The books listed and reviewed below, all authored by Pakistanis, went on to construct socio-political narratives of large sections of Pakistan’s polity, and also abetted in the shaping of policies of the various governments since the inception of the country in August 1947.


Abul Aala Mawdudi (1932)

[English translation: Towards Understanding Islam (1959)]

Pakistan emerged as a Muslim-majority state in 1947. But its Muslim majority was (and still is) made up of a number of Islamic sects and sub-sects. Relations between these sects/sub-sects have historically been strained by a number of theological, ritual and political tensions. These strains were largely unresolved at the time of Pakistan’s creation.

It was the state and an elite group from the new country’s intelligentsia who took it upon themselves to define the Islam that was to prevail in Pakistan. Though this political and intellectual elite was steeped in and inspired by the ‘modernist’ and reformist strands of Islam that had emerged in South Asia from the mid-19th century onwards, it pragmatically allowed the proliferation of a strand of the faith envisioned and propagated by an Islamic scholar who was (ironically) against the creation of Pakistan.

Abul Ala Mawdudi was a prolific author and Islamic scholar who had opposed the creation of Pakistan. He had denounced the concept of the Muslim Nationalism that had led to Pakistan’s birth, and was suspicious of the religious credentials of the country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Yet, it was a book by Mawdudi, Risala-e-Diniyat, that became the basis of how the state of Pakistan wanted to teach Islam to young Muslims in schools. The book was authored by Mawdudi in 1932 and briefly deals with Islamic history, the Quran and what Islam as a faith constitutes in everyday life.

Till the late 1950s, Islamiat (or the study of Islam) was an optional subject in Pakistani schools. Parents were mostly expected to teach their children (about Islam) at home.

Consequently, it was Mawdudi’s Risala-e-Diniyat that found the most favour among urban middle-class parents. However, in the 1970s, portions of this book were incorporated into Islamiat text books by the populist government of Z.A. Bhutto. By then, the subject had become compulsory in schools.

Eventually, from 1977 onwards, the book was entirely absorbed into Islamiat textbooks mainly during the conservative regime of General Ziaul Haq (1977-88).

Professor Khurshid (an economist and member of the Jamat-i-Islami), authored the book’s first English translation (Towards Understanding Islam).


Risala-e-Diniyat was also frequently handed out to young soldiers and officers by General Ziaul Haq when he was made the Chief of Army Staff by Z.A. Bhutto in 1976.

One of the most interesting aspects of Risala-e-Diniyat is how, by explaining Islam as an ‘all-encompassing faith’ (that also had a political side), Mawdudi exhibits the initial development of a theory that he would be considered a pioneer of, and that would become to be known as ‘Political Islam.’

In Risala-e-Diniyat, apart from dealing with the basic tenants and history of Islam, Mawdudi also outlines the generalities of what evolved to become Political Islam – a subject/theory he would go on to explore in a more complex and intellectual manner in his future writings.

The book is often criticised by certain sections of the intelligentsia for being a ‘restrictive interpretation of Islam that threatened the pluralistic fabric of Pakistani civil society …’

Islam: A Challenge to Religion

Ghulam Ahmad Parvez (1968)

In the 1960s, during the Ayub Khan regime (1958-69), it wasn’t Mawdudi but another Islamic scholar whose works were being incorporated by the government in forming a narrative about Pakistan’s relationship with Islam.

Ayub was vehemently opposed to religious parties such as Mawdudi’s Jamat-i-Islami (JI). Khan was an exponent of what he called the ‘spirit of Islam enhanced by science and reason.’

His government initiated a number of reforms that were inspired by the thoughts of Ghulam Ahmed Parvez. Parvez urged the Muslims to ponder deeply over the message of the Quran in the light of the sciences, contemporary ideas and modern-day needs.

His thoughts fitted perfectly with the Ayub regime’s idea of Islam. His writings and lectures became increasingly popular among college students and members of the urban bourgeoisie, but drew severe criticism from the more conservative sections of the country’s religious elite.

G.A. Parvez
G.A. Parvez

In 1968, Parvez adapted many of his most famous lectures into a book called Islam: A Challenge to Religion.

The book contains Parvez’s understanding of Islam to be a rational, flexible and enlightened faith, as opposed to being an organised creed of rituals and self-claimed custodians (mainly clerics).

This is the same understanding that Parvez had influenced Ayub with. However, by the time the book appeared, the Ayub regime was on its last legs.

