Pitfalls of a Religious National Identity

Hadith Oliyankara Juma Masjid

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There is myth in the public politics of the nation that underwrites the political narrative of religious political parties. It is a myth of a sacred and unsullied past. The common belief is that if the nation could, somehow, retrieve and emulate this idealized past then all our problems will be solved. Surprisingly, no one actually explains or streamlines as to how a future Islamic Pakistan will function: the future is posited as a natural outcome of a turn to religion.

Now, we know that even at the height of its symbolic and political power, Islam was by and large a very pragmatic political system. As the Muslims conquered the persian and Eastern Roman empire, their approach to governance was based in tolerance and acceptance: they accepted and appropriated the differences that they could appropriate, but also allowed their non-Muslim citizens a fair degree to fluidity and freedom in practicing their particular religions.

This, sadly, is not the case with the religious-minded political parties in Pakistan. Yes, they pay lip service to the rights of minorities, but the system that they envision creates a national space divided between those considered full citizens–Muslim men–and those not so equal. A national imagination underwritten by this view of the real has its inequalities pre-inscribed in this narrative. There are, of course, material causes for the rise of Islamist politics in pakistan: The Islamists, at least, promise a restructuring of the Pakistani public sphere,which the neoliberal system absolutely cannot. This future restructuring–in which the least shall, they are told, will be the first–can be very seductive as it is revolutionary and not reformative in nature.

In true sense though, even if this future were to be realized, would it not create a nation at the mercy of only one dominant group? Can we have a viable nation if it is divided between has and has beens not on the basis of material resources but in terms of their pure, immanent ontological being? Can there be a just system if people in a nation are considered ontologically unequal?

Religion, in my humble opinion, will fail to solve our problems and would rather fracture the nation even more. We know what happened when a certain group with a certain specific view of Islam came to power: Afghanistan became a death world. If we continue on this path of unreflective Islamization of the public sphere we will also become such a death world.

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