The first book to explore the modern history of Islam in South Asia
The first modern state to be founded in the name of Islam, Pakistan was the largest Muslim country in the world at the time of its establishment in 1947. Today it is the second-most populous, after Indonesia. Islam in Pakistan is the first comprehensive book to explore Islam's evolution in this region over the past century and a half, from the British colonial era to the present day. Muhammad Qasim Zaman presents a rich historical account of this major Muslim nation, insights into the rise and gradual decline of Islamic modernist thought in the South Asian region, and an understanding of how Islam has fared in the contemporary world.
Much attention has been given to Pakistan's role in sustaining the Afghan struggle against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, in the growth of the Taliban in the 1990s, and in the War on Terror after 9/11. But as Zaman shows, the nation's significance in matters relating to Islam has much deeper roots. Since the late nineteenth century, South Asia has witnessed important initiatives toward rethinking core Islamic texts and traditions in the interest of their compatibility with the imperatives of modern life. Traditionalist scholars and their institutions, too, have had a prominent presence in the region, as have Islamism and Sufism. Pakistan did not merely inherit these and other aspects of Islam. Rather, it has been and remains a site of intense contestation over Islam's public place, meaning, and interpretation.
Examining how facets of Islam have been pivotal in Pakistani history, Islam in Pakistan offers sweeping perspectives on what constitutes an Islamic state.
About the Author
Muhammad QasimZaman is the Robert H. Niehaus '77 Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Religion at Princeton University. His books include The Ulamain Contemporary Islam (Princeton) and Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age.
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Islamic Identities in Colonial India
An Islamic Mosaic
South Asia has been home for centuries to rich traditions of learning in the Islamic foundational texts as well as law, theology, and philosophy. Yet, it is a remarkable fact that the doctrinal orientations that now dominate Sunni Islam in South Asia all took their distinctive shape only during colonial rule in the late nineteenth century. Shi'ism, too, underwent significant change during this period. How did members of these rival orientations interact with one another? How do these orientations relate to facets of Islam in earlier times? In what ways were Islam and Muslim politics in colonial India shaped by political and other developments in the wider Muslim world? And how, in late colonial India, did the movement for a separate Muslim homeland both develop and navigate its way through this fraught religio-political landscape? In addressing such questions, it is important to avoid a teleological view that would have this landscape necessarily result in the religio-political contestations that are the subject of the following chapters. At the same time, as will be observed, subsequent developments in Pakistan cannot be adequately understood without reference to it.
I begin with the orientations that might broadly be characterized as traditionalist, in that they are premised on a self-conscious continuity with a scholarly tradition that extends back into the formative period of Islam. This is a tradition represented by the 'ulama, the religious scholars who have long seen their vocation as the preservation and transmission of religious knowledge and the concomitant guidance of lay people in its light. The first of these orientations in South Asia's Sunni Islam came to be associated with a madrasa established in 1866 in the north Indian town of Deoband. Inaugurated less than a decade after the formal establishment of British colonial rule over India, the madrasa represented the idea that the Muslim community's beliefs and practices had to be reordered in light of the foundational texts and rooted in unswerving fidelity to Islamic legal norms. What was perhaps most notable about this vision was not the appeal to the need for reform, of which there had been many earlier expressions in and outside India, but rather the underlying view that a reinvigorated Islamic identity offered the most effective means of coping with the radically changed world in which the Muslims of India had come to find themselves. It was by learning to be true to their Islamic commitments that Muslims could survive the adversity and the dislocations of life under colonial rule, and it was the calling of those associated with the madrasa at Deoband to inculcate proper Islamic norms among people while continuing longstanding traditions of Islamic scholarship.
What were these dislocations? Centuries of Muslim rule had come to an end with the abortive Mutiny of 1857. Although many among the 'ulama had long maintained a certain distance from the royal court, the existence of Muslim rulers had been taken for granted and deemed necessary for the implementation of the shari'a. Even rulers whose policies and lifestyles did not conform much to Islamic prescriptions appointed Muslim judges — qadis — as well as other judicial and religious functionaries, and even those among the scholars and the Sufis who did not frequent royal courts could indirectly benefit from the largesse of the rich and powerful. Two of India's Muslim neighbors, Iran and Afghanistan, escaped colonial rule. Several other Muslim countries — for instance, Egypt and Morocco — managed to retain at least the formal trappings of Muslim rule even when they came to be governed by European powers. India, on the other hand, was subjected to the full force and effects of colonialism, the only exception being pockets of Indian regions that were left by the British to the governance of hereditary indigenous rulers, some of whom happened to be Muslim. The onset of colonial rule meant, among other things, the establishment of a new legal system, one that was administered according to the norms of English common law even when it allowed facets of the shari'a to govern matters of personal status — notably, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. It also required that those dependent on the patronage of the erstwhile Muslim ruling elite had to fend for themselves in other ways. An entire culture and way of life were in peril.
Deoband was a response to the establishment of colonial rule, but it was not a revolt against it. The madrasa in the town of that name and numerous others all over India that soon began to be patterned on it were more indebted to the model of English public schools — classrooms, an academic calendar, a fixed curriculum, annual examinations — than they were to the institutions that had previously existed in India or elsewhere. Some of those associated with the management and support of these madrasas were themselves lower-ranking officials in the colonial bureaucracy. British officials did have their suspicions of such institutions, and there inevitably were those within them, as well as doctrinal rivals outside, whose words and actions could give substance to such suspicions. Many Deobandis were nonetheless keen to affirm loyalty to the British, and it was not before the second decade of the twentieth century that the Deobandis became active in colonial politics.
Loyal or not, there could be no mistaking that Deoband sought to represent an alternative to the conditions in which Muslims of colonial India found themselves. It was an alternative articulated in religious terms, but it had other dimensions too, and these included not just the political, to which we will come later, but also the socioeconomic. The Deobandis did not refuse such patronage as came their way, from an Afghan king or the rulers of the Muslim princely states of Hyderabad and Bhopal — the sort of patronage that would have sustained madrasas in earlier times as well. However, they depended primarily on the support of ordinary members of the community. Even meager donations by large numbers of people could go far toward generating the funds that were necessary for the upkeep of these relatively modest institutions. In turn, such fundraising helped foster networks of supporters and gave them a stake that they had not had before in the continuance of these institutions. This model of support has helped sustain madrasas in South Asia since colonial times and not just those of the Deobandis. It has undergirded their growth even as it has made it difficult for governments to regulate their financial and other affairs, much more so than would have been the case if they were tied, say, to landed endowments or other clearly identifiable sources of funding.
The second orientation that has come, since colonial times, to occupy a large space in modern South Asian Sunnism is associated with Ahmad Riza Khan (d. 1921) of Bareilly, a town in north India. The Barelawis, as they are commonly characterized, stand in marked contrast to the Deobandis. They have had their own madrasas, where hadith, Islamic law, and other religious sciences are studied. But they are best known not for scholarship in these areas but rather for Sufi and other devotional practices centered on the shrines and persons of holy men. Though the Deobandis have also had considerable space for Sufi piety in their doctrinal orientation, the world of the Barelawis was and remains a significantly more enchanted one. The Prophet is deemed not merely to be a source of normative teachings, but a living presence, and supplication to the saints is a regular feature of Barelawi practice. This style of religiosity has deep roots in South Asian Islam. Ahmad Riza Khan had tried to give it a new respectability both by preaching against particular practices that he viewed as blurring the boundaries between Islam and Hinduism and by defending particular practices against Deobandi and other critics. It was his followers who continued in the proper ways of earlier Muslims, he said, and they were the true Sunnis, not those others whose puritanical attitudes amounted to a break with the past and a profound disrespect toward some of Islam's holiest personages.
The Barelawis are in some ways the most traditionalist of the Sunni orientations to emerge in colonial India. Indeed, despite their association with a colonial-era figure, their emergence had more to do with their doctrinal rivals and the desire to stand their ground against them than it did with their own beliefs and practices, which had a long history in Indian Islam. It also had to do of course with the conditions of colonial rule. As will be observed, print and other technologies allowed Ahmad Riza Khan, no less than his rivals, to reach new audiences, and the ever-growing number of madrasas enabled the Barelawis to train new generations of 'ulama on a larger scale and with a greater measure of standardization than could have been possible earlier. The increasing awareness — fostered in part by ubiquitous colonial practices of enumeration and classification — of the existence of a large Hindu majority in India also necessitated that a distinctive Muslim identity be articulated in opposition to it, the more so in a milieu in which the rivals of the Barelawis alleged that their practices were insufficiently distinguishable from those of the polytheists. For all that, there are important substantive and rhetorical continuities between the devotionalism of the colonial Barelawis and earlier traditions of Sufi-inflected piety. Indeed, it would be difficult to account for the prominence of the Barelawi orientation in colonial India without recognizing that what it represented in many cases was a new name for a complex of long-standing devotional and customary practices.
Deoband, by contrast, was often self-conscious in distinguishing itself from existing practice. Its reform consisted precisely in such distinction. Yet, the success of the Deobandis in colonial India owed itself not merely to a new organizational model but also to the fact that they, too, could make credible claims to a sense of continuity with the past. The learning their madrasas imparted was aligned with a long-standing tradition. Deobandi reformism gave pride of place to the study of hadith, which had a venerable history in India. A key figure in the Deobandi genealogy was the great eighteenth-century north Indian hadith scholar Shah Wali Allah (d. 1762), whose significance has rested not only on his magisterial writings or the scholarly networks his distinguished family spawned but also on the fact that he has come to be seen as a crucial link in the onward transmission of religious learning from earlier times. This last point is best appreciated by noting that, despite a thriving book culture, the authenticity and authority of hadith texts has continued well into modern times to depend on a chain of identifiable human links going back all the way to Muhammad. In early modern South Asia, Wali Allah was the most prestigious of them. The Deobandis have been important in extending Wali Allah's intellectual influence to new circles; in turn, Wali Allah's image as one of the most important of precolonial India's religious scholars and reformers has served to give credibility and historical depth to the Deobandi enterprise.
