One Unit Faith

By Nadeem F. Paracha

 From DAWN:

Recently, while giving a speech to the Peshawar police, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that no one could separate Islam from Pakistan. One wonders what prompted the army chief to digress, and start assuring his audience about Pakistan’s Islamic credentials. I guess he chose the occasion to comment on the military’s take on a (albeit unsubstantiated) news report stating that the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) wanted to change the country’s name from Islamic Republic of Pakistan to People’s Republic of Pakistan. Even though both the ANP and MQM were quick to refute the news, General Kayani’s reassurance in this respect yet again underlines the dilemma the military and the state of Pakistan have been facing for years.

The dilemma constitutes political and ideological factors in which the military has had the biggest stakes; but unfortunately it is also a dilemma which the military has been rather reluctant to resolve. According to respected historians, like the late K. K. Aziz and Dr Mubarak Ali, the whole idea that ‘Pakistan was made in the name of Islam’ and/or as an ‘Islamic state’, was nowhere to be found in the ideological discourse of the state before 1962, when it was first raised by the Jamat-i-Islami — a party that was opposed to the creation of Pakistan. Though the civil-bureaucracy conglomerate that presided over the affairs of the state and the government in the 1950s decided to officially start calling the country an ‘Islamic Republic’ (in 1956), there was really no mention of such a republic in the early years of the new country.  Scholars like Aysha Jalal and Pervez Hoodbhoy suggest that right from the beginning the concept of Islam being a part of Pakistan’s nationhood and the state carried contradictory messages.

The country’s founder was a secular Muslim, married to a non-Muslim and a strong defender of the notion that the state should confine its authority to the secular sphere. Throughout the Pakistan Movement, Mr Jinnah’s party, the Muslim League, overwhelmingly had secular-minded leaders who treated the Muslims of the subcontinent as a separate cultural (as opposed to a strictly politico-religious) entity. Their demand was for a separate Muslim state and not an Islamic state.

There is no way that Pakistan was conceived as an Islamic state by its founding fathers. This becomes apparent by the way orthodox Islamic parties like the Jamat-i-Islami reacted to the creation of Pakistan. Had Jinnah pictured the new country as an Islamic state, there was no reason why parties like the Jamat would oppose its creation. It’s as simple as that. However, unable to convincingly define its ideology, the state started to capitulate in the face of the mounting pressure exerted by the religious parties.

 Thus, from 1962 onwards, the largely synthetic ideological construct of Pakistan being an Islamic Republic requiring an Islamic state began taking shape. The lack of democracy and its many institutions — initially discarded by the secular military dictatorship of Ayub Khan — is also a prominent reason why the military and the establishment were left stumped by the religious parties’ mantra in this respect. What was being repressed in the discourse by the military and the civil establishment was the glaring fact that Pakistan, even as a Muslim country, was a land of great ethnic and sectarian diversity.

Its people constituted Urdu-speakers (Mohajirs), Sindhis, Pathans, Siriakis, Baloch, Bengalis, and many others; and also people belonging to various Islamic sects and sub-sects. By imposing the ruse that Pakistan was ‘one unit’ (a collective body of homogenous Muslims) was a naïve evaluation that only ended up alienating the many ethnically distinct strains of Muslims and the minorities that made Pakistan their home.

In other words, Pakistan’s identity and ideology should have been squarely based on a democratic acceptance of its ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity, instead of the establishment’s rather convoluted ‘one ideology for all’ brand of Islam. We are not an ethnically and culturally homogenous nation following a singular version of Islam, or of the state for that matter as far as religious minorities are concerned. We are a nation of various groups of diversified people who can remain united as a country with the help of democracy alone. Only democracy can achieve such a state of unity. But such a state usually has not gone down well with Islamists and the military — even after years of ethnic, political and religious turmoil and cleavages that the one-unit-Islam has caused across the long dictatorships Pakistan has had to suffer.

It is time our military and religious parties let go of the fear of a democratically accepted, diverse Pakistan; especially the military, which is now fighting a vital battle in the northwest — ironically with the monstrous pitfalls of the synthetic state-sanctioned Islam imposed through years of undemocratic rule and a crass undermining of what Pakistani nation and society are really about: i.e. ethnic and religious diversity requiring an uninterrupted stretch of democracy. So what if some Pakistanis want to change the name of the country? It is only the synthetic nature and fragility of the one-unit-Islam that causes hearts to flutter, because state-sponsored Islam is not an organic construct.

Thus, it is an insecure ideology that continues to blame outside forces, secularism and democracy for its own, very obvious, failures.


