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Pakistan’s inquisitive youth

Zulfiquar Rao
A local Urdu newspaper carried a lengthy feature on Mashal Khan, the student brutally murdered by a frenzied mob of fellow students on false allegations of blasphemy. Unfortunately, the feature wasn’t about how inhumanely he was lynched or how good a student he had been. Instead it was an apologia of how recklessly he brought upon himself his unnecessary and painful demise by being critical on some aspects of Sharia and the Two Nation Theory.On the other hand, some reports carried by mainstream media as well as on social media networking sites were seen as desperately attempting to show him as a run-of-the-mill orthodox Muslim youth. The argument was stretched to prove as if otherwise the act of his killing was any less heinous. The reality is somewhere in between the two contradictory descriptions of Mashal Khan. Unlike Pakistan’s average youth, Mashal was a curious soul and an even more inquisitive student and young man. How many other youths of his age would have chosen to study journalism after having pursued an engineering degree from abroad. It was this inquiring nature that must have led him to expose himself to such diverse a range of ideas, covering everything from Sufi Islam to human rights, from Marxist philosophy to nationalist movements, and from engineering to journalism. But what is so wrong if a post-graduate student doesn’t submit to local orthodoxy? If students aren’t allowed to engage in discussions with competing viewpoints on campus — then where are they supposed to learn the art of independence of thought? Unlike rote learning at the primary school level, it is at university that critical thinking begins to leave its impact on the collective student psyche.

Let’s accept for a moment Mashal had queries regarding some aspects of Sharia and the Two Nation Theory. We must not forget that both of these notions have been discussed and debated throughout this country’s history. Have we not been living with four schools of Fiqh or Islamic Jurisprudence among Sunnis and at least with two among Shia Muslims? Have we not seen leading Muslim reformers calling for revival of Ijtihad or Deduction, which is defunct since 10th century AD, to deal with the complex challenges of modern societies? Doesn’t the Twelver Shia Muslim jurisprudence prefer Aql or intellect over Qiyas or analogy as the fourth source of Sharia?

Similarly, the Two Nation Theory has been debated, both pre- and post-Independence, in its favour and against by innumerable politicians, academics, and historians as a matter of discourse. For instance during the Independence movement, while Sunni sub-sect Brelvi fully supported the idea of Two Nation Theory, the Deobandi Sunnis under Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani were staunchly against it. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan didn’t take favourably to this idea, although after Independence he went on as parochial as to embrace ethnicity and led the Pashtunistan movement. In his memoirs Pathways to Pakistan Khaliquzzaman testified to this effect. He writes: “The two-nation theory, which we had used in the fight for Pakistan, had created not only bad blood against the Muslims of the minority provinces, but also an ideological wedge, between them and the Hindus of India.”He also mentions a farewell meeting in Delhi that Jinnah held with the members of Constituent Assembly on August 1, 1947, where a member SM Rizwanullah an MLA from UP was reported to have put a difficult question to Jinnah regarding the position of Muslims remaining in India regarding their status and their future. Khaliquzzaman writes: “I had never before found Mr Jinnah so disconcerted as on that occasion, probably because he was realising then quite vividly what was immediately in store for the Muslims. Finding the situation awkward, I asked my friends and colleagues to the end the discussion”.

Chaudhary Khaliquzzaman clearly suggested in his book that it was perhaps the meeting on August 1, 1947 that led Jinnah to move on from Two Nation Theory to present a more composite form of nationalism in his famous speech of August 11, 1947, as the governor general-designate and president of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Interestingly, the August 11, 1947 speech is in contrast to Jinnah’s speech on faith-based nationalism on March 22, 1940 that, next day, had led to passage of historic Resolution of Pakistan in Muslim League’s convention.

So what Mashal was accused of having queries about isn’t something that had not been previously debated. Universities are the best places to research, constructively inquire and learn. Indeed, discouraging academic curiosities is akin to keeping our youth trapped in dogma and away new thoughts and knowledge. We must encourage inquisitiveness among our young generation so that they are able to t to grasp new knowledge and to get to grips with useful technology. Or would we have them as stupefied as us when it comes to the quackery of miraculous water-fuelled car technology!

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