Mullahism and Pakistan
By Shafik H. Hashmi
Professor Emeritus of Political Science
Georgia Southern University

One of the major problems Pakistan faces today is Mullahism.
It is appropriate to begin with the question, “Who are the Mullahs and why are they misfits for the 21st century?” The simple answer is that Mullahs are the prisoners of Taqleed (following religious dogma blindly) and abhor rational thinking. Most of them are uneducated, and ignorant of the true nature and philosophy of Islam. They believe that the only correct way of life is that which existed in Arabia 1400 years ago. An extreme form of Mullahism was manifested in Pakistan’s immediate neighbor, Afghanistan during the Taliban days.
Their ignorance and archaic beliefs notwithstanding, the Mullahs wield considerable influence over the illiterate people in Pakistan. Mullahs hurt the country in many serious ways. A prime example is their negative and obstructionist role in the government’s endeavor to achieve population control, a requisite for bringing prosperity to the country’s rapidly multiplying millions. Presently, Pakistan has one of the highest birth rates in the world and if the present rate of population growth continues, within the next few decades it would become the third most populous country in the world -- next to India and China -- with catastrophic resultant problems including the basic problem of feeding a population of this magnitude. . The Mullahs are vehemently opposed to birth control and are at least partly, if not primarily, responsible for permeating this belief among large sections of Pakistani society. On one occasion an imam, who in his Friday sermon in a mosque in Lahore was vehemently opposing the need for population control, declared that the present day scarcity of food is the result of our sins. During the days of the Prophet (Mohammad), he claimed, God’s largesse was evident in all sorts of agricultural produce: for instance, a watermelon used to be so huge that even a camel could not carry the heavy load! This sermon, probably did not have its desired effect on the audience as most of them were educated. However, in a village mosque, where most of the namazees are illiterate, such a sermon would have a great impact.
The most deplorable - and un-Islamic - brand of Mullahism is represented by Bin Laden and his like, who advocate the use of violence, killing innocent men, women, and children. The recent multiple bombings in Bangladesh with demand for the enforcement of the Shariah and the even more recent bombings in Lahore show the deadly nature of these groups and individuals. Although they claim to be champions of Islam, what they preach goes against the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, which states that he who kills a single innocent person kills all of humanity.
If we look at the history of the Indo-Pak sub-continent for the last 150 years, we find that on occasions of crucial importance for the Muslims the mullahs advocated irrational courses of action. After the Great Revolt of 1857 against the British was crushed with retribution against the Muslims, the great Sir Syed Ahmed Khan arose to embark on a mission to save the defeated, despondent, and frustrated Muslims of the subcontinent. He forcefully argued that the only way for them to come out of their torpor was to acquire modern education. The Mullahs ganged up against Sir Syed, issued the fatwa that he had become a Christan (Christian), and became bitterly opposed to his noble and historic mission. Had the Muslim community followed the Mullahs, most of the Muslims in the sub-continent today would have been working as chaprasis (peons) in government departments, butchers, a profession shunned by the Hindus, or doing menial jobs.
Decades later, in their blind hatred towards everything British, the Mullahs joined the anti-British Congress bandwagon and fought tooth and nail against the Muslim League’s popular demand for the creation of Pakistan. They were the bitterest critics of Jinnah - his lifestyle, his being more at home in English than in any Indian language, and even his marriage. One moulvi even went so far as to compose an insulting couplet about his marriage:

He fell in love with a kafira
Is he Quaid-e-Azam or Kafir-e-Azam?