Filed under Jinnah's Pakistan, Pakistan

26 responses to “One Unit Faith

  1. Dilshad

    Kudos to Paracha for sticking to his guns. He’s been at it for a very long time, pleading his case for a secular Pakistan; but, alas, with a generation, most of which is being driven, nay sucked off whatever little rationality there is left in the “Islamic Republic” by the likes of Shahid Masood and Zaid Hamid, I wonder how longer can Paracha continue.
    But I doubt he’s the kind of guy who gives in that easily.

  2. Milind Kher

    The JI is a scourge that should have been marginalized long back. A complete parasite, it will suck the lifeblood out of Pakistan, and give nothing in return, if left unchecked.

    This must be party that spins all those conspiracy theories.

  3. saeed khan

    Pakistan was created for all Pakistanies living within its territory, practicing their religion freely.

  4. tahir

    It’s quite easy to come up with rubbish
    NFP writes “Scholars like Aysha Jalal and Pervez Hoodbhoy suggest that right from the beginning the concept of Islam being a part of Pakistan’s nationhood and the state carried contradictory messages.”
    How does it carry contardiction?It has neither been mentioned by westernized minds like Hoodbhoy(Yahoodbhoy) nor by NFP.

    Does JI represent Islam?The answer is big ‘No’.But NFP doesn’t have enough to know that.

    He writes in the middle of article “The country’s founder was a secular Muslim, married to a non-Muslim and a strong defender of the notion that the state should confine its authority to the secular sphere”
    What does Islam say about non Muslims and their religions?Doesn’t Islam allow Non Muslims to practice their recpective religion freely?

    NFP doesn’t have any answer to these as he is uneducated in Islamic context.He is a writer because he knows English and Knowledge is not required to be writer in Non English speaking nation.

    “Its people constituted Urdu-speakers (Mohajirs), Sindhis, Pathans, Siriakis, Baloch, Bengalis, and many others; and also people belonging to various Islamic sects and sub-sects. By imposing the ruse that Pakistan was ‘one unit’ (a collective body of homogenous Muslims) was a naïve evaluation that only ended up alienating the many ethnically distinct strains of Muslims and the minorities that made Pakistan their home.”

    Mohajers,Bangalis,Balochis,Pakhtuns,Saraikis are not Muslims according to little knowledge of NFP,the idiot.

  5. tahir

    Life of a common Pakistanis has been messed by the elements like NFP and parties like JI.
    Islam has come up with one system i.e Sharia and obviously Pakistan was not got for the implementation of sharia.
    But at the same time Pakistan was not supposed to be a secular state.Had it been,leaders from Muslim league would have made speaches for that.Pakistan was got by Muslim league not by ‘secular league’.
    Quaid never claimed that he was secualr person.He also never said that he wanted sharia in the country.

    Can idiots like NFP live us peacefully?We want Pakistan,we are not looking for ‘Westernistan’.

  6. tahir

    Who is responsible behind ethnic voilence in Karachi?
    MQM ?

    Who is involved in corruption?

    Who is promoting war within country with the help of USA?

    Liberal fascists?

    Who want “Westernistan”,rather than Pakistan?

  7. While the concept of an Islamic Republic may have been artificially constructed half a century ago, that does not mean that it remain an artificial construct today.

    A combination of misplaced nationalism, politically convenient propaganda, sustained proselytizing by religious bodies like the Tableeghi Jamaat, perceived Islamic victimhood and the sustained persecution of minorities has — I think — morphed a relatively easy-going and inclusive ideology into what is certainly an Islamic Republic today.

    For a similar illustration of the transformation of a Sufi culture into a more rigid orthodoxy, take a look at the Kashmir valley of today.

    Also, without meaning to nitpick, is Paracha correct in treating the military and the Islamic parties as equal co-parceners in propagating the artificial construct of an Islamic Republic?

    Seems to me like the JI… for all its ideological fervour… has been a mere tool in the hands of the military.

  8. yasserlatifhamdani

    Tahir mian,

    The issue is not whether Muslim nationalism was what the League propounded but whether Jinnah wanted a separation of church and state.

    If you accept that sharia and an Islamic system was not the purpose then that is a state based on secular principles regardless of whether the Muslim community got it or the Buddhist community got it.

    The confusion starts when you confuse nationalism with statehood, nation with state.

    So let us set aside the terms secular and Islamic and see the nitty gritty of Jinnah’s vision:

    1. Religion as personal matter of the citizen.

    2. State’s impartiality towards religion, caste or creed which has nothing nothing to do with the business of the state.

    3. Freedom of religion for everyone regardless of religion.

    4. Sovereignty resting with the people unconditionally.

    Now I don’t know if you wish to characterize as a secular vision or an Islamic vision …you are right that after 1935 Jinnah did not use the word “secular” publically (though he did use it privately according to many who knew him) because he was a clever politician. ..but then the American constitution doesn’t use the word secular but is the foremost secular constitution of the world because it promises the points enumerated above.

