Malice Towards None & All: Cities, Mosques & Reforms

Malice Towards None & All: Cities, Mosques & Reforms
When Mussolini requested Dr. Muhammad Iqbal to give some exceptional suggestion for him, Iqbal advised, “Don’t allow overcrowding of the cities. Limit the size of the population of a city and after that limit instead of allowing them to settle there, create new settlements and cities for them.” Bemused, Mussolini requested Iqbal to elaborate further. Iqbal said, “As the population of a city increase, its moral values and economic power starts waning. Worst, immoral activities start challenging the culture’s strength.” Mussolini looked towards the Great Indian Philosopher in disbelief for a moment but in the next moment stood from his chair and shouted with excitement, “What an excellent idea!”—Extract taken fromAllama Iqbal, the Great Poet of the East

The above discourse emphasises the importance of smaller units as effective means of administration, leading towards good governance. Sir Muhammad Iqbal was not a town planner, but his advice speaks volumes about wisdom that prompted Mussolini to appreciate him. Commonly called Allama Iqbal, praised for presenting Tasawwar-i-Pakistan, or the concept of Pakistan, and as Hakeem-ul-Ummat, the messiah of the Muslim Ummah, a very few people know about his work titled, Ilm al-Iqtisad or the Knowledge of Economics, written way back in 1903. It was a pioneer work on economics in Urdu. In this book and many others, he presented, amongst others, ideas for reforms for well-being of people, especially the Muslims. It is important to discuss these as after 9 days on August 14, 2023 we are going to celebrate 76th Independence Day.

Welfare societies, even in large metropolises, provide citizens all fundamental facilities that majority of Pakistanis lack in urban and rural areas. Based on the principle of self-governance, big cities are divided into smaller units to cater for essential services for all. Except for recreation or travelling, residents get most of their needs within their close proximity. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the situation is quite the opposite. Population density—due to migration from rural to urban is thickening rapidly. Hence, more localities are fast mushrooming without there being comparative growth in important services like housing, sewage, drinking water, roads, walking pavements, parks, government-run educational institutions, hospitals and above all public transport.

Consequently, even newly established localities in big cities turn into ghettos. Besides, people are forced to seek a living or reach affordable educational institutions and hospitals in distant areas because of which the roads become choked with commuters moving in opposite directions. The daily life is a challenge due to heavy traffic, air and noise pollution and what not, leading to tensions, anxiety, unrest, diseases, fatal accidents, despair and depression.

Since the passage of the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010, commonly called “the 18th Amendment”, we have failed to implement Article 140A(1) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan which says: Each Province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.

It is tragic that over time, like many others institutions, mosques have been converted into “clergy” houses.

In successful democracies, elected municipalities have the right to levy municipal tax in accordance with the local government laws. The elected members perform their functions according to such laws. In Pakistan, local councils, even when functional, usually were represented by elected but incompetent people, showing apathy towards their responsibilities towards those who elect them.

Like other responsible states, had we been successful in establishing grass root democracy by giving extensive functions to local governments including education, health care, social welfare services etc, today municipalities would be taking care of matters related to the residents’ free-time, recreation, housing, health, education, and management and maintenance of their living environment (i.e. roads, streets, water supply and sewerage), as well as land-use planning.

We have wasted 76 years, but there is a famous saying, “Better late than never.” We can still find solutions for our immediate woes by making use of mosques that can be found in almost every corner of our cities/towns/villages. The Jamia (main) Mosques which are comparatively larger buildings for holding Friday congressional prayers can be utilised for many other purposes other than prayers. The following extract from Chapter V of the book A Manual of Hadith published in 1944 and compiled by Maulana Muhammad Ali, M.A., LL.B, throws light on the significance of the mosque.

“The mosque is meant primarily for Divine worship. To the Muslim, however, the mosque means much more than a mere house of Divine worship which could, in fact, be offered anywhere; it is the real centre for the society of Islam in a certain locality, as the Ka'bah is the centre for the Muslims of the whole world. The mosque is also the cultural centre of Islam. The Prophet’s Mosque at Madīnah had a kind of boarding-house, called the Suffah, attached to it, for students, where at one time as many as seventy students were accommodated (hh. 16, 17). In fact, the mosque is plainly stated to be a place, to which one should go to learn or teach some good (h. 18). The Suffah of the Prophet’s Mosque has left its legacy in the form of the maktab or madrisah (the school)—considered a necessary adjunct to the mosque to this day—and the library which was generally attached to the more important mosques by Muslims in all ages.”

