The Council of Islamic Ideology was never meant to be a permanent body, so why does it still exist?

Published: July 5, 2016
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Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani (C) addresses a press conference in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is a constitutional body established under Article 228 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973. Given its increasingly obnoxious prescriptions, many in Pakistan are beginning to wonder if it is a good idea to have it in the first place. To this end the Senate Committee on Human Rights has recommended its disbanding recently.

There is merit in this recommendation because the CII was never supposed to be a permanent body. It was supposed to give its final report within seven years of its appointment. That final report was presented in December 1996 and as such there is no constitutional imperative to continue with the body anymore.

The makers of constitution, to their credit, did not envisage the CII to be a council of ulema or religious priests. Article 228 of the constitution speaks of appointment of persons as members who are either well versed in the,

“Knowledge of the principles and philosophy of Islam as enunciated in the Holy Quran and Sunnah,”

Or

“Understanding of the economic, political, legal or administrative problems of Pakistan.”

Significantly the use of the word “person” denotes that such persons need not be Muslims nor even citizens of Pakistan. Article 260(1) of the Constitution defines person as “any body politic or corporals”.  The president of Pakistan has the power to appoint a CII comprising eight to 20 members. These members would necessarily have to have one woman amongst them. The requirement of individuals engaged in Islamic research or instruction is 1/3rd of the total body. This means that 2/3rd of the body could be derived from men and women who were experts in law, economics, science, business etc. and who may or may not be Muslims. Even the chairman of the CII is not required to be a cleric or even a Muslim.

The constitution thus sought to balance the requirements of modernity with religion and create a truly ijtehadi body that would help modernise the law of Islam according to the times we live in. This was keeping in with Allama Iqbal’s lectures on Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. The CII was not supposed to be a body of religious priests with a divine mission. Perhaps most importantly Article 227(3) bars the CII from recommending anything that affects the status of non-Muslims as equal citizens of Pakistan.Yet practical experience showed that it became precisely what it was not supposed to be.

Increasingly since Maulana Sherani took over as Chairman during Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in 2010, the body has become a bastion of reactionary and bigoted thinking led by a group of politically motivated clerics who are otherwise completely oblivious of the advancements in the modern world. Even though the constitution limits the term of an individual member of the CII to three years, many of these members including Sherani have been re-appointed. The constitution does not permit re-appointment. The solitary woman member is also from a religious political party.

The modernist and liberal opinion about religion is not represented. The composition of the body represents a shameless compromise between the secular politicians and the religious parties. The Faustian bargain struck by Asif Ali Zardari during his tenure has been extended by Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) because they need Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s support in parliament just as much as Asif Ali Zardari did. Political expediency has thus allowed the reactionary and bigoted religious clerics, who are otherwise rejected by the people at the polls, a position of primacy over our national affairs.

That position of primacy came into play when Marvi Memon, a member of the National Assembly, tried to introduce a bill increasing the minimum marriageable age of a woman from 16 years to 18 years. Ultimately she had to withdraw the bill because it was deemed unIslamic by the CII. Similarly Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) went out of their way to seek CII’s approval for a women’s protection bill, which they withdrew after the CII “advised” against it. The constitution may only envisage an advisory role but politicians in Pakistan have given the clerics controlling the CII a veto over all legislative actions.

CII’s recommendations make your hair stand.

It has recommended that minimum marriageable age should be abolished altogether. The irony is inescapable. The minimum age for women was first set through the efforts of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1929. Then too, the clergy had firmly opposed it but Jinnah had stood steadfast in his support for the Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929, arguing that if his constituents did not approve of the measure, they might as well elect someone else in his place. Our legislators today are not made of that stuff.

In 2013, the CII ruled out DNA test as primary evidence of rape. Then last year a horrible scene was witnessed when Sherani got into a fist fight with another member of the CII over whether Ahmadis were non-Muslims or Murtads. This happened despite the fact that Article 227(3) bars CII from making any recommendations that would affect non-Muslims’ status as citizens.

Apparently the Chairman of the CII wanted to declare Ahmadis “Murtads” so that there would be open season on them. As if declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims against their will was not enough, now the CII wanted to unleash mobs against them as well. Then came the “model women’s protection law” which allowed for the “light beating” of women and also sought to ban professions such as nursing to women. If the CII had its way, women would be shut away behind closed doors.

CII has made Pakistan the laughing stock of the world and in the process brought Islam in disrepute as well. One cannot help but agree with the Senate committee’s recommendation that the CII should be disbanded. However, this may be too much to ask of our pusillanimous political leadership. What can be done in the interim, however, is to reform the CII by changing its composition.

The first thing to do is to implement the three year term rule as provided by the constitution. It should be ensured that none of the members of the CII have any political affiliation. Only 1/3rd of the members of the CII should be extracted from the religious clergy. The remainder should come from men and women of the world, well versed in economics, law, history and science. There should be more than one woman member. Each non-Muslim minority group should have representation in the CII so that they can safeguard their rights against any infringement right there and then. A thorough reform of the body is in order, if at all we are meant to suffer it any longer.

We cannot as a nation be run by priests with a divine mission. We cannot be a theocracy.

Yasser Latif Hamdani

Yasser Latif Hamdani

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He tweets as @theRealYLH (twitter.com/therealylh)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.