The least traditionalist of the conservative Sunni orientations to emerge in colonial South Asia is that of the Ahl-i Hadith. In marked contrast with the Deobandis and the Barelawis, both of whom adhere to the Hanafi school of Sunni law, the Ahl-i Hadith reject the authority of all such schools (madhhabs) and therefore of a legal tradition that has guided Muslim societies since the ninth century. To the Deobandis and the Barelawis, a Hanafi identity has meant working within the framework of the rules, norms, and methods associated with past scholars of this school of law — of submitting to their overarching authority (taqlid). The Ahli Hadith, by contrast, view taqlid as investing fallible humans with an authority that belongs only to God and the Prophet Muhammad. To them, this is not very different from the abhorrent "saint-worshipping" practices of the pirs — claimants to Sufi authority — and their ignorant followers. Instead, they insist on a purity of belief that replicates that of Islam's first generations, the salaf (hence their common designation as the Salafis), and on direct recourse to the Islamic foundational texts, as opposed to approaching those texts through the distorting lenses of a long-standing legal tradition.
This is not to say, however, that the Ahl-i Hadith lack their own authoritative figures from the past. In the eighteenth century, Wali Allah had argued against the rigidity of the boundaries between the Sunni schools of law and in favor of ijtihad — that is, the derivation of new legal rulings, as needed, in light of the foundational texts. Although he had not gone quite so far as the Ahl-i Hadith, the latter, too, see him as an important figure in their own genealogy. Given the centrality of the Prophet's teachings to their doctrinal orientation, earlier scholars and commentators of hadith are also crucial links in the Ahl-i Hadith understanding of their scholarly tradition. Indeed, Siddiq Hasan Khan (d. 1890), a leading Ahl-i Hadith scholar of the late nineteenth century whose career had taken an unexpected turn with his marriage to the ruler of the princely state of Bhopal, had utilized some of the resources that had thereby come his way to sponsor the printing and dissemination of classical and early modern commentaries on hadith. He had also written commentaries of his own on the Qur'an and hadith, as did some other Ahl-i Hadith scholars of the colonial era. Theirs is a far less colorful tradition than that of the Barelawis, but it is a tradition nonetheless.
The Shi'a of colonial India reveal notable similarities with their Sunni rivals, though these need to be seen against the background of some obvious differences. By far the most numerous of the Shi'a were, and are, the Imamis or Ithna 'asharis ("Twelvers"), who, unlike the Sunnis as well as other Shi'i orientations, believe in twelve divinely appointed imams. The last of these imams is believed to have gone into occultation in the late ninth century and is awaited as the promised mahdi or messiah. Several ruling dynasties in precolonial India were Shi'i, but the Shi'a as a whole comprised a minority of the total Muslim population in South Asia. Since the eighteenth century, the region of Awadh in what under the British became part of the United Provinces (UP) was ruled by a wealthy Shi'i dynasty, with its patronage of Shi'i causes extending to the revered Shi'i shrine cities of southern Iraq. Lucknow, the capital of this princely state, would remain the center of Shi'i learning and culture in colonial times even as it emerged as a theater of growing conflict with the Sunnis.
Within decades of the formal establishment of British rule, Shi'i madrasas had begun to be established in UP and elsewhere with organizational features similar to those of Deobandi and other Sunni institutions. Cadres of 'ulama trained at these madrasas built on centuries-old traditions of Shi'i learning all while benefiting from the opportunities provided to them by colonial rule. Much like the Sunni madrasas, Shi'i institutions came to impart learning in ways that were more standardized than had been the case earlier, and they too showed a greater awareness than before of the need to distinguish themselves from other Muslims. An All India Shi'a Conference began as well to hold annual meetings from 1907, with attendees drawn from across the Indian subcontinent. Though riven from its first years by tensions between the Shi'i 'ulama and their critics, this institution, along with many others, had a role in shaping a distinct Shi'i identity in colonial India. For instance, its delegates were regularly tasked during its early years with visiting different parts of the country to report on the state of the Shi'a living there — the number of mosques and centers of devotional practice (imambargahs) in particular locales, the degree to which Shi'i rituals were observed by people, the economic condition of the community, and so forth. The conditions in question were frequently stated to be grim. As the honorary secretary of the conference observed in 1911, basing himself on his travels in India over the previous two years, "in some places there is no one to lead the funeral prayer, marriages do not take place in accordance with the prescriptions of the sinless imams, and people are not acquainted with basic matters relating to prayer and fasting." Such assessments could be emotionally powerful, and they helped undergird unceasing appeals for Shi'i self-awareness, organization, networking, and fundraising. None of this was unique to the Shi'a.
Excerpted from "Islam in Pakistan"
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Table of Contents
A Note on Transliteration, Spelling, Abbreviations, and Other Conventions xi
Chapter 1 Islamic Identities in Colonial India 14
Chapter 2 Modernism and Its Ethical Commitments 54
Chapter 3 The Ulama and the State 95
Chapter 4 Islamism and the Sovereignty of God 135
Chapter 5 Religious Minorities and the Anxieties of an Islamic Identity 164
Chapter 6 The Contested Terrain of Sufism 195
Chapter 7 Religion, Violence, and the State 226