Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country; about three fourths of the Muslims are Sunnis (largely Sufis) and the rest ShiitesPakistan is an Islamic republic but the country’s constitution guarantees equal rights to Muslims and non Muslims although often this does not seem to be the reality that is practiced. Shia-Sunni tensions have increased in recent years and there have been some violent incidents.

Pakistan was essentially created as a Muslim homeland and Islam is the state and official religion. Many of the Sunni Muslims are Sufis. Sufi traditions of love, peace, progress, perfection and support of the poor have strongly influenced Islam in Pakistan. Islam arrived in Sindh in the eighth century. From what is now Pakistan the Sufi grew and spread over the Indian sub-continent.

Islam, arguably the dominant cultural influence in Pakistan, arrived with Arab diplomats and traders in the A.D. 8th century. Waves of Muslims — many of the Turkic origin — followed, culminating with control by the Mughals (Moguls) over most of the Indian subcontinent. The Mughal empire flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries and remained officially in control until well after the British seet up shop and came to dominate India in the early 18th century. Effective British governance of the areas that now make up Pakistan was not achieved until well into the second half of the 19th century. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale. 2007]

The first Muslim traders arrived in the Sindh in what is now southern Pakistan. According to the Columbia Encyclopedia: “In 712, the Muslim Arabs appeared in force and conquered Sindh, and by 900 they controlled most of NW India. They were followed by the Ghaznavid and Ghorid Turks. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]

Most Pakistanis are Sunnis that follow the Hanafi school of Islamic law. Prayers and other rituals are performed in accordance with Hanafi rules. Islam is not an indigenous religion as it is in the Middle East. It was brought to South Asia by what some have called “Arab spiritual imperialists.” Most South Asians Muslims are descendants of converts. This is one reason why local saints — which are quite popular in Pakistan — have such as a strong following because they are more closely associated with the local people.

The most populous Muslim nations in the world are in South and Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. A number of Islamic practices are particular to South Asia, and several of them have been subject to reforms over the years. For example, the anniversary of the death of a pir is observed annually. Popular belief holds that this anniversary is an especially propitious time for seeking the intercession of the pir. Large numbers of the faithful attend anniversary ceremonies, which are festive occasions enjoyed by the followers of the pir as well as orthodox Muslims. The ceremonies are quite similar in form and content to many Hindu festivals. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989]

Muslims in Pakistan

Muslims make up 96.4 percent of the population. Of these 85-90 percent are Sunni and 10-15 percent are Shia (Shiites). Others (including Christian and Hindu): 3.6 percent (2010 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2019: “Sources vary on the precise breakdown of the Muslim population between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sunnis are generally believed to be 80-85 percent of the Muslim population and Shia, including Hazara, Ismaili, and Bohra (a branch of Ismaili), are generally believed to make up 15-20 percent. Unofficial estimates vary widely with regard to the size of minority religious groups. Religious community representatives estimate religious groups not identifying as Sunni, Shia, or Ahmadi Muslim constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2019, United States Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom]

Many Pakistanis are very religious. They pray five times a day and don't tolerate non-Islamic views. Even so they are not regarded as Islamists like the Taliban. In a survey by the U.S. Stare Department in 2000, 86 percent of Muslims said they want Islam to play a large role in their country, 60 percent said they want religious leaders to become more politically active, 78 percent of Muslims said schools should provide more religious instruction for children and 39 percent agreed that democracy and Islamic law are compatible. In the same survey 48 percent of Muslims said there should be some restrictions on men and women working together.

Islam is pervasive in the lives of Pakistani people and guides many aspects of Pakistani society. The muezzin's call to worship from the minarets of the mosques; men bowed in prayer in the fields, shops and airports; qibla (Urdu for 'the direction of Mecca') is marked in every hotel bedroom; the veiled women in the streets — all constantly remind you of the devotion and passion of the Pakistanis for their religion. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. ]

Basic Tenets of Islam

The Muslim religion was founded by the prophet Muhammad in the seventh century, when, according to Islamic belief, he received messages from God and wrote them down in what became the Qur'an, the Islamic book that instructs Muslims on how to conduct their lives. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

The central belief in Islam is that there is only one God, Allah, and that the Prophet Muhammad was his final messenger. Muhammad is held to be the "seal of the prophets." Islam is derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition and regards Abraham (Ibrahim) and Jesus (Isa) as prophets and recognizes the validity of the Old Testament and New Testament. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Islam is held to be the blueprint for humanity that God has created. The word Islam comes from aslama (to submit), and the one who submits — a Muslim — is a believer who achieves peace, or salaam. God, the creator, is invisible and omnipresent; to represent God in any form is a sin.*

The Prophet was born in A.D.570 and became a merchant in the Arabian town of Mecca. At the age of forty, he began to receive a series of revelations from God transmitted through the angel Gabriel. His monotheistic message, which disdained the idolatry that was popularly practiced at the Kaaba (now in the Great Mosque and venerated as a shrine of Muslim pilgrimage) in Mecca at that time, was ridiculed by the town's leaders. Muhammad and his followers were forced to emigrate in 622 to the nearby town of Yathrib, later known as Medina or "the city." This move, the hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic era. In the ten years before his death in 632, the Prophet continued preaching and receiving revelations, ultimately consolidating both the temporal and the spiritual leadership of Arabia.*

The Quran, the holy scripture of Islam, plays a pivotal role in Muslim social organization and values. The Quran, which literally means "reciting," is recognized by believers as truly the word of God, and as such it is eternal, absolute, and irrevocable. The fact that Muhammad was the last of the prophets and that no further additions to "the word" are allowed is significant; it closes the door to new revelations.*

That there can be no authorized translation of the Quran in any language other than the original, Arabic, is crucial to its unifying importance. Cultural differences such as those that exist among various Muslim groups throughout the world cannot compromise the unifying role that the religion plays.*

The Prophet's life is considered exemplary. His active engagement in worldly activities established precedents for Muslims to follow. These precedents, referred to as the hadith, include the statements, actions, and moods or feelings of the Prophet. Although many hadith are popularly accepted by most Muslims, there is no one canon accepted by all. Such things as the way in which Muhammad ran the state in Medina and the priority he placed on education remain important guidelines, however, have continued to remain important in modern times. The Quran and the hadith together form the sunna, a comprehensive guide to spiritual, ethical, and social living.*

