PFS 8: Islam and Pakistan

Chapter 8


In the end, it could perhaps be said that Islam was too big for Pakistan to keep as its private domain. Pakistan was unable to grab and hold Islam as though Islam and Pakistan were one and the same.

To be sure, Pakistani leaders, for decades behaved as though Pakistan was Islam and Islam was Pakistan. Even before independence, Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan had called the flag of his political party, the Muslim League as the Flag of Islam and had said you cannot separate the Muslim League from Islam. (76). A very popular slogan in Pakistan was, “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La ilaha illallah”. The slogan combines a few words taken from the the Islamic call to prayer La ilaha illallah - meaning there is no God but God and attaches those words to Pakistan to make the meaning What does Pakistan mean there is no God but God - implying that Pakistan and Islam are one and the same.

But this charade could only last a few years before the fallacies began to show.

It is endlessly and erroneously repeated that Pakistan was formed for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. This is a shameful piece of fiction that needs to be set right. Pakistan was formed for some and not all Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

Demographer P.H. Reddy noted in the Times of India on 8th April 2003 (77):

According to the 1941 census, out of a total of 435 districts in undivided India, there were 76 in which more than 50 per cent of the people were Muslims. Based on this demographic fact, the Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s Boundary Commission allotted these 76 districts to Pakistan. The 76 Muslim-majority districts were grouped together in two clusters. One cluster was in north-west India and the other in north-east India. Western Pakistan comprised the north-west part of the sub-continent and Eastern Pakistan comprised eastern part of Bengal and one district in Assam...In 1951, Muslims numbered 3.54 crore, making up 9.9 per cent of the total population of India.

Over the centuries Islam reached a balance with the cultures of the people who adopted Islam. Arab culture had existed in Arabia for centuries before Islam was born, and Arab culture adopted and internalized Islam, which was born in Arabia. Egyptians live in peace with their past, and do not seek to deny the ancient, pre-Islamic Egyptian civilization of Pharaohs who built the Pyramids. An entire literature and culture of Islam developed in Persia, using the Persian language. Islam spread peacefully into Indonesia and was absorbed and rationalized by the local culture.

Similarly Islam developed and flowered in India with its own unique literature, arts and architecture produced by an intermingling of two rich cultures. The formation of Pakistan sought to deny this vibrant entity. Jinnah exploited a cleavage in Indian society to proclaim:

Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literature”, “to two different civilizations”, that they “derive their inspiration from different sources of history”... (with) different epics, different heroes and different episodes.” “We wish our people”, he declared, “to develop to the fullest our spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people.”

Perhaps Jinnah did not mean to strip Pakistan of the rich culture that Islam had developed in its centuries of interaction in India (78).

But the leaders of the new Pakistan who took over after Jinnah died in 1948, certainly felt that Pakistan should be stripped of all its connections with India. In an experimental and unparalleled act of ignorance, Pakistan was deliberately set on the path of being an orphan, cultureless nation. Pakistan was not Arabic; it was not Egyptian or Persian; it was not Indonesian, but it was definitely not going to be Indian any more. The India connection had to be stripped clean, leaving Pakistan purely Islamic. Islamic, for Muslims alone, free from India or any Indian roots. Indian culture had to be actively cleaned out of the minds of millions of Pakistani citizens - a culture of centuries was to be washed clean, and nobody had any idea of what would replace the void. The only thing people knew was that Pakistanis would have to be Islamic and good Muslims.

The formation of Pakistan was considered a great victory. But there were inconsistencies and contradictions right from the beginning and the confusion has remained to this day.

Was Pakistan a nation for Muslims only? But why did Jinnah say:

..we have many non-Muslims - Hindus, Christians, and Parsis - but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens... You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan...You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims.. (76)

Was Pakistan a nation for all Muslims of the Indian subcontinent? If so, Pakistan had failed at birth, as the majority of Muslims chose to remain in India.

Was Pakistan the leader of all Islamic nations, an example for Islamic nations to follow as the leader of the ummah, a modern day Caliphate? But if that was the case Pakistan should not have had any boundaries. That is indeed what some Pakistani Islamists believe:

Muslims all over the world must realize that nationalism is kufr, and that the modern nation-states are a creation of that period in history when Muslims were defeated and dominated by kufr. (79) (kufr refers to unbelievers i.e. People who are not Islamic.)

