Writing about post-invasion Iraq, Feldman and Martinez (2007) argued, ‘as the constitutional process became increasingly participatory and democratic in the period from the fall of Saddam Hussein to ratification, the constitution itself became increasingly Islamic in orientation and detail….. To put it simply, more democracy meant more Islam.’ If one reviews the political developments in other Muslim-majority countries (MMCs) during the last few decades, more democracy means more Islam (hereafter Feldman’s aphorism) seems to be true. Democratic advancement has resulted in more Islam in Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Recently, Hamid (2014) also contended that democratic openings in the MMCs might lead to more Islamization and not to a more liberal polity. This blogpost reviews Pakistan’s constitutional history to see whether democratic progression in Pakistan has also led to more Islamization. It concludes that during the first thirty years of Pakistan (1947-77), more democracy did lead to more Islam in the constitutions but since then, Feldman’s aphorism is no longer true.
Before proceeding, a note of caution. This blog post only reviews Pakistan’s constitutions and their amendments. Islamization can (and does) happen by enactment / change of laws. Conversely, Islamic provisions often find place in the MMC’s constitutions for purely symbolic purposes, with no corresponding changes in laws.
More democracy means more Islamization (1947-77)
Pakistan has three promulgated three constitutions (1956, 1962 and 1973 constitutions) during its short history. In 1947, it became independent and a democracy but it took nine years to agree on a constitution. However, when the constitution was promulgated, it supported the aphorism that more democracy leads to more Islam as 1956 constitution contained several Islamic provisions that were absent in Pakistan’s temporary constitution, the colonial British India Act, 1935. For example, country was named as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and only a Muslim could become head of the state. Moreover, though legally not enforceable, in the preamble of the constitution and in the directive principles of state policy, governments were required to promote Islamic precepts and education. The most important and enforceable provision was given in Article 198 which stated that no law repugnant to the injunctions of Islam shall be enacted and existing laws shall be brought into conformity with such injunctions. Another article (Article 197) called for the formation of an organization for Islamic research.
In 1958, General Ayub Khan took power in a coup and abrogated the 1956 constitution. The 1962 constitution was based on the Khan’s ideas and was not debated in any legislature. It envisioned a presidential system, with few checks and balances. For all intent and purposes, 1962 constitution was a way for General Khan to institutionalize his illegal power grab.
While Feldman’s aphorism cannot be verified for the period 1958-62 as Pakistan had regressed democratically, one can check whether the inverse of aphorism was also true i.e. did less democracy in Pakistan lead to less Islam? It appears so. The 1962 constitution had less and more diluted Islamic provisions than the 1956 constitution. First, in the 1962 constitution, the name of the country was changed from Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Republic of Pakistan. Second, to give legislators more leeway in legislation, references to ‘Quran and Sunnah’ in many articles of the 1956 constitution were replaced with ‘Islam’. Finally, 1962 constitution, unlike 1956 constitution, had no provision to bring existing laws in conformity to Quran and Sunnah.
After the promulgation of 1962 constitution, elections of federal and provincial legislatures were held. The election to federal legislature were indirect and most of the erstwhile political leadership was not allowed to run by the military regime. Nonetheless, even the indirectly elected, inexperienced, toothless legislature managed to force the powerful President to give way. Within a year, the legislature passed the first amendment to the constitution that changed the country’s name back to Islamic Republic of Pakistan and reverted to the language of the 1956 constitution with respect to Islamic clauses, thereby rejecting the attempt to weaken them by the General/President. So, even a little democratic advancement resulted in more Islam as Feldman’s aphorism had predicted. The 1962 constitution was abrogated in 1969 after another coup.
Pakistan’s current constitution was promulgated in 1973. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, constitution was debated and approved by an assembly that was directly elected under universal suffrage. So, did democracy progression lead to more Islam? Yes. The constitution of Pakistan, 1973 was more Islamic than the previous two constitutions. For the first time, Islam was declared the state religion of Pakistan (Article 2). Moreover, both the President and the Prime minister had to be Muslim and they had to take a special oath as a proof. In addition to the references to Islam in the preamble and principles of policy, similar to the previous two constitutions, state was also asked to encourage learning of Arabic. Article 227 brought back the 1956 constitution’s undertaking that all existing laws shall be made to conform to Holy Quran and Sunnah and no new law shall be enacted which is repugnant to their injunctions. However, only one body, Council of Islamic Ideology, was envisaged to assist the state in fulfilling this promise. The second amendment, passed in 1974, further consolidated the Islamic character of the 1973 constitution by defining who is a Muslim (Article 260(3)).
