Islam, in Pakistan, has evolved from a multi-dimensional universal religion into a perverse and fanatical cult of Islamism.

How did this happen?

This situation has a historical context, beginning in 1947 when Pakistan emerged as a new state. The division of India at the end of the British Rule 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.

But for many historians, it seems that this demand had more to do with politics than with religion.

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, Abul Kalam Azad, remonstrated and warned time and again the leaders of the Pakistan Movement. He stressed out that the dangers of creating a separate state for Muslims on the communal basis. It would leave the Muslims in India in an extremely vulnerable position, and create communal tensions. The post-partition history has shown that what he said was true in every possible way.

Establishing of Pakistan

The two main branches of Islam, Sunnis, and Shias, have a different interpretation of the early Islamic history. 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. The separation of the roles of religion and state helps to avoid these conflicts. But no such peaceful accommodation is possible where a theocratic state operates to patronize a particular religion.

When the British finally divided India along “the two-nation” lines, Pakistan emerged as a separate state on 14th August 1947. India declared itself independent on the 15th August 1947.

At this time in Pakistan, a young and charismatic politician Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to power. As a realist, he knew the tasks of building a democratic state were much difficult. And 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. He expressed his position in the speech, where emphasizeв the freedom of religion in Pakistan:

“We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination.  We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all equal citizens of one 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. In his vision of a modern democratic state, no single branch of Islam was to dominate the state and society. But the ailing leader died on 11 September 1948. As a result, the way was open for the new leaders. Some of them managed to bring Islam or political Islam in the affairs of the state with dire consequences.

Emergence of Political Islamism

Within six months after Jinnah’s death, Pakistani prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan introduced the Objectives Resolution of 1949. It laid the foundation for the country’s constitution. The resolution proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would not be based on the ideology and democratic faith of Islam.

The non-Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly forcefully opposed the Objectives Resolution and voted against it.The Resolution was a clear move away from the secular, democratic state. But now the foundations of a theocracy were laid that would juggle with the ideas of “Islamic democracy” in future.

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 in the 80s under Pakistani military dictator, General Zia ul-Haq. He made Islamism the corner-stone of his policies. He implemented Islamic laws, established the Sharia courts, and made Islamic education compulsory in schools. All this boosted greatly the power of Islamist fundamentalist parties.

The process of Islamization started. 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 beginning of conflict

Dissatisfaction policies of the Pakistani government appeared in 1948. They relate to the national language of Pakistan controversy. Jinnah declared that only Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan. But for the people of East Pakistan, the mother tongue was Bengali, a language that had a rich history. This declaration fueled much anger and resentment in East Pakistan.

The people of East Pakistan formed the 56% of the population of Pakistan. The Bengalis were the largest ethnic group in Pakistan. But they were not regarded as on par with the people of West Pakistan. The 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 offenses became more pronounced. Finally, 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. During his term, the public protests in East Pakistan gradually became the Bengali people’s opposition to West Pakistan’s domination. Then it became a rebellion that led to a war of independence. Eventually, Bangladesh came into existence as a new sovereign state.

Islamic Theocracy

But religious parties in Pakistan continued to impact both the state policies and the people at large. Islam had become a major power factor for the mainstream bourgeois politicians and the leaders of the religious parties.

Now, Islam was called upon to promote belief in the supremacy of divine laws over man-made laws. Pakistani democracy was a theocracy in disguise, where the ultimate sovereignty belonged to God, not to the elected leaders.

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.

The introduction of the blasphemy laws gave a big boost to the sectarian religious parties and to the militant extremists. As result, they were free to assert their power over the state and the civil society in an extreem degree.

Thus, a coercive brand of Islamism replaced an old, tolerant, and all-inclusive brand of Sufi Islam. 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.



About the author:

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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