The mosque, being the essential meeting-place of Muslims five times a day, became also a general centre where all important matters relating to the welfare of the Muslim community were transacted and where Muslims gathered together on all important occasions. The Holy Prophet himself (with his wife 'Ā'ishah) witnessed a display with lances given by some Abyssinians in the mosque (b. 19). Hassān ibn Thābit recited in the mosque his poems in defence of the Holy Prophet (h. 20), juridical affairs were also settled in the mosque (b. 21). A tent was set up for a wounded soldier in the mosque (b. 22). Even a freed handmaid had a tent set up for her in the yard of the Mosque (h. 23). Deputations were received in the mosque and sometimes even lodged there (h. 24). A prisoner who was an idolater was once kept in the mosque (h. 25). On another occasion, it served the purpose of the treasury (h. 26). The mosque was thus not only the spiritual centre of Muslims but also their educational, political and social centre, their national centre in a general sense.

The moulvi should be allowed to enter the profession only on the basis of competitive exams. These exams should test for knowledge of Islam, comparative religions, the humanities, and social science. To graduate to managing a bigger mosque, knowledge of English and the use of the internet should be considered necessary.

It is tragic that over time, like many others institutions, mosques have been converted into “clergy” houses, as highlighted by Allama Iqbal and many. If we want to fight bigotry, obscurantism and religious militancy, we will have to reform the mosque institution to restore its original role.

Dr. Nadeem ul Haque, Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) in his article How to solve Pakistan’s problems, opined: “If Pakistan is serious about eradicating fundamentalism, as an essential step in allowing the country to progress, it must reconsider the role of the mosque and the mullah (or moulvi), the equivalent of the priest or teacher in Islam. Indeed, the way the mosque operates today has moved far from the earlier days of Islam. It is no longer a community place. No true learning activities take place there, no seminars or journeys of discovery; no birthday parties or weddings either. The moulvi uses the mosque virtually as a private domain to advance a personal-political agenda.”

Reformed system of mosque should be publicly owned and based on a system of community control. A hierarchy of mosques should be developed on the basis of size and the area that they serve. Smaller mosques that are in the vicinity of larger mosques should not be allowed to use loudspeakers; their roles should be confined to the service of tight-knit communities on a one-to-one basis. The larger mosques should have libraries, internet and learning facilities.” “The profession of the moulvi should be organised according to professional standards and peer-and community-review. The following five principles in turn could be useful.

The moulvi should be allowed to enter the profession only on the basis of competitive exams. These exams should test for knowledge of Islam, comparative religions, the humanities, and social science. To graduate to managing a bigger mosque, knowledge of English and the use of the internet should be considered necessary. The moulvi should be ranked and graded and have clear guidelines for promotions. The local moulvi should have an annual appraisal conducted by the mosque committee, supplemented by a performance report from the district auqaf (religious-administration) head. A moulvi should have a maximum tenure of four years in a mosque. An auqaf council made up of the most senior moulvithose who have been promoted after having served in many positions—should manage the whole system.

The moulvi should be encouraged to publish selected sermons as well as personal research in journals created for this purpose. Debates should be encouraged. The community, the moulvi profession and especially the auqaf council can occasionally highlight the best sermons and research, and use these as an element in the evaluation of the moulvi.

No moulvi alone can issue a fatwa or other religious injunction; only the auqaf council can deliver them, with adequate review by the council and senior moulvi as part of the process.

The constitution of the auqaf council should accommodate those sect-specific issues that need to be referred to the members of the council belonging to that sect. No sect, big or small, should have the feeling that it is losing out to a tyranny of the majority”.

The following can be further added to proposals presented by Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque. Mosques should be renovated to provide primary level education adopting the same curriculum as in existence in the public/private schools (normal school timings should be between Fajr and Zuhar prayers). A government-run clinic should be opened in every mosque for taking care of the residents’ health. A gym can be accommodated in the Jamia Mosque to cater for the health/free time activities for the youth of the locality. A vocational centre for the women within mosque premises can provide work and productivity for the neighborhood. A soup kitchen in the mosque can be a vital source of nourishment for labourers and those who maybe too modest to ask for food.

The above measures could go a long way in sorting out innumerable problems suffered by the people every day. A primary school for children, clinic and gym in the near vicinity would reduce traffic congestion on the main roads as these vital facilities are made available at a walking distance from the people’s residence. Besides, when members are forced to meet daily on one pretext or the other, social and economic issues could also be resolved by mutual consultation. A feeling of belongingness and good neighbourly relations would be a natural consequence of these meetings. In short, much could be gained from making the most out of mosques rather than rendering them isolated as concrete buildings for worship alone as resented by Allama Iqbal.

The writer, Advocate Supreme Court, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)