August 31, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1337

Discussing The Islamist Identity Of Pakistan

August 31, 2017 | By Tufail Ahmad
Pakistan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1337

Roznama Ummat cover page reads: "Hanging of Mumtaz Qadri sank Nawaz Sharif."


Pakistan marks its Independence Day on August 14. Each year, it is also a day to discuss Pakistan's identity and its future. The liberal argument is that Pakistan was founded as a state for Indian Muslims, while those in the orthodox and Islamist camp argue that it is a state created exclusively in the name of Islam, the first since Prophet Muhammad established an Islamic state in Medina. These ideological camps view Pakistan divergently, with the difference being that those in the orthodox and Islamist camp are, unlike their liberal critics, consequential.

On July 28, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Nawaz Sharif as a member of the Pakistani parliament for not disclosing earnings, thereby ousting him as the country's prime minister.[1] The disqualification came under, among others, a law that Sharif was not sadiq and ameen ("honest" and "trustworthy") as per Article 62 of the Pakistani constitution. These Islamic clauses requiring a lawmaker to be sadiq and ameen were introduced by Pakistan's Islamist military ruler General Ziaul Haq. Later, Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), a pro-Islamist party, had opposed the removal of these clauses from the constitution.[2]

When Sharif was removed from power, the Urdu-language Islamist daily Roznama Ummat carried a photograph of Malik Mumtaz Qadri on its front page, conveying a message that Sharif's ouster was due to divine intervention from Allah.[3] Mumtaz Qadri, an elite security commando, had assassinated Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Punjab province, having deemed him to have committed blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad by advocating reforms in Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Qadri was hanged during Sharif's tenure as prime minister. Roznama Ummat's headline read: "The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri sank Nawaz Sharif."[4] The news story was accompanied by a photograph of Qadri with the following words: "This is why the killing of the lovers [of Prophet Muhammad] was prohibited."[5]

Such attempts, on a daily basis, to interpret current events in terms of Islam are central to Pakistan's identity and the ensuing Islamism, the non-weaponized version of jihadism, which blocks solutions to Pakistan's numerous problems. In the days around Independence Day, Urdu newspapers published comments and articles to bring out the Islamist identity of Pakistan. This paper, therefore, revisits some of the Islamist ideas debated around Independence Day.

Saudi Ambassador To Islamabad: "Pakistan Is The Pride Of The Muslim World Whose Foundation Was Laid On The Basis Of Islam"

Speaking at the International Islamic University in Islamabad on August 16, the Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf Ahmad Al-Maliki told his Pakistani audiences: "Pakistan is the pride of the Muslim world whose foundation was laid on the basis of Islam"; "Pakistan's well-being and progress is in fact tantamount to the well-being of the entire Ummah."[6] The Saudi envoy's view of Pakistan's identity is in consonance with the view of Islamic clerics in Pakistan. Speaking in the town of Akora Khattak, Maulana Samiul Haq, the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) party, criticized statements by politicians saying that shari'a laws like Article 62, which proved to be the cause of Sharif's disqualification, will be removed from the constitution.

Vowing that his religious party will launch a "movement for the defense of the constitution," Haq warned: "A great struggle was waged to insert Islamic laws into the constitution. Now, no power will be permitted to temper with the constitution of Pakistan, especially its Islamic provisions."[7] Haq's statement explains that Pakistani clerics view Pakistan's identity essentially in religious terms. Hafiz Naeemur Rahman, the emir of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan for Karachi city, said that the dream of "an Islamic welfare state" will be realized in the near-future.[8] Mufti Muhammad Naeem, the chancellor of the Jamia Binoria Al-Alamia madrassa, while speaking about changes in school textbooks, attributed Sharif's ouster to secularism, stating: "Those pushing the country towards secularism have always been disgraced."[9]

Abdus Salam was the only Pakistani and the first Muslim to receive a Nobel prize, for his contributions to theoretical physics in 1979. However, Pakistanis have shunned Abdus Salam and do not consider him to be one of them because he was an Ahmadi Muslim, meaning he belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, which is accused of not believing Muhammad to be the last prophet. Allama Aqeel Anjum Qadri, the president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) for Sindh province, criticized the government for showing Abdus Salam as a hero in advertisements issued in connection with the Independence Day celebrations. Allama Qadri said: "To include the enemy of Pakistan Dr. Abdus Salam in the list of national heroes is extremely condemnable and a matter of concern."[10] He added: "To describe such people as national heroes is treason against Islam and Nazaria-e-Pakistan (Ideology of Pakistan)."[11]

