The narrative of identity


Time to roll back the jihadi narrative


The rise of the jihadi narrative in Pakistan was nothing new though it became widespread through state patronage after General Zia-ul-Haq embraced the US supported jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

The religious leadership and the seminaries in British India had long nurtured the jihadi narrative. Beginning with Syed Ahmad Brelvi, a major section of the conservative ulema opposed modern education and western institutions and advocated launching of armed struggle against the colonial government. The tradition was inherited by Deoband where prominent clerics declared jihad a religious duty. They played with the sentiments of the Indian Muslims, wasting their energies and resources in pursuit of chimeras like Khilfat Movement and the Hijrat Movement.

The Wahabis, who were the predecessors of the modern day Salafis, played a prominent role in the campaign. Lord Mayo was stabbed to death by a Wahabi extremist while on a visit to the Andaman Islands. While the jihadi’s name has been forgotten Lord Mayo’s survives in the form the Mayo Hospital Lahore which was established in his memory through contributions raised by the British community.

The moderate Muslim leadership in British India, however, emphasised the need on the part of the community to seek modern education. It rightly maintained that this was needed to enable the Muslims of India to compete with other communities, especially the Hindus. The trend was initiated by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who set up the Aligarh Muslim College, later upgraded to Aligarh Muslim University. The pioneer was maligned by the jihadi ulema. Some declared him an apostate.

The moderate Muslim leadership in British India, however, emphasised the need on the part of the community to seek modern education

The moderate Muslims, following in the footsteps of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, set up educational institutions imparting western education in many parts of India. The most prominent among these were the chain of schools and colleges set up by Anjuman-e-Himayat e-Islam in Lahore and Anjuman-e-Islamia in Amritsar. Similarly Hasan Ali Afandi established Sindh Madrassatul Islam in Karachi. The schools were established through donations from the Muslim community, which shows that large swathes of the community did not subscribe to the jihadi narrative. Instead they supported modern education.

The educational institutions set up by the enlightened sections of the community helped Muhammad Al Jinnah in spreading the message of the Muslim League. Islamia College Lahore provided perhaps the largest number of volunteers who spread Jinnah’s message throughout India. The vast majority of the so-called nationalist ulema, belonging to both the Deobandi and Wahabi schools, like Jamaat-e-Islami founder Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi, Hussain Ahmad Madani and Daud Ghanzavi opposed Pakistan movement. The colleges imparting modern education meanwhile became the strongholds of the Muslim League. Pakistan came into being despite opposition from the ulema running the seminaries. The Muslim community whole heartedly supported a clean shaved, westernised lawyer-cum-parliamentarian rather than the nationalist ulema, some of whom still advocated jihad while others supported the All India Congress.

During the British era a number of prominent Muslims got confused. Akbar Allahabadi pooh-poohed modernist trends among the Muslims that included seeking western education and greater freedom for women. Those who tried to sit between the two stools included figures like Maulana Zafar Ali Khan. Maulana Muhammad Ali Kasuri, the son of a prominent Wahabi cleric, joined the earliest jihadis in Waziristan in early 20th century after graduating from Cambridge. The shows that the idea of jihad even then lured individuals from the Muslim educated middle class. Kasuri later described in his memoirs how he abandoned jihad to work for the All India Congress.

The poet Mohammad Iqbal represents best the confusion prevailing among the Indian Muslims as Jinnah emerged on the political scene. Iqbal was an Indian nationalist in his early days. Later he turned into a supporter of the revival of the ‘glorious’ past. Iqbal wrote several poems castigating the clerics and accepted knighthood from the British government. Some of his most popular poetry however comprises pieces that support militancy and idealise jihad. No wonder why Iqbal’s poetry is the most quoted on TTP’s official site. In his later days Iqbal became the secretary general the Punjab Muslim League and a supporter of Jinnah.

Maulana Muhammad Ali Kasuri, the son of a prominent Wahabi cleric, joined the earliest jihadis in Waziristan in early 20th century after graduating from Cambridge

Initially Jinnah too shared some of the confusion that characterised the community he was to represent and lead. However he stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries as he never succumbed to the lure of jihad, nor did he yearn for reviving a mythical past. Jinnah dissociated himself from Khilafat and Hijrat movements, which he considered dangerous aberrations. Jinnah instead stuck to peaceful means during the struggle for Pakistan. His vision for the future of Pakistan, a new multi-faith nation state, is outlined in his August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. For Jinnah Pakistan was to be a pluralist modern state practicing democracy.

The Muslim League leadership after Jinnah showed little fondness for democracy. The party big wigs like Liaquat Ali Khan and Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman had left their constituencies back in India and were afraid of the majority from East Pakistan. They therefore decided to make a political use of Islam. An attempt was made to censor Jinnah’s speech before its publication. Failing in the attempt they got the Objectives Resolution passed.

The myth of the “Founding Fathers” had to be created to bring in Iqbal who had lambasted democracy in his poetry as a lever against Jinnah who was an out and out democrat. With military dictators taking over, a democratic Jinnah was gradually ignored and Iqbal with his militaristic thinking promoted. The process started under Ayub Khan, particularly after Fatima Jinnah challenged the dictator. Being opposed by a section of the clergy also, it was considered useful to humiliate them with Iqbal’s anti-clergy poetry. Dr Khalifa Abdul Hakeem was commissioned to collect all the anti- clergy poems subsequently published as “Iqbal Aur Mullah”. The jihadi narrative received full support under Zia-ul-Haq, who made it the official ‘ideology’ of the state.

It is time to roll back the jihadi narrative to save the country by creating a new narrative based on Jinnah’s address. It would be advisable to replace the Objective Resolution which was incorporated by Zia into the constitution with portions of Jinnah’s address.