Justice Cornelius on Islam and the laws of Pakistan

In an address delivered at the Pakistan Academy for Rural Development in Peshawar in 1977, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court A.R Cornelius made several criticisms of the secular conception of human rights as defined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. According to him, the Declaration did not give adequate importance to the national interest of a country and by elevating rights such as the freedom of thought conscience and religion, elevated the individual above the community. He contrasted this with the Islamic way of thinking which emphasizes the importance of the community. In this way of thinking individual rights are secondary to the maintenance of the progress of the community and thus the “individualist color” of human rights as defined in the UN Declaration is not present.

Justice Cornelius went even further and argued that the encouragement of individualist tendancies in Westernized liberal states presupposes that faith in the vitality of essentiality of existing communities has been lost.

In March 1965, in an address at the Sindh Muslim Law College Justice Cornelius made several arguments in favour of the Objectives Resolution and said that:

I look foward to the day when a lawyer having stated the facts of the case and having read out before the Court the essence of the Fundamental Right which is applicable, will next turn to the relevant pronouncements in the Scriptures and place before the Court his reading of the sense in which that Fundamental Right should be understood and applied

He applauded Pakistan as the only country where religious conscience is introduced in the secular affairs according to the requirements of the Constitution. Therefore, unlike other countries, the concept of “moral responsibility” has a place in the secular affairs of Pakistan though it has been denied in many parts of of the world for many centuries

These views held by Justice Cornelius may sound surprising since he was a Roman Catholic. But the interesting thing about him is that he identified as a neo-Thomist and believed that religion was the source of objective morality that should inform the laws of the land. So it’s really interesting to see that in his writings he views the Islamic nature of Pakistan’s Constitution as an experiment for what he, himself, as a believer in Fundamental Rights derived from religion, believed in.

Maybe Justice Cornelius’ views about the role of Islam in the state was related to his circumstances as a non-Muslim judge in an Islamic country. After all he said that:

a point which in importance overrides all the rest is that, the political society of Pakistan is “theocentric” – a term which should be distinguished from the epithet “theocratic” which certain persons who ought to have known better have chosen to apply in a politically derogatory sense to our country. When the Constitution in its preamble accepts the sovereignty vests “in Almighty Allah alone” and that the authority of the people is a sacred trust from the Almighty, when it declares that Pakistan is to be “a democratic state based on Islamic principles of social justice” and that “the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice, as enunciated by Islam” are to prevail, it speaks with a clarity which should have stilled any such doubts. The agencies of operative to make the citizens of Pakistan, irrespective of our personal religoin, followers of Islam in the sphere of political obligation.

So maybe his opinions on religion in the laws of Pakistan were based on his position as a non-Muslim in a theocentric Islamic country. But I doubt that Justice Cornelius who clearly believed in objective system of ethics would simply adjust his thinking to his situation since that seems a very relativistic thing to do. Instead, he actually seems to have supported the idea of the Constitution of Pakistan as the way it was as a unique experiment in the kind of law-making he believed in.

within the rational order of humanity, where it deals with the concrete aspects of human affairs and sets them in the direction of the public good, there is introduced a restraint against evil and excess which is found in no other Constitution. It is the restraint of religious conscience in the field of ethical behaviour, on the secular side.

I find it interesting how closely the Pakistani state mirrored Justice Cornelius’ own way of thinking. Imagine if a jurist like him was born in, and worked in a country like the US in which the founders had as different a view of religion in state affairs as is imaginable from Pakistan’s. I guess in many ways Pakistan is the perfect canvas for jurists who believe in a system of laws in which the source of all morality is religious. The entire state is set up to facilitate this way of thinking.

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3 responses to “Justice Cornelius on Islam and the laws of Pakistan

  1. takhalus

    The judiciary was generally in line with the establishments ideology world view..consider the Hyderabad tribunal as an example. Cornelius may have been a good judge and an individual ..but he was ultimately a believer in the state ideology.

  2. admin

    I don’t think that Justice Cornelius’ thinking was in line with the worldview of the establishment of the 50s & 60s. e.g. his various dissenting opinions in the famous cases of the 1950s (e.g. the Tamizuddin case) were not pro-establishment at all whereas Justice Munir was pro-establishment in his rulings but more of a secularist in his outlook.

  3. Sadaqat Pervaiz

    Every Pakistani should REMEMBER that
    Pakistan is to be “a democratic state based on Islamic principles of social justice” and that “the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice, as enunciated by Islam”

    No more explanation

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