More democracy does not mean more Islamization (1977-2014)
In 1977, martial law was imposed in Pakistan and the 1973 constitution was held in abeyance. From 1947 to 1977, the first thirty years of Pakistan, not only Feldman’s aphorism ‘more democracy means more Islam’ was true but its inverse was also true and democratic regression meant less Islam in constitution. The 1977 martial law was a watershed. After 1977, the link between democracy and Islam was broken. After 1977, more democracy did not result in more Islam, in fact in many instances, the opposite was true; less democracy meant more Islam.
The first period when less democracy meant more Islam started immediately after the 1977 coup. The military dictator, General Zia, made several changes in the constitution from 1977 to 1985. When elections were held in 1985, parliamentarians were forced by the general to accept these changes (as the 8th constitutional amendment) in lieu of restoring constitutional rule. The major changes brought about by the 8th amendment were: the preamble of the constitution, with its many Islamic references, was made substantive (and justiciable) part of the constitution (Article 2-A); creation of a Federal Shariat Court and a Shariat Appellate bench in the Supreme Court (Article 203-A to J); members of parliament/provincial assemblies were required to have adequate knowledge of Islam and not only abstain from major sins but also avoid being known as violators of Islamic injunctions (Article 62 and 113).
Pakistan had democratic dispensation from 1985 to 1999. Did democracy lead to more Islam during this period? The answer is no. There were efforts to Islamize the constitution further but they were unsuccessful. The proposed 9th amendment in 1985 that attempted to make Quran and Sunnah the supreme law of the land was passed by the Senate but was not passed by the National Assembly. In 1998, another attempt was made (the proposed 15th amendment) to make Quran and Sunnah as the supreme law of Pakistan but it also failed to pass the legislature, despite government having more than the required two-third majority.
In 1999, martial law was imposed by General Musharraf and he ruled Pakistan till 2002. Democracy was restored in 2002 and since then in twelve years, four constitutional amendments have been presented and passed but these amendments didn’t increase Islamization. Even in the 18th amendment that completely revamped the 1973 constitution, changing dozens of articles, there was no attempt to Islamize. So, Feldman’s aphorism did not find support in Pakistan after 2002, continuing a trend that started in 1977.
Why Feldman’s aphorism lost its power after being so successful earlier in Pakistan’s history? It appears that there are both conceptual and practical limits to legal/constitutional Islamization in a democracy. The conceptual limit is due to the multivocality of Islam. Once one moves beyond the basic principles, depending on the choice of Quran’s ayah or Hadith contrasting conclusions can be reached. This has led to multiplicity of Islamic sects and set boundaries beyond which any Islam-based legislation would result not in piety or harmony but in disagreements, discord and violence. In a democracy, it is, therefore, difficult for a government to venture into top-down Islamization (beyond the basic principles) and not come out bruised.
The practical limitation is that although elections can be won once or twice campaigning on ‘Islam is the solution’, governing is difficult and needs lot of intellectual ability, critical thinking and hard-nosed effort to apply Islamic principles to the present-day world. Islamist parties, although committed to applying Islam, either do not have the ability or the will to go through this process. Other parties are not committed to Islamization and use Islam instrumentally which, not surprisingly, leads to mostly negative consequences (like sectarianism) and to none of the positive outcomes (like less corruption or good governance). For example in Pakistan, regular elections have resulted in misgivings about constitutional Islamization in Pakistan as people realized that despite Islamization, behavior of elites has not changed. Governance has not improved and nepotism, extravagance, incompetence and corruption have not decreased. This has resulted in a decrease of support for new constitutional provisions based on Islam.
Is Pakistan unique among the MMCs or did Pakistan just pass through the various phases of church-state relationship earlier than other MMCs and others would follow the same course in future?
I believe Pakistan’s experience is not unique. Therefore, a lesson that can be learned from Pakistan’s experience is that Western liberals/democrats should not panic because of Islamists winning elections and bringing Islam in their country’s constitutions. Democracy puts limits on what can be done in a country. Islamic provisions in constitutions made after Arab Spring revolutions are not slippery slopes that would lead to establishment of theocracies. Elected Islamist parties might be authoritarian but their replacements are more so, as the experience of Egypt has shown. And elected Islamist parties have less freedom of maneuver than undemocratic regimes that do not have to contest free and fair elections. Protecting liberalism and pluralism by sacrificing democracy in the MMCs is foolishness at its best and patronizing arrogance and orientalism at its worst.
Raja M. Ali Saleem PhD Candidate
George Mason University.