Five Pillars and Important Islamic Beliefs

The five pillars of Islam consist of certain beliefs and acts to which a Muslim must adhere to affirm membership in the community. The first is the shahada (testimony), the affirmation of the faith, which succinctly states the central belief of Islam: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his Prophet." To become a Muslim, one needs only to recite this statement. Second is salat, the obligation for a Muslim to pray at five set times during the day. Muslims value prayers recited communally, especially the midday prayers on Friday, the Muslim sabbath. Mosques have emerged as important social and political centers as a by-product of this unifying value. The third pillar of Islam is zakat, the obligation to provide alms for the poor and disadvantaged. The fourth is sawm, the obligation to fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan, in commemoration of the beginning of the Prophet's revelations from Allah. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

“The final pillar is the expectation that every adult Muslim physically and financially able to do so perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in his or her lifetime. The pilgrimage occurs during the last month of the Muslim lunar calendar, just over a month after the end of Ramadan. Its social importance as a unifier of the greater Muslim umma (community of believers) has led to the establishment of hajj committees for its regulation in every Muslim country. The pilgrimage of a Muslim to the sacred places at any other time of the year is referred to as umra (visitation). At various times of political crisis in Pakistan, almost every major leader has left for Saudi Arabia to perform umra. Performing umra may or may not increase the politician's reputation for moral standing.*

A number of other elements contribute to a sense of social membership whereby Muslims see themselves as distinct from nonMuslims , including prohibition on the consumption of pork and alcohol, the requirement that animals be slaughtered in a ritual manner, and the obligation to circumcise sons. Another element is jihad, the "striving." Jihad is often misunderstood in the West, where people think of it as a fanatical holy war. There are two kinds of jihad: the far more important inner one is the battle each Muslim wages with his or her lower self; the outer one is the battle which each Muslim must wage to preserve the faith and its followers. People who fight the outer jihad are mujahidin. The Afghan rebels waging an insurrection against the Soviet-backed government in the 1980s deftly used this term to identify themselves and hence infused their struggle with a moral dimension.*

The concept of predestination in Islam is different from that in Christianity. Islam posits the existence of an all-powerful force (Allah) who rules the universe and knows all things. Something will happen — inshaallah — if it is God's will. The concept is not purely fatalistic, for although people are responsible to God for their actions, these actions are not predestined. Instead, God has shown the world the right way to live as revealed through the Quran; then it is up to individual believers to choose how to live.*

Muslim Sects in Pakistan

There are two major sects, the Sunnis and the Shia, in Islam. They are differentiated by Sunni acceptance of the temporal authority of the Rashudin Caliphate (Abu Bakr, Omar, Usman, and Ali) after the death of the Prophet and the Shia acceptance solely of Ali, the Prophet's cousin and husband of his daughter, Fatima, and his descendants. Over time, the Sunni sect divided into four major schools of jurisprudence; of these, the Hanafi school is predominant in Pakistan. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The Shia sect split over the matter of succession, resulting in two major groups: the majority Twelve Imam Shia believe that there are twelve rightful imams, Ali and his eleven direct descendants. A second Shia group, the numerically smaller Ismaili community, known also as Seveners, follows a line of imams that originally challenged the Seventh Imam and supported a younger brother, Ismail. The Ismaili line of leaders has been continuous down to the present day. The current leader, Sadr ad Din Agha Khan, who is active in international humanitarian efforts, is a direct descendant of Ali.*

While most Muslims are of the Sunni and Shia sects, there are several religions with connections to Islam. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims but many other Muslims don’t regard them as such. They do not accept Muhammad as the last prophet and were officially declared non-Muslims by the government in 1974. Zikris form another group that regard themselves Muslim but are rejected by Sunni leaders because they practice ceremonies that are considered non-Muslim. An offshoot Shia sect, the Ismailis, led by Prince Karim Aga Khan, are prominent in some northern areas. There are also some in the Karachi area. *

Islam in Pakistani Society

Islam was brought to the South Asian subcontinent in the eighth century by wandering Sufi mystics known as pir. As in other areas where it was introduced by Sufis, Islam to some extent syncretized with preIslamic influences, resulting in a religion traditionally more flexible than in the Arab world. Two Sufis whose shrines receive much national attention are Data Ganj Baksh in Lahore (ca. eleventh century) and Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan, Sindh (ca. twelfth century). [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The Muslim poet-philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal first proposed the idea of a Muslim state in the subcontinent in his address to the Muslim League at Allahabad in 1930. His proposal referred to the four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the NorthWest Frontier — essentially what would became the post-1971 boundary of Pakistan. Iqbal's idea gave concrete form to the "Two Nations Theory" of two distinct nations in the subcontinent based on religion (Islam and Hinduism) and with different historical backgrounds, social customs, cultures, and social mores.*

Islam was thus the basis for the creation and the unification of a separate state, but it was not expected to serve as the model of government. Mohammad Ali Jinnah made his commitment to secularism in Pakistan clear in his inaugural address when he said, "You will find that in the 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." This vision of a Muslim majority state in which religious minorities would share equally in its development was questioned shortly after independence. The debate continued into the 1990s amid questions of the rights of Ahmadiyyas (a small but influential sect considered by orthodox Muslims to be outside the pale of Islam), issuance of identity cards denoting religious affiliation, and government intervention in the personal practice of Islam.*

History of Islam in Pakistan

Around 711, Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim introduced Islam into Sindh, and by the tenth century, Islam was further promoted by Turkish sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, who controlled Punjab. After the conquest of Sindh by General Bin Qasim in 711 AD., Islam gained a firm hold in the area. From the 10th century A.D. onwards, Ghaznavis, Ghoris, Khiljis and Tughlaks ruled over the subcontinent until the invasion of Timur, who paved the way for the great Mughal Empire. This empire lasted until the war of independence of 1857.

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: It was not until the eleventh century, when Turkish forces of the Ghaznavid dynasty (962–1186 c.e.) spread from Afghanistan to northern India, that Islam became a significant influence. Sufi orders established in India helped continue the dissemination of Islam in the region. By 1206 Delhi became the capital of the Muslim sultanate, and it remained so until 1526, when another Muslim dynasty, the Mughuls, supplanted the Muslim sultanate. With the rise of the Mughal Empire during the sixteenth century, Islam became fully entrenched in the subcontinent. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

The Early Muslim rulers of the subcontinent kept the border open for Muslims, which resulted in the spread of Islam and the establishment of Muslim settlements throughout the region. This era has left Pakistan rich in ethnic and cultural heritage. Muslim rulers came from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, with entirely different cultures, resulting in a fusion with local and pre-existing cultures, outlook on life, language and literature, customs and legal system, arts and architecture.