This was not only a despicable personal attack, it was also not factually correct because Jinnah’s wife had embraced Islam before he married her. Unlike Gandhi, Jinnah was a modern man, a twentieth century man; whereas Gandhi dreamed of “Ram Raj” in a united, independent India, Jinnah was a firm believer in a modern, democratic, and secular Pakistan. The concept of a totally secular, non-religious state was most clearly stated in his oft-quoted first address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, in which he said that in Pakistan “in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” (Quoted in Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan, New York, Oxford University Press,1984, p. 340)
An incident, with which few are familiar, shows how Jinnah was emphatic about Pakistan not being an Islamic state. After his retirement, Sri Prakasa, the first Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, wrote articles in an Indian newspaper about his tenure in Pakistan. In one of these, he stated that at a reception in Karachi, he complained to Jinnah that in his radio address, Jinnah had said that Pakistan was an Islamic state. Upon hearing this, according to Sri Prakasa, Jinnah became furious and retorted, “I have never said that Pakistan is an Islamic state. I have said that Pakistan is a Muslim state.” It is abundantly clear that Jinnah made a sharp distinction between a “Muslim state” and an “Islamic state.” He was clearly against making Pakistan a religious state or a theocracy; instead, he wanted it to be a modern, secular state, which could be called a Muslim state since Muslims comprised the majority population. On several other occasions also he made it clear that he wanted Pakistan a truly non-religious state.
The other leaders, who worked with Jinnah in the creation of Pakistan, also shared his view with regard to the nature of the new state.
After partition of the subcontinent and the birth of Pakistan , many of the Mullahs who were living in what then became India, fled to the new state to seek a better life for themselves. While they had vigorously opposed the creation of Pakistan, they now claimed to be the moral and political leaders of the country. Those who were already living in the Pakistani territory also changed color. Earlier, they were against the very creation of Pakistan. Now they started demanding that it should become an Islamic state. As we have seen, this demand was totally against the kind of Pakistan Jinnah wanted.
For a few decades following Jinnah’s death the issue of religion was not taken seriously by the Pakistani rulers because those who came into power were not religious zealots. It was exactly 30 years after the creation of Pakistan that the military ruler, Ziaul Haq, coming in power through a coup in 1977, started talking about Islam and an Islamic state. We cannot be certain about his real motives, or his sincerity in promoting extremist religious views, and many consider it to be a facade assumed for personal gain.
As the son of a moulvi and a religious-minded person himself, he did have an inclination towards bringing religiosity in every walk of life. However, there appears to have been a very convenient collusion between his religious beliefs and his extremely worldly ambitions. In order to fulfill his ambition to remain in power ad infinitum, he found Islam to be a useful tool. A great fraud perpetrated by him on the people of Pakistan was the referendum in which the people were asked whether they wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic state. If the voter marked yes on the ballot paper it meant the voter was not only in favor of an Islamic state, but was also in favor of giving Ziaul Haq another five years in office to make the country an Islamic state! Such a crafty and dishonest strategy to retain power was probably not employed even by a fascist or communist regime anywhere in the world. It was naturally assumed that a majority of Pakistanis - most of whom are tradition-bound and illiterate - would support the establishment of an Islamic state, which would be synonymous with Zia-ul-Haq getting an extension of five years from the electorate. The referendum resulted in a majority voting for an Islamic state - although the voter turnout in urban centers, which had large concentrations of educated voters, was minimal - and Ziaul Haq gave himself another five years of power.
Armed with this bogus mandate, Ziaul Haq approved what is called the “Hudood Ordinance”, by which cruel punishments of the type prevalent in the Middle Ages were reintroduced, including whipping for certain crimes. The poor and the destitute were the main, perhaps the only, victims of these punishments. The prisons also became crowded with women who had been unfairly charged with crimes by husbands or others wishing to get rid of them. The educated, liberal middle classes were fully aware of the great harm Zia-ul-Haq was doing to the country, and to the image of Islam itself, but there was little they could do other than talk about it in small informal groups.
The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan towards the end of 1979 brought about some tragic consequences not only for Afghanistan but for Pakistan as well. The broad-based Afghan resistance against the Soviets included all sections of the Afghan society including the Islamic fundamentalists. The latter were supported, financed, and trained by Pakistan as well as the US. As a consequence of the war, vast multitudes of refugees swarmed into Pakistan. The Mullahs were quick to seize the opportunity.
The children of some three million Afghan refugees who found shelter in Pakistan, started getting their education in madrasas which sprouted overnight. Here they did not receive any modern education but were indoctrinated in only the most primitive, obsolete, and often distorted beliefs. It was mostly these students who became the vanguard of the Taliban movement and government in Afghanistan.
An unfortunate aspect of the rise of religious orthodoxy was that these extremists believed that they alone were responsible for the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, whereas it was a confluence of several factors that made the Soviet withdrawal possible. It is true that one of these factors was the determined fight waged by the Afghan freedom fighters, including the extremists, against the Soviets. However, there were also other important factors. One was the crucial role played by Pakistan in providing moral, financial, and military support to the Afghan Resistance and giving shelter to more than three million Afghan refugees. Another factor was the weapons supplied by the CIA and the financial assistance provided by the US and Saudi Arabia to the Mujahedeen.
Finally, there was the factor of the change of leadership in the Soviet Union that brought Gorbachev into power and his departure from the policy of the former Soviet rulers. Realizing that the Afghan conflict had become, in his words, a “bleeding wound”, with no end in sight, he decided to withdraw the Soviet troops from that war-torn country.
After the plane crash in 1988, in which Ziaul Haq and the US ambassador to Pakistan along with several other Pakistani generals died, the elected governments that came in power, were busy looting the country and did not have the courage, and probably did not think it expedient, to confront Islamic extremism, which continued to flourish in the 1990s. This was particularly the case during the prime ministership of Nawaz Sharif who got a Shariat Bill approved by the National Assembly, which gave him more or less dictatorial powers and provided for more obscurantist Islamic laws.
In recent years, there has been an upsurge in the popularity of religious parties in Pakistan. One reason is the disillusionment of the people with the two main political leaders of the 1990s and their parties - Benazir Bhutto and her People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif and his Muslim League. This has made the religious parties popular by default. Many frustrated citizens believe that the two major parties and their leaders looted the country and in other ways did the nation a great deal of harm. Hence they feel that maybe the religious parties and their leaders would be more honest and would sincerely try to solve the peoples’ problems. The religious parties have earned the support of the majority in two provinces - the NWFP and Baluchistan - and have formed governments in these provinces by virtue of having majorities in the provincial assemblies. Recently, the NWFP legislature has passed a Taliban-like bill, and if implemented it would curtail many civil liberties, in particular women’s rights, and create a provincial para-military force, which would compel people to offer prayers five times a day, and could arrest them for violation of the “Islamic way of life.” Luckily, the Pakistan Supreme Court has kept the bill in abeyance.
The military coup of 1999, which brought General Musharraf to power was condemned by the Western governments with the argument that the military had overthrown the democratically-elected government of Nawaz Sharif. The fallacy in this argument was that Sharif’s government was elected but certainly was not democratic. Although dismissed twice by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on charges of corruption, Nawaz Sharif was reelected in 1997 as the Prime Minister. Soon after his reelection, he was able to get a constitutional amendment approved by the National Assembly and the Senate, depriving the president of the power to dismiss a Prime Minister. Emboldened by the removal of this constitutional constraint, Sharif embarked on a strategy of weakening the institutions that could check his power. He curbed freedom of the press and arrested some journalists who were critical of his actions and policies.
The Sharif administration went beyond all its predecessors in its attempt to muzzle all governmental institutions, including the judiciary. Its supporters stormed the Supreme Court building while the judges were hearing a case against the Prime Minister. The hooligans ransacked the court building and stormed into the room where the judges were hearing the above case. They used abusive language against the judges and forced them to run for their lives. No action was taken against these hooligans by the Sharif government. In the past, whatever else might have happened in the political arena, the Supreme Court was considered to be beyond the excesses of the rulers. The physical assault on the Supreme Court building by the Sharif supporters, including some of his ministers, and the insults hurled on the judges may be regarded as one of the darkest chapters in Pakistan’s political history. The Sharif government, which was elected by the people, was thus obviously not a democratic government and its overthrow should not have been regarded as the overthrow of a democratic government.
The Western powers made the blunder of boycotting Musharraf and his government, which led to some unfortunate consequences. For instance, during the prime ministership of Nawaz Sharif, the CIA had entered into an arrangement with the Pakistan government to train 50 to 60 Pakistani commandoes to capture Bin Ladin in Afghanistan. The US government cancelled this arrangement with Pakistan after Musharraf came in power. Had this not been done, Bin Laden probably would have been captured and 9/11 might not have happened.
