Reflective Criticism

10 weeks have passed since 16th December 2014, the blackest day in the history of my country. Yet – the horror, the trauma, the pain of that tragedy has not faded in the very least, and continues to haunt those who will be haunted. The mind is still unable to grasp the whole of what happened – is unable to come to terms with such an inconceivable, unthinkable, unfathomable act of utter barbarism – an attempt to erase innocence at such a level – children clad in school uniforms, taking their routine classes – can’t think beyond that.

This is one incident we should continue to remember and recollect. We should never, ever, ever forget. For we are a nation suffering from amnesia – nay, dimentia. We forget things fast, and permanently. And we tend to learn nothing from the worst tragedies. But this – this is one incident, one tragedy that should not be forgotten. Yet, mere remembrance is not enough. What did we learn? Did we learn anything? Or will this horror be stacked away on a cold shelf in the archives of history, out of sight, just as numerous other tragedies and disasters have been stacked away by us?

Allama Iqbal has listed history as one of the three sources of knowledge – according to the Quran – the other two being nature and intuition . The Quran gives special importance to history and treats its as one of the signs of God which contains within its folds various lessons for humankind.

There is, however, little that most of us learn from history, because we  fail to carry out what Iqbal terms as “reflective criticism” of past experiences. The Quran repeatedly appeals to the wise to “reflect” upon various signs of God. Without this reflection, or in Iqbal’s words, reflective criticism, there would be nothing gained from history, the stories of grief would merely be remebered, related and cried upon, but we certainly would not grow any wiser.

In his 1908 essay, “Political Thought in Islam,” Iqbal states that Muslim Political Theory was gradually and carefully developed by the costitutional lawyers of Islam through “reflective criticism of the revelations of political experience,” an approach which was introduced and inducted into the first constitution of Pakistan by our founding fathers,  but was abandoned soon after the death of Liaquat Ali Khan.  What this approach means is exactly what the Quran wants us to do. Reflective criticism on past political experiences will cause the political system to evolve, correct and refine itself naturally, whereby lessons will be learnt from history, and mistakes will not be repeated. It is the evolution of the political system gained by experience.

If we had followed this approach of “reflective criticism” and learned from what was revealed to us through our past political experience, ONE 16th December would have been enough for us; we would not have repeated our mistakes, would not have had to face another, more horrific 16th December. When a nation’s children start paying for its mistakes, it is time to wake up, to remember, to reflect, to analyse and criticise, to vow not to repeat past mistakes. It is time to view history as a source of knowledge and a sign of God.

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