Politics of Desecularization: Law and the Minority Question in Pakistan

By Sarmah, Jayanta K.; Kalita, Manisha et al. | International Social Science Review, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Politics of Desecularization: Law and the Minority Question in Pakistan


Sarmah, Jayanta K., Kalita, Manisha, Hirsch, Michael L., International Social Science Review


Saeed, Sadia Politics of Desecularization: Law and the Minority Question in Pakistan.New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. xiv + 269. Hardcover, $59.79, Softcover $29.99.

Issues of nationalism, minority rights, and inclusion are among the most perplexing challenges faced by modern democracies. In Politics of Desecularization: Law and the Minority Question in Pakistan, Sadia Saeed explores the complexity of such issues by examining the changing status of the Ahmadis (Islamic strand whose founder's claims of prophecy led some Muslims to question the Ahmadi's Muslim identity) within the Pakistani state. In examining their status from the colonial era to the modern time, Saeed demonstrates how internal and external factors have influenced the Ahmadi's fate. Saeed's Introduction begins in 2010 when two Ahmadi Pakistani mosques were attacked by a militant Muslim group. The attacks demonstrate the gravity of the rift between the Ahmadi and some non-Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. Saeed examines the Ahmadi's emergence, how they were initially accommodated in colonial and post-colonial India and Pakistan, and what led to their marginalization and eventual criminalization "for adhering to non-conventional interpretation of Islamic Religious tenants"(p.2). Her work is contextualized within theories on nationalism and secularism. Saeed offers a framework for examining the processes of secularization and desecularization set against state-religion relations as settled or unsettled. She believes the changing status of the Ahmadis is an expression of the unsettled nature of Pakistan's state-religion relations.

In the first chapter, Saeed digs into the colonial history of the Ahmadis. She claims that the interaction between the religious field, the political field and the public arena, fueled the Ahmadi question. The British policy of non-interference in religious matters and the pronouncements of Ghulam Ahmad (the Ahmadi founder) created a rift between Ahmadis and non-Ahmadi Muslims. The British's policy of communal politics laced with democracy, hardened religious differences within the political field. The creation of Pakistan as a Muslim state from India at the end of British rule was an expression of the hardening of religious difference within the region and created a religious-political framework within which the Ahmadi's status would later be questioned.

The second and third chapters focus on the inclusion and exclusion of Ahmadis in the post-colonial period. Saeed argues that it is the failure on the part of the Pakistani Constituent Assembly to uphold a strong official ideology on religious freedom resulted in the subsequent discord within Pakistan. While the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan debated Pakistan's National Flag and the Preamble to Pakistan's constitution, the voices of minorities opposing the endorsement of a Muslim national identity were suppressed by the majoritarian Muslim nationalism setting the groundwork for the subsequent democratic exclusion of the Ahmadis. In the struggle to create a feeling of nationalism among the disparate groups within Pakistan, its raison d'etre--its Muslim identity--was elevated to smooth over other internal differences.

Both the autocratic regime of Ayud Khan and the democratic regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto play to Muslim conservatives to maintain political power. The ascendancy of the Pakistan's Muslim political identity gains momentum during the passage of the Second Constitutional Amendment (SCA) of 1974 which declared Ahmadi's to be non-Muslim. Those in positions of power and who might have opposed the SCA's passage were silenced by a perceived lack of autonomy and/or fear. Whether or not Khan and/or Bhutto embraced the beliefs of those leading the anti-Ahmadi movements, opportunistic actions by both their regimes resulted in the "institutionalization of exclusions" (p. …

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