Interpreting the Languages of Islam: the search for consensus in Pakistan

Vendredi 17 mai, 14h30, 3e session : Religion, culture et sécularisation

Farzana Shaikh is an Associate Fellow of the Asia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, where she directs the Pakistan Study Group.

More than sixty years after its creation in 1947, Pakistan remains plagued by fierce divisions and the absence of stable democratic institutions.  Explanations for their persistence vary widely with attention focused overwhelmingly on the conditions of unequal access to state power and on repeated interventions by the military, which have steadily eroded the foundations of popular democracy.  I will argue that the uncertain terms of Pakistan’s national identity and its vexed relationship with ‘Islam’ have been at least as important in deepening discord and negating the plural foundations of the state.

This uncertainty and the chronic lack of consensus over the terms of ‘Islam’, I suggest, have also been responsible for fuelling exclusionary political discourses.  They have affected the country’s constitutional development by encouraging its governing elites to seek a monopoly over the expression of Islam in an attempt to generate power – power that lies for the most part beyond the reach of mass democratic politics.

Ultimately, however, what will determine Pakistan’s stability as a nation-state is not so much greater certainty or a stronger consensus. Rather, it will depend on the very nature of that consensus. One possibility is that a consensus will emerge regarding the value of pluralism itself. Such a consensus – around, say, the claims of ethnic, religious or linguistic pluralism – would be conducive to greater national stability. Another possibility, however, is that Pakistan will pursue a strict consensus underpinned by an exclusive definition of Islam with irreparably damaging consequences. Without a doubt, the nature of consensus will determine Pakistan’s future as a nation-state as well as the limits of its contribution to a more secure international community.


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