As stated above, the Afghan and Pakistani Mullahs believed that the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was the result of their determined fight alone and they, therefore, concluded that they could achieve other objectives as well, including the “Islamization” of Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. After a great deal of internecine warfare, the Mullahs, led by the Taliban and supported by the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, succeeded in seizing power in Afghanistan and ruled the country for several years. In the light of the statements made by the Taliban ambassador and other Afghan diplomats in Pakistan, it can be conjectured that the Taliban leaders were counting on divine intervention, which never materialized, when the American invasion of Afghanistan and the attack on the Taliban took place. With the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan became the theater of action for the Mullahs and they remain a powerful influence. A struggle is now going on between religious orthodoxy, represented by the Mullahs, and modernity represented by President Musharraf. This struggle is of major significance, and the outcome will produce an historic impact on Pakistan’s future.
After Ayub Khan, Musharraf is Pakistan’s first ruler to have shown the courage to take on the Mullahs openly. President Musharraf has repeatedly advocated a policy of what he calls “enlightened moderation” and has called for a jihad against extremism. In a television address to the nation a few months ago, President Musharraf made a comprehensive analysis of the crisis faced by the Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular. Following is the English version of parts of his speech, which was given in Urdu.
Today the world is passing through a chaotic situation: there are bomb blasts and suicide attacks; large numbers of innocent people are getting killed. Unfortunately, those who are engaged in these acts and those who are getting hurt are all Muslims. A more regrettable fact is that wherever a terrorist act or an extremist act takes place, our country gets directly or indirectly blamed because either the culprit had passed through Pakistan or had stayed here or in Afghanistan. I feel sad and concerned that Islam is getting a bad image and the world now thinks that Islam is a religion of extremism, terrorism, and intolerance. I tell every one I meet that this is not true and that Islam preaches peace and brotherliness. However, as the saying goes ‘actions speak louder than words.’ Thus whatever one might say it does not have as much impact as the despicable acts the whole world is watching. Thus, Islam is, given a bad name.
I want to address a few questions to the terrorists and extremists: What are their objective? Do they want Islam’s glory? Do they desire their own success? Do they think that through their methods they would succeed and bring glory to Islam? If that is what they think, they are mistaken. They will not achieve anything good through their misdeeds, their extremism, their terrorism. The only result of their actions will be Islam’s disrepute and destruction of Muslims.
The question is what kind of Islam should flourish in Pakistan? Would this Islam be Taliban-like, based on ignorance, archaic traditions, and taking us to darkness or Islam that is genuine, full of lofty objectives, espousing noble character, and emphasizing the individual’s responsibility to society and state? ... We say that Islam is a way of life and gives greater importance to individual’s obligations to other human beings compared to his obligations to God. Islam leads us to education, knowledge, reason, analysis, ijtehad (new interpretation according to the requirements of the time), and ijma (consensus). Islam leads us to peace, progress, prosperity, enlightenment, and moderation. Our extremist and tradition-bound groups totally ignore the lofty ideals of Islam. They are showing the world that Islam represents terrorism and extremism and are thus creating a negative image of Islam in the world. (Weekly Urdu Link, July 29 to August 4, 2005, p.19). President Musharraf’s lucid and pungent analysis, expressed in simple, spoken language, delineates the serious threat religious zealots and fanatics have posed for Pakistan, the Muslims in general and for Islam itself.
The $64,000 question is how to weaken and eventually defeat Mullahism in Pakistan. In order to achieve this objective, some measures may be adopted immediately along with other measures that are of a long-term nature.
A matter of immediate attention is with regard to the minimum educational qualifications for the candidates running for national and provincial assemblies. To reduce the power of Mullahism it is necessary that only university graduates be allowed to run for political office. Secondly, the madrasas, which have become the training ground for obscurantism, fanaticism, and even terrorism should either be closed or their curricula thoroughly modernized and rationalized and their teachers be properly trained to make these institutions places of modern learning.
