Pakistan’s urgent need: a new Islamic movement

Developing Just Leadership


Jumada' al-Ula' 04, 1420 1999-08-16


by Editor (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 12, Jumada' al-Ula', 1420)

It is difficult to believe, surveying Pakistan’s 52-year history, that when the country was founded in 1947, Islamic activists all over the world looked to it for leadership and inspiration. The unique and special place Pakistan has in the affections of millions of Muslims who have no direct association with it is also remarkable. This month, however, the country’s annual ‘Pakistan Day’ celebrations on August 14 (after Crescent press-time) must inevitably be overshadowed by the government’s recent humiliation over Kargil. It is no exaggeration to argue that Pakistan is now weaker than ever before in its history.

The reasons for Pakistan’s calamitous history are not difficult to trace. They lie in the self-interested and ‘west-toxicated’ rulers who have milked the country dry; the avarice of its elites; and the use and abuse of the western powers that these leaders and elites have taken as masters. Pakistan’s rulers sold themselves and their country to the highest bidder; and the US (along with proxies such as the Saudi regime) has repeatedly sold both them and their country down the river. After the US’s latest blow, the Washington Agreement about Kargil, with the country economically dependent on western financial bodies, and politically and militarily unable to defend its interests against any outsiders, Pakistan’s very survival over the next few years cannot be assumed.

A secondary reason has been the failure of Pakistan’s Islamic movement to challenge the elites and make Pakistan into an Islamic state, as India’s Muslim masses were promised during the Pakistan movement. The Jama’at-e Islami, led by Maulana Maududi until his death in 1979, fell into the trap of becoming a political party within the western nation-state system. Other Islamic movements usually fell into the error of taking foreign powers as friends. The pro-Taliban Jami’at Ulama-e Islam, led by Maulana Fazalur Rahman, is the latest contender, and its anti-Americanism is at least a welcome change. But its narrow understanding of Islam bodes ill; it has tended to divide Pakistan’s Muslims more than uniting them, and, like the Taliban, it seems to lack both basic Islamic compassion and an understanding of how to build an Islamic society.

This failure in Pakistan is perhaps surprising considering the massive popular support Imam Khomeini and Iran’s Islamic Revolution found there (support which probably contributed considerably to the west’s determination to keep the country weak). The Iranian model, of total socio-political Islamic revolution and the establishment of a state based on Islamic standards of political legitimacy and total independence from foreign interference, is one Pakistani Islamic groups would do well to emulate, instead of trying to work within the existing system.

The only possible alternative model would be that of Sudan. For the last ten years, since the coup which brought general (now president) Omar Bashir to power in 1989, Sudan’s Islamic groups has worked to Islamize Sudanese society with the regime’s co-operation. Many people have been sceptical about this approach, arguing that institutionalised Islamic control over the tools of government ï the establishment of an Islamic political system ï is essential. This is undoubtedly true; until the polity in Sudan is restructured along Islamic lines, the permanence of Sudan’s ‘Islamicity’ cannot be assured. Nonetheless, the work of Sudan’s Islamic movement, under Shaikh Hasan al-Turabi, demands respect. The disadvantage of the Sudan approach is that it is open to exploitation by unscrupulous politicians, such as general Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan; his example contributed massively to the scepticism about Sudan. The Sudan approach can only possibly be a halfway-house to a total socio-political revolution such as that in Iran.

Pakistan does not yet have an Islamic movement capable of following these approaches, particularly as it would be brutally opposed by the west. A broad-based and unifying Islamic movement that can draw all parts of Pakistan’s community together on the basis of the things all Muslims have in common - setting aside the far smaller things that divide us - is long overdue, and must surely emerge quickly if Pakistan’s apparently inexorable slide is to be halted. The global Islamic movement must do everything possible to help such a movement emerge; the possible alternatives are too grim even to contemplate.

Muslimedia: August 16-31, 1999

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