Islamization in Pakistan

Islamization of Pakistan

Sharization or Islamization ( Urdu: اسلامی حکمرانی) has a long history in Pakistan since the 1950s, but it became the primary policy, or "centerpiece" of the government of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the president of Pakistan from 1977 until his death in 1988.


  • Faced with insoluble social, political, and economic crises that threatened the very existence of Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought to compensate by adopting a strict version of the Sharia as the country’s legal system....
    By mid-September, Islamabad was arguing that Islamization offered the only chance of holding Pakistan together as it slid toward political and social collapse amid technical bankruptcy and increasing political assertiveness by the local Islamist parties. Relying on their powerful militias and allied Kashmiri terrorist organizations, the Islamist parties flexed political muscle Nawaz Sharif could no longer confront. By the end of the month the Pakistani government was hanging by a thread, and the crisis was exacerbated by economic disaster and a collapsing social order that brought the country to the verge of a civil war. The Islamist members of the army and ISI high command warned Nawaz Sharif that the only alternative to chaos was to implement “Talibanization”—the transformation of Pakistan from a formally secular pseudo-democracy into a declared extremist Islamic theocracy....
    Sharif orchestrated a profound purge of the entire military and ISI high command, throwing out the Westernized elite and replacing them with Islamists who are ardent supporters of bellicosity toward India, active aid for the war by proxy in Kashmir, and assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan and other Islamist jihads....
    Washington cannot offer Islamabad anything that would be worth provoking a major confrontation with the Pakistani Islamists. Even if Sharif gave an order to apprehend bin Laden, his order would not be carried out by the Pakistani security services because they are riddled with, even actually controlled by, militant Islamists. For them bin Laden is a hero, not a villain. These Islamists are also the new army and ISI elite Sharif just empowered. The Pakistani security establishment knows that any cooperation with Washington will place it in a “state of war” with the local Islamist militias, the Arab “Afghans,” and the Kashmiri terrorist organizations they sponsor. With the Afghan Taliban providing safe haven to these groups, they can easily destabilize Pakistan and drag it into a fratricidal civil war the Islamists are sure to win....
    Not only did Islamabad have advance knowledge of the impending strikes, but at the very least it warned the Taliban leadership—whom Islamabad created and is sponsoring—so that they could ensure that bin Laden, Zawahiri, and their lieutenants were not harmed in the strike. According to Arab sources, the ISI even sent a senior official to Afghanistan to personally warn bin Laden about the impending U.S. strike.
    • Bodansky, Yossef - Bin Laden_ the man who declared war on America (2011)
  • As Guardian journalist Jon Boone wrote in 2013, “Sharif tried to turn Pakistan into an Islamic caliphate ruled by sharia.”
    • quoted in The Guardian. 2013. [1]
  • By early 1979, everything was ready. In Iran, the government of Bakhtiar had fallen on February 11, 1979, and the Islamic revolution had been declared victorious. But just a day earlier, on February 10, Zia had made a forty-eight-minute speech and announced he was imposing Nizam-i-Islam on Pakistan, effective immediately—in other words, Pakistan would now be governed by shari’a (Islamic) law. Nizam, the Arabic word for “system,” is also often used to mean a regime, and so, appropriately, Zia’s dictatorial regime would now rule with an Islamic system of government. This meant changing the country’s legal code and introducing harsh punishments for offenses that violated the boundaries of behavior set by God in the Quran: intoxication, fornication, false allegations of fornication, and theft. The ordinances, known as hudood, Arabic for “boundaries,” were very detailed and took up whole pages in the Pakistani newspapers. From then on, drinkers would be flogged, adulterers would be stoned to death, thieves would have their hands chopped off. More was coming: Zia wanted to Islamize the entire economy, the legal system, society, everything. The announcement stunned Mehtab, the young television anchor. She had seen the incremental changes around her, she had sensed the fear, she knew there had been public floggings, but it all felt