Almost all Pakistani Muslim males usually attend the Friday afternoon prayers in mosques in which, generally, uneducated imams give sermons after the prayers. As I have mentioned earlier, these imams are usually trained in the madrasas and have not received modern education. Their sermons remind one of the thinking of the Middle Ages. Although the educated people listening to them do not pay much attention to what the imam is saying, it is the uneducated and illiterate - Pakistan’s large majority -who are gullible to the imam’s unenlightened views, such as condemnation of population control, opposition to women’s rights, and negative attitudes towards Western civilization. Ideally, more educated imams should replace the present lot, and the government should ask eminent religious scholars to prepare the sermons which alone should be read by the imams after prayers.
Another measure that is of great importance is that Parliament must pass a law that encouragement, incitement, and preaching of violence in the garb of jihad should be made unlawful and strict punishment should be imposed for violations.
A great deal of jihadi sentiment in Pakistan has arisen over the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Pakistanis react emotionally when they watch on television Palestinians killed and their homes demolished. It is imperative to realize that such excessive media coverage given to the Middle East violence unnecessarily agitates Pakistanis’ minds with regard to a dispute in which Pakistan has no leverage. The bloody scenes depicted on the TV screen, horrible as they are, fuel extremism and fanaticism. Secondly, Pakistan should now view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rationally and not emotionally. Whereas Pakistan has been, for decades, in the forefront championing the Palestinian cause, there has been no reciprocity from the Palestinian side. Yasser Arafat was so pro-Indian that he has been quoted as saying that he regarded India as his second home. The Palestinians - leaders and non-leaders alike - have never spoken about Kashmir. Thousands more Muslims have died in Indian Kashmir than the number who have died in Palestine. Have the Arab media paid any attention to this tragedy? The answer is “no.” Indeed, “the most unkindest cut of all” was a comment made by Gaddafi, who is regarded as a great friend of Pakistan, in an interview with the BBC a few months ago in which he proposed wiping out Pakistan from the world map. He observed that the only solution to the Kashmir problem was that both India and Pakistan should be reunited! Gaddafi’s comment reminds me of Ghalib’s famous verse:

Huwai tum dost jiskay dushman uska asman keon ho

(It is extremely difficult to convey the true meaning of this verse in another language. A rough translation would be: one who has you as a friend, doesn’t need an enemy).
With the exception of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, the Arab countries and their media have, in general, little interest in the non-Arab Muslim world. While the massacre of Muslims was taking place in Bosnia and Kosovo, the ambassador of an important Arab country to the US commented that this massacre was a European problem and not a problem of the Muslim world! It is also on record that the UN Secretary General Butroos Butroos Ghali, an Egyptian, put a number of hurdles in US Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s efforts to impose sanctions against Serbia.
Many Pakistanis had a great deal of sympathy for Saddam’s Iraq, not realizing that Saddam cared much more for India than for Pakistan and did not regard Kashmir as a problem of the Muslim world. When India exploded the nuclear bomb, he congratulated the Indians on their achievement. The great massacre of Muslims and large-scale gang-rapes of Muslim women in Gujerat, a few years ago, were totally ignored by the Arab media. It is, therefore, imperative that Pakistan, in its relations with other countries, should regard self-interest as the primary objective and follow President Musharraf’s advice to: be guided by hosh (commonsense) and not josh (emotion). President Musharraf showed great statesmanship when he recently addressed the World Jewish Congress in New York. As expected, the Mullahs have made a hue and cry about this historic event. Iqbal has aptly described the mental limitations of the Mullahs.

What is a nation? What is leadership of nations?
What do the poor imams of prayers know about these matters?

Among the long-term measures necessary to weaken Mullahism, the most potent and effective is universal education based on rationalism and not obscurantism. Pakistan has long neglected proper education of its young citizenry and is paying a high price for it. It is true that the tremendous financial resources required to achieve this task have not been available. However, the priorities, too, were often not ranked correctly. Thus, in the 1960s, a great deal of emphasis was given by the policy makers to growth of wealth and it was considered that public expenditure on education would have to wait till the country had grown enough wealth to take care of its other problems. This was a wrong assumption because education itself is a big booster of the economy and an educated work force can be a more productive work force.
