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The Process of Becoming an ‘Islamic’ State

Pakistan has vacillated between liberal and orthodox outlooks for much of its 75-year history

by Khaled Ahmed

As one uncovers the various sources of the evolution of the Pakistani state, it becomes obvious that it was always bound to become a religious state. Out of respect for Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah no one brands him as “irrelevant,” but it is undeniable that the founder of the state has had his secular identity removed from history over the years. One last-ditch effort was made by Justice (retd.) Javid Iqbal, the son Allama Muhammad Iqbal; this, too, faded from the nation’s memory after his demise.

On March 7, 2011, the late Justice Javid Iqbal was interviewed on a TV channel on the nature of the Pakistani state. He held that Pakistan, as envisaged by Jinnah, was to be a secular state. This is the package Javid Iqbal had always accepted as the “modern Islamic state” imagined by his father, Allama Iqbal, too.

Was Jinnah ‘secular’?

Javid Iqbal was clear about what Pakistan is now, and it is not what Jinnah had thought of. The word “secular” put off the TV host who insisted that “secular” was the opposite of “Islamic.” He even once erroneously equated “secular” with “communist,” not knowing that an atheist state could not be secular. Javid Iqbal said that “hard” Islam was not the project of Jinnah: the punitive Islam of hudood and blasphemy laws was imposed by General Ziaul Haq.

He even named Dualibi as the Arab scholar who was sent to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia to impose the laws that the country was reluctant to enforce. The fact is that the 1980 Zakat & Ushr Ordinance, imposed by General Zia, was framed by Dualibi in Arabic. Iqbal clearly said that moderate and liberal elements were silent because they feared harm at the hands of extremist forces. He equally despaired of politicians.

A rejection of modern times

Iqbal said that only the ibadat (prayer rituals) were unchangeable in Islam; muamilat (affairs) had to change in tune with the times. One reason Islamization did not improve the Pakistani character was the state’s retrogression towards laws that were no longer compatible with modern times. He referred to an effort made by late MNA M.P. Bhandara who, as a minority representative, wanted the Aug. 11, 1947 speech of Jinnah incorporated into the Constitution. The Aug. 11 speech can be read as a secular manifesto issuing out of the mouth of the Father of the Nation. Secularists lean on it; others think Jinnah still meant a state based on sharia. One historian even went so far as to say that Jinnah had become “infirm of mind” when he spoke on Aug. 11.

Saleena Karim, in her book Secular Jinnah & Pakistan: What the Nation Doesn’t Know (Paramount 2010), has tackled the case most thoroughly in defense of those who reject the secular label. She has dug up an interview that Jinnah gave to a Reuters’ journalist on May 21, 1947, which was used by Chief Justice Muhammad Munir in his book From Jinnah to Zia (1979) to infer that the Quaid had wanted a secular state. She dug up what Jinnah had really said: “But the Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of government. Its Parliament, and Cabinet responsible to the Parliament, will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will be the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and program of the Government that may be adopted from time to time.”

Enter Ziaul Haq and coercive Sharia

“Instead of calling the proposed Pakistan a modem democratic state, Jinnah says only that it will have a democratic form of government. He was actually averse to imitating ‘modern’ (read: contemporary) democracy as a political system, considering it a failure,” she writes, adding she believes this is a presumed reference to a non-secular state. One could also conclude from this that people might democratically decide to have a non-secular Islamic state with a sharia. She represents the tendency in Pakistan of equating sharia with democracy and ignoring the political evolution of the state in favor of a spiritual diktat to establish an Islamic, rather than a democratic state.

Military dictator General Ziaul Haq belonged to a conservative family with a preference for practices promoted by the Tablighi Jamaat. Zia’s behavior throughout his military career was shaped by this understanding of Islam. But it was primarily his interest in legitimizing the continuation of his authoritarian rule in contravention of the 1973 Constitution that attracted him to form a close alliance with Islamist groups, led by Jamaat-e-Islami. In the process, the state as an agency—in contrast to the trend established by previous military rulers—fostered the introduction of orthodox ideas in society: the introduction of “sharia” in Pakistan.

