Even though, ever since the 1980s, Islamic fundamentalism in this context has rapidly evolved into meaning and incorporating a number of varied interpretations of political Islam, the basic concept has remained the same: To ‘Islamise’ the society from below so an Islamic State can effectively be constructed from above.
Islamic fundamentalism has had an active presence in the milieu of youth and student movements and politics in Pakistan. One of its leading components in this respect has been the student-wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Islami Jamiat-i-Tuleba (IJT).
Others, like the Anjuman-i-Tuleba Islam (ATI), Jamiat-i-i Tuleba Islam (JTI) - the student wing of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) - and the Imamia Students Organization (ISO) have also been driven by the political ideals of Islamic fundamentalism.
Soon after the creation of a separate Muslim country in the shape of Pakistan (in 1947), colleges and universities in most Muslim-majority regions of India were dominated by the student wing of the Muslim League (ML) - the Muslim Students Federation (MSF).
MSF, like its mother party, was largely anti-fundamentalist in orientation (if not secular) and its ideology was heavily rooted in the modernist Muslim political philosophies championed by Indian Muslim thinkers like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Iqbal and Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Even when, after 1950, the Muslim League and (consequently) MSF began to disintegrate into various opposing factions, politics in Pakistani campuses did not fall in the hands of the more right-wing forces. Instead, the vacuum was at once filled by left-wing and progressive student outfits.
The Democratic Students Federation (DSF), which was close to the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) and the National Students Federation (NSF), which was ideologically linked to the left-wing National Awami Party (NAP)-dominated student and youth politics in the 1950s and 1960s respectively.
However, the IJT began taking a more direct part in campus politics after the emergence of Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s military coup in 1958.
In what was then a predominantly secular and pro-West social and political setting, IJT initiated a two-pronged mission on campuses, in which it not only opposed the Ayub dictatorship’s secularising policies and legislation, but also looked to check the continuing growth of leftist and progressive political groups in colleges and universities.
Basing its ideology on the political writings of the highly influential Islamic scholar, political Islamist and the chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi, the IJT did manage to carve out important areas of ideological influence and electoral strength in various universities and colleges of Karachi and Lahore.
But across the 1960s, bulk of the students’ electoral and ideological support remained largely with the progressive student groups, especially the NSF.
One of the first prominent exhibitions of Islamic fundamentalism articulated as a political expression in student politics of Pakistan emerged when (between 1968 and 1970) IJT and its mother party began a concentrated movement against the Pakistan Peoples Party (formed in 1967) in former West Pakistan and the Bengali nationalist party, the Awami League (AL), in former East Pakistan.
IJT distributed a number of anti-socialist (and ‘pro-Islam’) pamphlets and got embroiled in clashes with activists of the PPP, AL and NSF.
Its opponents accused IJT of being ‘funded by the military regime of General Yahya Khan’ and by the American CIA, whom the leftists accused of using JI and IJT in its Cold War against the political influence of the Soviet Union.
By the mid-1970s, in the event of the splits and factional disintegration witnessed by leftist and progressive student groups, the IJT managed to turn itself into a well-oiled electoral machine. Its politics remained largely democratic and not radical.
What’s more, the same period also saw the emergence of other democratic (and non-radical) fundamentalist student groups, such as the ATI.
Unlike the IJT that was dominated by the urbane but puritanical pro-Saudi Sunni Muslims, ATI represented students belonging to the Barelvi Sunni Muslim sub-sect that was not only more moderate in its fundamentalist outlook but was also in the majority.