In the 1960s, South Korea was, more or less, at the same level of economic development as Pakistan. However, it gave the greatest priority to educate its workforce and within a few decades it has become an economic powerhouse in Asia. In the 1970s, the government was more focused on taking over all the private educational institutions, including the good ones, than on expanding educational facilities and improving the quality of education. Its overall priorities were in foreign policy as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wanted to play a larger than life role in foreign affairs. Also the emphasis was on short-term policies that could earn popularity for the party in power, and its leader. The result was that no solid policies were made with regard to educational development and education remained the stepchild of public policy.
As has been discussed earlier, Zia-ul-Haq was primarily responsible to bring religiosity in public life, including its emphasis on religious education. The mushroom growth of madrasas took place during his regime. The political regimes of the 1990s that followed Ziaul Haq were short-lived, were primarily interested in their survival, and were marred by corruption. Hence education remained on the back burner.
President Musharraf is trying his best to make education a priority of his regime and to convert madrasas into modern schools. .In order to weaken and eventually eliminate Mullahism and its offspring - obscurantism, fanaticism, and terrorism - there is no more effective program than to impart modern, progressive, and rational education to all its people. In this regard, the United States could play an important role in a number of ways. Generous financial assistance to educational programs and institutions will be an integral part of this assistance. There should also be a large-scale exchange program between the students and teachers of the American and Pakistani educational institutions. Recently, the US government has started a generous Fulbright scholarship program for Pakistani students to come to the United States for higher education. This is a welcome and timely step in creating a class of highly educated people, who will in all likelihood be modern and rational. However, these educators will work primarily in the urban areas. A more compelling and urgent necessity is to set up well-equipped schools, for girls and boys, with well-paid and motivated teachers in every mullah-dominated village. As a new generation grows up with liberal views, the mullah will be sidelined. Of course, mullahs cannot be simply ignored. A more practical approach would be to neutralize them. Fortunately, the lure of money is great for the mullah, and for the sake of money many mullahs would be willing to forget their religious zeal. This can be done by offering mullahs attractive salaries to become part of a modern school system, teaching religion in accordance with an approved syllabus. It is very likely that many mullahs would be willing to accept such a proposition. The participation of mullahs is also likely to make the ignorant villagers more receptive to a modern school system.
While modern education, anchored in science and rationalism, is a sine qua non for Pakistan, a country with millions of educated people but without jobs would be an easy prey for extremist ideas and movements. It is therefore imperative that while utmost attention to and expenditure of resources on education is a must, a simultaneous aggressive program for accelerated economic development should also be launched.
One geographical area which needs particular attention is the region adjacent to Afghanistan - the NWFP, Baluchistan, and the tribal belt - where the overwhelming majority of the people are extremely poor, providing a breeding ground for Mullahism. No wonder the Islamic fundamentalist parties are thriving in the NWFP and Baluchistan. Of the colossal amount of money the United States is spending on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan if even one percent of that money is spent on education and economic development of these areas it would in the long run be a most effective tool to combat mullahism and terrorism.


In a recent TV interview, former President Clinton made the point that in no case should the US fail in Afghanistan and the Taliban be allowed to come back to power. It is significant that in this regard he did not mention Iraq. In other words, to strangulate terrorism and fanaticism, he feels that Afghanistan is much more important than Iraq. It can be argued that in order to have a secure, modern, and progressive Afghanistan, it is necessary that there should be a secure, modern, and progressive Pakistan as well because, among other reasons, the Pakhtuns, who live on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border can crisscross the 1500 mile long border without much difficulty.
To make Pakistan a secure, modern, progressive, and prosperous nation, three elements, in my view, are the most important: population control; modern education based on science and reason and not anchored in supernaturalism; and the symbiosis of accelerated economic development and maximization of employment opportunities. This troika may constitute the famous cockcrow that will send the ghost of Mullahism packing.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.