The Reluctant Fundamentalist : Pakistan and the Use of Religion
The book The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid follows the life of Changez, a Pakistani man who comes to the United States in search of opportunity - The Reluctant Fundamentalist : Pakistan and the Use of Religion introduction. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, he finds that he is viewed differently by Americans. Changez serves as an example of the tensions existing in Pakistan between Islam and modernity in a global setting. In this paper I will argue that the state used religion to serve political needs in Pakistan’s birth, development of its government policies and its modern educational practices.
Since the partition of India, there were signs that Islamic movements were demanding creation of a nation. Allama Iqbal, a philosopher of Muslim India, is credited with articulating the idea that only creating an Islamic state the Islamic society could be preserved. Iqbal also viewed Islam as a binding force, which would integrate the Muslim community consisting of various ethnic and linguistic origins, thus making his view of nationalism both ideological as well as territorial.
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In 1940, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, passed the Lahore resolution, a political statement adopted by the Muslim League demanding the creation of independent states for Muslims. The majority of the congress were non-religious and opposed the division, however the idea was taken up by the Hindu and Muslim masses. In a short amount of time the Muslim League mobilized the Muslim population behind the slogan of “Pakistan- a nation for Muslims”.
Religion was always described as the most important basis of Muslim nationhood, but it is noteworthy that in Pakistan’s case, Islam was used as a way to foster group identity with the intent of mobilizing the masses. The actual belief system of Islam did not play a significant role in the pre-independence days, since the Muslim League did not appeal to the ulama (Muslims legal scholars).
Pakistan was created in 1947, and it hardly had any national unity: they did not speak the same language or have a homogenous culture, making it obvious that the creation of Pakistan as a nation was influenced more by a well articulated ideology during the pre-independence era rather than by ethnic and religious ideas. In retrospect, one can say that Pakistan was created as a reaction from Hindu nationalism using religion as a predominant force for patriotism. Islamic fundamentalism has become influential in Pakistan in the past twenty years.
The ruling class has managed to combine religion and state with the intent to make a semi-theocratic nation in order to justify unelected regimes and deny rights to minorities. In 1978, through a military coup, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Hiaq, took control of Pakistani government and passed Islamic laws, planting a seed for Islamic fundamentalism. After decades of exploitation of religion by autocrats, the poor majority started to believe that if Islam was the solution for all the problems then the power should be given to those who are most publicly devout.
This idea of Islamic politics was present since the creation of Pakistan, by a group called Jimat-ul-Ulema-Islam (JUI) leaded by Abul A’la Maududi. Maududi was a supporter of Sharia law. It was not until 2009 that a Sharia law passed. Islam is again, used to justify military coups and political rhetoric just as it had been used in Pakistan birth, proving that religion has more strategic importance rather than personal devotion. Schools across Pakistan serve as the battleground for strategy and devotion. The government funds Madrassas, which are religious schools.
These schools, with estimated 2. 5 million to 3. 5 million students, are forming the way young man are thinking and interacting with the world. Recent studies exemplify this, when over ninety percent of the young population (between 18 and 29 years old) is in favor of having a Sharia law. The high population in Madrassas comes from the lack of choice poor families experience: they can either chose between going to Madrassas, where the child will have food shelter and a job after finishing, or child labor, and understandably parents choose education.
These families are also told that by going to these schools, they are guaranteed a place in heaven. The fundamentalist government, which encouraged Madrassas, ensured they would have a never-ending supply of supporters. They are counting on these supporters to partake on political and public discourse, celebrating their teachings. This year, journalist Andrew Buncombe asserted that these schools are brainwashing students with a vision of a glorious Islamic past and blinding them form the sordid reality of Islamic fundamentalist politics.
Though dramatic in his analysis, Buncombe’s statement holds some weight. Once again, Islam is merely a tool in the hands of the state. In conclusion, the Pakistani state used Islam to serve its purposes rather than the needs of the people. In the creation of the nation, Islam was used to create unity and nationalism. During the cold war, Islam was used again to justify a military coup. Finally, in recent years Islam is been used as ways of creating nostalgia of what was taught to be a great nation. The Madrassas continue to spread the fundamentalist political ideals.
This leads us to the question, where does the rise of fundamentalism come from? It could be linked to either fear of terrorism that Pakistan has experienced in the last years, the post 9/11 attitudes from the West, making Pakistanis want to raise a nationalist flag, or even from the fact that two countries with fundamentalism government, Iran and Afghanistan, surround Pakistan, providing influence on the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. My argument is a cynical view of Islam in Pakistan, and I want to recognize that there are true believers.
Fundamentalists are bringing good to the nation as well, opening hospitals and social projects that benefit the poor population. Pakistan’s story is not over, and just because Western style government is upheld as ideal, does not mean that it actually is, or that other types of government cannot work. To return to where we started, Changez left his homeland aware of its brokenness, but finds himself rejected by the West. He returns to an increasingly Islamic state as a reluctant fundamentalist. Works Cited Buncombe, Andrew. “Pakistan’s Youth Favour Sharia Law and Military Rule Over Democratic Governance.
” The Independent, April 03, 2013. Islam, Nassir. ““Islam and National Identity: The Case of Pakistan and Bangladesh,”. ” International Journal of Middle East Studies 13 (1981): 55-56. n. d. “A Mosque by Any Other Name. ” The Economist, January 13, 2010. Sulehria, Farooq. “Islamic Funamentalism in Pakistan. ” International Journal of Socialist Renewal, 2009. Talbot, Ian. Pakistan: A Modern History. Palgrave Macmillan , 1998. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Ian Talbot, Pakistan: A Modern History, (Palgrace Macmillan, 1998). [ 2 ].
Nasir Islam, “Islam and National Identity: The Case of Pakistan and Bangladesh,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 13 (1981): 55-56. [ 3 ]. Islam, 57. [ 4 ]. “A mosque by any other name,” The Economist (Jan. 13 2010). [ 5 ]. Farooq Sulehria, “Islamic Funamentalism in Pakistan,”International Journal of Socialist Renewal (2009). [ 6 ]. Farooq Sulehria, “Islamic Funamentalism in Pakistan,”International Journal of Socialist Renewal (2009). [ 7 ]. Andrew Buncombe,” Pakistan’s youth favour Sharia law and military rule over democratic governance. ,” The Independent (April 03 2013) [ 8 ]. Suhleria, (2009)