Returning to the Idea of Pakistani Nationalism

Written By: Nadeem F. Paracha

After the complete fall of the Muslim empire in India in the 19th century CE, most Muslim thinkers responded to the fall rebuffing the putrefying reminiscences of their imperial past. They began to espouse certain notions of nationalism to find their place in the shifting standards of global order.
One main outlet of early Muslim nationalism in South Asia encouraged the embracement of ‘modern education’ and the sciences so that an educated and informed Muslim nation could emerge in India to face the challenges of British colonialism and the rise of Hindu nationalism.


This pursuit was academically driven by an emerging Muslim middle-class. It saw the Muslims of India as a distinct cultural unit, united by an urge to refresh its shared faith through a more rational reading of the Muslim sacred texts.

 

returinigtoidea.jpgA major element of this Muslim nationalism also undermined pan-Islamism because it believed that the ethos and social demeanor of Muslim culture in South Asia was largely separate from how Islam had evolved elsewhere. Pakistani nationalism, which emerged from this strand of Muslim nationalism, was thus inherently pluralistic. But politically it was exclusivist. Till the mid-1970s, the government and state institutions of Pakistan continued to explain Pakistani nationalism as a modernistic and progressive expression of Islam.


But some dire happenings, such as the East Pakistan debacle in 1971, split the Pakistani polity. An insistent feature of this polarization began to be expressed through certain convoluted pan-Islamist alternatives. These alternatives succeeded in prompting a popular response from a new generation of middle and lower-middle-class Pakistanis impacted by the 1971 debacle. The emerging pan-Islamic aspect of the changing notion of Pakistani nationalism was also backed by certain oil-rich Arab regimes who had seen modern Muslim nationalism as a hazard to their idea of faith and politics.


As a reaction to the mounting acceptance of this alternative version of Pakistani nationalism, the Pakistani state began to readjust the country’s ideological status quo by co-opting various features of pan-Islamism; even to the extent of forgoing many of the state’s original ideas of Pakistani nationalism. The gaps created by the gradual attrition of the original nationalist narrative began being filled by ideas which, ironically, had been shelved by the early Pakistani and Muslim nationalist intelligentsia.


The emerging alternative was opposed to the original Muslim nationalist narrative. It censured it for going against ‘Islamic universalism’. But many decades after such ideas managed to root themselves in the state and polity of Pakistan, the country was thrown in an existentialist catastrophe. For instance, many young Pakistanis today seem to be detached from the original ideas of Pakistani nationalism because as students they were bombarded by ideas of an amalgamated pan-Islamic version of Pakistani nationalism. A version which was never a part of the idea of Pakistani nationalism weaved by the country’s founders.

A refreshed version of the original notions of Pakistani nationalism just might help future generations of the country to feel more self-assured of being entities defined by their shared cultural heritage of a region that was encapsulated and bordered by coherent nationalist notions of state and society — and not as some convoluted bastion to bump-start a theological utopia from.

Many young Pakistani men and women are not quite sure what being a Pakistani today means. Does it mean being a citizen of a Muslim country which emerged along the mighty River Indus and is part of this area’s 5000-year-old history; or does it mean being a citizen of a pending universal theological idea?


Such a muddled mindset was impelled by the steady corrosion of the original idea of Pakistani nationalism, and the upsurge of a rather ambitious concept of a divergent idea of nationalism. This has also made a whole generation vulnerable to the ways of those who are now promising the same convoluted theological utopia, but through unparalleled violence against the state and its citizens.


Even though the Pakistani state now seems to have accepted the fact that much of the sectarian, ethnic and religious violence of the past many decades has been nurtured by a rather complicated and divergent version of Pakistan’s nationalist narrative (which we have been touting ever since the 1970s) there is still uncertainty about what could such a deep-seated narrative be replaced with.


I believe the solution is present in the increasingly elapsed elements of early Pakistani nationalism. A refreshed version of the original notions of Pakistani nationalism just might help future generations of the country to feel more self-assured of being entities defined by their shared cultural heritage of a region that was encapsulated and bordered by coherent nationalist notions of state and society — and not as some convoluted bastion to bump-start a theological utopia from.

 

The writer is a Pakistani journalist, cultural critic and satirist. He is the author of a detailed book on Pakistan’s ideological, political & social history, called ‘End of the Past.’

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The great majority of us Muslims. We follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).... But make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it. Islam demands from us the tolerance of other creeds and we welcome in closest association with us all those who, of whatever creed, are themselves willing and ready to play their part as true and loyal citizens of Pakistan.

(Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Broadcast talk to the people of Australia, 19 February 1948)

 
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