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Dark Clouds of Islamism Over Pakistan

The division of India at the end of the British Raj was only possible when the British decided to give their blessings to the so-called Two-Nation theory; this theory recognized demands for a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims.

Islamism Over Pakistan

by Dr. Nasir Khan

Islam, in Pakistan, has transformed from a multidimensional universal religion into an ossified and stilted cult of Islamism. How this happened has a historical context, beginning in 1947 when Pakistan emerged as a new state. The division of India at the end of the British Raj was only possible when the British decided to give their blessings to the so-called Two-Nation theory; this theory recognized demands for a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims.

In modern political terminology such a notion of two-state theory is quite ambiguous. It is true that in ancient and middle ages, it was possible to call a religious community a nation in a diffused sense, but to extend the term ‘nation’ in this way in the Indian subcontinent in the twentieth century was a leap in the dark. If the religious identity of the followers of any religion can put them in the category of a nation, then India had many religions, not just two, that meant that apart from Muslims and Hindus, others, such as, Sikhs, Christians, Janis, Buddhists and Parsis etc. etc. were separate nations because of their distinct religious identities and customs.

But the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims on such assumptions had more to do with realpolitik than with religion. Muslims in India lived throughout the length and breadth of India. How could they all become part of Pakistan that was only confined to areas where Muslims were in the majority? What was to happen to those Muslims who remained in India after the British left? These questions couldn’t have escaped the attention of Jinnah, the supreme leader of the All India Muslim League. Even before the partition of India, the fallacy of the Two-Nation theory was clear to some Muslim leaders. For instance, an outstanding Islamic scholar and prominent leader of the Indian independence movement, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, remonstrated and warned time and again the leaders of the Pakistan Movement of the dangers of creating a separate state for Muslims on communal basis because that would leave the Muslims in India in an extremely vulnerable position, and create communal tensions no one will be able to overcome. The post-partition history has shown that what he said was true in every possible way.

The demand for Pakistan as a separate country for Indian Muslims has to be differentiated for the right of self-determination of a people. If the right of self-determination is made a toy that plays with religion, then the present Islamic Republic of Pakistan can be divided along religious lines. The two main branches or sects within Islam, Sunnis and Shias, have different interpretation of the early Islamic history as well some theological controversies that continue to divide them. Should Pakistan be divided between them along their religious lines? How will the Ahmadis and other religious communities fare in this non-ending saga of religious conflicts and bigotry? However, in secular democratic states such religious problems do not arise, because of the separation of the roles of religion and state. But no such peaceful accommodation of followers of different religions is possible where a theocratic state operates to patronize a particular religion or a branch of that religion.

The question of creating Pakistan as a nation-state was only possible when a shrewd and articulate liberal politician like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the All India Muslim League, applied his considerable political skills and charisma to use Islam as the major building material for creating Pakistan’s national identity; apart from religion, the nation consisted of divergent ethnic, provincial, cultural and linguistic identities. When the British finally divided India along “the two-nation” lines, Pakistan emerged as a separate state on 14th August 1947, while India declared itself independent on the 15th August 1947. Jinnah became the first Governor-General of the Dominion of Pakistan under the British monarchy. Now he was the all-powerful leader of Pakistan who was also the President of the Constituent Assembly and the President of the ruling Muslim League.

As a political realist, he knew the tasks of building a viable democratic state of Pakistan were much different from the demands for its creation on the basis of religion. Keeping in view the nature of the multi-religious and multi-ethnic composition of Pakistan, he outlined his vision of a non-sectarian democratic state in his 11th August 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly, three days before independence, when he said:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State... We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State.

The demand for Pakistan as a separate country for Indian Muslims has to be differentiated for the right of self-determination of a people. If the right of self-determination is made a toy that plays with religion, then the present Islamic Republic of Pakistan can be divided along religious lines.
His speech was in marked contrast to his previous pronouncements and his advocacy of a separate Islamic state, Pakistan, that were part of his political strategy before the partition of India. After the establishment of Pakistan, he faced new tasks for the new state. At this point, he was speaking as a responsible ruler of the new country that would have a democratic and all-inclusive government, based on religious freedom, rule of law and equality for all. It was the vision of a modern democratic state, in which no single sect of Islam was to dominate the state and society. But the ailing leader died on 11 September 1948, leaving a vast chasm in shaping the political direction the country was to take. As a result, the way was open for the new leaders to bring in Islam or political Islam in the affairs of the state with dire consequences.

Within six months after Jinnah’s death, Pakistani prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, a close and trusted friend of the deceased leader, introduced the Objectives Resolution of 1949 in the Constituent Assembly to lay the foundation for the country’s constitution. The resolution proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would not be moulded on a western democratic model, but on the ideology and democratic faith of Islam. The Resolution in its entirety was made part of the Constitution of Pakistan under Article 2 (A).

The Pakistan Objectives Resolution included the following principles:

  • Sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the state of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust.
  • The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be observed.
  • The Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah.

The non-Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly forcefully opposed the Objectives Resolution; all of them voted against it. Birat Chandra Mandal said that Jinnah had clearly said that Pakistan was to be a secular state. Sris Chandra Chattopadhyay said that in his opinion in a state where people of different religions lived, there was no place for religion in the state or for a religious state. According to him, a state must be neutral and it should have no bias for any religion.

The Resolution was a clear move away from the vision of Jinnah of a state where religion had no part to play in the affairs of a democratic state. But now the foundations of a divinely ordained theocracy were laid that would juggle with the ideas of “Islamic democracy” for the time to come. Since then, the civilian and military leaders have routinely used Islam for their political ends and to justify state policies. The drive towards morbid Islamization reached its apex under Pakistani military dictator, General Zia ul-Haq. He made Islamism the corner-stone of his policies. In the implementation of his Islamic laws, establishing the Sharia courts, and making Islamic education compulsory in schools boosted greatly the power of Islamist fundamentalist parties.

The official patronage of Islam that started in 1949 helped start the process of Islamization of the state and civil society. Now Islam was portrayed as a panacea for all ills; it even was used to curb the legitimate political demands of the people of East Pakistan.

The first signs of Bengali dissatisfaction with the policies of the Pakistani government appeared in 1948. They relate to the national language of Pakistan controversy. Jinnah went to East Pakistan in March 1948 and during his nine day tour of the province, he declared in a public speech in Dhaka that only Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan, and those who disagreed with him on this were the “enemies of Pakistan”. It is almost incredible to think that a clever politician like him would show so lack of concern for the people of East Pakistan, whose mother tongue was Bengali, a language that had a rich linguistic and cultural history in the Indian subcontinent. His views fueled much anger and resentment in East Pakistan. This way of treating the people of East Pakistan became a usual pattern, which other West Pakistani leaders and politicians also followed whenever the Bengalis made any legitimate demands for social and political justice, such as in 1971.

The people of East Pakistan formed the 56% of the population of Pakistan. The Bengalis were the largest ethnic group in Pakistan, and their language was the largest as compared to the languages of other provinces in Pakistan. But the Bengalis were not regarded as on par with the people of West Pakistan, and they had to accept Urdu as their State language. Economic disparity between West and East Pakistan had also been acuter. The people of East Pakistan did not get their fair share in the Pakistani civil service or military either. All these grievances became more pronounced, and the people of East Pakistan sought complete autonomy for their province or even independence from Pakistan.

In the national elections held in 1970, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujib, won a resounding victory, while the Pakistan People’s Party of West Pakistani politician Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came second. The majority leader Sheikh Mujib who should have formed the new government to end the military rule found himself bogged down in protracted negotiations with Bhutto, which led to much acrimony and unrest in East Pakistan.