Pakistani leaders, in their confusion as to what Pakistan was and what it should do, ended up trying to make Pakistan take all the routes that it could possibly take simultaneously. And like a man whose arms and legs are being pulled apart by horses moving in different directions, parts of Pakistan, and social and ethnic groups of Pakistan have all headed in different directions, resulting in the chaos that Pakistan is today.

Pakistani leaders claimed that they, and Pakistan, were purely Islamic, and represented Islam. Islam was and still remains the ultimate excuse, the lever that is used in Pakistan to justify anything. For Pakistan, Islam has served as a tool to be used when convenient, to get aid, or to deflect blame or to accuse an adversary of misdeeds. As long as Pakistani leaders hid behind the Islam excuse for their actions, nobody could question them. After all, Pakistan was Islamic, and therefore anything that Pakistan did, from waging wars, avoiding elections, genocide, corruption could not be criticized by anyone. Any criticism of Pakistan was criticism of Islam. If Pakistan obtained military and economic aid from the US, it was because Islam was naturally anticommunist. India did not dare question Pakistani claims no matter how preposterous or obscene they were, because Pakistan was Islamic. Opposing Pakistan was anti-Islamic.

And in this manner, instead of consolidating and unifying the new state of Pakistan, its leaders set about using Islam to divert attention to India, and to meddle with Indian territory and Indian Muslims. India was the source of all problems; the enemy of Pakistan, and therefore the enemy of Islam. The India problem had to be solved, and that took priority over everything else in Pakistan, be it development, democracy or common sense. The threat from India became the common denominator for all Pakistani actions, for postponing elections and for postponing development of Pakistan indefinitely. And conveniently, aid and funds poured into Pakistan in the early years as part of US aid to Pakistan as a cold war ally. As long as the money kept coming in, there was no pressure to change policy. India could be fought and opposed, the people of Pakistan could be kept busy, and elections postponed. Money and the economy were not a problem. Allah (God), who had given Pakistan to the faithful, was providing funds and arms via the US. India would be defeated. Pakistan could do no wrong.

But as repeated Pakistani assaults against India failed, Islam could not fail. Pakistanis had failed the faith. They were not Islamic enough they had to strive to be better Muslims. They had to starve, sacrifice and allow their army to get stronger, so that Islam could be upheld against India, the number one threat to Pakistan, and therefore to Islam. No method was ruled out, no sacrifice could be too great in opposing India, because opposing India meant devotion to Islamic ideals. Muslims in Kashmir, and later all the Muslims in India would be rescued from Hindu tyranny by Pakistan.

Islam gradually became the tool, the prop, used in Pakistan to make every opinion or move. The Islam card was used by everybody in Pakistan to suit their own purpose. The Pakistani elite, migrants from India, holding all the important government posts, saw their positions threatened by the prospect of elections which would unseat them in favor of locals. Elections were a threat that had to be postponed or canceled and an imaginary threat to Islam was invoked. In his essay on the role of the power structure in Pakistan (80), Mohammad Waseem wrote:

Muslim migrants from East Punjab and further East in India shaped the psyche of the new nation along feelings of insecurity at the hands of India, commitment to Islamic ideology and the need to unite against all odds...the migrant elite...dreaded the prospects of their exit from power in the event of elections.

A report in Pakistan’s Friday Times (81) carried this scathing message on the role of the migrant elite in using Islam:

On Feb 21, 1952 the historic Bengali language movement erupted spontaneously all over East remained a major potential challenge. Foolishly our ruling elite, instead of going some way to meet Bengali demands, thought they could isolate the Bengali nationalists by raising religious slogans of Islamic ideology and Islamic identity to counter Bengali anger.

The army of Pakistan was initially subservient to the government. After 1971 Zia-ul-Haq started a campaign of Islamization of the Pakistani army, and strengthened the process of Islamization of Pakistan started by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom Zia had deposed in a coup. Rajiv Malhotra wrote (74):

Islamic texts are being introduced into Pakistani military training. Middle ranking officers must take courses and examinations on Islam. There are even serious attempts under way to define an Islamic military doctrine, as distinct from the international military doctrines, so as to fight in accordance with the Koran.