Tyranny of hudood

The Zia regime introduced the Hudood Ordinance in 1979, dealing with issues of rape, adultery, extra-marital relations, false accusation, theft and drinking alcohol. It also amended the Blasphemy Law, which had been part of Pakistan’s Penal Code (inherited from British rule), to make defiling of the Holy Quran punishable with imprisonment (295-B), defiling the name of Islam’s Prophet with death (295-C), and that of any other personage revered in Islam with three years’ imprisonment (295-A). The educational system, identified as an essential element of an Islamic revolution by Maududi, was revamped with greater focus on Pakistan’s Islamic identity and history. The government also introduced more stringent censorship to realign its cultural spaces with Pakistan’s “true Islamic” identity.

These policies were introduced against the backdrop of changes in the regional and international environment following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As a front-line state entrusted with an agenda to roll the Soviets back, Pakistan provided its territory to the United States and other allies to promote a jihadi culture. The proliferation of religious schools, madrassas, to train fighters imbued with a religious fervor to oust non-believers from Afghanistan also introduced the language of jihad in Pakistan. Hence the realignment of Pakistan more closely with preference for divine will continued throughout the 1980s with active state agency. This had implications for societal norms: an interest in retaining state patronage led ordinary citizens to identify themselves in more religious terms. Daily prayers became the norm in offices, with some prolonging these prayers as an overt sign of piety!

Out of Sharia, militancy

The most noticeable aspect of Islamist group empowerment was militancy. Promoting jihadi language in the 1980s and intervention in Afghanistan in the 1990s created a nexus between Islamist ideas and militant groups in the two neighboring states. In the 1990s, these links were cemented and supported through the efforts of sections of the Pakistan military. Pursuing the plans envisioned by General Zia, they attempted to replicate the successful Afghan jihad in Kashmir. Convinced that the lessons learnt in Afghanistan would facilitate the independence of Indian-occupied Kashmir, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency directly or indirectly supported the creation of several Kashmir-oriented jihadi organizations. The list included Harkatul Jihad-al Islami and Harkatul Mujahedeen (renamed Harkatul Ansar only to revert to the original name). Meanwhile, an interest in retaining control over Afghanistan and acquiring what was termed “strategic depth” encouraged the state to foster close connections with Afghan jihadi groups.

Conversion to radical Islamism created problems of survival in the 20th century for the Islamic state of Pakistan. Efforts at countering terrorism were coupled with support for individuals who presented liberal or more moderate understandings of Islam. This was not restricted to secular groups such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Instead, religious scholars were engaged to communicate governmental commitment to finding answers for Pakistan’s problems with reference to Islamic teachings. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, educated in secular institutions but with a strong grounding in traditional religious knowledge, was appointed to the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) and given ample space on radio and television networks to present his ideas that drew upon the Quran and sharia. At the same time, the government initiated registration of madrassas to ensure that their curriculum was in line with governmental prescriptions and that they were not promoting radicalism. But Ghamidi was destined to be rejected, was attacked, and made to flee the country.

Ideology and practice of isolationism

The ability of the state to sponsor liberal understandings of Islam, however, was undermined by the presence of groups within state structures that either opposed or were doubtful of the shifts in Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies. Opposition extended into the top echelons of the military leadership that had assisted Pervez Musharraf’s ascent to power, including General Aziz Khan who had occupied the position of Corps Commander, Lahore, and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee after October 2001. Two decades of close collaboration with jihadi groups in Afghanistan and Kashmir, and the ideological explanations to support their activities, fostered groups in government which were reluctant to suddenly sever their links with the jihadis. Their influence extended to all levels of government and the military, including those operating in direct contact with Islamist groups. Their opposition stemmed from a mixture of support for the jihadi logic and a geostrategic assessment built upon ideas of Indian unconditional hostility towards Pakistan that had shaped the country’s foreign policy for a major part of its history.

They argued that the United States and other Western states were also unconditionally hostile towards Pakistan as a significant Muslim state and their opposition needed to be countered regionally and globally. Coupled with inefficiencies that had mounted in an economically weakened state with loose administration and law-and-order issues, their often-silent opposition and inaction undermined Musharraf’s complete reversal of Zia’s Islamization. The struggle between liberal and orthodox outlooks was reflected in Pakistan independence celebrations every passing year; they were consistently marred by orthodox Islamist street demonstrations labelling such celebrations as un-Islamic.

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