By the thirteenth century, a succession of Turkic rulers known as the Mughals ruled most of the Indian subcontinent, and their influence on architecture, cuisine, and language endures to the twenty-first century. However, Mughal rule eventually suffered from numerous difficulties related to controlling a large land area with distinct economies and cultures. One notable challenge to Mughal rule came from Sikh rulers who took control of the Punjabi capital Lahore in 1761. The Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, eventually controlled vast areas of Punjab by 1818 and Kashmir by 1819, but after Singh’s death in 1840, infighting and factionalism among Sikh leaders led to the gradual disintegration of their holdings into small principalities. The British took advantage of the dissipation of Sikh power and ended Sikh rule by 1849.

Although the northeast of the Indian subcontinent (now Bangladesh) remained, with interruptions, part of a united Mughal empire in India from the early 16th cent. to 1857, the northwest changed hands many times before it became (1857) part of imperial British India. It was overrun by Persians in the late 1730s; by the Afghans, who held Sindh and the Punjab during the latter half of the 18th cent.; and by the Sikhs, who rose to power in the Punjab under Ranjit Singh (1780–1839).

The Muslims ruled the subcontinent until the establishment of the British Empire, which lasted until 1947. After Independence in 1947, Islamic traditions and values continued to be a defining force in the collective and individual lives of the people of Pakistan.

Introduction of Islam to Pakistan

The initial entry of Islam into India came in the first century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Umayyad caliph in Damascus sent an expedition to Balochistan and Sindh in 711 led by Muhammad bin Qasim (for whom Karachi's second port is named). The expedition went as far north as Multan but was not able to retain that region and was not successful in expanding Islamic rule to other parts of India. Coastal trade and the presence of a Muslim colony in Sindh, however, permitted significant cultural exchanges and the introduction into the subcontinent of saintly teachers. Muslim influence grew with conversions. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Almost three centuries later, the Turks and the Afghans spearheaded the Islamic conquest in India through the traditional invasion routes of the northwest. Mahmud of Ghazni (979-1030) led a series of raids against Rajput kingdoms and rich Hindu temples and established a base in Punjab for future incursions. Mahmud's tactics originated the legend of idol-smashing Muslims bent on plunder and forced conversions, a reputation that persists in India to the present day.

During the last quarter of the twelfth century, Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic Plain, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, and Delhi. His successors established the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mamluk Dynasty (mamluk means "slave") in 1211 (however, the Delhi Sultanate is traditionally held to have been founded in 1206).

Islam in Pakistan Under the British and During Early Independence

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “European control over India began in 1600 with the founding of the British East India Company, which steadily acquired governmental authority until 1858, when the British Crown assumed full authority over the subcontinent with the establishment of the British Raj (1858–1947). During the nineteenth century colonial rule ignited a debate among Sunni Muslims over two different interpretations of Islam. One group favored a moderate form that was tolerant of religious diversity and stressed modern education and accommodation to a world dominated by Western powers. A second group espoused a puritanical interpretation of Islam that viewed accommodation to Western influences as counter to the faith and to the unity and strength of the Islamic community, or ummah. The latter was associated with Deobandi Islam, a Sunni movement that took its name from the town of Deoband (north of New Delhi), where the first Deobandi school, Dar-ul-uloom (House of Learning), was founded in 1867. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“After gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into two countries, based on the principle that Muslims and Hindus constituted separate nations. Pakistan was formed as the homeland of Indian Muslims. This partition, proposed by the Muslim educator, jurist, and reformer Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–98), led to violence between Hindus and Muslims, costing the lives of more than half a million people, dislocating several million others, and creating lasting animosities between India and Pakistan. Despite the migration of Muslims into the newly formed Pakistan, more Muslims remained in Indian territories in Punjab, Bengal, and Kashmir, creating regional hot spots of sectarian violence inside India.

“Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah was committed to a progressive, democratic, secular state; however, because of the rise of powerful, fundamentalist religious parties, his vision did not survive his death. The Jamaat-i-Islami (Islamic Society), founded by noted Sunni theologian Maulana Abdul Ala Mawdudi (1903–79), emerged as the leading fundamentalist party. The objective of the Jamaat-i-Islami was to transform Pakistan into an unequivocally Islamic theocracy based upon Shariah with Islam as the ideology overriding ethnic identities, linguistic differences, and regional political allegiances. When East Pakistan declared independence as Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistani Islamic parties developed an even more radical fundamentalist stance to deter deviation from the strictest interpretation of Islam.

Politicized Islam in Pakistan

From the outset, politics and religion have been intertwined both conceptually and practically in Islam. Because the Prophet established a government in Medina, precedents of governance and taxation exist. Through the history of Islam, from the Ummayyad (661-750) and Abbasid empires (750-1258) to the Mughals (1526- 1858) and the Ottomans (1300-1923), religion and statehood have been treated as one. Indeed, one of the beliefs of Islam is that the purpose of the state is to provide an environment where Muslims can properly practice their religion. If a leader fails in this, the people have a right to depose him. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

According to the “English Encyclopedia of Modern Europe”: “In Jinnah's vision of a democratic Pakistan, as enunciated in his speech to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947, religion was to be a personal matter that had "nothing to do with the business of the state." Yet this perspective sat uneasily with the founding rationale of the state as a homeland for Indian Muslims. Islam as state ideology has played an ambivalent role in Pakistan. Religious groups such as the Jamat-i-Islami, founded by Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903–1979), while opposing the demand for Pakistan as an expression of a godless nationalism, became among the most vocal advocates of an "Islamic state" after partition. However, while religious leaders have been kept on the periphery of state power, it was the periodic resort to Islam by temporal authorities to fortify weak secular legitimacies that opened the door to fundamentalist forces. [Source: “English Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, Thomson Gale, 2006]

“This trend was accelerated under Zia-ul-Haq, whose regime (1977–1988) rested on the two supports of militarism and Islam. Yet even his Islamization program was selectively targeted at politically safe constituencies. Leaving the economy out of the purview of reform, his Islamic commitment was expressed through a series of purportedly religious ordinances in 1979 discriminating against women—effacing the distinction between rape and adultery and reducing the evidence of a woman to half that of a man. The genie of religious conservatism once out was difficult to re-bottle, as was demonstrated by the inability of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (b. 1953, prime minister 1988–1990 and 1993–1996), the first woman leader of an Islamic state, to repeal these laws. Political expediency assumed priority given her tenuous majority in parliament and the vociferous opposition to her assuming office from the orthodox Islamic lobby.”

