Religious Parties and Politics in Pakistan

Article excerpt

An Overview of Major Political Parties

Islam has been a strong social force in the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent since the seventh century, when Arab traders implanted it in South India along the Malabar Coast. It subsequently spread in wide regions through Islamic conquests during the twelfth century, with Muslim rule lasting for many centuries until the British occupation of India. Under British rule, the Muslims of this region struggled to attain an independent state until 1947, when Pakistan was born. Although modernization is taking place, religious faith remains vital, with the Islamic faith being part of peoples' daily lives (Ahmad 1988). Nevertheless, significant numbers of the Pakistani people have never before supported rule by religious leaders, at any time during Pakistan's 54 years of independence. In all the elections conducted previous to 1997, the religious parties only had token representation in the parliament. Only two seats were held by religious parties in the national assembly of 1997.

The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a British-educated lawyer. His goal was to create a modern, progressive Islamic state without any element of theocracy. Pakistan was created democratically, and a huge majority voted in favor of an independent Pakistan in 1945, in a referendum before the partition of India. Jinnah argued that only people with an equal awareness of both Western societies and Islamic societies could run the newly created Pakistan properly. He further argued that equal rights for the minorities and for the females, democracy, and tolerance should be the main motives of the new state; and that sectarianism and extremism would not find any place in Pakistan (Wolpert 1989).

Pakistan was achieved through a democratic struggle led by the All India Muslim League, which was created in response to anti-Muslim policies of the Congress Party of India. Jinnah was a member of Congress in the beginning of his political career but later left the party and joined the Muslim league. Educated people ran the Muslim League with a little support from the religious leaders or ulema (Munawar 1998).

During the independence movement, some religious leaders opposed the independence movement in general and Mr. Jinnah in particular. One of their arguments was that Jinnah was Western educated and wears Western clothing so he will not be able to run the newly created country within the framework of religion. This argument was in contradiction with basic Islamic values, which emphasize research, the search for knowledge, tolerance for others, and respect for other religions and democracy (Nasr 1996). Furthermore, Jinnah repeatedly rejected rule under "Mulaism" (Qureshi 1972; 1974). But another group of religious leaders like Shabir-ul-Hassan Thanvi, Maulana Ashraf Thanvi, and Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani supported Jinnah and the movement for the independence of Pakistan.

Jinnah worked for a separate homeland for Muslims ruled by an educated and enlightened community with western education as well as religious education. He wanted to build Pakistan on modern lines so that it could stand up with the rest of the world shoulder to shoulder. Therefore, whenever Pakistanis exercised their right of vote in general elections, they always voted for parties that had broad political manifestos, which went beyond religion and religious agendas. The rule of the country by religious leaders was totally ruled out in the past (Sahab 1989). The solid proof of these political attitudes is exhibited in the various constitutions introduced in various periods of time. The first constitution in 1956 manifests what Jinnah desired. Similarly, all other constitutions which followed the first one were semi-secular based on the British legal system with required amendments introduced at various times to adjust it to the changing times (Faridi 2002). …