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Interview with Dr Israr Ahmad

The following interview by Hadi Askari was published in   Tauheed International, a quarterly magazine from London. Before reproducing it here, a number of changes have been made in this interview in order to improve its language and readability and to clarify some points. (Editor)

Q: First of all we would like to know how you started your life and how you went through the various stages of life.

A: This looks apparently to be a simple and short question but its detail will be very lengthy. My ancestors originally belonged to District Muzaffar Nagar. But during the War of Independence in 1857, all the properties of my grandfather were confiscated. They migrated to district Hisar in Eastern Punjab. We lived in Hisar from 1857 to 1947. My place of birth is also Hisar, where I was born on April 26, 1932. I did my Matriculation in 1947 from Hisar Government High School. I was an active worker of Muslim Students´ Federation of District Hisar, and also its General Secretary for some time. Hisar was a backward area. There were no colleges. The Muslim Students´ Federation consisted of high school students. Soon after independence, we came to Pakistan by literally crossing the rivers of blood in a caravan; we covered a distance of 170 miles on foot in 20 days. After coming to Pakistan I did F.Sc in pre-medical from Government College Lahore. Then I passed my M.B.,B.S. from King Edward Medical College in 1954. I also did my Masters in Islamic Studies from Karachi University in 1965, and incidentally I stood first in the University in that subject. During my student life I remained associated with Islami Jami´yat Talaba, the student wing of Jama´at-e-Islami. After the completion of my M.B.,B,S. I became a member of Jama´at-e-Islami. But it was not long that my views about Jama´at-e-Islami changed. My view was that Jama´at-e-Islami had over-politicize itself after independence, and the Jama´at instead of becoming a revolutionary and ideological party, which was its original stance before independence, became a national political party. I tried to explain my viewpoints and in this respect I also disagreed with Maulana Abul A´la Maududi, even though I was equal in age to his sons. However, there was provision for such disagreement in Jama´at.

Maulana Maududi was very confident that he could bring about fundamental changes in the country by contesting in the elections. My opinion was that it is an illusion and nothing will be gained through participating in electoral politics. After resigning from the Jama´at in April 1957, I waited for some time. A number of prominent people had also left the Jama´at-e-Islami on this issue, like Maulana Ameen Ahsan Islahi and Maulana Abdul Ghaffar Hussan. It was expected that they would form a new party or organization, but they could not do anything. After completing my M.B.,B.S. I had settled in Sahiwal, then called Montgomery as my parents were there. I also stayed for about 3 years in Karachi, and in 1965 I made up my mind to start this mission on my own. I came back to Lahore and worked for seven years on my own without any organization or any party. During this period I continued my medical practice and also formed groups to impart the teachings of the Holy Qur´an. In this way, apart from catering to my financial needs I worked to fulfill on my mission as well.

In 1972, the Markazi Anjuman Khudam-ul-Qur´an Lahore came into being which founded in 1977 an institute called Qur´an Academy, where we are sitting now. Besides this, a Qur´an College was also established later. Then in 1975 I formed Tanzeem-e-Islami which was formed afresh on the basic ideology of Jama´at-e-Islami but with a new outline and mold. We decided that we will not take part in the electoral politics, as the desired results cannot be achieved through this route, at least in Pakistan. We decided to emphasize the ideological, mental, moral and  if Allah (SWT) grants the opportunity to being about  spiritual changes in the people. The ideological and spiritual foundation should be so strong that, if needed, people may sacrifice their lives to bring about a positive change, but sacrifices should be given by those who are virtuous, that is those who have established Islam on their own selves and in their homes, and purged their livelihood and social practices from haram. They should unite in a disciplined manner and solemnly affirm to implement Islam by bringing about revolutionary changes. This is what we look forward to work through Tanzeem-e-Islami.

In 1991, we started using the term Khilafah as a target or goal, that is, we want to introduce the System of Khilafah first in Pakistan and then in the whole world. This term was used because the words “Islamic form of Government” was new or unfamiliar to the people. However, the concept of Khilafah is already present in the subconscious minds of the Muslims; they have in their minds a rough idea about the justice and peace in the System of Khilafah and, through using this term, they can easily understand the concept of an Islamic State. At the moment, the following three organizations are being headed by me: Markazi Anjuman Khuddam-ul-Qur´an Lahore which now has numerous affiliated societies, Tanzeem-e-Islami, and Tehreek-e-Khilafat Pakistan.

Q:What should be the foremost task before the Muslims in the entire world?

A: First preference should be given to form an ideal Islamic form of Government in any sizable Muslim country, so that the blessings of Islamic injunctions can be practically demonstrated to the entire world. Not establishing Islam means that we are not performing our duties as Muslims. We are Allah´s representatives on the earth, and by not implementing Islam we are misrepresenting Allah (SWT) and His Deen. This is the reason that we are now worse than kafirs in the sight of Allah (SWT). So long as we are not capable of establishing an ideal and pure Islamic System to present before the world, we are under the wrath of Allah (SWT) and cannot get out of it.

Q: Much emphasis is laid on Ijtihad in the Islamic world. What is your opinion about Ijtihad? If it is needed, then what are the issues regarding which Ijtihad should be done?

