The religious discourse By Muhammad Amir Rana - Monday, March 07, 2011

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THE religious discourse in Pakistan is largely monolithic. Although variations and divergences exist within this discourse, the ultimate objective is the same. The worldview and socio-economic and political views are generally the same within the larger discourse, irrespective of sects.

The religious political parties in Pakistan have been striving to achieve their agendas since the creation of the country in 1947. Their primary focus has been on Islamisation of the state and religio-socialisation of society. On the Islamisation front, they have made gains in defining the ideological discourse of the state through the Objectives Resolution of 1949. These parties have also managed to have their say in the form of a formal acknowledgment that ‘divine’ laws will take precedence over those made by parliament, and managed to get Sharia laws adopted during the rule of Gen Ziaul Haq.

Despite these significant achievements, the religious parties are still struggling for complete Islamisation of the state. At the same time, they have been promoting another discourse of religious socialisation, which dovetails with their political objectives. On that front, their achievements are also significant since the trends of religio-socialisation are becoming increasing visible in society. The ultimate goal of both religious discourses is to enforce Islam in every sphere of life by blending the following six variables: political Islamisation, renewalist movements, Sufism, tableegh and da’awa, sectarianism and militarisation. All of these variables often overlap and can be found in most major religious organisations or movements in the country.

The complexity of these discourses spawns multiple internal disagreements, determining how these organisations perceive their roles and define their spheres. It also provokes differences leading to divisions within their ranks. Currently, 247 religious organisations with largely similar agendas are operating in Pakistan. Many of them are seemingly divided along sectarian lines; but are not averse to working together wherever there is a confluence of interest.

In the last two decades, another type of religious organisation has emerged in Pakistan. This type too is a proponent of Islamisation and religio-socialisation, but also believes that it is impossible to bring about a change while working within the current political system of the country. Organisations of this type consider democracy and democratic processes inadequate for bringing about the required change. Some of them deem democracy itself to be an un-Islamic notion and want to replace it with their own version of Sharia rule. Such groups include Jamaatud Dawa, Khilafat Movement, Hizbut Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroon among others.

Many of these groups, including Tanzeemul Akhwan and Tanzeem-i-Islami, believe that the Sharia cannot be introduced in the country in its entirety through the electoral process and consider the use of force to topple the government as an alternative. Although these organisations have sectarian and militant leanings their dominant approach is renewalist in nature. They want a complete change of the system. This is contrary to the approach religious political parties have adopted since they tend to focus on gradual change while working within the system.A review of manifestos of religious parties shows that ‘enforcement of divine law’ is their shared stated objective. Their primary objectives also include plans for economic, political, constitutional and foreign policy reforms. But their emphasis is on complete Islamisation of the state and society. Many of these parties suggest reforms but do not elaborate how they would be translated into policy. Many of their suggestions have remarkable commonalities and it would be difficult to distinguish between their manifestos if the organisations’ name were not mentioned in the document.

The religious parties engage in multifarious activities, including the religio-socialisation process. They believe that other political parties are incapable of bringing about such change since they only follow political norms and are accommodating of new global, political, strategic and economic trends. On the other hand, religious parties distinguish themselves on the basis of faith and consider themselves guardians of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology. They are generally suspicious of the country’s political leadership, and apprehend that they want to turn the country into a secular state.

The similarity of agenda offers religious political parties the possibility of joining hands to strive for common goals. This became clear in 1952 when religious scholars from all sects developed a consensus on an Islamic constitutional framework consisting of 22 points. The framework later provided the fundamental principles to all religious organisations in Pakistan, and their manifestos focused on the same 22 points.

They emphasise the supremacy of divine laws and declare that the state must not make laws contrary to the Sharia. Later, many of these clauses were included in the constitution of 1973. The second major consensus among religious political parties emerged in 1976, when all of them united and developed an alliance with the opposition parties to topple the Bhutto administration and enforce Nizam-i-Mustafa in the country. The movement resulted in martial law and paved the way for Gen Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation programme.

The third major unison came about in 2000 when religious political parties formed an electoral alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA). The alliance won 65 seats in the National Assembly, formed its government in the Frontier (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and entered into a coalition administration in Balochistan in 2002.

Divergences in the stance of religious political parties do not hinder the commonalities from playing an important role in shaping the religious political discourse in the country. All religious parties are part of a single discourse and, on the political level, share common objectives. Their discourse encourages Islamisation and religiosity in society.

However, further inquiries are required for indepth exploration of the issue, especially to understand the internal dynamics of various political, militant, sectarian, renewalist, reformist and missionary religious organisations. The impact of their religious discourse on state-society relations is another dimension which needs to be explored. It is also important to determine how their fundamental objectives are in conflict with the state’s own goals and how their increasing sway over the masses has come to impact state-society relations in Pakistan.

The writer is editor of the quarterly research journal Conflict and Peace Studies.

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