A COLLECTION of 15 well-researched papers, Islam and Society in Pakistan, offers a comprehensive survey of the evolution of Islam within Pakistan’s anthropological and sociological context.
The “assumption” that the study of Islam and Pakistan “are one and the same”, though unpalatable, is not far from the truth. Islam (rather political Islam) remains the be-all and end-all of Pakistan’s constitution and politics. Some scholars have argued that there is danger of Islam becoming a gate-keeping concept, equating Islam and Pakistan as two sides of the same coin.
Though this may be applicable in the context of the country evolving as an Islamic state, it is not really the case as all the instruments of the state and the government, and above all our societal mores, are by and large anything but Islamic in either context or form.
The book questions “What Islam means, where to locate it in society and how best to serve its interests in Pakistan today.”
Without reflecting on the status of the ulema as those who interpret religious texts, the book outlines how they tend to restrict Islam to religious practice, thereby denying the complete, all-embracing role of Islam in other, secular departments of life. The chapter, “Changing Role of Islamism and the Ulema in Society and Politics,” discusses the role of pre-partition religious parties who were opposed to the creation of Pakistan and then tried to depict themselves as the champions of a Muslim Pakistan post-partition.
The book goes on to comment on how guardianship of the Islamic world had always been Pakistan’s cherished yet costly dream as the second largest Muslim state after Indonesia and the fifth largest in the world. Its ambition to act as a state representing modern Islam may be challenged by Arab states.
The compendium would have greatly added to its value by pointing out the hazards and contradictions involved in the formation of a state on the basis of religion or else how would one justify the Quaid’s speech of August 11, 1947 declaring religion as not the state’s business.
Though Islam and Society in Pakistan: Anthropological Perspectives is a treasure trove for academics and research scholars, it has little to offer to a history student. Also, a chapter on the rise of Jihad tracing back to the Kashmir dispute and the Afghan war would have added enormously to the value of the book.
State and religion Reviewed by A.R. Siddiqi
Islam and Society in Pakistan: Anthropological Perspectives, (HISTORY), Edited by Ali Khan and Megnus Mavsden, Oxford University Press, Pakistan, ISBN 9780195479577 ,461pp.