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “Two other factors contributed to the radicalization of Sunni Pakistan. First, there was the perceived threat of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900?–89), who in 1979 toppled the neighboring, secular government of the Shah of Iran and established a revolutionary Shiite government. Second, there was the Afghan resistance movement, backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, which opposed the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan in 1979. This movement was portrayed by the Americans as a jihad (struggle, or holy war) against the Soviets, and Pakistan served as the hub and staging ground for the war. With the arrival of thousands of militant Muslims from around the world eager to fight the atheistic Soviet military forces, Pakistanis were exposed to radical Islamic ideologies. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

Islamization in Pakistan Under General Zia

General Mohammad Ziaul-Haq (1924–1988) — the leader of Pakistan from 1978 to 1988 dismissed this first ever democratically elected government of Pakistan and hanged the former president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1979. After this Zia sought political legitimacy from Islamic groups and other similar constituencies that were in the forefront of opposition to Bhutto.

In 1977 the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto outlawed alcohol and changed the "day off" from Sunday to Friday, but no substantive Islamic reform program was implemented prior to General Zia's Islamization program. Starting in February 1979, new penal measures based on Islamic principles of justice went into effect. These carried considerably greater implications for women than for men. A welfare and taxation system based on zakat and a profit-and-loss banking system were also established in accordance with Islamic prohibitions against usury. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Zia's Islamization program was pursued within a rather complicated ideological framework. His stance was in contrast of the popular culture, in which most people are "personally" very religious but not "publicly" religious. An unexpected outcome was that by relying on a policy grounded in Islam, the state fomented factionalism: by legislating what is Islamic and what is not, Islam itself could no longer provide unity because it was then being defined to exclude previously included groups. Disputes between Sunnis and Shia, ethnic disturbances in Karachi between Pashtuns and muhajirs, increased animosity toward Ahmadiyyas, and the revival of Punjab-Sindh tensions — can all be traced to the loss of Islam as a common vocabulary of public morality. More profoundly, in a move that reached into every home, the state had attempted to dictate a specific ideal image of women in Islamic society, an ideal that was largely antithetical to that existing in popular sentiment and in everyday life.*

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: General Zia established separate seats in the National Assembly for Muslims and non-Muslims; the 207 ordinary districts were reserved for Muslims, and non-Muslims could vote only for the 10 additional seats set aside for them. Zia ul-Haq became the patron of the fundamentalist Deobandi and Wahhabi movements, influenced Ahle Hadith political party. He also facilitated the Islamization of the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), an organization that controlled Pakistan's foreign policy and supported Islamic insurgency in the Indian state of Kashmir, with the goal of incorporating Kashmir, with its Muslim majority, into Pakistan. Overall, Zia ul-Haq's Islamization policies not only had wide social impact in Pakistan but also attracted considerable foreign funding and led to the establishment of a militant Islamic infrastructure that was still in operation at the start of the twenty-first century. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

According to the “English Encyclopedia of Modern Europe”: Another enduring legacy of the Zia-ul-Haq years was the rise in Shia-Sunni sectarian violence. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 had encouraged political activism among Pakistan's Shia minority (15 to 25 percent of the population), many of whom also opposed Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization as promoting a narrow Sunni vision incompatible with Shia interpretations. In response, the central government, with the help of the army and its intelligence wing and funding from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Persian Gulf, bolstered a variety of Islamic institutions, especially madrasas (seminaries) propagating a particularly militant form of Sunni orthodoxy. Careering out of control in more recent times, sectarian violence claimed almost 1,300 lives in urban Pakistan alone between 1990 and 2002. And while, in the mid 1990s, the government made efforts to curb Sunni extremism at home, it was exported to Kashmir and Afghanistan. [Source: English Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Zia Makes Pakistan Into a Bona Fide Islamic Republic

Gen. Zia made Pakistan into an Islamic republic, reinstated traditional dress, repealed women's rights, restored the Islamic commercial code and intimated ordinary Pakistanis by imposing harsh Islamic law. More than 500 laws were changed to bring them in line with Islamic law. Among these were draconian blasphemy laws that carried a death sentence and laws that banned the charging of interest. Laws that ended equal rights for women were passed.

Zia promoted conservative officers to generals, assigned Muslim cleric to combat units, introduced Islamic teaching to the military academy, expanded the powers of the intelligence services and forged close ties with conservative Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, which gave Pakistan money to build large mosques and Islamic schools.

Zia was not overly religious himself. He used conservative Islam as a way of unifying the country, restoring some dignity lost in the debacle with Bangladesh in 1971 and giving a religious mandate to the military and his role as its leader. He stop short of introducing Islam to political and economic policy and was a secularist in those matters.

Mohsin Hamid wrote in Smithsonian, under Zia “hard-eyed men with beards became commonplace in our cities as a more intolerant and narrow brand of Islam took hold among civil authorities, my fellow teenagers and I would be arrested just for going out on dates. radio and television began broadcasting news in Arabic, a language spoken by few Pakistanis. And my father, the a professor of economics at Punjab University, came home with stories about colleagues resigning after being held up at gunpoint for expressing views that were “un-Islamic.”

Islamist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Siahaba were heavily supported by Zia who used them to harass civilian politicians and continued to have strong ties with the Pakistan intelligence services particularly through retired agents and army officers who worked in Afghanistan and at home.

Major Political Figures and Islam in Pakistan

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) was a noted philosopher, poet, political leader, and advocate for an independent homeland for India's Muslims. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan and first governor-general of the Dominion of Pakistan (the official name of Pakistan from 1947 to 1956). [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Ayub Khan assumed power as chief martial law administrator in 1958 during a time of political unrest and shortly declared himself president (1958–69). He undertook the reorganization of Pakistan's administrative bureaucracy and instituted economic reform. Muhammad Yahya Khan, a protégé of Ayub who was appointed to assume control of the country's administration during a period of political unrest, became president (1969–71) after forcing Ayub Khan to resign in March 1969. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an Oxford educated lawyer and highly popular figure, came to power when Yahya Khan's position became untenable after the breakaway of East Pakistan as independent Bangladesh. Bhutto served as president of Pakistan (1971–73) and prime minister (1973–77). During Bhutto's tenure Pakistan was declared an Islamic state with the adoption of the Pakistan Constitution (1973). He was overthrown in a military coup in 1977 and executed in 1979 by General Zia ul-Haq. General Zia ul-Haq, appointed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as lieutenant general in 1975 and chief of army staff in 1976, assumed power in 1977, when he overthrew his benefactor and became president (1978–88). To consolidate his political power, strengthen Pakistan's failing economy, and begin the Islamization of the country and the military force, Zia ul-Haq took advantage of the flow of arms and cash subsidies coming into Pakistan from the United States and Saudi Arabia for the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Zia ul-Haq died in a mysterious airplane crash in 1988.

“Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1988–90; 1993–96), the Harvard and Oxford educated daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the first female leader of any Muslim country. She became the head of her father's Pakistan People's Party after his death and emerged as a leading political figure in Pakistan after Zia ul-Haq's death in 1988; on 1 December 1988 she was elected prime minister, heading a coalition government. In 1990 President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Bhutto's government on charges of corruption. In 1993 Bhutto was again elected prime minister but was removed from office in 1996 under charges of corruption, as well as economic and administrative mismanagement.

“Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in November 1990. He passed the Shariat Bill, which stipulated the Quran and sunnah as national law, as well as attempting to introduce free-market reform and economic growth. He lost his office to Bhutto in 1993 but was prime minister again from 1997 until 1999, when he was toppled by General Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf, who had been appointed head of the military by Nawaz Sharif in 1998, was involved in the military invasion of Indian Kashmir in 1999 that nearly led to war between India and Pakistan. Angry over being forced to retreat by orders of Sharif, Musharraf overthrew him and assumed power in 1999. Musharraf declared himself president in 2001 for an indefinite period.

Major Theologians and Authors

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,”Muhammad Iqbal, one of Pakistan's noted authors, is also considered the spiritual founder of Pakistan. An important intellectual, Iqbal was a champion of freedom and author of many books of poetry in Persian and Urdu, as well as treatises on Sunni Islam. His famous works include The Secrets of the Self (1915), a long spiritual philosophical poem, and Javid-nama (1934), a poem written in response to Dante's Divine Comedy. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Maulana Abdul Ala Mawdudi, founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami political party, is one of Pakistan's most important Sunni theologians and is known for his work Towards Understanding Islam (1980). Mawdudi sought to establish a truly Islamic society in which every facet of human existence, not just the spiritual domain of life, was subordinated to the moral principles set forth by God. He rejected Western ideals of secularism (the separation of religion and politics), commingling of the sexes, nationalism, and democracy as contrary to Islam and the principal cause of the decadence of Muslim society. These Western ideals, he argued, were based upon jahiliyaa, or ignorance, and are to be rejected. Writers such as Mawdudi viewed nationalism as a road to the cult of the nation, democracy as a dictatorship by the majority, and secularism, which eschews God's sovereignty over everything, as atheism. Therefore, any Muslim who upholds the ideals of Western nationalism, democracy, or secularism is in reality eschewing Islam, renouncing God, and guilty of apostasy. Mawdudi's ideas had a considerable impact upon radical Muslims throughout the Arab world, including the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.


Sufism is very strong in Pakistan and Islam in India and Pakistan is influenced by Sufism. Experts say about 60 percent of Pakistani Muslims regard themselves as Sufi followers. Much of the literature, poetry and music associated with Pakistan is inspired by Sufism (See Qawwali Music below). The music and poetry appeals to Sufis and non-Sufis alike. Non-Sufis often attend Sufi concerts and festivals. Even so Sufis are considered heretical by some in Pakistan. The Muslim Qadiani is considered heretical in Pakistan. Sufis in Pakistan embrace a personal approach to their faith and often have different beliefs on how their government should be run.

According to the Los Angeles Times: “Sufism was brought to South Asia by its mystics from the Middle East more than eight centuries ago. Its highly mystical, personal approach to Islam, marked by trance-like chants, dancing to pounding drumbeats, and its belief that Sufi saints and descendants known as pirs are conduits to God make it anathema to Muslim fundamentalists, who consider it idolatry. Sufism found widespread popularity, particularly among large segments of the underclass that embrace its emphasis on equality."

Sufism is Islam's mystical tradition, the Sufis being Muslim holy men who develop their spirituality through prayer and meditation. Sufi comes from the Arabic 'safa' meaning purity, so Sufis are those whose hearts and souls are pure. The first Sufis wandered through Persia and Afghanistan and into the South Asia, preaching love, peace and brotherhood. Some of Pakistan's finest music and literature were written by Sufi saints; verses set to music that tell of the love of God, and stories in which virtue receives its reward. Sufi saints portrayed life at its most perfect. The shrines of the great saints draw many who come to pray and make offerings.

Each shrine has a festival (urs) each year on the death anniversary of the saint's death. The shrine then becomes a fairground, with musicians playing traditional instruments and singers performing mystical folk songs while dancers dance themselves in to a devotional frenzy.Trade fairs, sports competitions and traditional martial arts also take place such as fighting with daggers and riding.

Mosques and Muslim Sites in Pakistan

A mosque is called a masjid in Pakistan and parts of Central Asia. A great number of mosque and madrassahs were built in the era of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haqand — the ruler of Pakistan from 1978 to 1988 — when conservative Islam was encouraged. Other mosques have been built with money from Saudi Arabia.

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” The massive King Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, begun in 1976 and completed in 1986, was paid for by donations from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Following his death in a plane crash in 1988, General Zia ul-Haq was buried on the grounds of the King Faisal Mosque. His tomb is treated like a religious shrine where devotees come to pray and place flowers. Other famous Sunni mosques include the Badshahi and Wazir Khan mosques in Lahore, the Tooba Mosque in Karachi, and the Shahjehani Mosque in Thatta. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

Pakistan is a treasure-house of Muslim art and architecture. Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, is situated along the bank of River Ravi . The city has witnessed the rise and fall of many dynasties like Ghaznavids (1021-1186 AD), Ghoris (1186-1202 AD) and Slaves (1206-1524 AD) before arrival of the Mughals. The city was conquered by Babur of Ferghana (situated in Uzbekistan), the founder of the Mughal dynasty (1524-1764 AD). All the important monuments like the Royal Fort, Badshahi Mosque, Wazir Khan’s Mosque and Tombs of Empror Jehangir, Asif Khan, Queen Noor Jehan and the Shalimar Gardens and Hiran Minar were constructed during this period.

