Book Review: Islam’s role in the history of Pakistan

26th Apr 2019
Book Review: Islam’s role in the history of Pakistan

Islam in Pakistan, A History. By Muhammad Qasim Zaman.
Princeton University Press. 2018. HB. £30

The above book is a detailed exploration of Islam’s evolution in the South Asia sub-continent from the onset of British colonial rule to date. He, through his introductory chapter and Chapter one on the ‘Islamic Identities in Colonial India’, sets out the background and the evolving context of Islam and the various contending schools of thought within it.
Chapter two on ‘Modernism and its Ethical Commitments’ has traced the evolution of modernism and its impact on modern-day Pakistan since its beginning.

Chapter three on ‘The Ulama and the State’ and Chapter 4 on ‘Islamism and the Sovereignty of God’ are both thought-provoking and will challenge many readers in their own understanding of what constitutes an Islamic state or a Shari’ah based state.

Some of the key Islamic thinkers like Ghulam Ahmed Parwez, Fazlur Rahman, Maulana Mawdudi and others are discussed and their ideological viewpoints contrasted with.
Chapter five on ‘Religious Minorities and the Anxieties of an Islamic Identity’ are important to understand the cross-currents of contemporary Pakistan’s ‘Islamist’ politics and its impact on the myriad of communities living there.

Chapter six on ‘The Contested Terrain of Sufism’ will truly enlighten many about this very important trend in living Islam. Chapter 7 on ‘Religion, Violence and the State’ is a must read to understand the sometimes incomprehensible, and also to condemn, the mindless violence being unleashed on the innocent citizens of Pakistan in the name of Islam. The Epilogue summarises the key salients in a learned manner.

This book is a must read for all students and observers of Islam’s role in Pakistan. The author is the Robert H Niehaus ‘77 Professor of Near Eastern studies and Religion at the Princeton University. He has very competently, and with copious footnotes and references, examined how the different aspects of Islam have contributed to the emergence of modern world’s first religion-based nation-state, besides offering sweeping perspectives on what constitutes an Islamic state.

This particular reviewer would have benefited if the author had analysed on what role Islam had in the break-up of a united Pakistan in 1971 which then led to the separate creation of another Muslim majority nation-state called Bangladesh. He describes the emergence of Bangladesh events in one page in a book of 277 pages! Hopefully, the learned author in a future book will try to explain why Islam could not or failed to be the binding bond between the two disparate wings of Pakistan and why it had to lead to a genocidal war in 1971. It is so important to understand this particular aspect of political Islam’s failure in nation building as current events in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan amply testify.

All in all, certainly a good, easy book to read and warmly recommended to the readers of The Muslim News and others.

Rumman Ahmed

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