Daily Archives: June 13, 2010

One Myth, Many Pakistans

Cross Post from The New York Times


Published: June 11, 2010



FOR many Pakistanis, the deaths of more than 80 members of the Ahmadi religious sect in mosque attacks two weeks ago raised questions of the nation’s future. For me, it recalled a command from my schoolboy past: “Write a Note on the Two-Nation Theory.”

It was a way of scoring easy points on the history exam, and of using new emotions and impressive-sounding words. I began my answer like this:

The Two-Nation Theory is the Theory that holds that the Hindus and Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent are Two Distinct and Separate Nations. It is a Theory that is supported by Numerous Facts and Figures. During the War of Independence of 1857 the Muslim rulers of India were defeated by the British. Suddenly the Hindus, who had always held a grudge against the Muslims for conquering them, began to collaborate with the new British rulers. They joined British schools, worked in British offices and began to make large amounts of money, while the Muslims, who were Discriminated Against, became poorer and poorer. It was now Undisputable that the Hindus and the Muslims were Two Distinct and Separate Nations, and it was becoming necessary for the Muslims to demand a Distinct and Separate Homeland for themselves in the Indian Subcontinent.

To that point, my “note” had only built up the atmosphere of mistrust and hostility between Hindus and Muslims. It had yet to give examples of the Distinctness and Separateness of the two communities (such as that Hindus worshipped the cow but Muslims ate it), of Hindu betrayals and conspiracies (they wanted Hindi, not Urdu, to be the national language). And it had still to name and praise the saddened Muslim clerics, reformers and poets who had first noted these “undisputable” differences.

I got points for every mini-note that I stretched into a full page, which was valid if it gave one important date and one important name, each highlighted for the benefit of the teacher. This was because the teacher couldn’t really read English, and could award points only to answers that carefully showcased their Facts and Figures.

After the exam I would go home. Here the Two-Nation Theory fell apart. I was part-Shiite (my mother’s family), part-Sunni (my father’s family) and part-nothing (neither of my parents was sectarian). There were other things: the dark-skinned man who swabbed the floors of the house was a Christian; the jovial, foul-mouthed, red-haired old woman who visited my grandmother every few months was rumored to be an Ahmadi. (It was a small group, I had been told, that considered itself Muslim but had been outlawed by the government.)

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Filed under Army, Democracy, FATA, Identity, India, Islam, Islamabad, Jinnah, minorities, Pakistan, Religion, The New York Times, Writers

Political theology and literature

—Ahmad Ali Khalid

The surrender of religious interpretation to reactionary clerics has opened a vacuum for conservatives and violent extremists to thrive. There are few clerics in Pakistan who have made any authoritative study into human rights theory and philosophy and translated this successfully to the public sphere at large

The exchange and competition of ideas happens through mediums, they do not appear in a social vacuum and literature is one of the most important mediums for the propagation of ideas.

It is clear that the major genre of literature in Pakistan is of a religious nature. Pakistani liberals cannot shy away from the fact that religion defines the consciousness of the people. The radicalisation of Pakistani society by religious groups producing, on a mass scale, literature about politics and civic values such as the validity of tolerance underlies this fact even further. People in Pakistan do read; what they read is of a religious nature and the use of language is cosmic not secular. The growing phenomenon of jihadi cyber media and publications further illustrates how radicals and extremists can tap into this religious sentimentality to further their discourse of political theology. Continue reading


Filed under Pakistan

Force, Fear keep Iran Together

Pick up the annals of history, and we find frequent examples of the abject failure of using religion to manage a state. One of a better example today is the neighbouring state of Iran. A 1979 “revolution” ensured that a quasi monarchist dictatorship was replaced by a theocratic based dictatorship. As Iran uncomfortably grinds towards further chaos, Pakistan, as its very next door neighbour needs to take note. The Iranian situation has various chilling messages for Pakistan:

1)    The religious theocracy in Iran enjoyed much better support in Iran because of the dictatorship of the Shah. Pakistan has tended not to elect religious right in the corridors of power even though the society has been remarkably conservative in its religious outlook. But the failure of democratic rule to effectively govern the country while providing its citizens the basis rights for their poperty, honour and better economic conditions will result in a scenario not too different from Iran’s. The failure of the Shah to govern the country with proper rule of law, using fascist tactics to ensure his own rule, and failing to provide for economic sustenance for common masses conspired to tilt the public opinion in favour of the religiously mandated movement. It doesn’t take much for a society ruled by corrupt and iron fisted rulers to turn towards self proclaimed messiahs, whether they are religious right or hard left communists.

 2)    Now some 30 years later, Iranians are finding it firsthand the iron fisted religious right that had replaced the Shah. Seeking to rule Iran with a divine rule, the new Iranian rulers are resorting to the same fascist techniques that their predecessor used three decades back, and which led directly to his downfall. Iran is a simmering powder keg right now, with deep tensions and resentment against the rulers boiling under the surface that may erupt at the cost of great loss of life. Iranian political leadership is facing the same quagmire that a divinely mandated government will face from time to time; what if the democratic vote looks to undermine the divine structure of the government?

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Filed under Democracy, Iran, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, Pakistan, Religion

Religious Liberalism – Our Greatest Hope?

A.A Khalid has sent us his exclusive post for PTH. It is quite gratifying to note that PTH is becoming a hub for many of us who want things to improve without using the violent means and indiscriminate jihadist agenda. Raza Rumi

Is religious liberalism an oxymoron, or is it something long established? More to the point is there something known as Islamic Liberalism, or Liberal Islam? Surprisingly, there is indeed something, a discourse known as Liberal Islam. And contrary to popular perception it is not a contradiction in terms. Charles Kurzman a Professor in Sociology who deals with Islamic movements asserts there is a tradition with specifically Islamic context known as Liberal Islam (pdf file) . What’s more Liberal Islam is not monolithic it has multiple schools and traditions each with a different approach and (pdf file) different methodology. Each tradition within the Liberal school faces different challenges and has differing prospects. If such a tradition exists how is it that within the Pakistani discourses it is eerily absent, with instead conservatives and political Islamists dominating the interpretive discourse of Islam. It should be noted ‘’Liberal Islam’’ is known under many rubrics from Islamic Modernism, Islamic Reformism, Reflexive Revivalism to movements professing Ijtihad, Islaha, Ihya and Tajdid.

The situation in Pakistan is a paradox. Its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a secularist in the sense he sought an institutional division between mosque and state, the clergy and the government and to a greater extent religion did not have such an effect in his personal life. His political ideals are liberal a vision of a pluralistic society where the citizens of the State would be equal in rights and responsibilities. Towards the end of his life Jinnah attempted a synthesis, coining terms such as ‘’Islamic democracy’’, ‘’Islamic social justice’’ Jinnah tried to weld his liberal politics and ideals with religious faith. Muhammad Iqbal on the other hand was not a politician per se but a thinker and intellectual, hence his ideas are always going to attain a greater sophistication. Though Iqbal too can be seen as an Islamic humanist, a critical humanist, critical of both European ideas and traditions and the Muslim traditions, Iqbal focused on the free will of all human beings, an original and unique position among Muslim intellectuals and scholars. Iqbal’s focus on self development and his synthesis of philosophy, theology, mysticism and law which he tries to achieve in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, where he puts many traditions both from Islam and Europe in critical conversation is till this day and probably for some time to come an inspiration to religious reformists and liberals. Continue reading


Filed under Islam, Religion, secular Pakistan, secularism, Society