Some prominent politicians in West Pakistani didn’t want Sheikh Mujib to gain power or were unwilling to share power with him. This led to public protests in East Pakistan and gradually became the Bengali people’s opposition to West Pakistan’s domination. Then it became a rebellion that led to a war of independence for the people of East Pakistan to overthrow the yoke of West Pakistan’s political and economic domination. After making enormous sacrifices and receiving military help from India to defeat the beleaguered Pakistani army, the Mukti Bahini, the volunteer liberation army, achieved independence. Bangladesh came into existence as a new sovereign state. Many West Pakistanis were surprised to find out that a common religion, Islam, was not capable of stemming popular demands for a separate homeland.

Despite the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, religious parties in Pakistan continued to impact both the state policies and the people at large. Islam had become a major power factor in the country for the mainstream bourgeois politicians and the leaders of the religious parties. Now, Islam was called upon by the fundamentalist parties to promote belief in the supremacy of divine laws over man-made laws. Whatever the Pakistani parliamentary system was to undertake had to be in conformity with the laws of God as enshrined in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Pakistani democracy was theocracy in disguise, where the ultimate sovereignty belonged to God, not to the elected representatives of the people.

In this way, a crude form of religiosity in the guise of Islamism had entered the political arena; people accepted this political Islam as their true Islam. This false consciousness, wherein the political ideology of Islamism was embraced as true Islam, has poisoned the body politic of the country.

The introduction of the blasphemy laws in the Pakistan Penal Code in the 1970s and 1980s gave a big boost to the sectarian religious parties, most of which adhered to the Sunni branch of Islam, and to the militant extremists who have been hell-bent on imposing political Islam as a way of life over the country. As a result of the blasphemy laws, they were free to assert their power and influence over the state and the civil society in a way and to a degree that had not been seen before in the shaky history of this country.

Thus, a coercive brand of Islamism replaced an old, tolerant, and all-inclusive brand of Sufi Islam that was the traditional faith of the people of this vast region of the Indian subcontinent before 1947. This traditional faith gradually came under increased pressure from the political activities of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its founder, Maulana Maududi, who was a renowned and influential ideologue of a totalitarian 'Islamic ideology', or Islamism.

Maulana Maududi founded Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in 1941 in India with clear sights to create a group of puritan and learned Muslims who would work to take political power for creating an Islamic state in the Indian subcontinent and introduce the Sharia law. He opposed the objectives of the All India Muslim League for it was a “party of pagans” and “nominal Muslims”. Some of his invective was directed at Jinnah who was completely westernized in his lifestyle. But after the 1947 partition of India, he came to Pakistan and devoted his energies to turn the new country into an Islamic state. In 1951, he presented his 22-point of political program for such a state. In his political theory, the notion of popular sovereignty in Western political thought, where the people had the right to make their laws was antithetic to the notion of God’s sovereignty. He accepted that elections provided the basis for a legitimate government, but there was no room in his political philosophy of Islamism for Western forms and norms of democracy, gender equality or equal rights for non-Muslims.

The totalitarian sovereignty of God did not allow any field of affairs as personal and private. His political agenda for Pakistan was to turn it into an Islamic state where only Islamic laws will be enforced. According to him, Islam was not merely a religion, but a complete social, political and economic system that was capable to guide every aspect of human life and provide just Sharia laws for good government. -+Islam was to be the alpha and omega of such an ideological state.

In short, in Maududi's hidebound version of political Islam, there was no room for Western democratic traditions and universal rights which form the basis of modern democratic states. There were to be no basic democratic freedoms in civil society that extended to all Muslim sects and religious minorities. One pivotal area where no space was permissible was an open and free educational system; Islamic doctrines and practices were to be the foundation of the educational system.

It is also important to keep in mind that the role of Maududi was not confined to Pakistan; his influence had reached many parts of the conservative Muslim countries of the Middle East and South Asia. The seeds Maududi sowed became the plants that sapped this noble religion of all progressive ideas and pushed people into a rigid conformity with his brand of 'Islamic ideology'. The introduction of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan was a natural result of the process of Islamization that Maududi and other right-wing religious parties had set in motion. They had found fertile ground for their agenda in the social conditions of Pakistan.

