Wednesday Feb 07, 2018
On November 3, Dr Qibla Ayaz was appointed the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Pakistan’s top Islamic advisory body, for a period of three years. He replaced Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, a politician from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, who headed the Council for six years.
The CII was first set up in 1962, during the term of Gen Ayub Khan. Its mandate was and is to assist the government in Islamising the laws. Ayaz recently sat-down with Geo.tv for his first interview to talk about the relevance of the constitutional body, its potential, controversies and challenges. Excerpts:
Question: How did your name come up?
Ayaz: There was a list sent by a parliamentary committee to the Ministry of Law and Justice. It had several names, including mine. Honestly, I had no idea. I was actually in Greece at the time, when I was informed that the prime minister selected me.
Question: Prior to this you were the dean of Islamic and Oriental Studies at the Peshawar University. You also hold a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh, UK, in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. While, your predecessor, Sherani was a political figure and had no public schooling. Why do you think you were appointed?
Ayaz: Before I go into that, just a little bit more about me. I am from Bannu originally. At one point, I have also served as the Vice Chancellor of the Islamia College, Peshawar, after Ajmal Khan, the former VC was abducted. Apart from that I have authored five books and 22 scholarly journals.
As for Maulana Sherani, I think the CII is indebted to him. During his term, he linked the Council with the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs. This was very important. Since the CII assists in the formation of laws, therefore it should work in conjunction with the ministry. Sherani was not just any politician, he was a political leader of high stature which is why the Council gained prominence in the media during his term. Another little known fact about him is that he was fond of reading. Our library is now stocked with original editions of many books.
Question: The CII, after Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s era, has mostly remained invisible. It’s annual reports, numbering over a 100, are, to date, rarely taken up by the parliament. How effective is this body?
Ayaz: On my first day at work, I reached out to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. A month later, the meeting was arranged. The sit-down was very pleasant. Surprisingly, the prime minister was up to date about all the happenings at the CII office. During our conversation, he expressed his wish that the CII should work more efficiently in assisting law making and should hold more than four meetings per year. In fact, he wanted the next meeting with the CII board members to be longer and more detailed. But I agree the implementation of our advice is slow. Yet, you cannot call us an ineffective body. If we do not agree with a piece of legislation, or express reservations about it, it does not become law. From 1962 till now, such bills probably number in the thousands.
Question: Why does Pakistan need an Islamic advisory body whose suggestions are non-binding?
Ayaz: We continuously receive questions to assist the government in Islamising the laws. Since the time and age is evolving, jurisprudence also needs to evolve simultaneously. For example, last week we received a bill about the rights of transgender. It was a good draft and we gave our input. Now the transgender community insists that they should not be forced to take a medical test to determine which gender they are closer to, in order for inheritance rights. Instead, they say, their gender should be ascertained on the basis of who they identify with. We, at the CII, discussed this for two hours and concluded that a transgender person has the right to choose his/her gender, which should then be accepted by everyone.
Another controversial issue is underage marriage. This I can tell you is also under debate at our office. We have already written to several Islamic countries for their detailed recommendations. A verdict on this will be prepared soon. Listen, what we do is important work, for which I would request the federal finance division to increase the number of people working in our research wing.
Question: But your suggestions are still non-binding and are unlikely to become law?
Ayaz: That is an incorrect impression. Anything considered non binding in the constitution, it is referred to as ‘should’. Whereas binding decisions are referred to as ‘shall’. In the constitution, the word “shall” is used for the CII.
Question: For the CII to be truly representative it should have more than one woman as a member.
Ayaz: As per the constitution, one female member is mandatory. But there is no upper limit. In our meeting this also came up. I asked the prime minister to look into increasing the number of women in the CII.
Question: You have spoken in defense of Maulana Sherani, but under his term the Council became increasingly controversial. Some of his suggestions included replacing paper currency with gold coins, allowing husbands to lightly beat their wives and finally insisting that girls as young as nine can be married off. Can these recommendations be defended?
Ayaz: No such recommendations exist on paper. Sherani was asked a few questions during a press briefing and in reply he expressed his views - his own personal views not that of the organization. Eventually, an impression was created that the CII is an anti-women body.
Question: The previous Council’s chairman also decreed that DNA test were non-conclusive evidence. While recently the police used DNA samples to trace out Zainab’s killer.
Ayaz: Now, even foreign scientists say that DNA alone cannot be the conclusive and primary evidence. The CII accepts DNA tests as a solid piece of evidence, and if other supporting evidence is found, then of course the DNA report cannot be rejected. However, I would also like to point out that we do have a mechanism through which former declarations can be revisited.
Question: The council was first formed under Gen. Ayub Khan’s tenure. Back then, it had scholars, judges, clerics and experts, on economics and politics, as members. But today the body is largely made up of religious clerics.
Ayaz: That is true. In the past, even the chancellor of the Punjab University served as a chairman of the Council. Today, our members are predominately ulemas but there are also former bureaucrats and judges on the CII board. On March 3, nine of our members are retiring. Hopefully, the Law and Parliamentary Affairs division will ensure that the incoming members are scholars and experts of good standing.
Question: In one of your recent statements, you suggested declaring triple talaq a punishable offense and introducing sex education in schools. Do you fear a backlash from conservative circles?
Ayaz: I cannot take credit for these recommendations. They were made by Sherani sahib. The way that men use triple talaq should be banned in the country. Anyone who breaks the law should be punished. I have asked the research department to further work on this and suggest suitable punishments. We will soon be sending our advice to the Law Ministry and push for it to be made law.
As for sex education, that is not what I said. But we did discuss this in one of the Council meetings, after the Kasur case. We came to the conclusion that Zainab’s case should not be looked at in isolation, which was not just an offense but also an indication of how society is decaying. Parents need to be educated on how their children can be protected and they should talk to their children about sensitive issues. This suggestion is also a work in progress.
Another topic under discussion is the way people quickly declare kufar fatwa on each other. This needs to stop.
Question: What role do you envision for the CII in the future?
Ayaz: If the media cooperates with us, then the CII has the potential to be a beneficial organisation. Take the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat controversy, an issue that could have been avoided had the CII been take on board.