Pakistan’s ‘culture of Jihad’

BBC, Aug. 5, 2002

By Roger Hardy

Islamic affairs analyst

BBC Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy visits Pakistan in his continuing series on Islam and modernity.

Of all the countries visited in this series – Iran, Turkey, Egypt – Pakistan’s situation is the most perilous.
Under the pressure of events since the 11 September last year, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is trying to eradicate the extremism which has taken root in his country over the last 20 years or so.

So who and what created the culture of “jihad” – or holy war – which General Musharraf has pledged to destroy, and can he succeed in destroying it?

As the country celebrates 55 years of existence, there is still fierce debate over its character and identity as a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

Above all, the debate centres on whether Pakistan should be a religious or a secular state.

So how did Mohamed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, see Islam? It was a question I put to the writer and journalist Khaled Ahmed.

“I don’t think he studied Islamic jurisprudence in any great detail, because, as a lawyer, he never dealt with that. I personally believe that he never thought that Islam and secularism would clash,” Mr Ahmed said.

“He thought that Islam would flourish in Pakistan, together with other religions. But he was certain that the state will not become religious and will not take sides. He had that kind of secularism.”

There is persuasive evidence that Jinnah was a modern-minded secularist.

But ever since his death – shortly after the birth of the new state – there has been a tug-of-war over his legacy.

Islamists – Muslims who view Islam as a political ideology – have not been slow in claiming him as one of their own.

This tussle is at the heart of Pakistan’s search for a modern identity.

While most Pakistanis would say Islam was very important to them, there is no consensus over the role religion should play in government and law.

Historically there have been two Islams in the Indian subcontinent.

There’s the Barelwi tradition – the Islam of the shrine – and the more orthodox, more puritanical Deobandi tradition.

At the time of independence, the Barelwis were dominant. But as Pakistan grew, the Deobandi sect became stronger.

The Deobandis received a big boost in the 1980s, when the country’s military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, introduced a programme of what he called “Islamisation”.

General Zia subordinated the constitution to the body of Islamic law known as the Sharia.

He also introduced the controversial “zina” law, under which a woman convicted of adultery can be stoned to death – provided four righteous Muslim men have witnessed the illicit act.

The sentence has never been carried out. But that is scant comfort to feminists, who point out that the “zina” law obliterates any distinction between adultery and rape.

In a recent case, a woman who alleged rape by a relative found herself accused, and convicted, of adultery.

Changing the law was only part of General Zia’s “Islamisation” programme.

One of his most fateful decisions was to turn many of the country’s madrasas, or religious colleges, into factories of jihad.

In the 1980s, these madrasas produced thousands of young men who went off to fight the Soviet forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The war helped the West defeat the Soviet Union – and earned Zia a huge windfall of American dollars and Saudi petrodollars.

But it also spawned both the Taleban – the puritanical Islamic movement which took over Afghanistan in the mid-1990s – and Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, the group America holds responsible for the 11 September attacks.

And one of the side-effects of this Afghan war was to create a “culture of jihad” within Pakistan itself – a culture the current military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, is struggling to uproot.

So can General Musharraf change the minds of young Pakistanis like these?

In a speech a few months ago, he called for a different kind of jihad – a jihad for education and science.
Hamid Gul – the Islamist and former general – acknowledges that, historically, Muslim scholars have distinguished between two kinds of jihad, which literally means “struggle” – peaceful struggle and armed struggle.

But he insists it is a Muslim’s duty to take up arms in a just cause.

But the reality is that Muslims will go on debating the meaning of jihad, just as they have for centuries – and Pakistani Muslims will go on debating why Jinnah’s dream of a Muslim renaissance in the Indian subcontinent has remained unfulfilled.

Religious violence has ravaged Pakistan during the last 20 years.

General Musharraf has pledged to eradicate it – and the West badly wants him to succeed.

Pakistani liberals, too, want the culture of jihad to be uprooted – but they are not sure an unelected military ruler is the right man for the task
The irony is not lost on Pakistanis that the West – which supported General Zia in the 1980s – is now supporting another Pakistani general in an effort to reverse course.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 7, 2002.
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