VIEW: At ideological crossroads —Yasser Latif Hamdani - Monday, March 14, 2011

Source :\03\14\story_14-3-2011_pg3_5

In an integrated world where information travels in seconds and not minutes, to continue to espouse retrogressive notions of religiosity is tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot

Pakistan, as a state, has always been conscious of its Muslim identity but till 1977, at least, this Muslim identity was not at odds with modernity, democracy and human rights. The 1956 and 1962 constitutions significantly did not have a state religion. The 1973 constitution made that concession but, in the pre-Zia form, it was still arguably a liberal Islamic constitution. Bhutto’s compromises notwithstanding, it was General Ziaul Haq who laid the foundations for a rabidly fundamentalist society by confusing Pakistanis about their history. A generation of Pakistanis grew up believing, quite inaccurately, that Pakistan was achieved so that Muslims could establish an Islamic theocracy and be governed by shariah law.

It is not uncommon to hear the argument that Pakistan must be an Islamic theocracy because Pakistan was founded on religion, not nationalism. Indeed, this fallacious argument has been accepted by the courts in the Zia era and beyond. It is also argued that if not for the establishment of an Islamic theocracy, why did the Muslims of the subcontinent opt for a separate country? While these assertions require proper rebuttals, they also betray infirmity on the part of those making them.

First of all, undeniably, Pakistan was created on the basis of group nationalism and not religion. Group nationalism can contain many elements including common religious beliefs and common historical experience. If Pakistan were to be founded on religion, there would be no need to articulate the Two Nation Theory, especially in terms of culture, history, customs and language. Ostensibly, it would have been enough to say that we wanted to create an Islamic state but, strangely enough, that was never claimed by the Muslim League. In fact, one Muslim Leaguer who made a claim of this kind was expelled from the League by Jinnah himself. The one occasion that the idea of the League being committed to the establishment of an Islamic state was presented as a resolution, Jinnah vetoed it, calling it a “censure on every Leaguer”. As a politician, Jinnah of course attempted to speak in a language that was comprehensible to his constituency. Hence he spoke of the Islamic principles of equality, fraternity and justice and claimed that democracy was ingrained in Islamic theory and practice. Yet, as a statesman, he ensured that references to Islam were kept out of resolutions and constitutional documents. So long as he was alive, the first president of the constituent assembly did not allow a single move to Islamise the then largest Muslim country in the world.

It is for this reason that Maulana Maududi summed up his opposition to Pakistan by saying that the “objective of the Muslim League is to create an infidel government of Muslims”. Yet today his party, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), is in the forefront of the claim that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. The underlying concern for those working to establish Pakistan was the economic and political future of Muslims, who they feared would be marginalised in a united India. Today, thanks to the religious right-wing of Pakistan, our economic and political future looks bleak anyway.

MJ Akbar, an Indian author, recently said that for there to be a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan, the children of Jinnah must defeat the children of Maududi. For this to happen we need to revisit social studies, Pakistan studies, history and Islamiat curricula first and foremost. A concerted effort has to be made to better explain the historical events leading up to Pakistan but for that to happen, the state must drop its excess ideological baggage and instead opt for ideas that are universally acceptable as the basis for nation building.

Indeed, that is the battle line that has now been drawn. Here one may add that the current wave of fundamentalism and extremism is, in any event, unsustainable over a longer period of time. The world is in the throes of a grand global information revolution. In an integrated world where information travels in seconds and not minutes, to continue to espouse retrogressive notions of religiosity is tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot.

The recent assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are indicative of an increasingly frustrated mentality that is acting out in desperation. No bullet, no army and no state can stop an idea whose time has come. The question before us Pakistanis is whether we want to delay the process and make it painful for us as a nation or if we want to reform sooner rather than later and make the process painless.

Historically, those who have delayed the process of reform have always ended up at the other extreme end. France took 100 years to rescind the concordat that Napoleon had entered into making Catholicism the official faith of France. When it did though, it espoused a militant version of secularism, which bordered on persecuting religion. It was Sultan Abdul Hamid’s decision to undo the constitutional reforms of the 19th century, which led to the Young Turks Revolution and later the Turkish Revolution, which founded the modern Republic of Turkey. Pakistan, much like Turkey, is the sick man of South Asia today. Let this be a fair warning.

The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at and can be reached at

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