Activist Islam in Pakistan: Post 2

Continuing from where I left off with Al-Muhajabah’s “A field guide to Islamic activists”:

Second, we can look at recent developments in Islamic thought in Pakistan as a whole. Pakistan was created in 1948 as a state for the Muslims of India after India won its independence from Britain. The Muslims had been an active part of this struggle for independence; in fact, the roots of their struggle go back to the 1700s when Britain was first colonizing India. In concert with the political struggle for independence there was a renaissance in Islamic thought, which is popularly associated with the Dar al-Ulum (University of Islamic Sciences) of Deoband, India, and is thus called “Deobandi” (the Deobandis were mentioned briefly above.)

Partition of India into two countries was part of the independence package from Britain in August 1947. I won’t go into the details (or even the desirability) of Partition since Aziz will talk of the “conceit of Jinnah” and Zachary Latif will talk of the greatness of Pakistan as compared to India.

I should mention here that Dar-ul-Ulum, Deoband was not the only school of Islamic thought in India/Pakistan at the time. There were a number of others taking different approaches. I plan to go into some detail of that later.

After Pakistan achieved independence, the Deobandi movement gave rise to a new offshoot. The founder of this was Abu’l-Aala Maududi. Like Qutb, Maududi had his own new vision of Islam. It also was centered around the struggle (jihad) against the oppressive forces. Maududi felt that Pakistan might have escaped the political domination of Britain, but it was still suffering under the cultural oppression of the West (i.e., secularism) and that the struggle must continue in order to establish a truly Islamic state as the Prophet (pbuh) had done. Maududi founded the Jamaat-i-Islami (Islamic Group), a political party dedicated to establishing Islamic law in Pakistan.

Maududi can be considered an offshoot of the Deobandi movement since his education and early affiliation was with them. In the 1920s, he was the editor of two newspapers published by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (Party of the scholars of India), the religio-political party of the Deobandis. He diverged soon however with his writings. [A brief biography is available at the website of the political party he founded, Jamaat-e-Islami. I’ll try to find some better references online soon.] He founded his party Jamaat-e-Islami in the 1940s somewhat before the founding of Pakistan. Originally, it was supposed to stay away from politics. When Maududi decided to take part in politics after Pakistan was founded, a faction of his party, including I believe Dr. Israr Ahmad, broke off.

The word “taliban” is Arabic for “students” and the Taliban are so named because they were students at the religious colleges in western Pakistan. Maududi’s Jamaat-i-Islami had originally established many religious colleges as part of its own struggle against the secularism of Pakistani society, and Azzam had been teaching his militant version of Islam in Baluchistan since the crisis first erupted in Afghanistan, and working among the youth of Afghanistan. It would be a small thing to send them off to Peshawar or Quetta to learn the religious justifications before they came back to begin the actual armed struggle. This is what the Taliban have come out of.

Well, not really. Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) hasn’t really been strong in NWFP or Balochistan. They are more of an urban party with support in parts of Punjab (the province with about 60% of the population of Pakistan) and Karachi (the largest city). Plus the Taliban did not come out of Maududi’s madrassas. JI definitely played a role in the Afghanistan war. However, they supported Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami. Remember Hekmetyar? He was the darling of the Pakistani ISI (Interservices Intelligence) liked and provided the most weapons to. After the communists were driven out of power and the mujahideen started fighting each other, the major fighting was between Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masud. Masud controlled Kabul and so Hekmatyar’s forces completely destroyed it by continuous shelling. Finally, Hekmetyar became Prime Minister while Rabbani (leader of Masud’s party) was President and Masud I believe was Defense Minister. The arrangement did not really work. And the Taliban took over soon after. When the Taliban were at their peak, Hekmetyar, much weakened, was part of the Northern Alliance. He parted ways with them over US support in the overthrow of the Taliban (or so he said.)

So where did the Taliban come from? The religio-political party of the Deobandi ulema (scholars), of course. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind became Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) [Party of the scholars of Islam] in Pakistan. JUI has been popular among the Pashtuns since at least 1970. The two factions of JUI, led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Maulana SamiulHaq, have a lot of madrassas in the Pashtun areas of NWFP and Balochistan. That is where the Taliban came from. Obviously, the ISI also had something to do with it. I’ll have more later on the JUI. A good book on the Taliban is Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

The series will continue with an analysis of the different political and religious parties and groups in Pakistan.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. Back in the mid-eighties, I remember reading Reader’s Digest piece on Hekmatyar. (RD was, at least at that time, a compendium of “what good Americans should think today”)

    The article described how a journalist visited this brave Afghan leader who fought the Godless Soviets. It made him out to be akin to a Harley-Davidson riding don’t-tie me-down American. A tough, brave, free sonuvabitch, a real freedom fighter.


  2. Aziz: If you want a contrarian take on the history of the partition, read Ayesha Jalal’s “Sole Spokesman.” She’s a Professor of History at Tufts.

  3. It made him [Hekmatyar] out to be akin to a Harley-Davidson riding don’t-tie me-down American. A tough, brave, free sonuvabitch, a real freedom fighter.

    Of all this, “sonuvabitch” is probably the only thing close to the truth.

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