This question hadn’t really mattered during the Pakistan Movement in which the Muslims of South Asia were agitating as a minority. But then when a large part of this minority became a majority in Pakistan, the historical, political and theological divisions and crevices between this majority’s many sects and sub-sects began to seem starker than before.
To men like Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan was to be explained as the organic culmination and natural result of what poet/philosopher Muhammad Iqbal had been contemplating and advocating before his death in the 1930s.
That is, Islam in Pakistan was to make all ethnicities and sectarian differences secondary compared to the precepts of Pakistani nationhood.
But what exactly was this nationhood about?
A good part of the answer first came from a man who during the Pakistan Movement had denounced Jinnah as an ‘infidel.’
Islamic scholar and chief of the fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami (JI), Abul Ala Maududi, was not an Islamic cleric.
He was a well-read and prolific journalist and thinker.
Though his commentaries on Islam were highly conservative, this was a radical conservatism of sorts. Because not only did he take to task the Muslim nationalism of the likes of Jinnah (claiming that nationalism had no place in Islam); he even managed to offend many scholars of the Deobandi and Barelvi Sunni sub-sects, accusing them of being wedged in ancient clerical traditions (Deobandi) and distorting the true message of Islam through unsavoury innovations (Barelvi).
Thus, it can be claimed that Maududi emerged as a renegade branch from the same tree that was planted by Modernist Muslims like Sir Syed and then carefully nurtured by Iqbal.
The difference was that to him the Muslims’ renewal as a political and cultural force depended not on Muslim nationalism but on an evolutionary process in which Muslim societies were to be ‘Islamized’ from below so that they could be prepared for Islamic laws (Shariah) to be imposed from above (the state).
Another problem Maududi had with Pakistan was that he considered the new country to be in a state of jahiliyat – Arab word meaning ‘ignorance’ which describes the time in Mecca before the arrival of Islam.
So it was ironic when Liaquat and his aids, agreed to adopt a portion of Maududi’s thesis on Political Islam while passing the 1949 Objectives Resolution.
When the Resolution was passed in May 1949 in the Constituent Assembly, it was supposed to be an outline of what the final constitution of the country should look and sound like and also what Pakistani nationhood should be about.
Just a year and a half after Jinnah had described Pakistan as a democratic Muslim-majority state where religion and state would largely be separate, the Resolution now declared Pakistan to be ‘an Islamic entity’ in which no law or policy would be allowed to contradict the teachings of the Qu’ran and the Sunnah.
There was uproar among the country’s Hindu and Christian communities (called ‘minorities’). Their leaders accused the government of ignoring Jinnah’s original vision and of submitting to the dictates of his enemies (Maududi, etc.)
Liaquat tried to pacify the detractors by pointing out that the Resolution had envisioned a progressive and democratic Islamic country and that the minorities need not worry.
Maududi’s party, the Jamat-i-Islami (JI), decided to end its boycott of doing politics in Pakistan after the Resolution, despite the fact that the Resolution did not translate into meaning that the government would begin to legislate Shariah laws immediately (or was even willing to).
The government might have thought that it had successfully defined the finer points of Pakistani nationalism through the Resolution, but the truth was, things in this context got even more complex.
In 1953 vicious riots erupted in Lahore against the controversial Ahmadiyya community when JI and another fundamentalist party, the Majlis-e-Ahrar, demanded that the community be declared non-Muslim.
In 1956, shaken by the riots, constantly challenged by Sindhi, Baloch, Bengali and Pushtun nationalists, and finally realising that the 1949 Objectives Resolution had done precious little to clear the foggy notion of Pakistani nationalism, the Constituent Assembly got down to finally author the country’s first full constitution.
In the constitution, the ethnicities and leftists were appeased with the promise of holding direct elections based on adult franchise, while the fundamentalists were given the space to officially and constitutionally define Pakistan as an ‘Islamic Republic’.
Whereas most activists and politicians on the left weren’t entirely happy with the contents of the Constitution, Maududi readily exhibited his satisfaction by declaring it to be, sufficiently Islamic.
In 1957 most of the detractors came together in the left-wing and secular National Awami Party (NAP) and were confident that the party was in a good position to win the most seats in the promised direct elections (that were to be held in 1958).