But the thoughts contained in the book had already been aired by Parvez in his lectures and articles and they remained to be popular among many urban Pakistanis till the early-1970s – especially among those who were repulsed by ‘reactionary’ thinkers, but who, at the same time, did not want to be bracketed with the secularists either.

The Muslim community of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent

I.H Qureshi (1962)

Also in the 1960s appeared historian I.H. Qureshi’s The Muslim community of the subcontinent (1962). It is one of the first attempts by a Pakistani historian to explain (in a historical context) the separateness of the Muslims and Hindus of South Asia.

The ideas and theory presented in the book went on to directly inform the nationalistic narrative that emerged through the state and government from the early 1970s onwards – especially after Jinnah’s ‘Two Nation Theory’ came under stress when Pakistan’s Eastern wing broke away (in 1971) to become Bangladesh.

Though various aspects of Qureshi’s theory and assertions that described the Muslims of South Asia as always being a homogeneous and separate community were incorporated into school textbooks in the 1970s, some historians criticised it for being a convolution.

For example, before the 19th century, there was no concept of a Muslim community as such in the region. Muslims who arrived in India retained their ethnic and national identities as Turks, Mughals, Persians, or Arabs. There was no monolithic Muslim community in South Asia, at least not before the concept of the Muslim community was formed during the colonial period in which the British administration divided the Indians into different communities on the basis of their religious differences.

Nevertheless, Qureshi’s ideas resonated with the state and government that revived and reinvigorated these ideas in the 1970s after the whole concept of the Two Nation Theory came under duress when East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh in 1971.

The Faiz Report

Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1972)

In 1975 appeared segments of essays authored by famous progressive poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. These essays on what constituted ‘Pakistani culture’, were authored by Faiz in the 1960s and then turned (by him) into a cohesive study and policy paper in 1972.

In the essays, Faiz defined Pakistan’s culture as being ‘inherently pluralistic’ because it was influenced by various intellectual, cultural, religious, ethnical and political trends that had impacted this region for thousands of years. Faiz suggested that Islam was one of these influences (but not the only one).

Faiz had authored these essays to rebuke criticism coming from conservative ulema who had denounced certain cultural activities as being antagonistic to Pakistan’s ‘Islamic ethos.’

Many of Faiz’s ideas in this context were adopted by the government of Z.A. Bhutto (1971-77) to formulate its cultural policies, especially in the areas of folk music and dance.

These essays were finally published in their entirety in the 2005 book, Culture and Identity, and the cultural narrative that they weaved continues to inform the thoughts emerging (in this context) from the more progressive sides of Pakistani nationhood.

The Quranic Concept of War

Brigadier-General S.K. Malik (1979)

In 1979, a book quietly appeared in some bookstores. It would eventually go on to actually change the ideological complexion of the Pakistan army.

Titled The Quranic Concept of War, it was authored by a reclusive Brigadier-General, S.K. Malik. In the book, Malik suggests that war should dictate policy and not the other way round; meaning that war or jihad should work as a preemptive tool against ‘anti-Islam forces.’ It didn’t matter whether these forces were hostile or not.

Malik completely rejects any allegorical or metaphorical understanding of the Quran, nor attempts to study it in a more contextual manner. He simply intellectualises the literalist reading of the Muslim scriptures to justify the existence of a standing army of an Islamic country that should always be ready to wage war against real or imagined ‘enemies of the faith.’

Malik then goes on to advocate that every Muslim citizen of an Islamic country should think like a ‘holy warrior.’

General Ziaul Haq (who took power through a coup in 1977), first used Malik’s thesis to ‘Islamise’ the army and then to turn ‘jihad’ into a national policy.

S.K. Malik had begun to formulate his theory in 1974. When he discussed his project with Zia (in 1977), the latter was highly impressed. He encouraged him to publish his ideas in form of a book.

To Zia, such ideas were necessary to infuse a more prominent faith-based streak in the armed forces, that he believed had been unstiffened because the institution was steeped too much in the ideals of ‘Modernist Islam,’ and was too ‘westernised’ in its social and political outlook.

Interestingly, Malik’s ideas became equally popular among Afghan and Pakistani insurgents who were supported by the state of Pakistan during the Afghan Civil War in the 1980s, but who, years later, mutated into becoming foes of the state of Pakistan.

