Ibn Khaldun & Today’s Muslim World

(A View from Pakistan)

Ibn Khaldun’s The Muqaddimah is often cited as the first work of historiography and the forerunner to the social sciences. However, he is best known for his theory of cyclical patterns of power – of the rise and fall of civilisations. Arnold Toynbee, the western historian, declared Muqaddimah to be “the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by the human mind.”

According to Ibn Khaldun, what brought the ruin of a civilisation was not lack of military, political or economic power but injustice – when society lost its commitment to justice, ethics and fair play, and when powerful members of society put their own interests above those of the community.

Ibn Khaldun went on to list the human rights contained in Islam that needed to be protected: the right to life, religion, education, family and property. His conclusion was that the ultimate purpose of the Islamic community was to establish justice by protecting people’s fundamental rights. The greater the commitment to justice, the stronger the community.

A glance at history shows that civilisations with a better justice system prospered. Roman laws were superior to those of the ‘barbarians’. Later, the State of Madina was based on ‘Adl and Insaf’ and created one of the most egalitarian societies based on rule of law and economic justice – setting up the first welfare state in the history of mankind. The rapid spread of Islam was due to its vastly superior system of justice. For instance, in the 9th Century Muslim scholars were debating the rights of the child. 

Unlike the Mongolian conquest, no rivers of blood flowed when Islam spread from Morocco to Indonesia, armed with a superior value and justice system. When the Ottomans moved into Eastern Europe, they liberated the peasantry from the oppressive feudal system that prevailed there. And, just as Ibn Khaldun had predicted, when the Muslims’ commitment to justice declined so did their civilisation. While Muslims began moving towards absolute kingship, European attempts to bring their rulers under rule of law started with the Magna Carta in the 13th Century. Even the British administered their empire in India through rule of law.

Today the Muslim world has hit rock bottom. No Muslim country can compete with the Europeans in the way the latter protect the human rights of their citizens. In Europe free quality education is provided to people; there is free legal aid to those citizens who cannot afford lawyers, free medical care to the poor, and the state looks after the welfare of the unemployed, the old and the handicapped. The Scandinavian countries stand out with their commitment to justice; even animal rights are protected.

It is painful to compare the western civilisation’s justice system to what exists in the Muslim world today, ruled as it is primarily by an assortment of dictators, kings and pseudo democrats. However, no example of an unjust society is more painful than that of Pakistan. The only country to come into being in the name of Islam, we were supposed to become an example of the model Islam based on the humane, just and compassionate state of Madina. Instead, we have been degenerating rapidly into following the law of the jungle – might is right and the survival of the fittest. A predatory ruling elite has got entrenched in the system, depriving people of their basic human rights. 

All the fundamental rights of citizens are violated in Pakistan. The right to practise one’s religion is protected more by western countries than by our state. Even Muslim sects cannot be protected by the state, let alone non-Muslim Pakistanis. Religious scholars holding differing views from that of the majority sect have been killed or hounded out of the country. The taxation system is the most unjust, enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor through indirect taxes. In the past 20 years taxes on the rich declined by 15 percent, while for the poor they went up by 35 percent through increasing indirect taxation. The ruling elite hides its wealth, made through illegal means, in properties and bank accounts abroad. 

The right to quality education is reserved only for a tiny elite. There are 800,000 children getting English-medium education, two million going to madressahs and 30 million who go to Urdu-medium schools. And the most shameful statistic is that we have 25 million children out of school. Similarly, health facilities only cater to the rich. The majority of the citizens end up in poor quality hospitals, getting substandard care and having to buy medicines they cannot afford. About a quarter of a million children die annually because of water-borne preventable diseases. 

The bulk of the population has no access to justice, not being able to hire lawyers to face the lengthy and cumbersome criminal justice system. An ex-IG of prisons made a startling disclosure in a seminar a few years back that half the prison population is innocent – their only crime being their poverty. Meanwhile our justice system is incapable of bringing the powerful elite under the rule of law. The rich can get away with almost every crime starting from land grabbing, money laundering, and stealing taxpayers’ money to murder. While the average citizen’s life, property and family face daily threats, a large proportion of the police force protects the VIPs.

Ibn Khaldun’s greatest contempt was reserved for those citizens who passively accepted injustice in the society. Almost 2000 years earlier, Aristotle had stated that those citizens who do not stand up against injustice are either cowards or selfish being a part of the vested interest. Islam makes it a sacred duty (jihad) to stand up against oppression and injustice.

How far we have sunk to depths of accepting injustice could be gauged after the 2013 general elections when the leaders of almost all political parties claimed the election was rigged. Yet the entire ruling elite accepted this enormous crime where the basic human right of a citizen, the sanctity of his vote, was violated. All dictators have held elections but because they are neither fair nor free, citizens do not matter. If the citizens’ votes become irrelevant, rulers don’t have to worry about their welfare, nor be held accountable to the taxpayers. So funds can be diverted to questionable mega projects rather than human development. 

It took two years of relentless campaigning, including 126 days of dharna, to finally force the ruling political mafia to form a judicial commission to investigate the crime. In any western democracy the process of probing electoral fraud would have been over within a matter of weeks.

Pakistan stands at a critical crossroads in its history today. We can keep going as we are, where a ruling elite keeps plundering the country and stashing its loot abroad, while the citizens sink into a sea of inflation (to pay the ruling elite’s debts through higher prices) and poverty. 

The sense of injustice and deprivation amongst the smaller provinces will continue to weaken the federation with an East Pakistan/Bangladesh situation waiting to happen. Or we can stand up for our rights and fight for a just society – the reason Pakistan was created. -–The News International

--The writer is a cricket star turned politician


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