These days, triple talaq, public hanging of a child rapist, and rights of transgender are some of the controversial issues debated by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a government advisory body meant to filter laws in the light of Islamic injunctions. Incidentally, its freshly appointed chairman, Dr Qibla Ayaz, has the reputation of being moderate compared to his predecessor, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani.
The federal government announced Dr Ayaz as the new chairman of the 20-member council nearly a year after the former chairman, Maulana Sherani, belonging to a religio-political group, completed his second term.
Dr Ayaz is a former vice chancellor of the Peshawar University and former dean of Islamic and Oriental Studies at the same university. He holds PhD from the University of Edinburgh, UK, in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. President Mamnoon Hussain notified him as chairman of the council, along with nine other members, including religious scholar Khurshid Nadeem, senior cleric of Jamia Ashrafia Hafiz Fazl-e-Rahim, Raghib Naeemi, son of Mufti Sarfaraz Naeemi who had been killed in a suicide attack by Taliban, among others.
The new appointees are said to be moderate as compared to the old members who were mostly conformist and conservative. Previously, the CII came into spotlight when the former chairman justified light beating of wives. “We want to make the CII a consensual body that can take up new challenges and issues pertaining to our state and society,” Dr Ayaz told The News on Sunday, adding that many new members of the council did not belong to religious seminaries but were scholars who called for debate on issues rather than give a conformist view.
“We want to promote collective wisdom rather than take a political position on issues,” he further said. “The newly appointed council has no political ambitions and aims to debate the misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.”
The previous council discussed the blasphemy laws as well but its proposed amendments were rejected due to internal politics. “We will bring all stakeholders and scholars on board to debate and suggest measures to sort out the matter,” he said. “Such issues call for a constructive debate and dialogue because of their sensitive nature.”
When the previous council of nine members completes its term in the first week of March, 11 new members, mostly scholars, shall take charge. The chairman hoped the new members would “further improve” the working of the council.
The CII was established as an advisory council in 1962, under Article 199 of the 1962 Constitution of Pakistan. Later, the advisory council was re-designated as the Council of Islamic Ideology in Article 228 of the 1973 Constitution, its functions given in Article 230, followed by the Rules of Procedure (Article 231). The article states, “CII shall submit its final report within seven years of its appointment and shall submit an annual interim report. The report, whether interim or final, shall be laid for discussion before both the houses and each provincial assembly within six months of its receipt. And, the parliament, after considering the report, shall enact laws in respect thereof within a period of two years of the final report.”
According to Dr Ayaz, it is an “incorrect impression” that CII is merely a recommendatory body because in the constitution the word “shall” is used for CII, which indicates “a mandatory role for the council”.
Legally, the council should have ceased to exist after it reviewed the laws. But it continues to work, calling itself a “necessity” under “religious obligation”, amid objections raised by the progressive sections of the society.
Some former active members of the council, not wanting to be named, say it has deviated from its given constitutional direction from time to time, and has become political for following different agendas.
The new chairman’s hopes of making the council functional in accordance with the law and adopting a moderate approach are likely to be challenging for him and his team.
Recently, CII member Zahid Mehmood Qasmi declared the district courts established in a private plaza of sector F-8, Islamabad, as “un-Islamic,” stating that “Islam does not absolutely permit its followers to build government institutions or even mosques on illegally occupied lands.” However, the matter is yet to be taken to the CII through a legal course.
In another development, Zahidur Rashidi, a cleric head of a self-created council that calls for the implementation of CII recommendations, held a seminar where he urged the government to implement all council recommendations in letter and spirit. Otherwise, he warned, of starting a mass movement to press for this demand. Dr Ayaz also addressed the seminar in Islamabad last week.
“According to law, the CII will respond to the government only when president or parliament would refer agenda or issue to council. There is no other way that CII can take up matters directly or even on the call of some standing bodies of the parliament. This evokes the political role of the body, which is not a function of the council,” opines a former chairman of the council.
He believes that the real challenge before the CII is to dispel its political image and follow the constitutional path.