The Battle of Ideas in Pakistan

Sibte Hassan (1986)

During the height of the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship, a debate erupted between a prominent Marxist intellectual, Sibte Hassan, and a conservative scholar and lawyer, Khalid Ishaq.

The debate took place on the pages of DAWN, in which Hassan argued that the religious right in Pakistan has wrongfully made the whole concept of secularism to mean an ideology that was anti-religion.

He suggested that it was nothing of the sort and that it simply discourages the politicisation of faith. He added that in actuality, secularism was about giving full freedom to an individual to practice his or her faith as long as they didn’t use it to meet cynical political ends.

Ishaq disagreed with Hassan by claiming that even if secularism was not anti-religion, it, by discouraging its politicisation, negates Islam because politics was an inherent component of Islam.

The debate led Hassan to author a whole book, The Battle of Ideas in Pakistan, in which he first jotted down the history of secularism, and then the role it played in strengthening various ancient and modern Muslim powers.

In his commentary, Hassan tried to prove that to rule over a large number of people who belonged to a wide verity of religious and sectarian persuasions, almost all great Muslim powers had to separate religion from politics, even though many of the leaders remained to be staunch Muslims in their private lives.

He then went on to accuse the religious lobbies in Pakistan and their ‘allies in the establishment’ of actually using ‘politicised Islam’ to maintain their political and economic influence and power over a polity that was inherently pluralistic and diverse.

Hassan further suggested that to negate this plurality the country’s religious elite presented secularism as an anti-religion concept that would destroy Islam (in Pakistan). He added that in actuality, it would only neutralise the powers of those who had used religion to safeguard their irreligious political, social and economic interests.

Sibte Hassan
Sibte Hassan

In the book, he also mocked some former liberals for being opportunistic when it came to power and faith. He gave the example of Ayub Khan’s former advisor and Information Minister, Altaf Gohar, who went out of his way to propagate Khan’s modernist views and policies. But after Ayub’s fall in 1969, Gohar lost his influence and power, until the 1977 military coup of Ziaul Haq.

Hassan writes that to get back in the good graces of another dictator, Gohar suddenly became religious just because this dictator was talking about turning Pakistan into an ‘Islamic state.’

This was Hassan’s last book (he passed away in 1986), but its contents have incessantly furnished the narratives of those intellectual and political circles that have been opposing the right’s understanding of Pakistan (as a theological state).

In fact, today, Hassan’s ideas have come into play more than ever as the country’s polity, military and parliament search ways to wriggle out of the existential quagmire Pakistan finds itself in, after suffering years of sectarian violence and acts of atrocity undertaken in the name of faith.

Murder of History

K.K. Aziz (1985)

Ever since the mid-1990s, a vibrant wave of scholarship has been developing comprising of historians and intellectuals deconstructing certain historical claims that are featured as facts in the country’s school textbooks.

The first noted Pakistani historian to initiate such a study was the enigmatic, Professor K.K. Aziz. His 1985 book, Murder of History, was one of the first studies that directly challenged the numerous claims made (about Pakistan’s creation and ideological evolution) in school textbooks.

Aziz painstakingly went through various editions of the history and ‘Pakistan Studies’ books that were being taught in the country’s schools, and then elaborated his findings in Murder of History.

According to Aziz, in Pakistan, histories mediating about the ideological make-up of the country have been gradually transfigured; a process in which, over the decades, every major political debacle has seen the insertion of a series of brand new half-truths in school textbooks. This has also entailed the ‘extraction’ of those truths that might contradict the state’s rationale in explaining these debacles.

K.K. Aziz
K.K. Aziz

It’s an almost Orwellian process that (till the publication of Aziz’s book in 1985) was not fully studied or questioned, in spite of the fact that there was ample evidence available to challenge the spotty yarns and spins that had begun to enjoy a two-fold growth in the country’s textbooks (especially after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle and then during the military dictatorship of Gen Zia).

The results of Aziz’s initial work in this regard were intellectually liberating, especially for those wanting to study the history of the country in a more accurate and detached manner. The leading architects of such studies now include Ayesha Jalal, Dr Mubarak Ali, Dr Tariq Rahman, Rubina Saigol, Professor A.H. Nayyar and Dr Iftikhar Ahmed.

The Sole Spokesman

Ayesha Jalal (1985)

It is interesting to note that between the creation of Pakistan in 1947 till about the late 1970s, Pakistani historians focused more on commenting on the idea of Pakistan than on the man who first converted this idea into a state-sized reality.