It should be borne in mind that Pakistani citizens who are not Muslims are barred by the Pakistani constitution from becoming the head of the Pakistani state. This is mainly because Islam, while protecting non-Muslims as minorities when it is in power, fails to imagine a situation in which a non-Muslim could be the head of the state. Even Pakistan's creation is seen as a triumph of Islam. On Independence Day, a rally was organized in the city of Lahore from the Data Darbar shrine to the provincial assembly by Islamic scholars united under the banner of an organization called Alami Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah. At the rally, speakers said: "This day is the day of Islam's victory and of the defeat of kufr [unbelief]. Through the struggle of centuries [sic] and passing through the path of martyrdoms, Muslims got independence [with the birth of Pakistan]"; "America is warned that Pakistan is not its colony but a mirror of the beauty of Medina [the first Islamic state]."[12] In fact, Pakistan is also dubbed Medina-e-Sani, or the second Medina.

In Pakistan's national discourse, the following expression occurs frequently: "Pakistan's ideological and geographical borders." In the Pakistani imagination, the geographical borders may be limited to the territory currently held by Pakistan, but the ideological borders go far and back in time. According to this vision, nothing existed in Pakistan's territory before the birth of Prophet Muhammad, and madrassas (Islamic seminaries) are considered to be defense institutions of Pakistan. Speaking on this subject, Qari Muhammad Usman of the Jamia Usmania madrassa of Karachi, declared: "Religious madrassas are the guardians of the country's ideological borders."[13] Discussing the historical role played by Islamic clerics in the formation of Pakistan, Qari Usman stated: "The defense of the geographical and ideological boundaries of the dear nation Pakistan is our responsibility."[14]

Pakistan Founder Jinnah: "The Koran Is A Complete Code For The Muslims – A Religious, Social, Civil, Commercial, Military, Judicial, Criminal, And Penal Code"

Hafiz Aakif Saeed, a leading Islamic cleric, wrote an article criticizing liberal, secular, and atheistic forces for arguing that "Pakistan was not established on the basis of Islam" and that "Quaed-e-Azam [the Great Leader, the founder of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah] wanted a secular state."[15] In his article, Saeed noted how Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal, the Islamist national poet of Pakistan, unleashed the soul of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent, as a result of which the Pakistan Movement began and "Allah made the impossible possible [by creating Pakistan]."[16] On Independence Day, the Urdu daily Roznama Islam published an article by Ahsan Farooq Ameeni quoting Jinnah as saying: "The flag of [my party] Muslim League is the flag of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him"; "my message is the Koran"; "Islam's law is the world's best law"; "In Islam, politics is not separate from religion, but subordinate to religion."[17]

Elsewhere, this writer has discussed in an article the ideological transformation of M.A. Jinnah (1876-1948) from a secular leader of India to an Islamist leader of Indian Muslims, leading to the creation of Pakistan. Excerpts from the article are given below:[18]

"First, liberal commentators argue that Jinnah was a secular leader who advocated a state for Indian Muslims, not an Islamic state. They cite his statements in support of democratic values, pluralism and minority rights such as: 'The new state would be a modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people'; 'Muslims will cease being Muslims; Hindus will cease being Hindus, not religiously, but politically'; 'Pakistan is not a theocracy.' This class of advocates has been marginalized in Pakistan’s policymaking and school textbooks.

"Second, right-wing writers and Islamic clerics attribute Jinnah's ideas to the Koran and Sunnah, or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad. They argue that Jinnah stood for an Islamic state and cite his mission's fulfillment as expressed in the popular response to this slogan: What is the meaning of Pakistan? The chorus: La ilaha illallah (There is no deity but Allah). This class of advocates, supported by successive governments, rules over the country's mainstream. Akbar S. Ahmed, author of Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin, notes two stages of Jinnah's personality: in the first, he is a secular person and stays so amid the Hindu politics of the 1920s. In the second stage, he is tutored by the Islamist poet Muhammad Iqbal, resulting in a complete intellectual break from 1937 onwards, when Jinnah relies increasingly on Islam to advance Muslim separatism.

