Religious debate has muddied land reforms

Although our constitution is not secular and religious hurdles to legislation will always be present, “Islamic” debates over certain issues have outlasted our tolerance for them.

Sarah Elahi October 15, 2010
It seems that for every step we take forward, we take two steps back. Pakistan has been unsuccessfully struggling with the concept of land reform for decades. As other Muslim societies move forward, ours is still debating whether or not the concept is Islamic.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s recent condemnation of the MQM land reform bill is unsurprising, but frustrating.

Keeping in mind that our constitution is not secular and religious hurdles to legislation will always be present, religious debates over certain issues have outlasted our tolerance for them. As long as our religious parties are populated mostly by political stakeholders, rather than Islamic scholars, their statements will be difficult to swallow.

It may well be true that Islam - narrowly defined as what was practiced during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and ignoring all the religious scholarship that has been undertaken since - does not put a cap on how much wealth an individual can own. However, in the same vein, “Islam” in such a narrow context also does not have an opinion on modern farming practices.

Or the MQM.

Or feudalism in South Asia.

The list of things that Islam does not expressly forbid simply because they may not have existed 1,500 years ago is endless. It is vital for the JUP, or any political party for that matter, to advance beyond their present rhetoric and allow for deeper  and broader interpretations of religious law. Simply saying that a law does not exist is not enough; certainly not when millions of Pakistanis are bonded labourers or languishing in the personal prisons of wealthy landowners.

Unfortunately, a resistance to either the bill or its detractors is likely to be turned into a brawl with bias and name-calling from both sides. The debate about whether Pakistan was intended as a secular or Islamic state rarely progresses beyond the simplistic allegations of "what Jinnah wanted" and turns ugly far too quickly.

With our (lack of) land reforms preventing economy or society from progressing, it is high time that creative dialogue is initiated on the subject. Until then, it is likely that the discussion about vitally important developments, such as breaking the backbone of feudalism, will remain mired in accusations of being either extremist or godless.
Sarah Elahi A graduate of Mount Holyoke College who works with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Tanveer Arif | 11 years ago | Reply @sarah.elahi: I think here you should mention the "famous" Qazalbash trust case in which the Federal Shariat Court through Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani declered that; Individual property rights in Islam are the same as rights over other categories. Islam has imposed no quantitative limit (ceiling) on land or any other commodity that can be owned by a person. If the state imposes a permanent limit on the amount of land which can be owned by its citizen, and legally prohibits them from acquiring any property beyond that prescribed limit, then such an imposition of limit is completely prohibited by the Shariah. However, if the state imposes a temporary limit on the amount of land which can be owned by its citizens, then different opinions may arise depending upon the nature of the limit imposed. Although the state may acquire legitimately acquired property by paying compensation, such an acquisition must fulfill two criteria: a) the acquisition of land must not be forceful and b) the compensation must be equal to the market value of the property. The order to spend surplus on the poor is not a mandatory order which could be normally enforced by the state. A waqf involves the permanent dedication of property to Allah. As the property is vested in Allah, the state has no right to interfere with that property, let alone to forcibly acquire it without compensation.
Samad | 11 years ago | Reply The lens through, which you chose to look at this issue will only lead you to incorrect conclusions about what the roots of the problem are. I agree with Hassaan Zahid that this debate is definitely NOT a religious one. Nor is it just a question of religion being used and abused. The problem with land reform issues is much more deep-rooted than that. Their is definitely an ethnic and 'zaat' (caste) elements at play in addition to other problems that commonly plague land reforms across the world. The JUP isn't the first party to get in the way of these reforms. A lot of so-called secular parties have time and again sabotaged this process. The PPP is one such glaring example. Before making these claims, do your research more thoroughly.
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