And as Islam was stirred into the mindset of the Pakistani army, the army started seeing Islam in more and more of its actions. Columnist Hamid Husain has this to say about Islamization of the Pakistan army (58):

Brigadier Gulzar Ahmad explaining the role of celestial powers to lessen his troop casualties in 1965 war stated, ‘There was a hidden hand deflecting the rounds’..General Mahmud Ahmad during Pakistani ambassador’s conference reprimanded the ambassadors for not relying on the intercession of Providence while analyzing Pakistan’s Afghan policy. Another compelling reason to be very cautious about overuse of religion is to avoid seeping of sectarian tendencies into the armed forces.

Finally, for the mullahs (Islamic scholars) of Pakistan, anything less than an Islamic state in Pakistan was a threat. Only in an Islamic state could mullahs be influential and prominent. Pluralism or Western-style democracy was incompatible with the mullah’s world view, and they supported every measure to make Islam the basis of the existence of all Pakistanis. M. A. Hussain wrote (82):

Imam, Mozin, Mo-alim, Maulavi, etc...have a vested interest in establishing an Islamic state where they are locus of power and have tremendous scope for employment. It explains why even those Ulamas and Maulavis (like Moulana Maudoodi), who had opposed Jinnah, went to Pakistan as they saw no role in India for themselves.

With everyone in Pakistan, the people, the bureaucracy and government, the army and the mullahs seemingly being in agreement with each other on the question of the Islamic status of Pakistan, there really should have been no problem. Everything should have fallen in place, and gone without a hitch.

But that did not happen. Every group in Pakistan needed Islam only for their narrow self interest. The idea of an Islamic state seemed noble enough, but making it reality was easier said than done.

The Ideal Islamic state existed at the time of the Prophet Mohammad. The desire for an ideal Islamic state has been described as follows (83):

The quest for it reflects the desire to model Muslim politics on the original Islamic community in Medina, which remains to this day the blueprint for a genuinely Islamic society. No Muslim polity has measured up to the combination of piety and social justice achieved by the Medinese community...But trying to replicate the Medinese polity remains an ideal.

When the Prophet Mohammad died in AD 632, he left behind a tradition, but there were no written guidelines on how a state should be run. In the absence of such guidelines, Islamic people often ended up being controlled by the nearest strongman. The men who controlled the sword, controlled the ulema (scholars) and the people.

Tamara Sonn, a Professor of religious studies, wrote (84):

(The Prophet) Muhammad’s prophetic mantle was not inherited by his successors, and he did not leave behind a specific political system or designate a successor...In general, the Prophet’s successors were expected to be personally pious and to behave according to the guidance left by the Prophet, but there were no formal criteria for determining the community’s leadership or judging its legitimacy.

Succession of leadership among Islamic people has been a bone of contention ever since that time. And Pakistan is no exception.

In a report on the relationship of the mullahs and the military in Pakistan by the International Crisis Group, (a non-profit multinational organization committed to resolving conflict) the introduction carries the following quote (85):

The Muslim state in India was a theocracy...In theory the sultan’s authority in religious matters was limited by the holy law of the Qu’raan and no sultan could clearly divorce religion from politics. But in practice the Muslim sultan of India was a perfect autocrat and his word was law. The real source of the sultan’s authority was military strength, and this was understood and acquiesced the soldiers, the poets and the ulema of the age.

The precedent of the strongman - the military ruler taking absolute control over Islamic people had already existed in Mughal India, and was implemented and perpetuated in Pakistan. The Pakistan army was invited to take power, liked it, and held on to power. Other forces in Pakistan who wanted power and influence, such as the politicians, bureaucrats and the ulema used the army, or reached some accommodation with the army. And it was all done in the name of Islam.

Anything that Pakistan did was done in the name of Islam. It was done, Pakistani leaders claimed, to uphold Islam and represent Islam. It was to be assumed by all who were watching that Pakistan itself was the embodiment of Islam. After all Pakistan was formed for Islam. Criticism of Pakistan was criticism of Islam. Pakistani leaders were always right, always Islamic and they compelled their people to be more and more Islamic.

Gradually the non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan were squeezed out (chapter 6). They had no role in Islamic Pakistan. East Pakistanis their minds poisoned by India according to some West Pakistani commentators, revolted, seceded and formed Bangladesh (chapter 11). This blow to Pakistan was explained on the basis of Pakistan not being Islamic enough. More and more Islamic laws had to be passed and implemented. The sharia, zakat, and the Hudood ordinance were brought in. Islamic fervor, it was implied, would solve all of Pakistan’s problems, and put and end to the people’s misery.