Not a single authentic or scholarly sound study of Jinnah (from a Pakistani) came to light, till two incidents suddenly shook the state and many local historians out of their inexplicable intellectual lethargy regarding the founder.

First was the release and popularity of the film Gandhi (directed by famous British director, Richard Attenborough) in 1982, and the second was the publication of Stanley Wolpert’s 1984 biography of Jinnah, Jinnah of Pakistan.

Pakistan government criticised Gandhi for undeservingly portraying Jinnah as a smug and sulking snob (compared to Mahatma Gandhi, who was shown in the film as being an extraordinarily modest man); whereas Wolpert’s book presented many sides of Jinnah that did not agree with the kind of Jinnah that most Pakistani nationalists and religious groups were peddling to the nation.

As, on the one hand, the government of Pakistan began planning to bring its own version of Jinnah to the big screen, and on the other hand, it banned Wolpert’s book, to most Pakistanis, Jinnah either remained to a mysterious man they knew very little about, or an abstract caricature of moral virtue that the state of Pakistan had sketched over the decades.

In 1985, Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman finally resolved the impasse and she became one of the first Pakistani scholars and historians to construct an academically sound and largely objective study of the founder of Pakistan.

In her book, Jalal eschewed (in fact, convincingly debunked) every image of Jinnah invented between 1947 and the late 1980s, and presented him as the man he most probably really was.

Jalal uses numerous references and sources to bring to light a man who was highly intelligent, pragmatic, and extremely focused, but one who was also introverted and bound to be misunderstood because his actions led to the division of India; and also because he was not only vehemently opposed by the Indian nationalists, but (ironically), also by a large section of India’s Islamic outfits and leaders.

Apart from convincingly bringing out Jinnah’s many strengths as the man who rose to become the main leader of India’s Muslim community, Jalal was not afraid to point out Jinnah’s vulnerabilities as well as a man who could also often become melancholic in his outlook.

Ayesha Jalal
Ayesha Jalal

Jalal’s elaborate study of Jinnah as the man who managed to cut through numerous personal, political and communal obstacles to carve out Pakistan, was primarily a way to challenge the standard views about him held (and propagated) for years by British and Indian historians.

In the same breath, the book also challenged the Jinnah created by the state of Pakistan.

It was only after this book that a number of other local historians began authoring biographies of Jinnah that were based on sound scholarship, and untainted by the Utopian images of the man weaved by post-Jinnah ideologues, and nor by the rather vengeful views of a majority of Indian historians.

The Indus Saga

Aitzaz Ahsan (2005)

In The Indus Saga, intellectual, lawyer and politician, Aitzaz Ahsan, took the model first introduced by I.H. Qureshi in the 1960s, and gave a progressive twist to it.

Qureshi, in two of his books, 1962’s Muslim Community of the Sub-Continent and 1965’s Struggle For Pakistan, had attempted to give a historical context to the seprateness of Muslims and Hindus of South Asia (thus explaining the making of Pakistan as a natural and historical outcome).

Aitzaz does the same, but he comes in from the left, by explaining that though there indeed was a separateness between the Muslims and the Hindus, the Muslims of the region that today is Pakistan, were also different from the Muslims situated elsewhere in the region.

Aitzaz suggests that for a thousand years, the area that today runs along the mighty River Indus (which we today call Pakistan), was always a Muslim-majority area that only had nominal and/or irregular association with India’s centres of power during ancient Muslim rules, as well as during the colonial period.

Aitzaz then goes on to suggest that the Muslims of the Indus region were inherently pluralistic and steeped in the teachings of Sufism, and that the rise of extremism in this area was only a recent and unnatural phenomenon mainly brought on by certain monolithic policies and disastrous acts of social engineering which happened under myopic ideologues, dictators and politicians.

Aitzaz Ahsan
Aitzaz Ahsan

Though the book gives a welcoming breath of inclusiveness to Qureshi’s otherwise narrow nationalistic model, Ahsan’s theory was criticised by some for having conveniently ignored the fact that what today is Bangladesh too was once part of Pakistan.

If, according to Aitzaz, the land running across the Indus was destined to become a separate Muslim state, then what was East Pakistan thousands of miles away?

Others suggest that Aitzaz’s theory explains East Pakistan’s separation (in 1971) to the notion that it was always an unnatural part of what emerged as Pakistan in 1947, and what today is Pakistan, is a more natural entity.



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