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Playing with emotions?

Byline: M A NIAZI

At Penpoint How does Imran measure up to a standard he himself set

The need for Prime Minister Imran Khan to repeat the Riasat-e-Madina trope, as he did in his PTI foundation anniversary tweet and then speech, is not plainly visible. After all, it is not one of the pledges that he made during last year's election campaign. However, he first unveiled it to the nation in his first televised address. Either it was something he kept quiet about during the campaign because he thought it would put off his voters, or else it was an afterthought brought about by the transforming experience of having finally won office after two decades.

Though he may have kept quiet about it before the election, he spoke of it after, and now that the party marks its first anniversary after taking office. It is almost as if the trope made more impact among the party ranks than among the nation as a whole, and thus bore repeating. Of course, Imran's concept of the Riasat-e-Madina may differ from orthodoxy, and for the wrong reasons. The Riasat-e-Madina was historical, dating from the Prophet's entry into Madina, for the last 10 years of his life, and followed by the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, until the fourth, Ali ibn abi Talib, shifted his capital to Kufa. In 661, when he was assassinated, the Caliphate then vested in the Bani Umayyah, whose capital was Damascus. That was not the Riasat-e-Madina.

The appeal of the Riasat-e-Madina survives even today. It is not really a historical memory, because it never included this part of the world, and today's Muslim Pakistanis being almost entirely converts

But then, Imran has shown that he has his own views on history. The views he has expressed on Germany-Japan relations are unorthodox, to say the least. If that epoch and area are confused, it is not clear what confusions he might have about the Riasat-e-Madina. It does seem that he is conveying to his audience his concept of a welfare state. It is perhaps a common fallacy to see the Riasat-e-Madina as a kind of Nordic welfare state.

That is not necessarily correct. An understanding of what the Riasat-e-Madina was, and was not, is essential if it is to be used as an example by believers. In the time of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), he headed the state because he had been assigned the task by the Almighty, not because he had been elected. However, the Rightly Guided Caliphs all took office without divine intervention or indication. In two cases, the circumstances were extremely traumatic. Usman ibn Affan took office after his predecessor had been assassinated while leading the Fajr prayers; Ali ibn Abi Talib took office after his predecessor had been assassinated, and rebels were rampaging through the streets of the capital. Yet even in these extreme circumstances, no claim of divine indication was made.

One of the principles thereby established was that the Caliph was not a Pope. He enjoyed no infallibility. He was just someone who had pledged to rule according to the commands of the Almighty and the example of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), one among the many believers. In return for this pledge, the other believers pledged to obey him. Imran, on the other hand, has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution does not claim to be bound by the Quran and Sunnah, though it does contain a declaration that sovereignty belongs to the Almighty, to be exercised by the chosen representatives of the people. He has in turn received no pledge.

The Riasat-e-Madina was not a democracy, in that there was no alternative government. In the time of the Holy Prophet, there was an opposition, in the form of Abdullah ibn Ubayy, but he was the leader of the hypocrites. It obviously was wrong to oppose the Prophet (PBUH), but even after him, when to oppose the ruler was not to oppose the Almighty, there was no organised opposition. There were debates over policy, most notably over what to do with the conquered lands of Persia, but there were no institutions of opposition. It can be debated how far this contributed to the tragic assassination of Hazrat Usman, but the fact remains that the Riasat-e-Madina was not a parliamentary democracy.

Nor was it a presidential. The impression was probably created during the Ayub regime that Islam mandates the presidential model. That might explain the attraction of military regimes for Islam: that it mandates a presidential system. Supporters and opponents mean two different things by a presidential system. Supporters chafe at the parliamentary model's restriction on choosing ministers from within the legislature; opponents assume that presidential systems mean lack of accountability.

The Riasat-e-Madina did not mean an absence of accountability. The rule was not untrammelled, but of law. That law was not determined by a legislature, but the Caliph, and not of his whimsy, but through his interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah. To revert to the debate on conquered lands, Hazrat Umar based his decision on his interpretation of a Quranic verse, an example of how the Rightly Guided Caliphs felt the need to justify themselves.

It is worth noting that the Riasat-e-Madina also looked after members of the minorities. Hazrat Umar famously asked an old Jew what had driven him to poverty. 'The Jizya' came the reply, and Hazrat Umar ordered that he be looked after at public expense. There is a misconception that the Islamic state is supposed to operate a welfare system above a person's relatives. First, the state is supposed to ensure that poor people's rich relatives provide their share of maintenance, and only if they are insufficient, does the state step in. It could happen, if an entire region has been struck by a calamity such as an earthquake or floods, that even surviving relatives have been rendered indigent; that is when the state steps in. Welfare was thus given by need, not by religion. It did help to be a Muslim. The Riasat-e-Madina was a poor society, until wealth came from the state's share of the booty of the Byzantine and Persian conquests. In this wealth, all Muslims shared. It took no IMF programmes, not just because there was no IMF, but because it refused to play by the rules written by others.

The appeal of the Riasat-e-Madina survives even today. It is not really a historical memory, because it never included this part of the world, and today's Muslim Pakistanis being almost entirely converts from Hinduism or Buddhism. It remains an ideal nonetheless, and claiming that one is in the process of achieving it is obviously advantageous to someone who is under attack for mismanaging the economy.
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Publication:Pakistan Today (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:May 3, 2019
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