A: Basically, Ijtihad is needed whenever new problems arise. There is no need for Ijtihad concerning matters which were present during the life of the Holy Prophet (SAW), because the Prophet´s leadership was there to solve these problems and to provide guidance. Ijtihad is needed when we face new problems. There will always be a possibility to commit a mistake while doing Ijtihad. A mufti gets rewarded for his mental effort and toil, but the chances of committing a mistake are always there. The real problem regarding Ijtihad is this: Who is authorized to do Ijtihad and whose Ijtihad will be enforced? What I want to say is that, for example, in Iran there is a large number of mujtahids. In Iran there is a hierarchy among religious scholars. In my opinion, in the entire Muslim world there is no country in which hierarchy or a proper organization of scholars exist. But even there, ten religious scholars can give ten different opinions regarding a certain issue. Now whose opinion is to be implemented? The answer is that, in the modern age, Parliament is responsible for legislation. When the Parliament accepts a certain Ijtihad, it will become a law. The legislating authority will be the Parliament. Otherwise who is going to decide about a particular Ijtihad, whether it is really an authentic Ijtihad or a bid´ah or whether one has stepped outside the Islamic Shari´ah? In the modern state, three institutions have been established: the Parliament, the Executive, and the Judiciary. The Judiciary is responsible for sorting out disagreements. In Iran, a separate council of Ulama has been established in place of the Judiciary.

In my opinion when there was kingship, the King used to be the supreme authority. For example, during the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, he made a council of 25 to 30 scholars who gave their verdicts on particular matters. The point is that 25 to 30, or even 500 scholars could give their Ijtihad but the implementing authority was not with them! The authority to implement these verdicts rested with the King. Now what was the criteria for selecting the religious scholars? They were selected mostly on the recommendations of the King´s advisors and courtiers who used to point out that such and such scholars are credible in their respective areas. This selection also depended on the discretion of King, and the implementation of the recommendations given by the scholars also depended on the King. But that was during the time of kingship. You have democracy in the modern world. So according to democratic traditions, who are the people who will do Ijtihad? In a democracy you should have freedom  freedom of opinion, freedom of thinking, freedom of expression. Every learned person should have the opportunity to express his views. But it is not mandatory that only religious scholars can become members of the Parliament. The parliament can commit mistakes in law-making. So who is going to decide that a decision by the parliament is right or wrong? The answer is that it will be settled in the Constitution that in this country we will not go against the Holy Qur´an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAW)  no legislation will be done repugnant to the Qur´an and Sunnah. If this is settled in the Constitution, then who is the custodian of Constitution? The Judiciary! In a modern Islamic state, therefore, all scholars can express their opinions but the Parliament will decide as to which Ijtihad will become the law; if someone feels that the boundaries set by the Qur´an and Sunnah have been transgressed, then the Judiciary shall resolve the dispute.

Q: Are you satisfied with what is being taught in religious institutions?

A: No at all. The religious institutions in Iran are very excellent, although some deficiency is there as well. The basic problem is the division or dichotomy between religious and worldly education, which is totally wrong. Knowledge is a unity, and it should be taught as such. It has been said that the universe is the work of God while Qur´an is the word of God. There is no contradiction between the two.
Secondly, in the education that is imparted through the religious schools, emphasis should be placed on the Holy Qur´an. But the case is quite the opposite. Whether we are Sunni or Shi´ah or Ahl Al-Hadith, we tend to put more emphasis on fiqh. The Holy Qur´an is not the center of our attention. So, till such time as these two shortcomings are corrected, the system of education cannot be put to order. The system of religious education in Pakistan is in very bad shape, as it does not meet the requirements of our time. Iran is far ahead in this respect. Their standard of religious education is very high, and so is their quality of scholarship.

Q: We are in the 21st century. Up till the 11th century it was the peak period for the Muslims, afterwards their decline started. The West benefited from our knowledge and progressed, and now we are dragging behind.

A: I believe that the period which you describe as “golden” was also a period of darkness according to the perspective of Islam. According to my analysis, the Muslims touched the peak of their glory twice and they also suffered their downfall twice. The first period of rise and downfall was under the leadership of the Arabs, and the second under the leadership of the Turks. In my opinion, the third phase of rise for the Muslims is about to come. As far as Islam itself is concerned, however, it has risen to its highest peak only once, and afterwards it has been a gradual decline. It would be a great mistake to equate the rise of Muslims with the rise of Islam. The ideal period according to Islamic perspective was the age of the Prophet (SAW) and of the Rightly Guided Caliphs (RAA). The flourishing of various branches of knowledge and of science took place while the true Islamic spirit was on the decline. It was the period of Bannu Abbas when the gates of knowledge were opened. Arts and sciences from Greece, India, and China were acquired and were further developed. In my view, the progress of knowledge is a separate process which has nothing to do with Islam.

Actually there are two kinds of knowledge. The first is what I call Acquired Knowledge, which was given to the first human being, Adam (AS), in a potential form. The history of science is the history of the actualization of that potential knowledge. Then there is Revealed Knowledge which used to come from Allah (SWT) to His prophets in the form of wahi. The Acquired Knowledge is based on observation and experimentation: you see something, think about it, experiment, and infer results. Someone saw an apple falling, and inferred that there is a force of gravity that pulls. The progress of scientific knowledge has nothing to do with Islam. This is a continuing process, and it will continue in the future. There was a period in history when an active and energetic people, the Muslims, took part in the development of science. Afterwards, the Europeans rose as an active and energetic nation and they progressed in science. Now the Muslim Ummah can become active once again and continue to make progress. What is really important, however, is faith  faith in Allah (SWT), faith in the Hereafter, faith in prophethood. We call this metaphysical knowledge. Revealed Knowledge deals with metaphysical facts.

Q: Would you like to give any message?

A: Pakistan is the custodian of the last 400 years of revivalist and reformative struggle, from Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi to Shah Waliullah, Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi, Allama Iqbal, Maulana Ilyas, and Maulana Maududi. It is the only country in the world that has been founded in the name of Islam, and Islam should be implemented in its true form. This should be the motto of the Muslims and priority should be given in this regard. Shi´ah and Sunni Muslims should agree on the formula, so that they can work together in order to achieve the goal. Otherwise we will not be able to go beyond our sectarian differences.

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