May 6, 2014 By Asma Syed

Beyond Strives To Becoming

Naveeda KhanHow does one make sense of the sectarian strives in Pakistan. Those implode the country gradually but threateningly. Some analysts consider sectarian strife as being at the centre of the political and social identity of Pakistan. According to them, Pakistan was formed out of the misconception that the Muslims who were to settle in a homeland were having a monolithic ideal and they were being bound by the ecumenical spirit of Islam. However, sects in Islam have a mutually antagonistic character. This is more so in Pakistan than anywhere in the world. Deobandi, Ahl-e-hadis, Tabligh, Shia, Ahmediyya, Barelwi all stand so much in contradistinction to one another that they find existence not only by legitimizing themselves but by delegitimizing others. One of the ways in which the processes of legitimization and delegitimizing occur is the Qabza (seizure of mosques). Even in the small pockets of Kerala, the capture of mosques belonging to small parties is a visible phenomenon. Will it be as detrimental to Pakistan, as military dictatorships, rampant corruption, ethnic problem are? Naveeda Khan, in her Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan, tries to steer the focus of the issue from its communal nature to how it defines the aspiration of Pakistanis to be better Muslims.

Mosque is also a metaphor here. As it was repeatedly said that Pakistan is a mosque (Pakistan masjid hai) the capture of mosque is also an attempt to give it the legitimacy and authenticity, which is founded on skepticism of others’ claim. This is reflected in the skepticism of the Muslim identity of Ahmediyyas. The book discusses at length how the issue of Ahmediyya identity was resolved by delegitimizing the use of Muslim identity by Ahmedis. Following Iqbal, the legal debates defined the mode of toleration towards Ahmedis as ‘the toleration of a true lover of God who can appreciate the value of devotion even though it is directed to gods in which he himself does not believe.’ (P 119). Also the debates on the Ahmediyya identity did not have the same monolithic response inside Pakistan. From the Justice Munir report in 1954 to the ordinance in 1985, there were different stances, opinions and attitudes, which bear out the constant questionings, uncertainties and skepticism inside Pakistan that all signify the process of becoming of Muslims.

Naveeda Khan explores the nature and character of sectarian strives in Pakistan and links them to Iqbal’s philosophy of time. The sources of Iqbal’s vision of time are two. The first one is the Hadith Qadsi (or Qudsi?), ‘Don’t Curse Time, because I (God) is Time.’ The second source is the Bergsonian concept of time. Iqbal interpreted time as the essence of God with which man strives to identify so as to become a Perfect Man, who is different from Übermensch of Nietzsche. Naveeda Khan explains that this striving is an aspiration for meeting the Divine and submitting oneself to it (Being a Muslim). Until one becomes a Muslim – or identifying with the Divine essence and becoming insan-e-kamil (or perfect man), one is becoming a Muslim or in the process or aspiration of becoming a perfect one. But none can content with attaining the end, one must constantly constructing and deconstructing the end.

To be a Muslim is not a constant, but a situation in which a multitude of becoming takes place through consistent arguments and debates and writings and rewritings. Naveeda Khan links this churning to the mode of living in Pakistan. To live in Pakistan, she says, ‘allows Muslims opportunities to reinhabit their tradition, to make it newly perfect, and, through the interventions of Muhammad Iqbal, opening it up for travels in the virtual. I also see this promise as teaching about living with doubts and skepticism and learning to acknowledge their presence and devastations in our midst.’ (P. 207)

Naveeda Khan’s approach is anthropological; she is assistant professor of anthropology at John Hopkins University. She has edited another significant title of Pakistan titled Beyond Crisis: Re-evaluating Pakistan. Though thematically linking sectarian strives, processes of denigrating minorities and others that have led to Ahmedi prosecution, mosque capturing etc to the aspiration for becoming the perfect Muslims may not be convincing at times, Naveeda Khan’s brave attempt to make sense of the present of Pakistan as a signifier of a creative future absolves the books of all clichés and the associated half-truths.

Posted in: Books