The effort to make Pakistan purely Islamic has been described by V.S Naipaul in his book “Among the believers” (75)

This Islamic state couldn’t simply be decreed; it had to be invented, and in that invention faith was of little help. Faith, at the moment, could only supply the simple negatives that answered emotional needs: no alcohol, no feminine immodesty, no interest in the banks. But soon in Pakistan these negatives were to be added to: no political parties, no parliament, no dissent, no law courts. So existing institutions were deemed to be un-Islamic and undermined or undone; the faith was asserted because only the faith seemed to be whole; and in the vacuum only the army could rule.

However, the army, the rulers and influential people of Pakistan did not have to be all that Islamic. Pure Islam was for the hoi-polloi, the serfs and underlings. The elite stayed rich, and the army became richer, and their modern, liberal lifestyle conveyed the impression of a progressive society to Western aid givers. Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S., ensured that foreign aid poured in and the economy of the wealthy in Pakistan boomed. The rich got money, the army got weapons, while the poor of Pakistan got madrassas (Islamic schools) to ensure that they became more Islamic.

The mullahs of Pakistan were doubly happy. The burgeoning of madrassas and ensured that they would have jobs and influence. They took charge of the madrassas with gusto and preached with fervor. They preached jihad, Jihad against the enemies of Islam. In order to be good Muslims, Pakistanis were urged to do jihad - not the internal, self correcting jihad of the Koran, but the external violence of the Generals and their games of military domination. More and more Pakistanis were needed to fight Pakistan’s wars. Men were needed to fight India. Men were needed to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The army brass, getting richer, needed men to do their fighting, and the mullahs, secure and happy in their newly funded madrassas, ensured the delivery of any number of men to fight for Pakistan, for Islam.

Each Islamic jihadi, brought up with fervor in a madrassa, was ready to die for a cause, ready to embrace and accept the guaranteed benefits of dying in jihad in an afterlife to be enjoyed in a well-stocked heaven.

And as these men prepared for and died fighting for the cause that they had been told was Islamic - the people who trained them and sent them to die the army and the mullahs, got fatter, and more powerful.

This glorious scene became Pakistan’s version of Islam. Rich generals doing office jobs while men from the poor classes with little to live for were trained, indoctrinated and prepared for death; their families accepting that the death of their son would bring glory and honour. The Islam of Pakistan’s mullahs, in league with lazy Generals, aiding the Generals’ wars, preaching an Islam that would keep the mullahs comfortable in this life, while their wards and students were encouraged to seek the pleasures of an afterlife, obtainable only by violence and death.

As the institutions of Pakistan failed in this unique and unorthodox concept of a nation, the faith Islam, grew stronger.

In a remarkably prescient passage Naipaul observes (75),

The state withered, but faith didn’t. Failure only led back to the faith. The state had been founded as a homeland for Muslims. If the state failed it wasn’t because the dream was flawed, or the faith flawed; it could only be because men had failed the faith. And in that quest of the Islamic absolute the society of believers, where every action was instinct with worship men lost sight of the political origins of their state...Extraordinary claims began to be made for Pakistan: it was founded as the land of the pure; it was to be the first truly Islamic state since the days of the Prophet and his close companions

The average Pakistani citizen was coerced or co-opted by putting Islam first. Pakistan, it was stressed, was created by Muslims for Muslims. Every Pakistani had to strive to be a good Muslim. To be Pakistani was to be a good Muslim. Muslim clerics, the mullahs and the ulema were necessarily allowed to exercise spiritual control over the Pakistani masses to ensure that Pakistan remained adequately and properly Islamic in all arenas. It was drummed in that this was necessary because India was always there to swallow up Pakistan. India had been held in check only by God and the Pakistani army, which presented itself as the savior, ‘the army of Islam,’ upholding the faith and protecting Pakistan. Co-opting the Pakistani citizen under the Islam banner eminently served the interests of the rich and corrupt elite of Pakistan in maintaining their grip and preserving their business and territorial interests. And the Pakistani state died. In his characteristically astute manner V.S, Naipaul concludes (75):

Step by step, out of its Islamic striving, Pakistan had undone the rule of law it had inherited from the British, and replaced it with nothing

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