Those of us who were born in Zia era or afterwards have heard one demand/pledge/rhetoric depending on who is uttering it and that is we need an Islamic government. The question is: what is an Islamic government? Is it the Islamic caliphate where one caliph will rule over the entire ummah (global Muslim population)? Is it a government of the Muslims, for the Muslims, by the Muslims? Or is it a government where Shariah law would be applied?
Have we ever wondered why do we have this hankering for a something which never existed? Yes, the reality is that there is no precedence of one big caliphate where the entire ummah lived peacefully ever after. It is a myth based on what was supposed to be Islam’s Golden Age and it is carved out of selective memory by political Islamist of 19th century. The Golden Age of Islam is remembered as the period when Islam was practiced in its truest form and that’s why God blessed Muslims with all material wealth, military power, political clout and cultural dominance.
Ask any supporter of an Islamic government to define what constitute the Golden Age of Islam and what do they want? Without fail, they would express hostility towards a hegemonic West, Communism and Israel. A hegemonic and colonial West is 250 years old, communism is a little younger and Israel came into being just 60 odd years ago, nothing in this timeline coincided with Islam’s glorious past. Some of them would also say that excessive wealth, extravagance, severe poverty, exploitation were shunned in those truly Muslim society but even that is factually incorrect.
The reality is that this age never existed. Yes, the Muslims were in economic and military ascendency between 8th and 12th century but that is because of the investment of time, money and energy in scientific research and how individual thought was encouraged which lead to more scientific breakthroughs and not because how the religion was practiced. If anything, it was the period of extravagance; lavish palaces were built, adventurous military endeavors were accomplished, and it was all because of the wealth created by application of scientific methods in production, military, medicine and maritime trading.
The Golden Age of Islam is also remembered as a period of unity among the ummah of believers but that too is not correct. Only in South Asia, apart from Mohammed Bin Qasim, all the invaders from the North West came and fought with Muslims rulers in present day Punjab and Multan and later in Delhi to establish their power. The fact that Mughals wrestled power from the Muslim Kings of Delhi Sultanate and the Ismaili Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt was overthrown by Arab Sunnis in 12th century puts an end to the myth of a united Muslim world in the golden age.
Why do we aim for the formation of an Islamic government? Why do we not call for an effective government that actually delivers the essentials like security, employment opportunity and access to health and education? Why can’t we leave it to the individuals to determine the level of religiosity they want to follow? If we are living in a democracy, we trust the same individuals to participate in representative democracy and form the government by casting their votes and choosing their representatives. If we can trust people with that, why can’t we trust them to determine their own religious fervor or the level of censorship the want to live with? Why would we want to live in a society with moral policing where one would be told what one can do, see, eat and hear.
This is the unedited version, the same article is published with a different title in Express Tribune