Institute of Islamic Studies 

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Asghar Ali Engineer is a rights activist and heads two organisations, the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism. He has authored or edited 44 books on such issues as Islam and communal and ethnic problems in India and South Asia in general.

For links to his other articles, please go to the top page of this site.

Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective Aug. 16- 31, 99)

        The militants are roaming the streets of Karachi, Lahore and other major cities of Pakistan raising the slogans of 'jihad' as if 'jihad' is their mental and spiritual diet. It is, to be honest, is a dangerous state of affairs for the Pakistani society and its health. There are number of reasons why Pakistan is passing through the jihad mode today. 

        Pakistan was conceived as a homeland for the Muslims. There were so many contradictions in this concept of Muslim homeland which were totally ignored at the time. The heat of partition melted all such contradiction. But these contradictions are surfacing with all intensity. The concept of Muslim homeland implied that all Muslims are united merely on the basis of religion and there are, among them, neither ethnic differences, nor class or sectarian differences. And that all Muslims will equally benefit from this homeland.

        Religion is very vital force in human life but it is so on spiritual plane. There are several factors on the secular plane which motivate human behaviour. Human behaviour, it must be remembered, is not determined by religious beliefs alone; rarely it so happens. Human behaviour more often is determined by worldly interests. Muslim homeland itself was product of worldly interests rather than spiritual homogeneity. It was thought by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his Muslim League colleagues that Muslim political and economic interests would not be taken care of in the 'Hindu India' and that a separate homeland for Muslims is needed.  

        The underlying assumption was that if a community of people who follow same religion will automatically have uniform interests. But this has been totally belied today as it ought to have been. Religion can never ensure unity of interests. In a democratic society various divisions surface which also become political fault lines. No truly democratic society can suppress these divisions which also ensure formation of identities. Diversity, in other words, is the lifeline of democracy and genuine national unity can emerge only from respect for this diversity.

        But in an authoritarian society these diversities are considered as sign of danger and is sought to be suppressed. The authoritarian society seeks uniformity and confuses uniformity with unity. In all authoritarian societies all other identities - ethnic, linguistic or sectarian, is sought to be suppressed and only one identity - be it national identity or racial or religious identity is enforced from above to ensure unity. But as soon as authoritarian structure is demolished and replaced by democratic or even proto-democratic structure, these identities emerge to the surface and tend to assume more volatile form after a prolonged period of suppression.

        Pakistani society has undergone similar process. It was for long under military dictatorship which tried to suppress all other identities except either overarching Pakistani identity or Islamic identity. But ethnic identities exploded the moment first general elections were held in 1969. The Bengali identity was feeling suffocated and the first election itself provided an opportunity for it to break loose from the overarching Pakistani identity. The Pakistan went through great crisis during seventies when a kind of proto democratic structures were surfacing in that country. It was a period of semi-democracy for Pakistan.

        Different identities began to emerge and ethnic identities began to submerge the overarching identity after a long period of suppression. While all people of Pakistan are proud of their Islamic identity they are not prepared to barter their regional or ethnic identity for the Islamic identity as the Punjabi ruling classes would like them to do.  The ethnic identities become quite explosive even if they are sought to be hegemonised by one particular ethnic identity, the Punjabi identity in case of Pakistan. The Sindhis, the Baluchis, the Pathans and the Urdu speaking Muhajirs who, ironically are also referred to as Sindhis by domicile, are sought to be dominated by the Punjabis. Even within the Punjab the Saraiki speakers are resenting Punjabi domination. The Saraiki speakers claim to be 60% of the Punjab province.

        The ultra rightist party of Pakistan - the Jamat-e-Islami is almost exclusively Punjab based party now and it is the Jamat which wants to bulldoze all other identities in the name of Islamic identity. It is the Jamat which is raising the slogan of jihad, jihad to save not the Pakistan but the Punjabi domination. And there is silent collusion of the Punjabi ruling classes with the Jamat and its attempt to bulldoze all other identities in the name of Islam.

        It is also to be noted that the word 'jihad' is being utterly misused by the Pakistani religious fanatics. It is interesting to note that one does not find in the Qur'an the word 'jihad' in the sense in which it is being popularly used i.e. 'holy war'. The word in the Qur'an for war is 'qitaal' and not jihad. The word 'jihad' is used in its literal sense i.e. to strive, to assert or to make efforts. Thus jihad in the Qur'anic terminology means to assert oneself or to make efforts to promote what is right and to prohibit what is evil.

