Tuesday September 28, 2021

Panacea for Pakistan: mysticism or meritocracy

The importance of Tassawuf (Sufi mysticism) in Pakistan’s religious, educational and socio-cultural milieu cannot be overstated. It is an integral part of Pakistan as a country, as well as a nation. It pervades everything Pakistani, like a refreshing fragrance it is everywhere, and permeates every aspect of our national life. Even the political campaigns begin by prayers offered at, blessings sought from the various Sufi shrines i.e. the Darbar of Hazrat Usman Ali Hujwiri, Data Gunj Bakhsh, the patron Sufi saint of Lahore.

Imran Khan’s election victory of 2016 indicated that the majority of the voters believed in his promises of a Naya Pakistan and Tabdeeli (change). This mantra also touched the hearts and souls of the millions who harbour a nostalgic love for the golden era of Muslim history, the period of Riyasat-e Medina, as the Naya Pakistan was promised to be modelled on the principles of Riyasat-e Medina.

Naya Pakistan, Tabdeeli, Riyasat-e Medina, were music to the ears of masses who were tired of an economy spiralling out of control and successive governments marred with allegations of nepotism and corruption. Imran Khan and his PTI instead, promised them heaven and earth (or was it heaven on earth?) and everything in between. The masses believed Khan Sahib because the alternative was unthinkable. In such matters, however, believing alone is not enough and can even be dangerous.

Unfortunately, as the history unfolded nearly all of those promises and slogans disappeared in thin air. In real terms the common man is now worse off economically as well as psychologically. Neither is there any evidence of five million new houses being built, nor any of the ten million new jobs. Furthermore, even the billions of trees that Imran Khan the candidate promised during his colourful, raucous and media covered glamourous campaigns have yet to be planted. PTI’s campaigns were all about the economy; jobs, tax collection, housing units all garnished with Khan Sahib’s threat (or was it a promise) to commit suicide rather than go to the IMF with a begging bowl. The subliminal messages with which Mr Khan bombarded the change-craving Pakistanis were a flourishing economy and, instead of corruption and nepotism, transparency and meritocracy.

Unfortunately, history has proven once again that elected politicians suffer from a strange case of amnesia; forgetfulness of nearly all their campaign promises, and in Imran Khan’s case that includes even that of committing suicide instead of carrying a begging bowl. Once again the Pakistani nation has woken up to the cruel realisation that the politicians’ promises are more like the poetry of youthful lovers, and nothing like the building plans of rocket engineers.

The PTI’s favourite pastime now is reminding the nation of the seventy years of accumulated mess they inherited, the magnitude of which, it seems, was discovered only after their election victory. And having done so their tones have changed from scientific calculations to mystical explanations. By and large this is also in keeping with the religious sentiments of our people.

Using gross generalisations, many Muslims in Pakistan practise Sufi Islam. Sufism as a way of life, focuses on seeking nearness and acceptance in Allah’s court of mercy. But in my humble opinion it is not a substitute for attending to functions of governance, neither should it be used as a back alley to walk away from promises made to a nation on the election trail. Mysticism is a personal matter, governance is a public duty.

Pakistan prides itself in glorifying her great personalities, rightly considering it a meritorious act. Many nations glorify their spiritual leaders and dedicate universities and centres of learning to their memory.

Imran Khan’s government has decided to build a university dedicated to Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani, which is being built in Sohawa, between Gujrat and Islamabad. This indeed is a meritorious act, and naming it in honour of a great mystic is yet another meritorious act. This meritocracy, however, must not end here. Instead it must become an all-pervasive principle practised in every sphere of the government’s actions and functions.

It cannot be stressed enough that all government appointments must be made strictly on merit, and merit alone. These appointments are critical to nation-building and must never be made for appeasement or as means of settling political scores or social debts. Meritocracy is a ruthlessly honest business of accepting a person’s talents, qualifications and abilities regardless of their religion or political affiliations. When it comes to meritorious appointments, being a patriotic Pakistani and being best qualified to get the job done must in all cases trump every other consideration.

Now back to Sufi mysticism and shrines and universities. As stated above, establishing universities is a meritorious act but it must be done on the lines at which the world’s most progressive universities are founded and operated. All teachers and students must find their rightful place in these centres of higher learning on the basis of merit, and merit alone. These universities must not become glorified shrines that churn out academic qualifications. We must watch out that we are making real universities and not just proliferating diploma mills. Mysticism is great way to improve one’s spiritual insights and one’s nearness to God but these matters are, and should be, between man and God alone, between the worshipped One and the worshipper. On an individual level following a Sufi path to find peace of heart and tranquillity of soul has been proven again and again to be an effective way of living one’s life but in the matters of delivering good governance to a nation of 200 million people the answers to our problems lie in following a strict code of meritocracy.

Today’s Naya Pakistan bandied about by PTI’s enthusiastic media-courting communication cell, does not look any different from the “old” Pakistan. But I still share the dream of most Pakistanis that perhaps Imran Khan and his party will bring some positive change and ultimately change Pakistan for the better. Such a change for a better Pakistan will come only if PTI follows strict codes of meritocracy, and leaves mysticism to do what it does best: improve one’s personal relations with God. Individuals are purified and elevated by mysticism, nations are built and governed best only, and only, when rulers and leaders follow strict codes of meritocracy. In that sense, the panacea for Pakistan’s problems is not mysticism but meritocracy.

The writer is author of Sufism and Jihad, published by CGE Publication’s, London, 2012, and a practising medical doctor. For correspondence: [email protected]