A good start for Jamaat but problems remain

by Abdul Quader | October 23, 2008 12:47 am

Newspaper reports suggest that Jamaat-e-Islami has recognised the historic liberation war of Bangladesh in its newly revised party constitution (The Daily Star 21 October 2008). This was in line with the requirements of the amended Representation of the People Order (RPO) which envisages that the constitution of a political party cannot be incompatible with the provisions and spirit of the Bangladesh constitution.

An interesting provision of the newly revised Jamaat’s constitution is that the non-Muslims will be allowed to become members of the party. However, there remains a discriminatory element in this provision which states that a non-Muslim member must take an oath to protect the country’s independence and sovereignty (but a Muslim member is not required to take the oath). I consider that this goes against the fundamental spirit of equality and fairness espoused in the religion of Islam. Non-discrimination is considered as the first principle of justice.

The preamble to the Jamaat’s new constitution states that the party "will work to establish an Islamic social system that guarantees justice for all, since Bangladesh emerged as the third largest Muslim country through a heroic battle of the people and freedom fighters". In my view, this statement in the preamble is a misrepresentation of historical facts.

In 1971, the people of Bangladesh fought for freedom and independence from the clutches of the oppressive political and military regime of Pakistan. And there was a long political and historical background against which the liberation war started. The spirit of the liberation war was overwhelmingly dictated by an urge by the people to achieve an independent and sovereign country that will provide an equal opportunity for all to develop and prosper economically, socially and culturally. While the majority of people in the former East Pakistan were Muslims, the religion of Islam did not play any role in the quest for freedom and independence. People did not consciously fight for a land to make it "the third largest Muslim country in the world".

I believe any deliberate attempt by Jamaat to play the religion card in interpreting the historical context of the liberation war of Bangladesh is counter-productive. If Jamaat is really sincere and honest in its avowed principle of establishing "an Islamic social system that guarantees justice for all", it should remove the provision of requiring non-Muslim members to take an oath which the Muslim members don’t need to take. However, question remains whether the non-Muslims will be interested in becoming members of Jamaat-e-Islami in the first place.

As regards the Islamic social system based on justice, a political party can do a number of things to promote social justice and this does not require political power (ie, forming a government or being part of a coalition). It is the social power that can make a big difference. The success of the Grameen Bank is a case in point in this regard. This organisation did not require political power to promote and establish social justice in the form of poverty reduction, especially among the women. The Grameen Bank has made a remarkable contribution to economic and social emancipation of a large section of the community and by doing so it has served the purpose of social justice in a broader context.

Jamaat can do justice to itself if the party can promote the importance of rule of law, democracy and equal treatment to all in social behaviour and actions among its own constituencies. It will benefit from being viewed as a role model by sections in the community to the effect that it does what it preaches. Of course, this applies to all political parties. The constitution of a party consists of a set of words only. These words need to be translated into credible action to prove that the party really means business.

Religion has always been and will remain an important part of social life of the people in Bangladesh. Apart from its spiritual aspect, religion can play a significant role in the social life in any society provided religious principles and tenets are applied properly and without serving a hidden and narrow political agenda of any political party.

The alarming moral degradation that has gripped almost all spheres of life in Bangladesh has caused tremendous damage to the capability of state machinery to bring about any real welfare for the people on a sustainable basis. The much talked-about justice and fairness have fled away from the country. This perhaps requires a social movement to improve the current situation on an incremental basis. As a party with a significant supporter base in the country Jamaat can play a prominent role in this regard if it wants to.

To teach a person "not to lie, not to steal and not to cause harm to others" does not require a political party to be in government. It requires moral teachings and inculcation of ethical behaviours which could be based on Islam and other religious beliefs and values. As social institutions the political parties can help develop social systems with the right incentive structures at local level to achieve certain social goals. Many things can be done at private and social level without getting the government involved. However, right policies and measures if adopted by the government can facilitate the achievement of goals and objectives desired by social institutions.

It is said "charity begins at home". Similarly moral and ethical education begins at home and parents have a part in this. At a larger scale in the society social institutions such as political parties can play their part as well. And here comes the Jamaat-e-Islami with its declared religious mission and zeal to establish a fair and just society. Fairness and justice are based, among other things, on true moral and ethical behaviours and actions. Those who preach this fairness and justice must act first to gain credibility and trust from the people.

It remains to be seen if the recent changes in Jamaat’s party constitution reflect its realisation of its past mistakes and recognition of new reality or just a reactionary gesture to the requirements of the RPO for registering the party with the Election Commission to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Time will tell for sure.

Abdul Quader writes from Canberra

Source URL: https://priyoaustralia.com.au/articles/2008/a-good-start-for-jamaat-but-problems-remain/