        And in Qur'an qitaal is also permitted against persecution and to establish justice, not for territorial aggrandisement. Even if the word 'jihad' is used, it is also for defense of faith and not for annexation of territory or to solve territorial dispute. Also to kill innocent civilians as the extremists are doing in Jammu and other parts of J & K cannot be jihad. It is against all principles of Islam. Thus to wage 'jihad' in Kashmir is a total misnomer. Kashmir is a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan which has to be resolved between the two countries. There is no question of religious persecution as far as the Kashmir question is concerned. The Muslims of Kashmir under Shaikh Abdulla had clearly supported the National Conference and its programme of alliance with India. In fact the Kashmiris from the valley fought against the raiders from Pakistan and checked their further advance. It was a purely political move in order to annex territory and could not be construed as jihad by any stretch of imagination.

        Similarly, the intrusion in Kargil is also part of territorial dispute and cannot be called 'jihad' at all. It is real irony that the intruders are described as 'mujahidins' (i.e. those waging jihad). Are these 'mujahidin' defending the faith of Islam in any sense in Kargil? On the other hand, the most affected people by their 'jihad' are the Muslims of Kargil. Their homes and hearths have been  destroyed by the relentless shelling in Kargil.  The Kargil Muslims have resented the Pakistani intrusion most. Who would, any way, like their homes being destroyed and their normal life completely disrupted? To disrupt the lives of fellow Muslims cannot be a part of jihad anyway.

        The Pakistani society is undergoing violent phase. There are several factors responsible for this. The Taliban factor is one among them. Many sagacious thinkers, writers and journalists from Pakistan, the noted anthropologist and scholar Akbar Ahmad being one among them, had pointed out that supporting highly orthodox religious students who have undergone rigorous and rigid religious training in Madrasas in the North West Frontier province, to fight a partisan war in Afghanistan, would not be in the best interest of Pakistan.

        The Taliban have not only tested the gun, they have tested the power of religious orthodoxy also. And religious orthodoxy and power of the gun is a heady mix. The Taliban after finishing their job in Afghanistan are returning to Pakistan and wish to recreate Afghan society there. It must be said that compared to many Islamic countries Pakistan is far more 'secular' and 'modern'. The military dictators, after all, were not religious fanatics with the exception of Zia. In fact Ayub resisted the influence of orthodox 'ulama and introduced many modern laws. Yahya Khan too, by and large, refrained from invoking religious orthodoxy for legitimising his rule.

        It was General Zia who, for the first time, invoked religious orthodoxy to perpetuate his rule and to legitimise it. He also welcomed the Afghan war as a godsend and got much help from CIA which was interested in defeating Soviet Russia. The Afghan mujahidin too had to invoke Islamic orthodoxy to fight against the atheistic Russians. All the training to them was imparted on the territory of Pakistan adjacent to Afghanistan. Thus it was General Zia who systematically injected religious orthodoxy in Pakistani politics. 

        The Taliban phenomenon was its natural outcome. And the madrasas then set up in the North West Province are churning out large number of 'Taliban' every year. These religious students are being injected with the heavy dose of jihad and what is worse, along with the religious training, they are also being imparted military training in these madrasas. Thus the emphasis is more on jihadist mind set rather than on truly religious mind set. These madrasas have acquired vested interest of their own as they receive funds from various sources, including some Islamic countries.

        It is, to say the least, not in the interest of Pakistani civil society. It amounts to spreading cult of violence in Pakistan. The ruling classes want to use these 'mujahidin' to suppress ethnic unrest and to maintain the Punjabi hegemony. But so far there is no sign of success. The cult of violence is spreading fast in the civil society without there being any sign of ethnic unrest vanishing. The ethnic groups have their own legitimate aspirations and no amount of jihadist mind set, being promoted by powerful vested interests, can suppress these aspirations. The suppressed ethnic groups, particularly the Sindhis, the Baluchis and the Muhajirs, have acute political consciousness and they will not barter away their legitimate aspirations for an illusionary Islamic identity. However, this does not mean that they are not good Muslims. In fact they are much better Muslims that those selling 'Islamic' identity to them. 

        In Pakistan unfortunately the military is not under civilian control and has autonomy of its own. It is also thus interested in keeping the Jihadist mind set alive and spreading the cult of violence. It is only through this strategy that the civil society will remain under its thumb. The civil society will have to wage many a struggle to liberate itself from the hegemony of the armed forces. 

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism,
Irene Cottage, Second Floor,
4th Road, 
Santacruz (E), Mumbai:- 400 055.

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Posted 3 January 2000
Last revised 3 January 2000
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