignored his piety and has not let him off the hook for alleged corruption.
The real defect of Article 62 is its subjectivity and superficial application.
That piety is not measurable was proved this month when a man of ill-repute but not yet proven guilty successfully filed his candidature with a returning-officer in Thatta, Sindh. Justice Sarmad Usmani of the Supreme Court, hearing a case pertaining to peace in Karachi, wanted to know who he was. The police officer present in the court told him that he was Owais “Tappi” Muzaffar, President Asif Ali Zardari’s foster brother believed to be a key player in Karachi’s Lyari gang wars.
In Thatta, Muzaffar was grilled by the returning-officer under Article 62. He was asked to recite the Third Kalma, which he did. He was asked to explain the number of compulsory verses in the namaz prayer of early morning, which he did. How many times do Muslims say namaz in a day? He knew that too. He was likewise able to recite the long prayer known as Dua-e-Qunoot. He was then asked about the events of the Battle of Badr fought by Islam’s Prophet, and he knew them. He also knew the significance of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. His papers were accepted.
At least one Urdu columnist, Saleem Safi, asked some embarrassing question the next day, saying that even the founder of Pakistan, Jinnah, might not have passed the catechism of Article 62.
The state functions on the basis of empiricism otherwise its laws become laughable. When a judge awarded death to a Christian—later set aside—for insulting Islam’s Prophet because the bearded Muslim witness against him looked like a pious man, this judicial “emotion” could not be accepted as a dispassionate verdict. Should the state make worship compulsory and judge citizens on the basis of certain rituals whose good effect is empirically unverifiable? What is the yardstick that tests piety and allows the state to pronounce on the spiritual purity of a citizen?
A lawyer in Lahore, who doesn’t want to be named because he sets himself apart from his rather literalist-conservative colleagues, says: “There is one reference to ethic in Article 62 which is already taken care of by our legal codes, and that is the concept of ameen. The modern state applies it in the banking system and cases of contractual violation in civil law. The higher judiciary, instead of accepting the current application of Article 62, should advise the next Parliament to amend the said article and restore it to its pre-Zia shape.” If only.
From our April 12, 2013, issue. For updates, follow Ahmed on Twitter.