There had also been many other puritan and revivalist groups within Islamic movements, some having very large followers. However, what Maududi introduced was something qualitatively distinct; he brought the whole spectrum of political Islam under his Islamic ideological program and laid down the foundations of Islamism in the form of strict party discipline and indoctrination, where the aim was to gain power to establish a theocratic system that no-one could challenge.

While the state became more and more associated with the Sunni versions of Islam as propounded by sectarian and intolerant clerics and preachers, violence and recriminations against other groups and religious minorities increased. A person’s religion was no longer a personal matter, but a matter of concern for the state authorities, legislature, and the judiciary to determine whether or not a person was a Muslim. In this way, people’s right and liberty to choose their beliefs on the basis of conscience no longer existed. An arbitrary and coercive religious policy became the norm.

One main group targeted by sectarian violence and victimization was the Ahmadi population, whose views as to whether or not Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet of Allah have been profoundly opposed by orthodox Muslims. Following a sustained anti-American movement by Islamic religious parties that started in the early 1950s, the Ahmadis were finally declared non-Muslims by a constitutional amendment in 1974.

If any unfortunate Pakistani, whether an official or a layman, is accused by any Pakistani ‘Muslim’ of having transgressed the limits of the hegemonic Sunni beliefs, he or she is in big trouble. Any such allegation, even without any substantive proof before the judicial bodies, is used as suspicion of a breach of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which both the hard-line Islamist parties and also the major liberal and populist parties support for their own political motives.

But how can a falsely accused person show that he or she has not committed any offence when, from the outset, the allegations by a ‘Muslim’ accuser are accepted as ipso facto true by the police and the courts of law?

This is the state of affairs in Pakistan, a country being traumatized under the burden of religious fanaticism, obscurantism and infantile world-views. People living in democratic countries, where the rule of law and basic human freedoms are taken for granted, cannot understand that such violations of basic rights are taking place in Pakistan at the present moment.

Anyone charged with violating the blasphemy laws is considered sufficiently guilty as to set in motion the prosecution process. Many people have fallen victim to this vicious trap, which even the tormentors in the medieval ages would not have believed possible.

What is even more mind-boggling is the fact that any alleged offenders of blasphemy laws should show that they did not do what they are charged with! In fact, this happens in cases where such allegations, in themselves, are seen as substantial proof of guilt. Here the accused is not regarded innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. In the eyes of the law, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, anyone accused of, or charged with blasphemy is guilty of the offence until proven otherwise.

Contrary to the universal conventions and legal norms pertaining to the presumption of innocence according to the rules of criminal justice in civilized countries, a Pakistani citizen accused of blasphemy has to prove his or her innocence, or remain guilty. Such victims are doomed, either they will be sentenced to life in prison, or get the hangman’s noose. But that is not all. Then, there is also the danger of mob violence and retributions. At the instigation of their Mullahs and preachers, ordinary Muslims, mostly Sunnis, take the law in their hands and target anyone suspected of blasphemy.

In 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, a Sunni Muslim, and Pakistan’s Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were brutally murdered because they wanted an end to the grave injustices inflicted upon innocent people under the blasphemy laws. The murderer of Taseer was hailed as the defender of the honor of the Prophet by huge sections of the population throughout Pakistan.

Strangely enough, many university teachers, preachers, lawyers and columnists zealously defend these pathetic laws in the belief that they are defending God, the Prophet and Islam! In fact, these laws are a true representation of the uncivilized activity, social and spiritual ignorance and false indoctrination that prevails in that country, even today in the twenty-first century.

Those who are accused of blasphemy are subject to harassment, threats and physical molestation. Any police officials, judges or lawyers who dare show concern for innocent victims are also subject to threats and intimidation. In this way, the public authorities and judges are constrained; in effect they are not allowed to function freely, independent of the pressures which extremists exert over them.

The major disruptions of civic and public life which started a few weeks ago brought Islamabad, the metropolis of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to its knees—a situation showing a new low ebb in the affairs of the state and society. The Law Minster of Pakistan, Mr. Zahid Hamid, became the latest target of the religious militant parties, which have gained enormous political leverage within the country. They demanded the resignation of Mr. Hamid. Faced with such a massive physical confrontation in the form of a huge show of force by the fundamentalists, the government gave in to the unreasonable demands on 27 November 2017, and thereafter the siege of the city also came to an end.

