Saturday, February 18, 2006

Pakistan and other stories.

I was poring through a book written by an old acquaintance and it helped clear my mind on several issues.

The book is called Reassessing Pakistan: Role of the Two Nation Theory.

When thinking about Pakistan, I feel it helps to keep a few key points in mind about Islam's history in the subcontinent. These points are aluded to in Anand Verma's book, but it is worthwhile to make them more explicit.

The ideological (esp. the theological) elite in muslim society in India in the past, invested heavily in two key concepts;
  1. a notion of racial superiority over non-muslims and
  2. the idea of the divine mandate for political leadership.
In order to make these ideas more concrete,
  1. heterodoxy had to be treated as a political challenge and
  2. negative discrimination had to carried out against non-muslims.

In this manner any "muslim" administration managed to alienate fellow muslims and non-muslims alike. Rulers like Akbar realized the pernicious nature of these ideals and sought to institutionalize more tolerant principles of theology - the result ofcourse was a conservative backlash that slowly gave way to what we now know as the reformation of Shaykh Sirhindi.

The ideas of social and religious exclusivity which Islamic theologians had so heavily invested in could not survive in the politically vibrant environment in India and by the late 17th century, the icons of Islamic political power had falled. It was in this period that Shah Waliallah drafted the notion of a "muslim" political force. He re-cast the held notions of social and religious exclusivity into a form of political consciousness.

Though few realize the exact genius of Shah Waliallah... by creating the concept of a political community that is drawn together purely because it is composed of "muslims" - he has effectively chained the government of any such community to the dictates of the ulema - the people that orient the idea of Islam.

Any ruler who seeks to project himself as a leader of "all muslims" becomes a slave to the Ulema who define "Islam" for the masses. Without a direct political contract with them - he cannot rule.

This process is repeating in Pakistan even today. Perhaps no one understood Shah Waliallah's genius better than Maulana Maudoodi. It may be recalled that Maulana Maudoodi initially opposed the creation of Pakistan because it would split the ummah. As soon as Pakistan was created Maulana Maudoodi embraced the state and making careful use of the well-known anxieties of the elite - enslaved them to the ulema.

As you can all tell by now... Pakistan is a favorite topic where I am concerned. I did spend some time consulting about it, sadly didn't get to visit there as often as I would have liked.

P.S. I did mention to the author that in some way Pakistan was different today than before, the extent of subservience that would be demanded from the elite by the theologians would soon exceed anyone's wildest expectations. I suggested that the famed Nazariyya Pakistan would soon be displaced by a Nazariyya Islam. The author did not agree with such a maximalist position, and argued that only social polarization would grow in the near term. Events have proven him right though I still stand by my contention.

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