Farzana Shaikh


On her book Making Sense of Pakistan

Cover Interview of July 26, 2009

A close-up

Many of the key questions posed in my book are encapsulated in the third chapter, “The Burden of Islam.”

The chapter offers a bird’s eye view, a panorama of how politics in Pakistan came to be sacralized as the country’s leaders struggled to make sense of the nebulous association between Islam and the state.  I trace this struggle from Pakistan’s early years, when the country’s lawmakers endeavoured fruitlessly to frame a modern constitution within the parameters of Islam.  This long and arduous process brought to the fore the depth of uncertainty about the constitutional place of Islam in a country still unsure about its religious and political foundations.  Since its creation Pakistan has had three constitutions and all without exception have been mired in controversy over their Islamic texture – a controversy that continues to rumble on to the present day.

It was this climate of enduring uncertainty that made Pakistan especially vulnerable to the programme of Islamization launched in the 1980s by a military regime that sought to address, by force, the ambiguities that surrounded Pakistan’s putative Islamic identity.  While the legacy of this “reform” was particularly damaging to the status of women and to religious minorities, it also revealed the formative weaknesses of both the Pakistani state and the country’s national identity.

These weaknesses, the chapter demonstrates, were rooted in the contradictory expectations embodied in Pakistan: on the one hand, the affirmation of a universal Islamic community, whose geography remains, in the minds of many of South Asian Muslims, open to question; on the other a Muslim “nation” circumscribed by territorial boundaries.

Yet to be resolved, the tension between these contrasting visions is now taking a violent toll on Pakistan and its people.