If you can’t win the game, change the rules. This has been the cornerstone of the political ideology of religious groups from Egypt to Pakistan. It all started from Syed Qutb in Egypt and his mentor Maulana Maududi in Pakistan. Qutb, upon his return from the United States, became increasingly disturbed by what he saw as the ‘Westernisation’ of Egypt by its pro-Western elite.
He saw how rapidly Egypt was taking the colours of Westernisation. To save Islam, which Qutb thought was in ‘danger’, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a political action front that would bring about reformation through Sharia. However, soon Qutb realised that the political action and mobilisation of people was too difficult to achieve — partly because the ‘jahliyya’, he thought, was so widespread that it had infested the people of Egypt in moving away from what they really wanted. People were like sheep that needed direction.
The only way, Qutb thought that these people could be saved was through an act of adventure that would jolt them — a revolution by radicals who would alter the status quo. Likewise, in Pakistan, Qutb’s mentor, Maulana Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), was going through the same dilemma. The JI, together with other religious groups, was trying hard to enforce Sharia through political action, only realising that people were least interested. This not only made the religious groups hate democracy and the rulers, but also the people whose eyes and ears were “blackened”, according to the them.
When all hopes seemed to be fading away, the religious groups, who accounted for less than five per cent of the vote bank, took to the streets and monopolised their power through the street, coercing different political leaders to bend to their demands. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became one of the few victims of the street power of religious groups.
General Ziaul Haq, however, came out to be the long awaited messiah, a ray of hope for the religious parties that thought that Zia’s coup might be able to do what they wouldn’t ever accomplish in decades through democracy. And Zia did just that ,giving the religious groups’ agenda a decades’ leap. After his death, the religious parties still had hope in a sudden surge of militants, millions of dollars of funding to madrassas, and systematic armament of religious organisations as a result the Afghan war. A new force was heaping, waiting to strike for the real dream: enforcing Sharia in Pakistan by destabilising the political and military set-up, stripping the country off from everything Western.
But General Musharraf’s coup proved to be a disaster for the religious groups. As much as they thought the general would continue the legacy of Ziaul Haq, Musharraf proved to be progressive. Pushed by the United States, soon there was a crackdown on the militant friends of the religious parties. Militants’ madrassas were shut down and funding ceased. It was the worst of times, and the conservatives developed extreme hate for not just Musharraf but also towards the entire military. Democracy was not the only enemy now. The secular military also became a serious threat to the religious groups’ agenda of enforcing Sharia in Pakistan. And in those worst times, the religious groups found a new hope: enter the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The TTP provided the religious parties that cover they needed to begin a push to enforce Sharia. Religious groups, especially the JI, wouldn’t have to get their hands dirty this time; they would only capitalise on the TTP’s lethal war on the Pakistani state and military. The religious groups never criticised the TTP’s brutalities, allowed the state and military to slowly bleed, and for obvious reason: they stood to benefit from it. While religious groups never supported suicide bombings, as long as they could see the political-military establishment collapsing to its knees, it served their agenda well. In post-colonial Muslim states, political Islam failed miserably, but militant Islam won, setting a precedent that political ends could be achieved in countries like Pakistan through violence and extremism. The dream of Qutb and Maududi is yet to come real; the only hindrance is a stable democracy, and a strong military that stands at odds with the religious groups.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2014.
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