    All NFP is saying is that Jinnah was a strong believer in principles enumerated above. And I think no one can deny that.

  9. yasserlatifhamdani

    Shukla sb,

    The conspiracy of Jamaat e Islami and Majlis e Ahrar goes much deeper than Army’s use of their ideology. They I suspect have always wanted to destroy Pakistan.

    My suggestion is that you read a 397 page document called “The Munir Report”

  10. mohammad

    If pakistan was created for muslims then calling it an islamic republic is not a big ask. As the writer pointed out and we all know that pakistanis do not follow homogeneous islamic interpretation,hence it is almost impossible to devise a constitution acceptable to every section of society .For most pakistanis religion is a touchy issue regardless of their associations, at the same time overwhelmingly majority has no time for mulla. No sane pakistani wants a puritanical state where people are cut outside mosques after friday prayers like they practice in saudia. I can assure everyone a substantial part of population will struggle to recall the official name of our country . For them the most pressing is ‘what to eat, not what to follow’.

  11. Hayyer

    Tahir’s gripe is, I think, Paracha’s lack of knowledge with a capital K. He has a specific vision of Pakistan presumably, not coterminous with JI’s and finds Paracha’s woolly idealism non-conforming to this essentialist vision.

  12. Ayesha

    This was a good post by Nadeem Peracha. The trouble with people like Tahir is the same as the trouble with people like Imran Khan who said today that he wants to talk to the Taliban. V. cool on Bolta Pakistan when they asked him: what number will you dial? No logical answer but has defend anything that uses the word “Islam” no matter how illogical!

  13. Dilshad

    Poor, Imran, more than 10 years in the game now and having absolutely no clue!!

    Btw, just came across a more detailed version of the above piece by Paracha.

  14. Milind Kher

    Religion and life are like salt and food. Without religion, (for a believer, atheists/agnostics may have different drivers) life is unbalanced and tasteless.

    But you can’t eat just salt!!

  15. Punjabi

    I note, without surprise, that none of the commentators took exception to the reference by tahir of Hoodbhoy as Yahoodbhoy, even as they engage him in civilized discourse.

  16. vajra


    Well spotted, but probably ignored due to contempt for such a low blow, rather than tacit acceptance. Also it is a low blow in a certain context; many of those engaged in the discussion might not consider it quite such an insult, although it is clearly meant to be one.

  17. Hayyer

    This sort of insult in no longer clever, just cheap, and assumed to be a standard accessory when you buy the package that comes with tahir and friends.

  18. Milind Kher


    The best way to nullify the impact of any churlish behavior is to ignore it altogether.

    In the beginning, you have to work on controlling yourself, later you realize that it genuinely does not affect you.

  19. Punjabi

    then why not ignore the person completely, instead of responding to him in length while ignoring that specific point?

    I react with hostility when I hear things like “katua” or “musla” used to speak harshly of muslims. similarly, if not exactly, I see no reason why a bigot should be engaged in serious conversation when he is inclined to use “yahood” as an insult.

    If I met somebody like tahir in real life, I’d go tell him to go learn some manners before talking to me.

  20. vajra


    You certainly have a point.

  21. yasserlatifhamdani

    Punjabi has a point. On my part I didn’t even notice this despicable usage till Punjabi pointed it out…. which was both anti-semitic and McCarthy-ist.

    This is shamelessness at its worst…

  22. Milind Kher


    You are right. Ignore the person altogether.

  23. Bloody Civilian


    we had a thread exposing the ‘fitna’ of maudoodi some weeks ago.. in which someone gave good arguments against the man and said “100 yahudi, 1 maudoodi”. that made it obvious that the anti-maudoodist was just an ‘enemy’ of a different identity than maudoodists but similar kind. and he must not be allowed to get away with being accepted, by a youthful/misguided/gullible/still salvagable few, as a ‘friend’ just because he is against maudoodism. he was duly exposed, even if he chose to ignore it.

    in case of tahir, there is not the slightest danger of ambiguity of the kind in the example above. he is quite capable of and likely to come up with several other despicable views.. often within a single comment. we don’t always go through the routine of verbally condemning each. perhaps, we always should.

  24. Azher

    people of likes of “hadood” (don’t confuse it with Hadood ordinance which is an Islamic term) and Pracha are talking so against Islam are doing only because of their old blood lines. Their comments are nothing but thier internal sickness agaist Islam in particular and Pakistan in general.

  25. coldrain

    brilliant argument sir! have wanted to say this for years! you have set the record state!

    It is very important that this message goes out to people

  26. Danish Haque

    Lol @ coldrain. Brilliant two-line satire of the anti-Paracha/Hoodbhoy brigade.
    @ azhar. Bhai, where does your bloodline lie? Under the holy date trees of Madina, I’m sure.