The shrines, mosques and forts located in and around Multan and Bahawalpur are the master pieces of the early Muslim architecture. Some important buildings are the forts at Multan and Derawar (Bahawalpur), shrines of Shaikh Bahauddin Zakaria, Shah Rukan-e-Alam, Hazrat Shams Tabrez at Multan and Tomb of Bibi Jiwandi at Uchh Sharif near Bahawalpur. The tombs at Chaukundi, 27 kilometers out of Karachi, the remains at Banbhore (64 kilometers from Karachi) and the largest necropolis of the world with a million graves scattered over an area of 10 sq. kilometers on Makli Hills near Thatta together with the Shahjehan Mosque of Thatta, are exquisite specimens of Muslim architecture, with stone carving and glazed tile decorations.

Muslim Customs

Islam found in Pakistan has been strongly influenced by Sufism. On Friday afternoon the mosques fill with men and the speech by imam are broadcast on the streets with tunny loudspeakers. Al-Hoda is a Muslim educational organization. Tabligh-i-Islam is an Islamic social organization.

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” The Quran and other icons and symbols of Islam are considered sacred objects by Pakistanis. For example, the Muslim profession of faith, laillaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah ("There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah"), appears in calligraphy on the walls of mosques and on the Pakistani flag. The graves of sayyids (Islamic leaders), Sufi saints, and religious martyrs are also treated as sacred places, though the attitude of Sunni Muslims toward such local customs varies. Those associated with the puritanical Deobandi movement and the Wahhabi Ahle Hadith consider accommodation to local customs and all deviations from the strictest interpretation of Islam as heretical, while those associated with the Barelvi school, influenced by Sufi mysticism, are more tolerant to indigenous customs. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

Pakistani Muslims dress modestly in accordance with Islamic values, although their particular mode of dress is distinctive to Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. In general, Pakistani men and women wear the traditional shalwar-kameez, a loose shirt that extends down to the knees and that is worn over loose baggy pants. Women's attire consists of the shalwar-kameez and dupatta, or scarf, for the head. In some areas, such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province), women wear the all-enveloping burka, or veil; however, in cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad they generally put on only a headscarf and go unveiled.

“Pakistani Muslims abide by Islamic dietary practices that prohibit pork, the flesh of meat-eating land animals and birds, and alcoholic beverages. The consumption of alcohol was banned under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1976 as part of his effort to win over Islamic political parties, although non-Muslims were allowed to produce or purchase it by permit. Alcohol is available at the luxury hotels in the major cities that cater to foreign travelers, and many Pakistani Muslims do consume alcohol despite restrictions, purchasing it covertly from hotels. During the month of Ramadan, Pakistani Muslims fast in accordance with Islamic tradition.

Muslim Rituals in Pakistan

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,”In general, there are no Islamic rituals that are distinctive to Pakistan. The veneration of shrines, sayyids, and pirs (holy men) varies depending on whether a particular community espouses the puritanical Deobandi and Ahle Hadith traditions or the more moderate Barelvi. As is celebrated throughout India and Afghanistan, Pakistani Muslims observe Shab-i-Barat (in recognition of deceased family members) by giving food to the poor, reading the Quran, and saying prayers. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Sunni Muslims in Pakistan observe a number of Islamic life cycle rituals concerning birth, male circumcision, matrimony, and death. While there are certain regional variations, these rituals share similarities throughout the country. The birth of children is celebrated with the gathering of relatives and feasting. A mullah is summoned to whisper "Allah-u-Akbar" ("God is great") into the child's ear, establishing its Muslim identity. According to the sunnah, boys are circumcised before they reach puberty, with the ritual signifying a transition from childhood to manhood. In more recent times, however, infants are circumcised in the hospital or at home after birth. Failure to perform circumcision is considered an act of blasphemy under Pakistani law. There are no comparable Islamic puberty rites for girls.

Ecstatic dances are featured at Sufi festivals in Pakistan. Nicholas Schmidle wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “A man in white linen lunged flamboyantly into a clearing at the center of the crowd, tied an orange sash around his waist and began to dance. Soon he was gyrating and his limbs were trembling, but with such control that at one point it seemed that he was moving only his earlobes. Clouds of hashish smoke rolled through the tent, and the drumming injected the space with a thick, engrossing energy. [Source: Nicholas Schmidle, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008 |+|]

Saints and Mystics in Pakistan

Saints (known as “Pirs”) are held in high regard particularly in the Punjab, where many have had miracles attributed to them. One saint reportedly could make mud walls gallop. Another prolonged his life by his ability to sleep through the night on only one or two breaths. Maulanan Jalal ud din Rumi, the founder of the Sufi dervishes of Qunia, was reportedly flayed alive and then walked around for four days with his skin in his hand. Many saints broke rules and were in trouble with the mullahs.

Madho Lal Husain is one of the most popular Sufi saints in Lahore. After studying long and hard it said he discovered the secret of God. As a test he threw a Qur’an down a well. When people who saw him started calling him a heretic, he called for the Qur’an and it returned to his hands dry and undisturbed. To celebrate he went on a binge of drinking, dancing and singing. He wore red clothes and was involved in scandal involving a young Hindu boy but no one wanted to confront him because they were afraid of his powers.

The descendants of saints are treated with great reverence. They are often worshipped not only by individuals but also by entire families, tribes, and communities. Pir families are often members of the “feudal” elite, often earning substantial income from offerings and contributions made in the name of the original saint in addition to the money they earn form their land holdings.

“Fakirs” are Muslim "holy men." Some sit in the lotus position and dress in bright green tunics and beads, acting like Hindu holy men. In Iran, Sufis are known as ascetics who wander from place to place, wearing coarse woolen clothes and bark girdles. They have traditionally held almond wood crooks in their hands and sometimess flew off into violent spasms of ecstacy.

Shrines in Pakistan

Almost every village has a shrine to a local saint where annual festivals are held. They have traditionally been built around the tombs of great saints and have traditionally been the focal point of religious life and festivals. Many are connected to mosques, where worshipers do their traditional prayers. A typical shrine consists of a series of courtyards with the tomb of the saint at its center.

Making offerings at the tombs of Muslim saints in Pakistan is similar to Hindu and Buddhist ritual offerings. Many of those who make offerings are seeking help in some way as Catholics and Chinese do when they pray at church or a temple. Strict Muslims are appalled by this kind of worship.

The tomb itself is often the site of religious activity. It is often covered by flowers and surrounded by worshipping making offerings and seeking favors or miracles. Many touch the grills around the tomb while saying Muslim prayers. Some leave money.