temporary, like an unpleasant dream. And though most of the country was probably equally stunned, it appeared as though Pakistan was celebrating because Zia, an expert stage master and manipulator, had chosen the joyous occasion of the prophet’s birthday to make his announcement. Eid-e-milad-ul-nabi in Urdu, or mawled al-nabi in Arabic, the occasion was just as colorful in Pakistan as it was in Morocco or Indonesia. In big cities and small villages of Pakistan, green flags and bunting hung on the streets, which were lined with food stalls and cultural events. Garlands of bright lights lit up the walls of mosques. The preparations for the celebrations had started days before. On the day itself, the prayers, processions, and children playing on the streets distracted Pakistanis and filled the silence as the nation slipped further into darkness. King Khaled of Saudi Arabia sent a cable to congratulate Zia, saying he was moved and looked forward to “seeing the application of Islamic laws in all Muslim countries.”
    • Kim Ghattas Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
  • Despite the press coverage of Dawalibi’s visits to Pakistan, the extent of his involvement in writing the laws was not made public. There was much secrecy around his role, and only years later would a Pakistani jurist doing a review of the work of the Council of Islamic Ideology uncover what he described as the “revolting” details of what had happened in its offices as Saudi Arabia imposed itself on Pakistan, effectively writing a defining chapter of the country’s history. On February 11, the day after Zia’s announcement of Nizam-i-Islam, the same day that Khomeini declared his victory in Iran, bars, brothels, and breweries were officially shut down in Pakistan. Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi, founded in 1860, had to close its doors, its stock confiscated. Until then, foreigners and non-Muslims had been allowed to consume or produce alcohol, and hotels still served it. But in a flash, ten thousand licenses were revoked across the country. In Khomeini’s Iran, there was still chaos and street battles, but there, too, zealots were destroying bottles of champagne and fine wine. On February 14, Zia spoke to CBS television and was asked if there were parallels between what he was trying to achieve and what was happening in Iran. “Yes,” replied the general, “there were parallels in that we were first off.” Pakistan had even managed to impose Islamic law with less violence and upheaval than Iran, he added proudly. From Egypt to Pakistan, there seemed to be a desire to emulate or outdo Iran. Perhaps Mawdudi had even accelerated the push for Islamizing Pakistan’s laws when he had seen Khomeini’s revolution picking up steam at the end of 1978 and the ayatollah becoming a media star in Paris. Had he quickened the pace even further after Khomeini had returned to Iran on February 1? After all, Mawdudi had known of the ayatollah’s grand ambitions ever since they had met in 1963 and had inspired some of Khomeini’s vision.
    • Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
  • Invisible walls were also rising among communities, between neighbors, and even within families. The seeds of intolerance had been there at the outset of Pakistan’s creation, though they’d been kept mostly buried. Now, Zia was watering them generously, and the Saudis were adding fertilizer. Mehtab had grown up with Hindu neighbors; they visited each other and played together. Soon, some Sunni Pakistanis refused to even have a Hindu cook in their house, because they considered the food impure. As more Pakistanis started to adhere to the puritanical ideas spread under Zia, tensions grew within families. Sons criticized their mothers, grandchildren chided their grandparents and refused to join the centuries-old tradition of religious celebrations infused with local folkloric customs, like visits to shrines of saints, or the Shab-e-Barat, known in Arabic as Laylat al Bara’a, the night of salvation, when prayers are believed to be especially fruitful. Children had always set off firecrackers at dusk on the occasion, and candles stayed lit for the nightlong prayers. This was now heresy for those who were being wooed by hundreds of ultraconservative orthodox clerics, fanning across the country, newly empowered by Zia. They were a mix of local revivalists, like the Jamaat-trained clerics and preachers from the Deobandi school of thought, the subcontinent equivalent of Wahhabism. And there were, of course, constant winds blowing from Saudi Arabia.
    • Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
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