Class, Religion and Power: Some Aspects of Islamic Revivalism in Pakistan

Author: 
Ahmad, Mumtaz
Year: 
1990

     This study "seeks to understand the socio-political role and social bases of support of Islamic revivalist groups in Pakistan. At the same time, it is also aimed at a critical review of the interaction between religion, politics and the state during the past forty years of Pakistan's history. This review is intended to analyze major events and issues that have had significant impact on the nature of relationship between the religio-political groups and the state and on the politics of Islamic revivalism during the Bhutto and Zia periods. . . . Third, we . . . undertake a detailed discussion of the social bases of Islamic fundamentalist resurgence with a view to identify the areas of 'elective affinity' between the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism on the one hand, and the moral concerns and material interests of certain social groups in Pakistani society, on the other. Finally, we . . . seek to relate Islamic revivalist upsurge with the structural crises of the Pakistani state during the mid-1970s and . . . try to show how the structural imperatives of the state found their own 'elective affinity' with the politics of Islamization pursued by the military regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq."
     More specifically, we set out to accomplish three major tasks. The first is to understand the ways and the issues on which the structure of the religious complex -- including its revivalist-fundamentalist variant -- becomes involved in the political life of the country. This task [is] . . . undertaken by reviewing the history of the interaction between the state and the religious groups during 1947-1977. Three factors which seem conceptually relevant to the issue of the interaction of religion and politics in Pakistan" are identified: (1) "the interests of the religious complex . . . that are at stake in a specific historical context"; (2) "the resources that the religious complex possesses which are potentially available and are likely to be employed in political struggle"; and (3) "the normative basis of the relationship between religious and secular political authorities in Islam and the relative ability of the religious leaders and political authorities to use Islamic symbols and idioms for purposes of both protest and legitimacy."
     The second major task of this study . . . [is] to analyze the social bases of support of the Islamic revivalist politics in Pakistan. This question . . . [is] discussed with special reference to the Nizam-i-Mustafa (the system of the Prophet Mohammad) movement of 1977 and its almost spontaneous stirring up of a religio-political movement of enormous proportions which resulted in the downfall of the Bhutto regime and the imposition of marital law by General Zia-ul-Haq. The question as to who were those . . . angry marchers . . . demanding Islami Nizam (Islamic System) under the leadership of Islamic parties is important in order to identify what Max Weber described as 'elective affinity' between the ideology of Islamic revivalism and the socio-economic and political interests of those who subscribe to this ideology and engage themselves in political struggle in order to realize it. The question of the social bases of support of the Islamic political groups . . . [is] considered within the conceptual framework of Max Weber's discussion about the religious needs and propensities of various social groups, identifying the various 'points of coincidence' and 'convergence' between the socio-economic and existential situations of various strata and ideology of Islamic revivalism. . . . Our basic contention in this study is that it is not the lower classes . . . who join Islamic fundamentalist and revivalist groups; rather it is the traditional petty bourgeoisie and a section of the new middle classes which provide the main strength to the urban and small town-based fundamentalist-conservative religious groups."
     The third major task we . . . accomplish . . . is to understand the relationship of Islamic revivalist ideology with the state and the dominant power structures of society. In this section we . . . focus on the structural crises of the Pakistani state as important determinant of the Islamic upsurge that became the hallmark of the military regime of General Zia and manifested itself in a series of Islamization measures in political economic, legal, religious and social spheres. We . . . select the two most important areas -- economy and polity -- and see how Islamization policies formulated by the military regime of General Zia and supported by the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami and a substantial section of the ulama, affected the distribution of economic resources and political power in Pakistan.

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