Thursday night is when Pakistanis visit shrines dedicated to saints. Describing the scene at the Bullhe Shah shrine outside Lahore, Isabel Hilton wrote in New Yorker, “Outside a group of musicians struck up a sing in praise of the saint. A man stood up from the crowd, which was seated in a semicircle; he wore a white shalwar kameez and green sack knotted around his head as a makeshift turban. He began to dance, lightly and gracefully, and as his pace picked up he tore off the turban and tied it around his waist. His long hair fell down his back; his head began to jerk violently from right to left, and then in circles, as his feet kept time with the runs. In the glow of the shrine's colored lights I could see the face of the watching crowd, transfixed in sympathy."

Some shrines are very old and contain beautiful and unique architectural elements. Some are tourist sites. Those of saints who have died in recent times often look like regular buildings.In the early 2000s, 40 people died and 100 were injured in a stampede that occurred as a crowd tried to rush through a gate that they believed would deliver them to paradise after they died. The Paradise Gate leads to the tomb of the saint Sant Baba Ranjit Singh Ji [Baba Farid Ji] located at a shrine in the town of Pak Pattan in central Punjab. The disaster occurred just before midnight at the start of a religious festival dedicated to the saint which attracts around 500,000 followers every year. The festival is usually a calm spiritual affair in which pilgrims make offers of sweetmeats and rice and pick leaves from tees that grow near the saint's tomb.

Islam and the State in Pakistan

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “The Pakistani constitution enacted in 1973 has empowered the state with the authority to define the religion of its citizens. For example, the Ahmadiyya were declared non-Muslims by the government, even though members of this group consider themselves to be Muslims and perform rites that are similar to those of the Sunni. As a result of their non-Muslim status, the Ahmadiyya are not allowed to express their beliefs in public without being charged with blasphemy. The Pakistani state also imposed an exclusionary definition of Islam, giving absolute preeminence to Sunni Islam. The law prohibits all other religious groups from proselytizing. Since the 1980s well-organized Sunni proselytising movements, such as the Tableeghi Jamaat, that are closely linked with the puritanical Deobandi school have been actively working to gain converts for their Islamist ideology. The thousands of Ahle Hadith and Deobandi madrassas (Islamic religious schools), where many of the Taliban were taught and given military training, actively proselytize in an effort to acquire militant Islamic recruits. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“According to Islam, moral principles are preordained by God and must be obeyed—they cannot be shaped according to ballot counts. As such, social justice is not compatible with the democratic principle of majority rule. Therefore, social justice is restricted to those who abide by God's law. This has posed significant problems in Pakistan. For example, under General Zia ul-Haq, zakat, the Islamic charity to the poor, was automatically deducted from bank accounts by the government and allocated solely to Sunni religious projects, such as the madrassa s.

“Similarly, Pakistan's blasphemy laws privilege Sunni Islam above all other religious beliefs and serve as the legal basis for discrimination, victimization, and persecution of Shiites and non-Muslims. There are no measures in place to protect the civil and political rights of Shiites and non-Muslims who fall outside the boundaries of the ummah (Islamic community), as defined by Sunni ideologues in Pakistan. Also, under the prevailing Islamic legal system, civil rights for women are severely restricted. There are high rates of domestic violence against women, who have no judicial protection or redress. Under Pakistan's Hudood ordinances, marital rape is acceptable, and no distinction is made between forced and consensual sex.

Political Islam in Pakistan

Most of Pakistan's Muslims, like other Muslims in South Asia, region, tend to follow a school of Islam which is less conservative than those in, say, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and as a result the support for overtly religious parties has been relatively subdued.
According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Pakistan was created in the name of religion, and since its founding in 1947, Islam has served as its ideological basis. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's 1973 constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic state and opened the way to Islamization under Zia ul-Haq, which was in part a reaction to the Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 revolution in neighboring Iran. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“This Islamization was greatly amplified during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979–89), when Pakistan became the conduit through which massive amounts of weapons and cash were funneled from the United States, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries to the so-called mujahideen, or Islamic guerrilla fighters, who fought Soviet troops. According to an explicit understanding between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, aid was directed to Islamic rather than moderate Afghan nationalist political parties. Radical Muslims, brought to Pakistan from over fifty countries for training and indoctrination, were provided logistical support and linked together in a transnational network and militant Islamic infrastructure. Pakistan became the nexus of militant Islamic radicalism.

“Deobandi and Ahle Hadith madrassa s, or religious schools, set up along the Afghan frontier produced large numbers of militant Islamic radicals, one manifestation of which was the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the last decade of the twentieth century. As a result, Pakistan has become one of the fulcrums of transnational radical Islamism, a movement that is at odds with nationalism, modernity, and democratic ideals. In Pakistan radical Islam poses an internal security threat to the state and is at the root of much of the sectarian and antiforeign violence in the country.

“According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted” in the past spring of 2010, “most Pakistanis think there is a national struggle between Islamic modernizers and fundamentalists — and most of the respondents sided with the modernizers, though their numbers are dropping. But the poll found widespread support for strict Islamic mores and punishments, including stoning for adulterers and the death penalty for Muslims who abandon Islam. "This symbolizes what I call latent radicalism," said Ayesha Siddiqa, a scholar and commentator, referring to public support for Qadri. "It may result in violence, it may not. But in their minds, there is this inability to see the other perspective." [Source: Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, January 29, 2011]

Taliban and Radical Madrassas in Pakistan

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “In addition to human rights abuses and the absence of religious freedom, there are two major controversial issues concerning religion in Pakistan. First, it is estimated that 20,000 Taliban and 5,000 members of al-Qaeda (an international terrorist organization) driven out of Afghanistan in 2001 found refuge among the powerful militant Islamic groups in Pakistan. Entrenched in a network of mosques and madrassas and supported by an extensive militant infrastructure established during the Afghan war with the Soviet Union, the militants have dominated Islamic discourse in Pakistan and have threatened to undermine state authority. The militants do not represent the majority of Pakistani Muslims, who aspire for a truly democratic society and want to live in peace. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Second, the radicalized madrassas themselves have been controversial in Pakistan. It is estimated that the country has 40,000 such schools with more than 3 million students. Many of these schools teach radical Islam that is derived from Wahhabi and Deobandi precepts, which emphasize hatred of the West and martyrdom through suicide bombings and permit violence against non-Muslim or non-Sunni Muslim civilians. These schools helped produce the Taliban in the 1990s and at the start of the twenty-first century were still training students for operations in Kashmir, Afghanistan, and former Soviet Central Asia.

