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The Role Played by Religious Parties
Political Issues
Dr. Shehzad Saleem


Religious Parties in or society can be classified into three categories on the basis of their aims and objectives.

The first category comprises religious schools of thought which have organised themselves into religious parties to propagate their specific thoughts and safeguard their rights and interests. The basic principle underlying their formation is that since Islam grants every person the right to freely deliberate on all affairs of life and formulate his own views, therefore, if a group of people adheres to certain thoughts in common, which may be the result of a lone or a collective intellectual endeavour, they should be granted this right also by Islam to organise themselves in the form of a party. We acknowledge this principle and, in our opinion, upon its basis various schools of thought can organise themselves into parties. They can strive with all freedom to propagate their beliefs and increase their following. In this regard, though, certain stipulations should be sought from them: They should abstain from denouncing and censuring other religious schools and issuing religious verdicts against them. Each party should refrain from inflaming and provoking the common man against other parties and should also not be a source of any hindrance in the propagation of their beliefs. Furthermore, the common practice of the party leaders forbidding their followers to sit in the company of scholars of some other religious school should be discontinued. They should only be permitted to rationally reason out the flaws in the thoughts of other religious schools and at the same time positively assert their own. Intellectual disagreements are, in fact, a blessing. It is due to them that the frontiers of knowledge expand, making the truth more and more discernable. But these differences should remain within bounds and not exceed them by manifesting themselves into rivalries and enmities. This is what actually leads towards religious prejudice and bigotry, which are now so apparent in our society. An Islamic State can in no way tolerate such attitudes and tendencies.

Among the second category are constituted those religious parties whose aim is to disseminate the basic message of Islam and to reform the moral character of the people. These are the parties that assist an Islamic government in fulfilling its primary duties of Da‘wah-ilal-khayr1, Amar-bi-al-Ma‘rūf2 and Nahī- ‘anil-Munkarn3 and an Islamic Government is as such indebted to them for this service. For an Islamic State this noble collaboration is no doubt indispensable, but can only produce the desired results when these parties base their message only and only upon the Qur’ān and Sunnah. When such virtuous enterprises base themselves upon stories, legends and folklore then inevitably the true picture of Islam begins to vanish from the people’s minds, and they are ultimately not even able to distinguish the good from the evil. Unfortunately, such religious parties are not free from this serious drawback. Until and unless this flaw is overcome, no Islamic government can accomplish its obligation of Da‘wah-ilal-Khayr.

The third category comprises parties that have been formed to strive to establish an Islamic government and enforce the Islamic Sharī‘ah at the state level. Quite obviously, after this enforcement they would have no justification to exist upon previous objectives. They would, in fact, be left to accept two alternatives: either to devote all their energy in reforming the nation or to transform themselves into political parties and by adopting constitutional measures strive for a better political leadership. These are the only two options open for them, which would, of course, have the same stipulations and restrictions mentioned earlier on.

However, among this category there are some other religious parties as well which insist that even after the creation of Pakistan as an Islamic Republic, a Muslim will die the death of Jāhiliyyah, if without any excuse he is not a member of any such party or, otherwise, does not form his own party. They further assert that for such a religious party of this third category, the Prophet’s Sunnah is that its leader will assume the title of Amīr and his followers would be required to pledge a covenant of Sam`u Tā`at (to listen and to obey). This point of view is in obvious contradiction with the Qur’ān and Sunnah and amounts to a revolt against the state affairs of Pakistan. Therefore, no political party can be established on this basis in Pakistan.

Furthermore, a little deliberation on political process shows that political struggle to bring about an Islamic revolution through elections should be led by a person who is actually a politician and possesses the qualities of leadership. People like Allama Iqbal, Mawlāna Abu-al-Kalām Azād and Mawlāna Abu-al-‘Alā Maudūdī who are basically scholars and thinkers should not lead such an endeavour. People like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are the suitable leaders of such enterprises. No doubt, if such people lead the struggle for an Islamic revolution in the field of politics, extraordinary results can be achieved, but if researchers and scholars tread this path, all their efforts would inevitably end up in vain.

Moreover, if, for this purpose, a set-up is formed, it should be a political party like the Muslim League or the People’s Party. The party should regard the bringing about of an Islamic revolution as its object and should try to win over people in its ranks who possess a political standing and as such can become natural supporters of this movement. Religious parties are neither appropriate for this struggle nor will they ever be. They are destined to suffer successive set backs and to eventually lose their identity.

Whatever strategy is adopted during the elections, it should be based on capitalising on the existing position of political affiliation of the masses. Elections are not contested for the propagation of one’s ideological views or as an introduction for the party; they are only contested to benefit from the realities which exist and they are contested for victory. In such matters, remaining indifferent to victory or defeat is against human nature, and nothing against nature can persist in this world for long.

These are the pre-requisites of this methodology. If a movement or a party does not fulfil them, its fate will be no different from that of ‘The Jamā‘at-i-Islāmī’ whose struggle spans more than five decades. Consequently, it is apparent to every keen eye that the Jamā‘at’s quest for success in this struggle has:

--- almost totally deprived it of its ideological identity, its goal of reforming the Muslims and its zeal of disseminating the truth.

--- transferred the leadership within the various levels of the party from scholars and intellectuals to people who are not only devoid of these abilities but also politically ineffective. Consequently, an atmosphere of gloom prevails at its various frontiers.

--- gone a long way in eliminating the integrity and nobility its ranks once possessed and whatever little remains of them seems to perish soon.

It is therefore certain that this methodology is appropriate for a scholar or an intellectual only if his message has influenced the masses so much and they agree to his leadership to such an extent that elections for him merely become a constitutional need for a political change, and whenever he intends he can obtain the public mandate in his favour through them.




1. Inviting towards all that is good.

2. Enjoining what is right.

3. Forbidding what is wrong.

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