Revamping legal education

The faculty and law students at Doctor Muhammad Iqbal Law School must engage with the philosophy of Islamic law, writes Dr Ziaullah Ranjah

Revamping legal education
"The student of the history of Islam…is well aware that with the political expansion of Islam, systematic legal thought became an absolute necessity, and our earlier doctors of the law, both of Arabian and non-Arabian descent, worked ceaselessly until all the accumulated wealth of legal thought had found a final expression in our recognized schools of law.”

These are the works of Iqbal in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.

Amidst deteriorating standards in the legal profession in Pakistan, it is a breath of fresh air that the Government College University, Lahore (established in 1861 as the Government College by the British Government in India) has recently established a law school named after its alumnus and a prominent thinker, Dr Muhammad Iqbal (earlier GC established Allama Iqbal Chair in Philosophy). The law school aims to arrest the downward slide of the profession in Pakistan and set new standards in legal studies and practice. It is a commendable step.

When Muslims of the subcontinent suffered from a sense of decline, Muhammad Iqbal urged them to wake from deep slumber and reclaim their lost political and intellectual position. His poetry and thoughtful lectures provided self-confidence and emotional strength in the 20th century, leading Muslims to demand and create an independent country called Pakistan. Of course, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and other Muslim leaders also played a significant role in the anti-colonial movement for freedom.

We often fail to comprehend Iqbal’s philosophy of ‘self’, which demands a recurrent evolution in knowledge and morality to strengthen justice in society. The values envisioned by Iqbal require a restless, self-advancing, self-improving, optimistic, rational, confident and idealistic individual—a person who believes in constant evolution, progress and change in oneself and one’s society. This vision often seems lost in our young lawyers. Indeed, the legal fraternity appears to have ignored the legacy and teachings of two of our greatest lawyers—Iqbal and Jinnah. Both envisaged a state where the constitution would be supreme and justice would be delivered without any discrimination. They struggled to establish respect for human rights and the rule of law. Iqbal was dismayed by how his lectures were received during his own lifetime. Once Iqbal asked a student of philosophy at Government College, Lahore if he had studied the Reconstruction. On his reply in the negative Iqbal replied: “I have posed this question to my several Muslim friends. None of them has read the book…But it was quite surprising that the Hindu students at the Banaras University had not only read the book, but in a meeting, they even asked me a number of questions and discussed several points in detail.”

While discussing the concept of ijtihad in the modern age, Iqbal deals with a basic question: whether the law in Islam has the capacity for reform and evolution. The faculty and law students at Doctor Muhammad Iqbal Law School (DILS) must engage with the philosophy of Islamic law to meet the legal and institutional challenges faced by Islamic democracies. They must be able to debate on important legal issues in Pakistan such as the qualification/disqualification of our political representatives, the constitutional role of the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Federal Shariat Court. They must guide on the emerging legal challenges like the scope and applicability of (secular) international law in (Islamic) domestic legal regimes. DILS should develop, among its students, Iqbal’s ‘self’, inculcating an ongoing ‘quest’ for progress in knowledge, law, and social justice.

Our justice system faces serious challenges—from legal education to the role of bar councils and the process of judicial appointments.

These issues include a desperate need for legal and judicial reforms, capacity building for lawyers and judges, efforts to reduce judicial delays and protect fundamental rights. We need to improve police investigation and criminal trials, remove gender bias from the legal profession, enhance our use of technology, and cultivate our ability to interpret and reinterpret Islamic law whilst mainstreaming both international law and the supremacy of the constitution in our jurisprudence.

In most Pakistani law schools, the teaching method is focused on lectures without engaging students and memorization without understanding legal concepts. Law students are rarely engaged in critical or creative thinking. Legal provisions are taught without explaining the underlying philosophy and rationality of the law. Case analysis is missing. The skills needed for effective drafting of pleadings, legal opinions, and memoranda are badly ignored. Legal education policymakers concentrate on matters of quantity (i.e., the duration of legal education, the number of admissions in law schools, and the number of faculty and classrooms), failing to consider and improve matters of quality. It is hoped that DILS will prioritize quality over the quantity of legal education.

DILS must follow GCU’s motto: “Courage to Know.” Without challenging philosophical and legal questions, Iqbal’s dreams may materialize in Pakistan. Iqbal wanted enlightened Muslims and well-educated parliamentarians in an Islamic democracy who know the meaning and purpose of the law (including Islamic law) for effective lawmaking. It can only be possible through high-quality teaching law, both in letter and in spirit.

I hope the members of the legal fraternity and academia will be invited to a national conference hosted by DILS to seek their views for revamping our legal education system. Legal education experts and policymakers should also be engaged from Pakistan and abroad to provide policy advice and direction for the newly established school in the name of our national poet, a brilliant philosopher and a famous lawyer. So, it is rightly expected that DILS revolutionize legal education and research in Pakistan. May Iqbal’s dreams come true!

The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan