Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


A Take on Pakistani Patriotism Part 1: The Islamic State.

16 Sep 2010

Patriotism in Pakistan is not a simple notion. Pakistan’s creation as an ideological state is largely responsible for that. But the question arises? What is an ideological state? And what was the Pakistani ideology?

Perhaps the simplest way to answer these questions is to trace the quest for a safe homeland for the Muslims of India in the mid 20th century. By 1947, most, if not all calls for a united India had subsided. Who was to blame for the eventual disillusionment of Muslims from the rest of India: the British, the Hindus, the Muslims themselves or someone else is a separate debate, and perhaps no longer as relevant as it once was. What is important is by the end, former champions of a united India including Mohammad Ali Jinnah or Quaid e Azam (The great leader), was now for a separate state.

So perhaps the ideology would have been to create a safe place for Indian Muslims to live and practice their religion, free from former persecution. Did that imply that the state would do so for Muslims only or for people of other faiths as well? That’s where it got messy.

It is not believed that Jinnah’s wish to create a secular state was vetoed by a large influential part of modern Pakistan. The compromise was perhaps to create a state with Muslim rule, but full citizenship, equal care and rights for everybody else. The Islamic State if you will. It wasn’t until 1956 that Pakistan officially became an Islamic Republic, 8 years after the controversial death of Jinnah in an ambulance. Then on, things got harder to define, and easier to mess up. How Islamic was the state? Does an Islamic state really treat Muslims and non Muslims equally? If so then what’s the point of the Islamic State? And questions that went even more fundamental. Who is a Muslim?

These questions are still mostly unanswered. That is to say, people have answers, but no consensus opinion is yet agreed upon.

For most of Pakistan’s population, who were unquestionably Muslim, being a good Muslim soon began to mean being a good Pakistani as well, and vice versa. Things have gotten more complicated, for who was unquestionably a Muslim ten years ago, may now see his mosques or gatherings attacked by terrorists.

There is now a strong force among western educated Pakistanis, and many educated in Pakistan but under British or American ideals, as well as others, that Pakistan must be made secular as Jinnah originally intended. This is the group of people that forms the contributors and close readership of the country’s English newspapers. Of course there are many who disagree.

The notion of having an Islamic state that is fair to all of its citizens regardless of faith is not something impossible, as perhaps common opinion in the West seems to be. Sure there are things that lie in gray areas that can be misinterpreted, but that is the case with every government and every law. The increasingly litigious nature of many modern democracies and the growing debate of what the government should and should and should not take responsibility for is proof that this if not normal, is common.

All that an ‘Islamic State’ really means, is that when a large majority of a nation’s population is Muslim, then it makes sense to take some religious obligations that define being a Muslim, and take them into the legal fold. Of course exceptions can exist for members of other faiths, and they may choose to have their religious obligations treated in the same way if they wish. For the most part Atheism was never a huge force in what is now Pakistan, and even now is limited to minute educated circles, so the problem of dealing with non believers never arose, but they too could be treated the same way if need be.

Of course operational problems were bound to exist, and many of Pakistan’s issues may be traced back in part to this notion. It is clear however that what Pakistanis intend Pakistan to be is no ordinary state, it is a complicated legal framework and a constant philosophical and ideological debate. Never has such a strong movement existed for so different a framework from what has previously (or even currently) existed in the world.

Muslim Kingdoms have achieved some of these aims, but they were and some still are kingdoms, not democracies. The word democracy is now synonymous with secularism, and secularism with fairness and equality. Pakistan has long tried to become a democracy that is fair and treats everyone equally, but is not necessarily secular, in that the state takes into account its peoples’ religious beliefs and legislates accordingly.

To be continued.