Religious Right in Their Own Words; the Concept of an Islamic State

Part 1

By Adnan Syed

This two part series revisits one of the pivotal events of the early Pakistani history; the riots by the religious right wing parties to get Ahmadis declared as non-Muslims, and the subsequent Munir-Kiyani inquiry commission report into the causes behind the riots. The report went on to interview the religious leaders of the newly formed state of Pakistan regarding their motives and their ideas of Pakistan as a pure Islamic state. As the interviews revealed the incongruous replies of various leaders, they also showed  vague but chilling ideas that the right wing parties harboured to turn the newly formed Muslim nation into a political- Islam-dominated theocratic nation. The interviews reveal the role of democracy, non Muslims, Jihad and punishments like apostasy that would be practiced in an ideal Islamic state.

The interviews are as relevant today as they were 56 years ago. If anything, they foreshadowed the violence that would engulf Pakistan as the state gradually ceded to the demands of the Islamic right wing parties. Religious parties kept incessant pressure on the newly formed state to take a turn towards Islamism. At the same time the pressure was on to the governments to kick the Ahmadis out of the fold of Islam by a state decree. It was not until 1974, that another bout of religious agitation got Prime Minister Bhutto to accede to their demands and get Ahmadis declared non-Muslims. If anything, Pakistan has paid dearly for ignoring its founding father who spoke unequivocally that the newly formed state would not be theocratic, and that everyone is free to practice their religion as an equal Pakistani first and foremost.


One of the most pivotal events in the Pakistani history occurred in March 1953, as the right wing parties went on mass agitation on the streets of Punjab to get Qadianis declared as non Muslims.

Mass disturbances broke out in the province of Punjab. They continued until the middle of April 1953. Martial law was declared in Lahore, which remained in force until the middle of May 1953. Almost 23 people were killed by the firing of police and army on the rioters, before the unrest was finally quelled. The violent protests and the events leading up to the martial law in Lahore were the first signs that the religious right had far more extreme aspirations for Pakistan. Jinnah had explicitly negated Pakistan as a theocratic state before his death. On more than one occasion he had said that “Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”.

Still, the right wing parties persisted. Their umbrella group, Majlis-e-Amal, evolved around a fundamental demand to the new state of Pakistan: Declare Qadianis (or Ahmadis) as non-Muslims. In January 1953, a deputation of the ulama delivered an ultimatum to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Khwaja Nazimuddin. It called for the state to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims, and remove Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan (the then foreign minister of Pakistan) and other Ahmadis from key posts in the government.

To his credit, Khwaja Nazimuddin, rejected the ultimatum on February 27, 1953 and arrested the prominent members of Majlis-e-Amal. The disturbances started soon afterwards.

The Government of Punjab constituted a Court for holding a public enquiry into the disturbances. The members of the enquiry commission were Justice M. Munir, Chief Justice of the Federal Court, and Justice Muhammad Rustum (M.R) Kiyani of the Punjab High Court. Both gentlemen at that time had quite distinguished careers. While widely respected for his experience, Justice Munir, later that year in 1954, went on the wrong side of history when he validated the doctrine of necessity in the Moulvi Tamizuddin case. In that case the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by Governor General was declared lawful.

Justice Kiyani is to this day remembered as one of the most upstanding judges who graced the judicial benches of Pakistan. He spoke out against the Ayub Khan regime, risked his enviable career for taking his stance, and was widely admired across Pakistan for not bowing to the dictator. Grateful citizens of Lahore called him the “voice of Pakistan” at his retirement.

The Enquiry Commission produced a 380 page report that remains a treasure trove of information about the early Pakistani history, the interaction of faith in matters of the state, and the administrative lapses that the state had began showing as its self serving rulers started using religion to undermine each others’ influence. The commission interviewed all the major parties involved in the disturbances: the Punjab Government of Mumtaz Daultana, the Provincial Muslim League, the Majlis-e-Ahrar, the Majlis-e-Amal, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Ahmadiya organizations. After talking to all parties, and sifting through 3,600 pages of written statements and 2,700 pages of evidence, the two member commission produced this important document called “Report of the Court of Inquiry constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to enquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953”.

The commission was firm in laying the blame on the religious organizations for inciting violence and holding the government hostage by agitating on the streets. The commission called the Ahrar and their allies insidious. However, the very last paragraph of this report is a scathing indictment of the then Punjab Government and most of the provincial and federal governments that followed since. In the Justices’ famous words, the 1953 disturbances should never ever have morphed into something that serious. It was the subordination of the law and order to the political ends that started the rot and allowed the religious right to play havoc on the streets of Lahore, Sialkot and Rawalpindi. Democracy requires the rule of law, and the rule of law should never be a hostage to political leaders’ considerations and machinations.

Justice Munir Kiyani Report ends with those prophetic words that need to be listened to by each and every government of the state of Pakistan: And it is our deep conviction that if the Ahrar had been treated as a pure question of law and order, without any political considerations, one District Magistrate and one Superintendent of Police could have dealt with them…… But if democracy means the subordination of law and order to political ends—then Allah knoweth best and we end the report”.



The commission interviewed leading Islamic ulama of that time to ascertain their ideas of the Islamic state, sovereignty and democracy in an Islamic State, legislature and law making in an Islamic state, position of non-Muslims, definition of a Muslim, punishment for apostasy, propagation of other religions, concept of Jihad, and role of Muslims within a non-Muslim state.

The interviews appear in pages 203 to 230. They provide a fascinating glimpse into the confused ideas espoused by the religious right towards the new state of Pakistan. To our eternal shame, Pakistan gradually went on to embrace this confusion rather than discard it in favour of a democratic Muslim state. The Munir-Kiyani Report remains one of the first and one of the very few reports that was able to disern the vague notion of an Islamic state ideal. This concept wrought extensive destruction on Pakistan and on the region in decades to come.

The vague ideal still resides with the religious right, a full 56 years later after the report was written. In 1960s, a concept of the “Ideology of Pakistan” gradually found its way into the grand vocabulary. This ideology sought to replace the Muslim nationalism that the Muslim League espoused in its struggle for Pakistan. The Munir-Kiyani report went on to quote Jinnah’s August 11 speech, and the various quotes where Jinnah unequivocally negated the concept of theocracy for Pakistan, and called for Pakistan to become a modern democratic Muslim majority republic.

Interestingly, the religious right clearly recognized the Muslim nationalism embedded in the demand for Pakistan. However, almost all of them called this concept unacceptable to them. These denouncers included the Majlis-e-Ahrar, the erstwhile Congress allies before the partition for whom “before partition this (nationalism) conception was almost a part of their faith”. Maulana Ahsan Islahi called this Muslim nation state the creature of the devil. “None of the ulama can tolerate a state which is based on nationalism and all that it implies”.

In March 1949, Jinnah’s concept of a modern nation state received its first blow when the government of Liaquat Ali Khan passed the Objectives Resolution. The ulama freely admitted that Objectives Resolution was nothing more than a hoax. Even though the resolution gave sovereignty to Allah, in the ulama minds, the provisions of the OR, especially those relating to fundamental rights, were directly opposed to the principles of an Islamic State.



The committee posed a question as to “what is then the Islamic State of which everybody talks but nobody thinks”. What is the conception and function of the state?

The ulama were divided in their opinions when they were asked to give examples of an Islamic state in Muslim history. Shia Alim Hafiz Kifayat Hussein held out as his ideal the government of the Holy Prophet. Another alim included the days of Omar bin Abdul Aziz (an Ummayid dynastic but just ruler, who ruled between 717 and 720 AD), Salahuddin Ayyubi of Damascus (who conquered Jerusalem a thousand years ago), Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi (who looted and ransacked India many times), Muhammad Shah Tughlaq, Aurangzeb Alamgir (the Mughal emperor), and the modern day Saud dynasty of the Saudi Arabia.

Another alim Maulana Haamid Badayuni opined that the details of the state would be worked out in the future by the ulama. Master Taj-uddin Ansari’s confused notion of an Islamic state can be gleaned from the following interview excerpt:

Q.—If you are told that the Khilafat movement continued long after the Turks had abolished Khilafat, will that be correct?

A.—As far as I remember, the Khilafat movement finished with the abolition of the Khilafat by the Turks.

Q.—You are reported to have been a member of the Khilafat movement and having made speeches. Is it correct?

A.—It could not be correct.

Q.—Was the Congress interested in Khilafat?

A.— Yes.

Q.—Was Khilafat with you a matter of religious conviction or just a political movement ?

A.— It was purely a religious movement.

Q.— Did the Khilafat movement have the support of Mr. Gandhi ?


Q.— What was the object of the Khilafat movement ?

A.— The Britisher was injuring the Khilafat institution in Turkey and the Musalman was aggrieved by this attitude of the Britisher.

Q.— Was not the object of the movement to resuscitate the Khilafat among the Musalmans ?


Q.— Is Khilafat with you a necessary part of Muslim form of Government ?


Q.— Are you, therefore, in favour of having a Khilafat in Pakistan ?


Q.— Can there be more than one Khalifa of the Muslims ?

A.— No.

Q.— Will the Khalifa of Pakistan be the Khalifa of all the Muslims of the world ?

A.— He should be but cannot be.

As the justices pondered upon the role of Quran and Sunnah in the new state of Pakistan, it quickly became clear that in an Islamic state that the ulama wanted for Pakistan would have to follow, the constitution can only be framed by the agreement of ulama and mujtahids (modern interpreters of Quran and Sunnah). Any modern law not conforming to Quran and Sunnah were void and not to be followed by a Pakistani Muslim. Any provision of rule of international law to which Pakistan is a party, which contravenes the Quran or Sunnah shall be void and not binding on any Muslim in Pakistan.

More chillingly, as the interviews revealed, the ulamas conceded the form of Government in Pakistan, if that form is to comply with the principles of Islam, will not be democratic at all.

 (Friday, Legislation in an Islamic state, who is a Muslim, and the position of non-Muslims vs. the Muslims)


Filed under Constitution, Democracy, Islam, Islamism, Jinnah, Judiciary, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, Pak Tea House, Pakistan, Religion

14 responses to “Religious Right in Their Own Words; the Concept of an Islamic State

  1. YLH

    Well written.

  2. Junaid

    The ulama were divided in their opinions when they were asked to give examples of an Islamic state in Muslim history. Shia Alim Hafiz Kifayat Hussein held out as his ideal the government of the Holy Prophet. Another alim included the days of Omar bin Abdul Aziz (an Ummayid dynastic but just ruler, who ruled between 717 and 720 AD), Salahuddin Ayyubi of Damascus (who conquered Jerusalem a thousand years ago), Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi (who looted and ransacked India many times), Muhammad Shah Tughlaq, Aurangzeb Alamgir (the Mughal emperor), and the modern day Saud dynasty of the Saudi Arabia.

    Why do we have to look in the past to create our future?

    I am just reading the book “The battle for God” and can see how we are stuck in the same process, Europe was stuck 300 years ago.

  3. The damage has been done via Objective resolution, and after the embarrasement contradictions before the Munir-Kiani commissiom, the Ulemas of all the sects come together and bring a 22 points agenda for Islamisation. Which nowadays is part of various religio political parties manifesto.

  4. Ammar

    The religious right has always used Islam as a tool for their political benefits. Their existence has lead to the nurture of Taliban. The war against extremism cannot be won unless we revert to Jinnah vision of a secular and progressive state where everyone has the right to practice their religion.

  5. OMLK

    One cannot escape the fact that Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, and the Muslims generally believe that Islam requires it’s rule to be imposed every where. Even those “liberal” Muslims who voice opposing views, nevertheless, have no answer to those who hold this belief and quote the Quran as their basis (thanks to the idealogy of Maudoodi). To my knowledge, in Pakistan, only the Ahmadiyya school of thought and the one led by Javed Ghamdi have an idealogical basis, based on the Quran, that counters this view and explicitly says that Islam does not aspire to policial power and the main objective of religion is self purification and not a struggle to establish an Islamic system. The Pakistani nation has responded by decalring the Ahmadis non-Muslims, and forcing Ghamdi to migrate abroad after getting death threats. Any surprise then that the radicals are running amok here, dragging Pakistan rapidly backwards. Either the Pakistanis renounce Islam, or adhere to an idealogy of it that is peaceful, or continue to be haunted by the radical Mullahs. If Pakistanis stick to Islam as their faith, yet do not have an idealogical basis for their faith that is peaceful and moderate, then all else is lip service to Jinnah’s vision and the demand for a modern, democratic Pakistan.

  6. Bin Ismail

    Adnan Syed,

    Excellent analysis. During the course of the Munir-Kiyani Commission, a very pertinent question was put before all the ulema – “who is a Muslim?”. No two ulema agreed on a single definition. The situation left the worthy Justices both bemused and amused. The ulema were relentlessly in search of a definition of the term “Muslim”, applying which they could ensure the expulsion of Ahmadis from the fold of Muslims. Finally, in 1974, they discovered the long-sought definition of “Muslim”. A novel definition of “Islam”, unknown to the Holy Founder of Islam himself, was finally found. They proposed, and the Government accepted that “anyone who is prepared to falsify Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, is a Muslim”. This was then included in the Identity Card and Passport application forms as “Declaration of Muslim” and all State-certified Muslim citizens of Pakistan were made to sign it . A new definition of the term “Muslim”, unknown to God or His Messenger had finally been arrived at, by the ulema and adopted through legislation by the Parliament of Pakistan.

  7. AZW

    Bin Ismail:

    Yes, indeed the definition of a Muslim is one of the most interesting parts of these interviews, where none of these ulemas were able to agree on a definition of a true Muslim. Every theocratically inclined Muslim state discriminates against its own population (including Muslims as well as the non Muslims) exactly due to the reason that they have their own definition of a “true” Muslim.

    OMLK: first step would be to reverse the poison that we are pouring into the ears of our young generation. Have a read of Ali Chishti’s brilliant article in the Daily Times where he explains how even the non Madrassah syllabus is inducing hatred in the youth. We have all grown up with Zia’s children: those fuming victim-mentality riddled generation that thinks the world is out to get us, and freely mixes political Islam with everythging under the sun.

  8. AZW

    I will also add that we will be unable to live with Zia’s grand children if this propagation of hatred continues unabated. These grand children will be too many, too confused, too chaotic and too violent and would overwhelm the state of Pakistan eventually.

  9. Octavian

    Reading of the Munir report should be made mandatory. The exchange between the Honorable Justice and the reprobate mullahs is an eye opener and serves as a clear warning for those aspiring to create some divinely inspired Islamic state (which no one can define0

  10. Tilsim


    Thank you for writing a very interesting piece.

    “rule of law should never be a hostage to political leaders’ considerations and machinations.”

    I agree and that is something very few in Pakistan respect.

    I think the paper below from Carnegie on Islam and the path of political development in Pakistan is well worth a read. It gives an excellent overview and highlights how both the PPP and PML-N and in fact all political forces (except Ayub, Musharraf and the minorities ) have pushed greater and greater Islamization of the laws in Pakistan. I think this is the objective reality that anyone posting on this website is dealing with. If the PML-N comes into power, I believe we will see the final phase of Zia’s project.

    With that background in mind, a societal consensus has to be developed about what is wrong with this sort of islamisation and what bad consequences it is leading to (arbitrary justice, one size fits all Islam, terror, xenophobia, economic collapse etc). Any thought of a secular legislative reversal, however much it may be desirable, is not a realistic goal until the public see a real problem with this sort of Islamic state and practice. We need to see more opinion pieces that highlight the specific issues. I think many writers in the English press at least have started to raise their voices as well as the blogosphere – encouraging sign!

    Click to access Topychkanov_Islam_Eng.pdf

  11. Sadia Hussain

    This paradox has been imposed upon as Pakistan was envisioned as liberal progressive democracy; however the religious indoctrination gave rise to militancy as the clergy slowly and steadily poisoned our political system as we fight extremism we also need to remove the influence of religion from our politics.

  12. Tilsim

    @ PMA
    “Today Kabul, Islamabad, New Delhi are still fighting the old battles.”

    Whilst the history is all quite fascinating, let’s not stretch it so thin that it breaks.

  13. Bin Ismail

    @ AZW (August 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm)

    “…..Every theocratically inclined Muslim state discriminates against its own population (including Muslims as well as the non Muslims) exactly due to the reason that they have their own definition of a “true” Muslim…..”

    You’ve hit the nail on its head. A theocratically inclined state will discriminate against all. The theocracy runs and thrives on discrimination and persecution.

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