Ex­plor­ing Mus­lim So­ci­ety in Pak­istan

Southasia - - Book Review - Re­viewed by Kinza Mu­jeeb The re­viewer is a broad­cast jour­nal­ist and re­searcher for the Geo Group.

Ti­tle: Is­lam and So­ci­ety in Pak­istan: An­thro­po­log­i­cal Per­spec­tives Edited by: Mag­nus Mars­den and Ali Khan Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, Pak­istan (De­cem­ber 2010) Pages: 496, Hard­back Price: PKR 995 ISBN: 9780195479577

An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple of Pak­istan be­long to the Sunni Hanafi sect of Is­lam. How­ever, non-mus­lims and peo­ple be­long­ing to sev­eral mi­nor­ity sects of Is­lam also in­habit the coun­try. The book un­der re­view, ‘ Is­lam and So­ci­ety in Pak­istan,’ de­scribes the ori­gins of some of these mi­nor­ity sects and their role in the cur­rent so­cio-po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan. The book is a col­lec­tion of seven­teen dif­fer­ent ar­ti­cles each de­scrib­ing a re­li­gious sect or ac­tiv­ity re­lated to re­li­gion in Pak­istan and con­nect­ing it with the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ed­i­tor of the an­thol­ogy, the ob­jec­tive was to bring to­gether ‘as di­verse an ar­ray of lit­er­a­ture on Is­lam and Mus­lim life in Pak­istan as pos­si­ble.’ He feels that the book serves as a valu­able re­source on learn­ing ‘the com­plex ways in which Pak­istan’s cul­tural het­ero­gene­ity is played out and con­tested in the realm of re­li­gious life.’

The es­says deal with both mi­nor­ity sects and the ‘re­formist’ move­ments within the ma­jor­ity re­li­gion in Pak­istan. On the one hand, mi­nus­cule sects like the Zikris of Balochis­tan and the ‘Wah­habi Shias’ of Pun­jab

Dur­ing Bri­tish colo­nial rule, re­forms were un­der­taken to in­clude in the cur­ricu­lum what was re­garded as ‘use­ful learn­ing’ by the gov­ern­ment and pri­vate re­formists.

have been dis­cussed and on the other, Sunni madras­sas preach­ing ji­had and the Al-huda in­sti­tu­tion, which suc­cess­fully seeks the pro­mo­tion of con­ser­va­tive no­tions re­gard­ing the place of women in so­ci­ety, have also been ex­am­ined. Be­sides these, the role of Su­fism and gath­er­ings at var­i­ous shrines in the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in Pak­istan has also been an­a­lyzed.

Though Su­fism and vis­its to shrines are dis­cour­aged by the re­formist forces in Pak­istan, such cus­toms con­tinue to flour­ish in the coun­try. The ob­jec­tives for ad­her­ing to such prac­tices vary con­sid­er­ably from one group to the other. Busi­ness­men and pro­fes­sion­als, who are highly ed­u­cated and of­ten pos­sess a long ex­po­sure to Western ideas, are devo­tees of saints be­cause it plays an im­por­tant role in ‘ strength­en­ing ties be­tween col­leagues and busi­ness as­so­ciates.’

Danc­ing and singing sym­bol­izes the an­nual gath­er­ing at the shrine of Madho Lal Hus­sain in Lahore. The pros­ti­tutes of Hira Mandi re­gard him as their ‘pa­tron saint’ while those ad­vo­cat­ing the pro­mo­tion of the Pun­jabi lan­guage find it to be a con­ve­nient plat­form for prop­a­gat­ing their cause. Ac­cord­ing to the book, saints and their shrines in Sindh have pre­vi­ously been used by politi­cians like Z.A. Bhutto and G.M. Syed for achiev­ing po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives.

The madras­sas in Pak­istan have been un­der re­form dur­ing pre-in­de­pen­dence and post-in­de­pen­dence pe­ri­ods. Dur­ing Bri­tish colo­nial rule, re­forms were un­der­taken to in­clude in the cur­ricu­lum what was re­garded as ‘ use­ful learn­ing’ by the gov­ern­ment and pri­vate re­formists. Af­ter In­de­pen­dence, two ma­jor at­tempts were made to re­form madrassa ed­u­ca­tion: one in 1962 and the other in 1979. The 1962 re­forms aimed at restor­ing the ‘pu­rity’ of re­li­gious learn­ing and in­tro­duc­ing es­sen­tial non-re­li­gious dis­ci­plines. The 1979 re­forms were a part of the ‘Is­lamiza­tion’ cam­paign launched by Gen Zia-ul-haq. These re­forms of­fered fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the madras­sas and the stu­dents and guar­an­teed recog­ni­tion of de­grees that would qual­ify stu­dents for gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ment. How­ever, the re­form was op­posed by the ulema be­cause it di­rectly chal­lenged their au­ton­omy.

Af­ter the over­throw of monar­chy in Iran, a new el­e­ment of for­eign in­volve­ment pen­e­trated madras­sas as well as the var­i­ous re­li­gious groups in Pak­istan. While the Shia ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and ac­tivist groups re­ceived gen­er­ous fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from Iran, sim­i­lar Sunni in­sti­tu­tions and groups were the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of such gen­eros­ity from Saudi Ara­bia. This de­vel­op­ment in­ten­si­fied fur­ther sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in a coun­try like Pak­istan.

Sadaf Ah­mad con­ducted an in­ter­est­ing study re­gard­ing the Al-huda in­sti­tu­tion, which is now es­tab­lished in sev­eral ma­jor cities of Pak­istan. The au­thor is of the view that Al-huda is now a so­cial move­ment aimed at the Is­lamiza­tion of up­per and up­per­mid­dle class women. She points out that Al-huda has been suc­cess­ful in at­tract­ing this ‘ed­u­cated fe­male elite’ where in­sti­tu­tions of other re­li­gious groups, such as the Ja­maat-e-is­lami, have failed to do so.

Dis­cussing the causes of Al-huda’s suc­cess, the au­thor ob­serves that at other in­sti­tu­tions, cler­ics and maul­vis tend to dom­i­nate. As a re­sult, those who har­bor ‘mod­ern’ out­looks con­sider such cler­ics ig­no­rant and back- ward. On the con­trary, the founder of Al-huda, Farhat Hashmi, is well ed­u­cated and holds a PHD from a univer­sity in the UK. At Al-huda, Qu­ranic verses are in­ter­preted in sim­ple lan­guage and in a man­ner that make them un­der­stand­able and rel­e­vant to the lives of the stu­dents. At these ses­sions, no one is com­pelled to adopt Is­lamic be­hav­ior such as wear­ing the Abaya or the head­scarf. Teach­ers of­ten make use of sci­ence and its the­o­ries to ex­plain Is­lamic in­junc­tions. In­struc­tions are im­parted in both, Urdu and English but those be­ing taught in English are greatly out­num­bered by those re­ceiv­ing in­struc­tions in Urdu.

Though the book is ex­ten­sive and in­cor­po­rates vary­ing per­spec­tives on the is­sue of Is­lam in the Pak­istani so­ci­ety, it can make for a dif­fi­cult read. The ar­ti­cles in the book are writ­ten in a schol­arly lan­guage and carry a large num­ber of ref­er­ences and foot­notes, which hin­der smooth read­ing by an av­er­age reader. It seems al­most as if the writ­ings are catered to re­searchers or stu­dents who in­tend to take up re­search on the afore­men­tioned sub­jects in the fu­ture.

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