On defining Muslim

Islamic Nationalism

by Waseem Altaf

Since the Muslims of the South Asian sub-continent were divided into ethnic, linguistic, cultural, provincial and class lines, the only thread available to the makers of the state of Pakistan was religion which was used to form the basis of a separate national identity.

To further strengthen the role of Islamic nationalism, the “Objectives Resolution” was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949 highlighting the growing political muscle of the religious lobby, with two significant Islamic provisions.

First was the “affirmation of divine over popular sovereignty” thus setting limits on the scope of parliament and interpreting its responsibilities as a “sacred trust.”

The second concerned the obligation of the state to “enable” Muslims to “order their lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah.

“Now if the state was “created” for the Muslims and to be “shaped” according to the principles of Islam, it was all the more important to define who was and who was not a Muslim.

The opportunity came after the anti-Ahmadi violence in 1954 when the government appointed a special court of inquiry known as “The Munir Commission.” After long deliberations “The Commission” concluded that religious experts should stay out of constitution-making while government should stay out of the business of defining as to who was a Muslim or how to enforce Islam as a state religion.

It also concluded that it was not possible to define a Muslim. The report further concluded that the concept of a Muslim differed for different sects and if the “fatwas” of the Ulema were relied upon to determine whether an individual was Muslim or Kafir, no sect could be called Muslim because of the lack of a single, coherent and unanimous definition of a Muslim and an Islamic State.

So a state created for the Muslims did not have the answer as to who was a Muslim while the task of defining a Muslim was later to be taken up by the Mullah who would use violent means to enforce his “definition” of a Muslim.

Munir Commission recommendations’ was the last attempt at dissociating Islam from politics, however this was not to be and those at the helm of affairs were yet to exploit Islam for a longer period, until it would become almost irreversible.

Subsequently, in all the constitutions of Pakistan, it was declared the Islamic Republic, however, the major blow came on the issue of defining a Muslim not from a military dictator but a democratically elected prime minister in 1974. An entire segment of the population called Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims. Although the state was able to declare a part of its citizens as non-Muslims, it still lacked the definition of a Muslim.

Although the role of Islam in matters of state and the definition of a “Muslim” remained a moot point throughout the history of this country, it became highly pronounced during the Zia era when the Islamic concept of Jehad was excessively employed against the Soviet Union after its occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89).

At the same time, several measures were taken by the military dictator to “Islamise” the state. Islamic laws were introduced, Islamic education was made compulsory in schools and colleges, women rights were degraded, the Federal Shariat Court was established and on top of it, the “madrassahs” imparting religious education were promoted.

After the Afghan war, the state was infested with jehadi outfits, all carrying the baggage of sacrifices and the uphill task of defining a Muslim and a “true Islamic state.” At the same time, there was a massive proliferation of weapons and the phenomenal growth of Madressahs all over the country with funding from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and Iran.

Between 1982 and 1990, the CIA, working with the Pakistani and Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services, funded the training, arrival, and arming of some thirty-five thousand Islamic militants from forty-three Muslim countries in Pakistani “madrassas.”

Pakistan had now turned into the world centre of jihadism for the next two decades while some of the Islamist political parties acted as a political front for these jihadist outfits. At the same time, many groups enjoyed the full support of the security apparatus and the military.

Although the major role in strengthening the jehadi organizations was played by the security establishment, it did not perceive that these extremist outfits were making deep inroads into the Pakistani state and society. The playground was now set for defining who was a Muslim and what constitutes Islam. And thus began an inter-sectarian war to establish a “truly Islamic” state only for the “true Muslims”. The jehadis and their supporters would thus define a “Muslim” and what constituted “Islam”.

Since the state failed to define a “Muslim” and “Islam” the jehadis took up the task. Salman Taseer was not a “Muslim” and hence, was eliminated. The Shias were not “Muslims” and were hence being butchered. Shrines were un-Islamic and were being decimated.

As observed by Professor Hasan Askari: “It is also very unfortunate that religious sentiment has seeped deep into government circles and into the army and police at lower levels.

Today, the fear factor among the liberal class of Pakistan is significant while the followers of those defining a “Muslim” and “Islam” enjoy full street power. They also are able to shape public opinion on a number of issues, like drone attacks and blasphemy laws.

The complete lack of governance, poor socio-economic conditions, illiteracy and a system of education fostering hate against the out-group, with the increasing threat from the Western borders and within has further intensified extremist trends among the populace. On top of it, the state and the society do not have a consolidated narrative on extremism while there is no unified counter-terrorism strategy. While all this happens the military uses extremist outfits to manipulate foreign policy options. This was clearly visible in the case of Raymond Davis and the banning of passage to NATO containers.

The modern state remains neutral, functions with cold logic and does not discriminate among its citizens on the basis of their faith. Unfortunately, our short-sighted leadership did not realize this. They were treading on dangerous ground and began to define abstractions that had no universally accepted definition. They failed miserably yet the trend was set and others took up the task which the state could not accomplish; defining a “Muslim”. While the rapid down-slide of the state and the society into the abyss continues, the slaughter of Shias, Barelvis, Deobandis and the rest for not being “Muslims” continues.

That would last until the state finds a universally accepted definition of a “Muslim”; a practical impossibility. The only other option available to the state is to dissociate itself from matters of faith and adopt a modern secular outlook.

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