“A related issue for Pakistani Muslims was the government's cooperation with the United States and its "war on terror" during the first few years of the twentyfirst century. The Pakistani government was reluctant to intervene with religious institutions, including madrassa s, as such moves could be perceived as an attack on Islam itself. For this reason, efforts at controlling the madrassas were more or less symbolic in nature.

Blasphemy in Pakistan

In 1979 General Zia ul-Haq established the Federal Shariah Court, which was given wide discretionary powers to implement Hudood ordinances and blasphemy laws. A major component in the Islamization program, the Shariat Bill, was passed in May 1991. This bill required that all laws in the country conform with Islam. Women's groups in particular were concerned that the reforms in the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 could be jeopardized by the new bill. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

A controversial law, Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, drew a great deal of attention from critics associated with the Human Rights Commission in 1993-94. Introduced in 1986 by Zia, the law, referred to as "the blasphemy trap," states that "whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death or imprisoned for life and shall be liable to fine." The law extends to Muslims and nonMuslims alike, but it has been indiscriminately used against members of minorities. *

According to Amnesty International, several dozen people had been charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws by early 1994. In all cases, these charges appear to have been arbitrarily brought and to have been based on an individual's minority religious beliefs or on malicious accusations. The current government of Benazir Bhutto, sensitive to Pakistan's image in the world community, has attempted to approve changes in the blasphemy law in order to "curb abuses of the law" — especially those involving false accusations and fabricated cases. Critics claim, however, that Benazir, constantly under attack for being too liberal by the religious right, has been overly cautious and slow to introduce amendments to the law.*

Pashtuns and Islam

The Pashtuns (Pathans) are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. Islam is important to Pashtun identity and unity. It also provided a link for them to a community outside their own. Many Pashtuns have embraced radical Islam. Men pour in and out of mosques all day today. But that wasn’t always the case. It said that up to the 1980s, Pashtun had little interest in Islam or religion. [Source: Akbar S. Ahmed with Paul Titus “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1996]

Pashtuns are mostly Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. . There are some Shiites. The largest numbers of these are in the Kurram and Orakzai agencies. There has been sectarian violence between the sects. Some of the problems have blamed on Afghan refugees supporting the Sunnis and the unwillingness of Shiites to sell some of their land.

Some supernatural beliefs persist. Some Pashtuns believe in jinns (spirits) produced by fires that can possess a person’s soul as wells as ghosts, witches, cursed souls and fairies. Some also believed that deceased saints can return and play a positive role on the living world.

Religious matters are generally handled by mullahs, men who have some religious training, who take care of local mosques and call the faithful to prayer, They also preside over rite of passage ceremonies such as birth, circumcision, marriage and death. Some religious leaders acquire a substantial following. However, there is a basic ambivalence on the whole toward mullahs. Sayyed (descendants of Muhammad) have their own special place in society and are given special respect. They are not bound by the code honor, are regarded as living saints and are often called into settle disputes

Islam was introduced to the Pashtun in the 8th century, but has traditionally been secondary to the Pashtun Pashtunwali code of conduct. Pashtun believe they are Pashtun firs and Muslims.second The Shias belong mainly to a few tribes or parts of tribes — namely the Turi tribe and the Muammad Khel branch of Orakzai — on the eastern border near Waziristan. Sufism, particularly of the Naqshbandi order, maintains an influence among some Pashtun groups. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Baloch Muslims

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.

Most Baloch are Sunni Muslims. Some belong to the Zikri sect. According to their epics and ballads the Baloch were once Shia (Shiites) who followed the Caliph Ali. It seems that when the Persians were largely Sunnis, the Baloch were Shia. When the Persians converted to Shia Islam, the Baloch became Sunnis. Before they converted to Islam the Baloch practiced Zoroastrianism. Some of their old pre-Islamic beliefs have been kept alive. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]

Unlike other parts of Pakistan, especially Pashtun area, where Islamists have considerable power, Baloch have traditionally looked upon religion as a private affair and there has never made an effort to push for a “Muslim state.” Religious leaders have traditionally been separate from secular ones.

The majority of Baloch are Hanafi Sunnis, but there is a community of an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Zikri Baloch, who live in the coastal Makran area and in Karachi. The Zikris believe in the Messiah Nur Pak, whose teaching supersede those of the Prophet Muhammad. Their beliefs, considered heretical, have led to intermittent Sunni repression of their community since its founding in the fifteenth century. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Religious observances are overseen by mullahs. Baloch Sunnis and Zikris are enthusiastic followers of Sufi saints or pirs. Sometimes these mystics claim they can cure illnesses, foretell the future, and perform miracles which are see as evidence of the direct hand of God in the affairs of Baloch. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Burusho Islam

The Bursusho, also known as Hunzakuts, are dominant ethnic group of the Hunza valley in far northern Pakistan. The people in the Hunza Valley, converted to Islam in 1800s, which relatively late. Most of them belong to the Ismaili sect whose spiritual leader is the Aga Khan. In the Hunza valley the Aga Khans have opened clinics which have greatly reduced the number of dysentery and TB cases and sponsored organizations which teach everything from animal husbandry to accounting.

Burushos are Muslims but they sometimes tie prayer flags like Buddhist. They also drink yak tea laced with butter and salt like Tibetans. In addition to this, they also believe in fairies, mountain spirts and ghosts who are blamed for avalanches and other misfortunes. They observe a major spring festival called Naurvoz, the same name used by Central Asians for their New Year celebration. The Burusho don’t have a developed concept of the afterlife other than that the living and dead will be united at some point.

Shaman known as Bitans are called upon to placate trouble-making spirits. Most shaman are male. They usually serve as intermediaries with spirits and are called upon to act in some healing rituals and predict the future in annual festivals and before long journeys Contact with the spirts is made in trance initiated by inhaling the smoke of burning juniper bushes and other plants and the music of flutes and drums. The shaman dances to the music, faster and faster and then stops and in a singing voice translates messages he receives from the spirits. In some ceremonies a goat is sacrificed and the head is offered to the shaman while he dancing. He drinks blood from it which is said to be the blood of fairies.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “No professional priesthood exists among the Burusho. The Mir appoints several literate men as khalifas to officiate at burials, weddings, and naming ceremonies. These individuals do not perform these duties on a full-time basis. Religious ceremony plays little part in the daily life of the Burusho. Ritual prayer and fasting are practiced by some. While little is known of pre-Islamic religious practices, it is believed that at one time sacrifice was offered to the boyo (divinities thought to occupy a place above the fort at Hini). [Source: Hugh R. Page, Jr. “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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