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Islam and Pluralism ( 20 Jun 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islam, Secularism and Pakistan

By Ilyas Akbar Khan

June 21, 2010

Had Islam not been central to the creation of Pakistan, we would not have had the Objectives Resolution as a guiding principle of our constitutions

Without recognising that a problem is widespread and deep-rooted, efforts towards resolving it are likely to have only partial success. Although the myth of ‘a silent majority’ of moderates in Pakistan gained currency during the period of General Musharraf, the same has existed for decades. Indeed, it was not entirely a myth until the early 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave in to Islamic fundamentalists’ demand for Islamisation. General Ziaul Haq’s 11-year rule completely changed the landscape of Pakistani politics and society in terms of the worldview of its population. In the 1990s, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif co-opted the clergy and both abstained from taking measures towards stopping the growing tide of religious fundamentalism. Thus, the assumption that there is a small minority in Pakistan that subscribes to pan-Islamist, anti-American, anti-Indian and anti-Israeli ideas of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) has become a myth. Now the reality is the other way around — Pakistan today has ‘a loud minority’ that publicly condemns all streams of Islamist violence and sees fighting extremism and normal relations with India and the US to be in the national interest.

The JUI — known for its sympathies with the Taliban — is presently part of the PPP-led coalition government in Islamabad. The party runs thousands of Islamic seminaries across the country. Its declared aim of politics is the imposition of shariah in the country. The ideology of the Jamaat-e-Islami — a fiercely anti-American and pan-Islamist political party — is widely respected and held true by the middle and upper class educated youth and by mid- and top-level military officers. Indeed, it is considered to be an important component of the legendary ‘establishment’, a euphemism used for the Pakistani military.

What led to the transformation of a silent majority of moderates into a minority? To begin with, the signs can be traced back to the rhetoric of some Muslim leaders in pre-partition India. These included, among others, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Sir Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It was in the latter part of the 19th century that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan emphasised that Muslims stay away from the Indian National Congress, on the basis of religion. He established educational institutions aimed at educating the Muslims as a ‘community’. Chief among these was the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which soon developed into the Aligarh Muslim University. The Muslim graduates of this university were to later claim a state — a political entity — for a portion of the Indian population on the basis of their faith, Islam. Thus the seeds of an evolving Islam-based politics can be discerned in the developments that were taking place in the latter half of the 19th century. This is not to say that the process of Muslim leaders working for the Muslims of India started with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. There were many before him, but they worked for the moral reformation of the Muslims. The process of politicising Islam started only with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. A detailed narrative of his services for the Muslims and his contribution to the ‘idea’ of Pakistan constitutes an important part of Pakistani schools’ curriculum.

Sir Muhammad Iqbal — the philosopher who shaped Jinnah’s views vis-à-vis a state for the Muslims of India — was a staunch supporter of political Islam and abhorred western nationalism. He frequently dismissed the separation of religion and state. In his famous Allahabad address in 1930 he stated, “Islam does not bifurcate the unity of man into an irreconcilable duality of spirit and matter. In Islam, God and the universe, spirit and matter, church and state, are organic to each other.” He believed that secularism would morally corrupt Muslims. He stood for closer cooperation among Muslims around the world. His philosophy constitutes an integral part of Pakistani schools’ syllabus.

Many of us, under the burden of ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’, fiercely argue that Jinnah stood for a secular Pakistan. To justify their stand, they often cite his speech of August 11, 1947 in which he said that everybody was free to go to their respective religious places. Unfortunately — thanks to our poor education system — we conveniently ignore the dozens of occasions before and after the creation of Pakistan when Jinnah clearly stated that Islam was going to guide the policies of the new state. In a message to the Frontier Muslim Students Federation on June 18, 1945 he says, “Pakistan not only means freedom and independence but the Muslim ideology which has to be preserved, which has come to us as a precious gift and treasure and which, we hope, others will share with us.” In his presidential address to the All India Muslim League on March 23, 1940, he invokes Islam as the basis of inspiration for action. He stated, “Come forward as servants of Islam, organise the people economically, socially, educationally and politically and I am sure that you will be a power that will be accepted by everybody.”

It is not to say that Jinnah did not have economics on his mind while struggling for Pakistan. It is to say, however, that he did invoke Islam as a central element of justification in his demand for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India.

Thus the context being conducive for pan-Islamists and religious bigots, it was only a foregone conclusion that they would succeed in forcing the Objectives Resolution to be passed by parliament, prefix “Islamic” to everything Pakistani, pressure successive rulers into passing retrogressive laws and, ultimately, convince the state to pursue cross-border agendas based on the ideology of Islam. No wonder then that senior retired military officers including the Taliban’s mentors General Hamid Gul and the so-called Colonel Imam loudly support al Qaeda, the Taliban and the many Islamist jaishes and lashkars without any fear of punishment from the state, which itself is controlled by their former colleagues.

Had Islam not been central to the creation of Pakistan, Zaid Hamid and Hamid Gul would not have been able to invoke it for garnering support for a Muslim caliphate and they would not have been the darlings of our middle and upper class educated youth, we would not have had the Objectives Resolution as a guiding principle of our constitutions, Ziaul Haq would never have been able to pass retrogressive laws against women and minorities, our intelligence agencies and army would not have been suspected of links with the various jaishes and lashkars — not to speak of their well-documented grooming of the Taliban, our public schools would not have been a tool of retrogressive propaganda and we would not have had tens of thousands of religious seminaries, many of which produce violent jihadists.

The writer is a freelance columnist hailing from Waziristan. He can be reached at

Daily Times, Pakistan