Pervez Hoodbhoy in Himal:
For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula. This continental drift is not geophysical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its Southasian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the alluvium that had nurtured Muslim culture in the Indian Subcontinent for over a thousand years. A stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahhabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints.
This drift is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state pushed Islam onto its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory; floggings were carried out publicly; punishments were meted out to those who did not fast during Ramadan; selection for academic posts required that the candidates demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and the jihad was emphasised as essential for every Muslim. Today, such government intervention is no longer needed due to the spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – as yet in some amorphous and diffused form – is more popular than ever before, as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state. Across the country, there has been a spectacular increase in the power and prestige of the clerics, attendance in mosques, home prayer meetings (dars and zikr), observance of special religious festivals, and fasting during Ramadan.