The relationship of Islam to Pakistan and India

PLEASE NOTE: This article has also been copublished at pakspectator.com.  Please feel free to view the article there as well.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/02/21/pakistan.taliban.truce/index.html

This week gave an interesting contrast to the potential futures of India and Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the government has been trying feverishly to come to some agreement with tribes in its western provinces, in order to bring some sort of peace there. So the Pakistani government basically allowed Traditional Sharia law (strict Islamic law) to be used in those areas.  Today, it was announced that the Taliban and Pakistani government have come to a ‘permanent truce’ in the region, largely because of the acceptance of Sharia law in these provinces.

This must be considered a major defeat for the west. Many have argued that the war on terror is basically a war of ideas; if so, Tradiitonal Sharia law is one of those battlefields. Whether this will be a boon or bust for Pakistan remains to be seen. I believe it will hurt Pakistan. Pakistan, since its inception, has been one of the most successful secular Islamic countries in the world; that may be a little bit of an oxymoron, but it is the case. Pakistan’s laws abided by the Koran, but it allowed for basic freedoms to exist. But the current compromise seriously contradicts that precedent. Whether this weakens the country as a whole, well, time will tell.

Now, compare that to India. India is still recovering from the Mumbai attacks of November. First, I am pleased but surprised that there was no significnat Hindu/Muslim clashes in the aftermath of those attacks. The Muslim community came out harshly against the terrorists instantly. Tom Friedman notes in a colum last week on how forceful the Muslim community in Mumbai has rejected those murders.

“People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim,” Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, told The Times of London. Eventually, one assumes, they will have to be buried, but the Mumbai Muslims remain defiant.

For example, the Muslim community immediately refused to bury the terrorists in their cemetaries, stating that they were not Muslims and had no right:

“People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim,” Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, told The Times of London. Eventually, one assumes, they will have to be buried, but the Mumbai Muslims remain defiant.

“Indian Muslims are proud of being both Indian and Muslim, and the Mumbai terrorism was a war against both India and Islam,” explained M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal. “Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is ‘fasad.’ Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the … terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery.”

“Indian Muslims are proud of being both Indian and Muslim, and the Mumbai terrorism was a war against both India and Islam,” explained M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal. “Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is ‘fasad.’ Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the … terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery.”

Now, I don’t point out these differences to point and say, “this is bad, that is good”. It is more an analysis of where the two countries are headed. Pakistan appears to be headed toward more religious involvement in government, with divisive forces playing a larger role in public life, while in India, they are trying to move their highly imperfect social structure and make sure that minorities, including Muslims, feel part of the greater nation. I think most would agree with me that the latter is preferable. That is one reason that virtually no Indian Muslims have been documented to have joined Al Qaeda, which is quite remarkable considering that India has the secon largest Muslim population in the world.

In general, we have seen that in both India and Pakistan, the more religious extremists get involved in politics, the worse it is for the country at large. In Pakistan the example is obvious, with its continuing battle with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In India, when Hindu Nationalists became a political force, it increased religious-based violence and animosity. My question is, does Pakistan’s leaders really believe that imposing Sharia law in the west will bring about more peace? We have the obvious example of Afghanistan and the Taliban, with its terrible consequences for both the West and Pakistan. Reimposing similar rule in the borderlands of Afghanistan doesn’t seem to hold much promise for the future, in my humble opinion. I sincerely hope that Pakistan’s attempt at peace in the Western frontier works; but I am not very optimistic about the outcome.