By Yasser Latif Hamdani
April 14, 2014
It is quite fashionable to state that the world has seen only two ideological states formed on the basis of religion — Pakistan and Israel. This is a factually incorrect statement. First of all, neither Pakistan nor Israel was formed on the basis of religion in the strictest sense; Pakistan less so than Israel. Secondly, the cases of Pakistan and Israel beyond the superficial similarities that are the favourite hobby horse of armchair theorists and amateur historians are more striking in their contrasts than in their similarities. To begin with, Pakistan was essentially a demand limited to South Asia. The claim of the Two Nation Theory was never that Muslims everywhere were a nation but that Indian Muslims were a distinct nation on the basis of language, traditions, culture, etc.
Those who mistakenly and unthinkingly argue that the ‘al-Bakistan’ phenomenon is a natural consequence of the Two Nation Theory should read Jinnah’s speech in 1941 — long after the Lahore Resolution — which stated that his Muslims were Indians and were asking for India for Indians when explaining the Pakistan demand. Given the fact that it was limited to the Muslims of South Asia, the question of it being a theological demand did not arise. Indeed the cultural factors that the Two Nation Theory was based on were deliberately non-theological because the Muslims of India themselves were divided into several sects. It is for this reason that Jinnah told Louis Fischer that the idea of Pan-Islamism was an impractical one and that beyond friendly relations with Muslim countries, Muslim India would have no desire to link up with Central Asia and the Middle East, as was alleged by Gandhi.
Israel on the other hand was a demand for all Jews everywhere in the world. It sought to create a homeland for the Jewish people all around the world. The question of Jewish identity itself is a religious one, sustained by Halacha or the Jewish religious law. The question of whether one is a Jew or not for the most part is not determined by religious beliefs as much as it is determined by inheritance and specifically matrilineal inheritance; so long as a person’s mother is Jewish, he or she has a good claim to a Jewish identity. Consequently the idea of creating a Jewish homeland contained within it the idea that future migration into such a Jewish state would be limited to Jewish people only. This again is in contrast to the demand for Pakistan which not only envisaged — in its original form — large Hindu and Sikh minorities but did not at any point seek to limit future citizenship by limiting naturalisation to Muslims. To this day anyone can become a citizen of Pakistan if he or she so desires. While the Pakistan demand was based on a purely political ideal — i.e. permanent majorities should not dominate permanent minorities — it chose to, from the 1970s onwards, define Muslim in theological terms, underscoring certain principles as requisites for being recognised as Muslims.
Thus Pakistan in 1974 changed the nature of Muslim identity from an ethnic one to a religious one. Israel has never done that. Israel — more faithful to the cultural and legal idea of Jewish identity — has refused to define this identity around religious doctrine. A Jew therefore can be an atheist and still be a Jew in the eyes of the state of Israel. Most ironically however, while Pakistan does not officially discriminate against any religion when it comes to naturalisation of citizens subject to law, it discriminates against non-Muslims in several ways. A non-Muslim cannot be the president or the prime minister. The state further has set up specific religious institutions like the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Federal Shariat Court that add to the marginalisation of Non-Muslim Pakistanis. Meanwhile the Jewish state of Israel — while discriminating on the issue of naturalisation — does not discriminate on the basis of faith within its borders. An Arab Israeli citizen, whether Muslim or Christian, (theoretically) enjoys the same rights as an Israeli Jew. Freedom of religion is guaranteed and even protected.
The creation of both Israel and Pakistan was controversial and aroused conflicting emotions. Both states in the 1950s fell in with the western powers during the Cold War to try and exist in an utterly hostile neighbourhood. The comparison however ends there. Pakistan, a state of 180 million people, is far more diverse and has problems far more complicated than Israel, which has a total population of less than the city of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city. Israel therefore has had an easier time in nation building than Pakistan. The Jewish people also has managed to reconcile its identity as a ‘Jewish state’ with de facto secular democracy while Pakistan has neither been able to use its Muslim identity positively nor has it remained a democracy consistently. Yet it is Israel that has the silo mentality that Pakistan at least does not. Unlike Israel, Pakistan is too big and diverse a country to lend itself to one idea of identity. As and when Pakistan gets its house in order, it will willingly shed the vague ideological commitments that have kept it stagnant and take its proper place in the world.