The March of Islamisation
By M Saeed Khalid
April 03, 2014
Islam and Pakistan are among the most frequently used words in our daily discourse. We sound deeply concerned about saving Pakistan and serving the cause of Islam. Small wonder then that our short history has been marked by two parallel phenomena: the army stepping in repeatedly to save Pakistan; and persistent efforts to ‘Islamise’ the state and the society in a steady manner.
In practice, the two noble sounding ideals have been used to coerce people to follow preconceived notions in order to serve individual or clan interests. Consequently, two generations of Pakistanis have failed in realising the objectives set for the nation at the time of its creation. The legacy we have prepared for the coming generations is, to put it mildly, embarrassing.
While the obsession with saving Pakistan cost us dearly, including secession, religion has been exploited by some to sow dissension among the people. Difficulties arise as you try to give practical shape, within a republic, to Islamic tenets collectively known as the Shariah.
As it is not feasible to have interpretations based on a consensus, the quest for an Islamic system becomes a reason to promote rival sects and schools of thought. The vague demands for embracing the Shariah as a legal framework have led to approaching the complex task of changing jurisprudence in an emotive and simplistic manner.
Gen Zia was the most ambitious in that regard; as far as the Hudood laws go the impracticality of applying these is evident. Even on the deduction of Zakat, the state had to concede exemption first to the Shia community and later to the concession that the payment could be determined by the individual.
We hear a great deal about how the Objectives Resolution moved the country away from a non-religious system of governance. The first non-clerical champion of an Islamic system was Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, who launched his Nizam-e-Islam party in 1958. In the presence of the ‘Muslim’ League as well as several religious groupings, a technocrat’s idea of floating a party promising to bring an Islamic system was a novel idea.
The democratic effervescence of 1958, bordering on chaos, came to a sudden end with President Iskander Mirza proclaiming the martial law. Three weeks later, the chief martial law administrator Gen Ayub Khan sent Mirza packing and began implementing his own concept of limited democracy incorporating some liberal ideas.
Among the reactions to Ayub’s rule was the emergence of the Jamaat-e-Islami and regional parties. Maulana Maudoodi who had initially condemned the Pakistan Movement as a design to divide the Muslims, had now joined Pakistani politics with the aim of gaining political power in order bring an Islamic system in the country.
Looking back, it can be argued that the liberal minded military leadership of Ayub and its civilian and democratic form under Bhutto somehow led to the gradual strengthening of what is now termed as political Islam. Ayub and Bhutto were not liberal from western standards but definitely so when compared to the conservative values of our society.
In Ayub’s case, his support to family planning and family laws became the main focus of the JI’s loud opposition to his rule. The religious parties’ opposition to Bhutto, spurred by charges of rigging the 1977 elections, quickly turned into a broader platform based on Islam. The religious groups drew strength from the public disdain over the western outlook of the elite.
The ground for Islamisation was prepared over many years but major tectonic shifts favouring its path came in three stages. The 1977 movement to overthrow Bhutto chose Nizam-e-Mustafa as its rallying cry. The religious parties played a critical role in mass mobilisation that rattled Bhutto, compelling him to seek the military’s help to quell the riots. But the die had been cast. Zia was in accord with the religio-political leaders to pack up the western style political model.
Zia took important steps towards Islamisation. He was helped in this by a rapidly evolving regional context with the communists trying to establish control over Afghanistan and the clergy in Iran having assumed power. Zia intensified his Islamisation to ensure inter-alia that Pakistan did not face a religious takeover a la Iran.
The second tectonic shift came with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. The US resolved to fight it on military as well as ideological grounds by extending all kinds of support to the Afghan Mujahideen.
Zia is blamed for turning Pakistan into a fundamentalist society. He was in fact willingly implementing an agenda set by the superpowers. The Afghan jihad was a response not only to the godless system imposed by Moscow but also a move to pre-empt the spread of Islamic revolutions backed by Iran. The long-term effect on Pakistan would unfold gradually, transforming the country into a laboratory for all kinds of experimentation in Islamisation. Pakistan became the ultimate training ground of jihadis from various corners of the Muslim world.
The third tectonic shift would come on 9/11. Its ramifications in pushing Pakistan further towards extremism and sectarian violence merit to be examined separately. Suffice it to say that it ushered a decisive phase in making our society what it is today.