"From 1937 onwards and even after the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah's speeches were laced with imageries from Islam. He made statements like: 'Muslims... have not been crushed during the last 1,000 years'; 'I shall never allow Muslims to be slaves of Hindus'; 'The cows that Hindus worship Muslims eat, the villains that Hindus malign, Muslims idolise'; 'The goal of Pakistan is not only to get freedom and autonomy but the Islamic concept of life'; 'It is Prophet Muhammad's spiritual blessing that Pakistan came into being. Now it is Pakistanis' responsibility to turn it into the model (state) of the Righteous Caliphs'; 'We must... present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality.'

"As Iqbal desired an Islamic character for the state of Pakistan, Jinnah articulated: 'The Koran is a complete code for the Muslims – a religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal, and penal code.' Asked how Pakistan's constitution would look like, Jinnah responded: 'Who am I to give you a constitution? The prophet of Islam had given us a constitution [Koran] 1,300 years ago. We have to simply follow and implement it, and based on it we have to establish in our state Islam's great system of governance.' Rejecting the atheistic conception of socialism, he said: 'We do not want any flag except... the Crescent and Star. Islam is our guide and the complete code of our life... We do not want any isms, socialisms, communisms or national socialisms.' Jinnah was articulating global Islamism.

"Iqbal, who promulgated the idea of Pakistan in 1930 and is celebrated along with Jinnah as the country's founding father, wrote a popular Urdu couplet: Hazaron saal nargis apni benoori pe roti hai/Bari mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedawar paida (For thousands of years the narcissus laments its colourlessness; with great difficulty the one with true vision is born in the garden). Some writers think Iqbal was referring to Prophet Muhammad, but Akbar S. Ahmed says the scholars of South Asia agree that Iqbal was speaking of his own success in converting Jinnah to the cause of an Islamic state.

"Post-1937, Jinnah did make statements in support of democratic values but under Iqbal's influence he had been primarily cultivating a religious audience. Then in a speech before the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, he spoke: 'You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.' It was a bombshell; his audience was unprepared for it. This epic speech disappeared from the next day's newspapers and government records. The civil service was no longer in ideological consonance with Jinnah, and possibly prevented medical aid from reaching him in his dying hours.

"In the sociology of nations, facts are sometimes not important; it is more important what people consider to be the facts. Jinnah unleashed a genie. The search for an Islamic identity meant that women stopped wearing saris; people began choosing Arabic names; Pakistan looked to the Arabs rather than to its Indian heritage; her origin was calculated back to the arrival of Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 A.D.; the civilizations of Taxila, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, which existed for thousands of years before Islam, were erased from memory. Even liberal writers began searching for an Iqbal in the cosmopolitan poet Ghalib, or for Jinnah in Saladdin who conquered Jerusalem.

"It is immaterial what kind of Pakistan Jinnah stood for; what is consequential is the genie. In Arab folklore, the genie granted wishes; in Pakistan it kills people. The genie, imbued with free will, is Islamism; it refuses to return to the bottle. In Pakistan today, the mainstream is right-wing, Islamist and growingly xenophobic. If Pakistan were a Hollywood movie, it is invaded by aliens. The genie's cousins are killing people. They have outlawed Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims. They are forcibly converting Hindu girls to Islam and trapping Christians in blasphemy cases. A genocide is unfolding, as Shia Muslims are being hunted and murdered systematically. These murders are ideological; the killers are not found. The secular Jinnah is dead; the Islamist Jinnah is alive. Pakistan is irrecoverable as a state and has entered, to use noted historian Ayesha Jalal's words, a state of 'cognitive disability.'"

*Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative.



[1] Roznama Express (Pakistan), July 29, 2017.

[2] (Pakistan), July 28, 2017.

[3] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), July 29, 2017.

[4] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), July 29, 2017.

[5] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), July 29, 2017.

[6] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 17, 2017.

[7] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 20, 2017.

[8] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 20, 2017.

[9] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 20, 2017.

[10] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 20, 2017.

[11] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 20, 2017.

[12] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 15, 2017.

[13] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 14, 2017.

[14] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 14, 2017.

[15] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 20, 2017.

[16] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 20, 2017.

[17] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 14, 2017.

[18] The New Indian Express (India), December 25, 2013.

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