May 8, 2014 By Shameer KS

Pakistan: The Pendulum from Sacred to Profane

muslim zionHistory of Pakistan is always fraught with curious, if earnest sometimes, attempts to search for clues to conspiracies. What role did the Hindu-dominated Congress play to oust a formidable minority from India? Some ask. And we have the divide and rule policy of the British to pin the entire burden on as if Indians did not have agency at that time, which, however, is proven by balkanized regions all over the world in the aftermath of colonialism. More often than not, in analyses, it was a majority-minority politics played out by different parties. Political interests are read out of, and mostly read into, the texts. Though Pakistan bears purity of faith in its very word, rarely are religion and politico-theological considerations evoked to study the whole actions and the dramatis personae involved in the making of Pakistan. When religion is evoked, it is subsumed under the category of interests – political, religious and even personal. Religion, it is said, was misused for the claim of Pakistan or was used as a bargain chip.

In Muslim Zion, Pakistan as a Political Idea, Faisal Devji proves that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Of his way of approaching the issue, Devji says: ‘Instead of focusing in good legal style on the “motives” or “intentions” of groups and individuals, which can only be known, if at all, in the most superficial or “criminological” way, I am interested in the forms of argumentation and lines of reasoning that both transcend and survive such intentionality to shape the prose of history.’ (P 9)

The desire for belonging to a community of believers using the terms and strategies of statehood underpins the formation both of Israel and Pakistan. Devji begins his narrative quoting Hegel who urged the Germans to imagine a homeland in Biblical Judea. Here religion is not a tool or bargain chip, but an idea “that no longer referred to any life–world of belief and practice.” (P.5). In the initial phase, both Israel and Pakistan rejected the idea of homeland in terms of rootedness in soil. Geographical specifications rarely mattered – “early Zionists had to run through a list of options that included Kenya and Argentina, while ‘Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s demands at various times for bits of territory included Andaman and Nicobar Islands as maritime links between East and West Pakistan or for a corridor across the north of India as territorial link between them.” (P. 23-24). Remarkably, in its demand for the Muslim homeland, literature in the league camp likened the desire of Indian Muslims to that of “minorities in European countries or Jews scattered all over the world”.

Devji links the narratives arguing the case for Muslim homeland to the Muslim ecumenism prevalent among some leaders at that time. Qaed-e-Azam, for instance, promoted the ecumenism by dissimulating (taqiyya) his Shia identity. Devji presents the details of the dispute over Qaed’s property to show how dissimulation of sectarian identity was used for the larger cause of the unity of believers for the purpose of a homeland. But this idea has to be played out in the context of the majority-minority politics in India. I suspect that the reason why figures like Abul A’la Mawdoodi distanced themselves away from the Pakistan demand in the initial stage was that at that stage the demand was identified only as a secular concept bandied about by the materialistic, western educated elite.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal, however, expounded the idea of sacredness free from secular nationalism and its seduction of objects. Devji reads a hemistich from Iqbal’s poem wataniyya (nationalism) from the collection Bang-e-dara (Call of the caravan bell) in this context:

Hay tark-e watn sunnat-e mahbub-e ilahi
To abandon the homeland is to follow the example of God’s beloved.

“He suggests that,” Devji says, “Muhammad abandoned Mecca not because it was the home of idolatry so much as because the very idea of homeland is idolatrous.’ (p. 242). Devji brilliantly links the critique of nationalism with “Iqbal’s propounding of Shia separation of public religion and private faith, one he thought was temporal and functional in character. For it was the absence of the vanquished Imam that made a profane world possible within the horizon of expectation, one in which religion could not fully instantiate itself without denying the authority and necessity of the messianic figure.’ (p 222)

So, what happened to Pakistan, hoisted by the ecumenism – the desire to transcend sectarian difference, sacredness beyond blood and soil, the avowal of private-public premised on the dissimulation in Shia life? How did these ideas and ideals transform into a state which gets scared of minorities and enforces strict regulations against sects like Ahmediyya? How did, though he abhorred it once, Mawdoodi consider it as a landscape to play out his version of “fundamentalism” and the theo-democracy and, in the process, ‘fall victim to the anti-territorial dimension of the nationalism he criticised’ (235) and why, paradoxically, did he attempt to achieve it by way of political action? (“In parallel to Lenin’s thesis about the withering away of state under communism, just as the Bolshevik leader’s notion of party as a vanguard was explicitly adopted by Mawdoodi for his Jamat-e-Islami (P 237).

Why did Pakistan, instead of rectifying the errors of modern, secular nation states which adopted sovereignty as tools to oppress the deviant groups become nothing but an oppressive nation state which places sovereignty “in the hands of God smiting down sinners?” (Devji says, in a perverse fulfilment of Iqbal’s vision, those who would enforce God’s law in Pakistan by repudiating popular sovereignty in fact ended up acting the part of God in that country.’ (P 240). How did the virtue of inner life and the concomitant dichotomy of the public and private transform into a condition in which the inner life is viewed with suspicion and subjected to regulation? Why should, instead of Pakistan, one ‘pin hopes on the Muslim minority that it portends the future of Islam as a global entity? (P 250)

Devji’s book is an answer to these questions and he answers them in such manner as to keep us glued to his narrative and allow us fit into its frame our own concern and hopes about the modern Pakistan. For anyone who wants to understand the genealogy, or genealogies, of Pakistan, especially through the answers of the above questions, Muslim Zion is a must read. Though his approach and sources are textual, not anthropological as those of Naveeda Khan, we will be convinced by his arguments and by the way he weaves themes into themes in the narrative.

Contemporary historical writing, in its attempt to placate the publishers’ wish to sell the book, has adopted the style of fiction. This ‘fictioriography’ – pardon the coinage – mostly destroys the complexity of events and people. ‘History of Pakistan,’ Devji says, ‘tends to be so tedious to read however skilled the author writing it. That is why so much historical narrative in that country is dominated by salacious interest in the corrupt practices and sexual escapades of its various leaders.’ (P 244). Devji has succeeded in making his narrative neither tedious nor salacious, while, at the same time, prevents it from destroying, but convincingly explains, the complexities of history.

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