- Islam in Pakistan: A History by Muhammad Qasim Zaman
What if we organized our personal libraries by the character of books? If the shelves were populated by books with comparable disposition, Muhammad Qasim Zaman's Islam in Pakistan: A History would take its place not too distant from the late Shahab Ahmed's What is Islam? The [End Page 811] Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015). The latter explored "the historical and human phenomenon that is Islam in its plenitude and complexity of meaning" to present a complex story of islams, as opposed to a singular and uniform Islam (p. 5). Rather than purporting to provide an easy answer to the question "What is Islam?" Ahmed approached Islam as a complex constellation of beliefs, philosophies, traditions, and practices. Islam in Pakistan's affinity to Ahmed's tour de force lies not only in its impressive scope but its investigation of the meanings and importance of being Islamic over the course of Pakistan's checkered history without presuming "any sharp distinction between belief and practice, between normative and lived Islam" (p. 2). Zaman's examination of multiple dimensions of Islam in South Asia over the period of almost two centuries within the frame of a single book is an ambitious undertaking, the likes of which only the most competent of scholars perform compellingly.
Covering a wide array of topics from Islamic law to education to non-Muslim minorities and to interpretations of jihad, Zaman discusses the modernists, 'ulama, Sufis, and Islamists as the key actors who have shaped state and society in colonial India and Pakistan. Organized thematically, Islam in Pakistan opens with an introduction into Islamic identities in pre-partition South Asia. During the mid-nineteenth century, the deepening penetration of British colonialism in South Asia recast the region, which was home to the largest Muslim population in the world. Perhaps the most formative transformation occurred with Britain's crashing of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, spelling the end of centuries-long Muslim political dominance in India. This proved extremely dislocating for South Asian Muslims as they lost the privileged status of professing the same religion as their rulers whose very existence was widely believed to be indispensable to the implementation of Islamic law. Zaman, however, does not recount a story of Islamic decline in post-Mughal India but a narrative of dynamic adaptability instead. Dislocation brought by the passing of the Mughal rule soon sparked an intellectual vitality among Muslims, both traditionalists and modernists, as they navigated the radically transformed political landscape. And changes in the physical landscape such as the extension of the railway network, helped create a more closely-knit community out of the millions of Muslims scattered across a vast area. From the 1860s through 1940s the length of railroads increased from 1,587 to 40,524 miles, which translated into a sixty-fold surge in the annual number of passengers. In no way did such a dramatic rise in the volume of communications compensate the loss of state power for Indian Muslims, yet it certainly connected them more [End Page 812] firmly as disciples visited, with more ease, their Sufi masters and religious scholars.
Following a historical survey of Islam under British colonialism, the book is organized thematically with each chapter examining a major component of Islamic imprint in Pakistan. Chapter 2 investigates the mixed fortunes of Islamic modernism throughout Pakistan's history. Zaman's discussion of the primacy of Islamic modernist ideas in the project for an independent Pakistan as a Muslim state shines light on its founders' objective to prove Islam's compatibility with modernity. The birth of Pakistan, on the other hand, provided the 'ulama with an opportunity to claim leading roles under an Islamic republic, which constitutes one of the main topics in Chapter 3, others being constitution-writing, Islamic legislation, and madrasa reform. The Objectives Resolution, the founding document of Pakistan accepted in 1949, envisioned the new state to be governed in accordance with the idea...