However, this backing down by the government is also seen by the extremists as their major victory. Thus, the road to Islamization continues to broaden its parameters while the mandate of the government and public authorities shrinks.

It is obvious that religious extremist parties and groups have become emboldened enough to defy the law and order authorities with impunity. They have gained enormous street power; they can always appeal to ordinary citizens. They can attract huge crowds to disrupt the civic life of this hapless country and its people. All this is easily done in the name of defending the honor and the final status of the Prophet, to glorify Allah and to solidify the dignity of Islam.

Moreover, a series of weak Pakistani governments remain for the most part deeply mired in their shabby deals and economic exploitation of the people. They also play the Islamic card whenever they want to prolong their survival by making new compromises with the Islamist extremist parties and groups. The Pakistani ruling elite know how the Panama investment schemes function, how Swiss banks can hide their ill-gotten millions of dollars and pounds, how European countries can provide them safety and thus save them from any real and rigorous investigations into their economic or political affairs.

The main aim of the religious parties and the religious lobby was and still is to fight against the world’s democratic system and neutralize any educational process that opens up the avenues for rational thinking and openness, as we witness in democratic societies in the world. In Pakistan, theocratic rule and Sharia laws have become the most beloved notions around which hopes and expectations are woven, for the birth of a new world. The Islamists also believe their services to protect the honor of the great Prophet are bringing the new world closer to the doors of Pakistanis. This is not only misleading but also a grand deception practiced on ordinary Muslim believers.

To any reasonable person in Pakistan, it is no secret to that the favorite political tools in the hands of Pakistani politicians and leaders is to play the Islamic card. A conservative and indoctrinated population was an easy target, and the elite took full advantage of such a 'concrete' state of the affairs for their selfish ends, as did the religious parties, according to their own agendas. The results are before our eyes. In this way, a monster has been created by the opportunistic rulers, political leaders, political and Islamist parties; in the end it has become a fully grown Hydra with nine-heads as in Greek mythology. It was said about this serpent-like monster that if you cut off one hydra head, two more grow back! Now, Pakistan and its people have the Hydra hovering over their heads. But due to the prevalence of religious fanaticism, they have not been able to see it or fear it.

In fact, the whole scenario of religious fanaticism is deeply preposterous and primitive; it is an expression of total mental and spiritual paralysis—a state of mayhem that has gripped the people for the last seven decades. In the beginning, to play the Islamic card, such as ‘Islam in danger,’ was used to strengthen the hands of the anti-democratic and religious reactionary forces. The opportunistic and manipulating political leaders and political elites had discovered early on that playing the Islamic card worked like magic on the people, who are captivated and enthralled by the prospects of the rich rewards of the Paradise, and its abundant carnal delights which are exclusively reserved for pious male Muslim 'believers'. The clerics have embedded such images in the minds of vast congregations. It should not surprize anyone to learn that most Pakistanis sincerely believe in such things.

In sum, what the ruling elite and exploiters of Pakistanis did not realize or understand they were creating a big monster, a social and religious force that none would be able to control. That is exactly what happened. The recent show of force in Islamabad by disruptive and rowdy fanatics are not incidental, but are part of a political agenda which has strong backing by the power centers in the country including the army. Perhaps, such a situation may also scare those who patronized and unleashed fanatic fundamentalists for their short-term objectives. That was not a prudent course to follow. In any case, one thing is certain: The monster is not going to disappear. It is there, and it will continue to play havoc with the helpless, ordinary people of this country. They have no escape route, nowhere to turn to seek help.

Dr. Nasir Khan is a historian of ideas and a political analyst. He is the author of Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings (Oslo, 1995) and Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms. A Historical Survey (Oslo, 2006). He has written numerous articles on international politics, socialism, religion and human rights.


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