Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Muslims, not Arabs - By Arshi Saleem Hashmi

Since the 1970s, many factors have combined to make Pakistan a fertile ground for the Wahhabi creed exported by Saudi Arabia. How might the next generation of Pakistanis change this? By Arshi Saleem Hashmi (Published in the Friday Times, Pakistan's weekly Independent Newspaper)

SAVE Sister Arshi Saleem Hashmi

C. G. Jung beautifully describes the synthesizing Indo-Persian culture that historically shaped Muslim identity in the subcontinent in these words:
"The Taj symbolized an incredible flowering of the "delicate secret of the rose gardens of Shiraz and the silent patios of Arabian palaces... in the rich Indian earth"

- (Civilization in Transition, the Collective Works of C.G.Jung Vol. 10. P. 519-520)

The confusion over the Arabist shift with the Islamization process has led to the monolithic world view derived from Islamic orthodoxy and has become the guiding principle for many radical young minds in Pakistan. In Pakistan, our dilemma has been that domestic and international politics as well as societal issues are articulated in a purely religious idiom. Such Islamic indoctrination emphasizes that political and social developments are shaped primarily by the conflict-based interaction between Islam and other religions, especially Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. Instead of emphasizing the notion of Pakistan as a nation state based on cultural and religious pluralism, ideas like Islamic universalism, militancy and "Islam versus the rest" are highlighted by radical religious groups which have affected the psyche of the whole nation.

The Zia regime linked Arabism with Islam, not realizing or deliberately ignoring the fact that Islam is a religion, while "Arabism" is more of a cultural notion. "Islamization" of the society through "Arabization" was considered the right policy by the regime at that time. To ensure that the next generation of young Pakistanis was full of Islamic zeal and "well informed" of their glorious past, education was made the first casualty of this experiment.

Though the secular leadership of the Pakistan Movement emphasized the Muslim community, it never intended to create a theocratic Sunni state. The early death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah left the question of Islam's role in society unresolved. Pakistani leaders have frequently used religion to define state ideology. Historian Ayesha Jalal argues that this has led to Islam actually becoming a "divisive force in so far as it is being utilized by the state to deny people's rights or even to deny diversity."

Pakistan's constant socio-political upheavals have led to disillusionment among the masses. The youth is unable to see a promising future, and hence tries to attain solace in religion; and that is where radical religious organizations exploit them. It is historically true that a strong sense of grievance has reinforced Islam's role as a medium for asserting identity by its followers.

During the Cold War, while the state was defining religion for us, educational institutions under the guideline provided by the authorities were endorsing a false perception that Islam was spread through the sword (waging Jihad against infidels). Further, public opinion was made to reflect the idea that Arabism and Islam are complementary and mutually reinforcing. In their drive towards homogeneity and authenticity of Islam, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and the recipients of their money (non-Arab Islamic societies) equally emphasized 'Arabization' as the norm, the pure and ideal form of Islam to be followed by Muslims.

It is interesting that initially, the Sunni Bralevi groups were encouraged against progressive, liberal parties in order to create the "Islamic character" of the nation that was "lost "due to Bhutto's social democracy. But as they say, no one can survive without money for long, and neither did these groups.

The government needed money, and Saudi Arabia provided wealth with only one caveat: to encourage Wahhabi ideology in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region. One reason for this was to "serve" the religion whereas the other was purely geo-political, as Saudi Arabia wanted to have its influence in the region to counter Shiite Iran. The Arabi versus Ajami war was fought on our grounds. The US administration was satisfied as the Soviets were contained through Saudi Arabia without the need of a single US soldier on ground.

Historically, Wahhabism had never taken root in the region because it prohibited a lot of practices that were common to South Asian life. Wahhabism was largely confined to the Arabian Peninsula until the 1960s, when the Saudi monarchy gave refuge to radical members of the Muslim Brotherhood fleeing persecution in Nasser's Egypt. The isolated Wahhabi creed of the Saudi religious establishment and the Salafi jihadist teachings of Sayyid Qutb, who denounced secular Arab rulers as unbelievers and legitimate targets of holy war (jihad), were coordinated and co-opted. Thus it was the synthesis of Wahhabi social and cultural conservatism, and Qutbist political radicalism, that produced the militant variety of Wahhabist political Islam that eventually produced al-Qaeda.

During the 1970s, Wahhabi clerics encouraged the spread of their ideology into Saudi universities and mosques, because it was seen as a barrier to the threat of cultural Westernization and the spread of the corruption that accompanied the 1970s oil boom. The diversion that the royal family seized upon was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Wahhabism gained considerable influence in the Muslim world following a tripling in the price of oil in the mid-1970s.

The new Islamic identity was then the steady process of transformation from a secular, inclusive and an adaptive form of Islam to a more textual, ritualistic and exclusive one guided by exogenous forces, as ideas, practices and finances flowed in from the Arab world. The transformation brought about conflicts - not only within Islam with regard to its correct interpretation and desirable way of life, but also among Muslims and other countries.

Pakistan continued to grapple with the question of its identity - whether to be a secular democratic country for Muslims and other religious minorities or an Islamic state. Even now most Pakistanis remain vague about their faith. To most, Islam is intermixed with folk practices and Sufism.

Moderate non-Arab Muslims all over the world and Pakistanis in particular need to work towards reinventing a true synthesis of culture and religion rather than being influenced by Arabization to prove their true Islamic credentials. De-Arabization can help Pakistan ease relations with its immediate South and Central Asian neighbors with whom relations have been severely affected due to the deliberate association with Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, the more Pakistan tries to associate itself with the Arab world, the more it is reminded of its non-Arab credentials and its South Asian roots. The crisis in Pakistan has exposed the Arab lack of empathy vis-a-vis violent conflicts, natural disasters and health issues. Pakistan's position as a non-Arab, non Middle Eastern country that is not connected with Arab politics and culture is very clear among the Arabs. As columnist Rafia Zakaria has written: "This point, emphasized repeatedly in the coverage of Obama's speech by Al Jazeera, Al Arabiyya and other networks, should be worthy of note to Pakistanis. Not only did several Arab anchors refuse to acknowledge the refugee crisis and civil war in Pakistan as a pressing issue facing the Muslim world, they quite indifferently discarded it as something inconsequential to the Arab world."

Despite this attitude, Pakistani political-religious parties as well as radical militant groups are all praise for the "Brother Arab" countries, whose only display of brotherly attitude is showering these organizations and political parties with millions of dollars of zakat money. This should be enough to remind the so-called "Arabist" proponents that for Arabs, South Asian Muslims are just another underdeveloped community, which needs to be purified by an Arabist shift in their culture.

The long-term solution to the problem of identity would require massive changes in the fundamental agents of socialization of Pakistan's polity. Pakistan at present faces the challenge of reinventing itself both at the state level as well as the societal level. More so, it needs to adopt a top-down approach to reform and reconstruct the conceptual and ideological orientation to undo the state's enforcement of a particular sect of Islam.

If society appears indifferent about the nature of religiosity, it is not because people want it that way, but because there is a great deal of confusion that can only be removed if the state starts to patronize a pluralist society. This can be done through reforming of education syllabi, media programs and free intellectual discourse on religion and culture in the Pakistani context.

The key question is this: how far will the new generation differ from the one that was lost to orthodoxy and militancy?

Click on the following Link to view the original article

No comments:

Post a Comment

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS