We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Pakistan - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result


The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Read More About…


    Pakistan, which came into being as a result of the partition of British India in 1947 , occupies a unique position in the Muslim world. It is the only country established specifically for Muslims. Since its creation, however, the depth and extent of the country's commitment to religion has been a subject of continuous debate.

    Bordering India, China, Afghanistan, and Iran, Pakistan is about twice the size of California. Its population, the second largest in the Muslim world, is estimated at 145 million. An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are Muslim, mostly Sunni. Christians, Hindus, and other groups make up a small minority in the country. Several ethnic groups are represented in Pakistan, including Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun, and Baloch.

    The Creation of Pakistan.

    For almost 300 years before the British seized control of India, the Mughal Empire dominated the subcontinent. Historians attribute much of this Muslim dynasty's resilience to a policy of religious tolerance toward non-Muslims, especially India's majority Hindu population. Under colonial rule, however, Indian Muslims lost much of their political and economic power.

    As Hindu and Muslim activists struggled to end foreign imperialism, two key organizations emerged. The Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress, founded in 1885 , promoted the formation of a modern secular nation state. Concerned that Hindu nationalists would deprive Muslims of their rights after India gained independence, members of the Western-educated Muslim elite established the All-India Muslim League in 1906 . The league advocated Muslim representation in all political institutions.

    By the 1930s, some Muslims had begun to reject the idea that India's Hindus would respect Muslim minority rights in a democratic nation. Poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal became a leading spokesperson for a separate Muslim state in northwestern India. After many unsuccessful attempts to reach a compromise with the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, under President Mohammad Ali Jinnah , adopted and vigorously promoted Iqbal's ideas.

    The league convinced Indian Muslims that a separate state would preserve the glory of Islam in their community, which gave the movement a strong religious character. Choudhary Rahmat Ali , a student at Cambridge University in England, created the term Pakstan (later Pakistan) for the proposed state by combining letters from the names of the provinces of Punjab, Kashmir, Sind, and Balochistan. The term pak also means “pure” in Urdu, Pakistan's national language, so Pakistan means “the land of the pure.” The slogan “What does Pakistan stand for? There is no god but Allah!” became a popular rallying cry.

    In August 1947 , Great Britain partitioned India into two independent states based on religious affiliation. India would remain predominantly Hindu, and Pakistan would become a Muslim state with Jinnah as its first governor-general. The new Muslim nation consisted of West Pakistan, to the northwest of India, and East Pakistan, a region to the northeast of India on the Bay of Bengal. The partition plan divided the provinces of Punjab and Bengal and separated West and East Pakistan by more than 1,000 miles of Indian territory.

    From the beginning, relations between India and Pakistan were turbulent. A dispute over the status of Kashmir, a mountainous region in the extreme northwest corner of the subcontinent that had a Muslim majority but a Hindu ruler, resulted in war. Most of the wealthy provinces of the subcontinent remained within the borders of India, creating future economic hardships for Pakistan. Partition caused approximately 10 million people to flee from regions where new state boundaries suddenly made them a religious minority. Many Muslims moved from Hindu India to the newly created state, becoming muhajirs, or “immigrants.” Massacres on both sides claimed the lives of a million more people.

    A Shaky Start.

    Pakistan faced critical economic and political problems, as well as ethnic and regional concerns. The most controversial issue for the young nation, however, was religious. Conflicting visions of the role of Islam in politics deeply divided various groups. Those who held political power regarded Islam as a moral force and as a base on which national unity and loyalty could be built, but they called for a secular state with equal rights for all, regardless of religion, ethnic group, or gender. In contrast, the ulama and ultra-religious groups, represented by the Jamaat-i Islami , envisioned a much closer relationship between Islam and the state. They advocated an Islamic constitution, the introduction of traditional Islamic laws, and the restoration of traditional social and religious institutions. A large segment of the population aligned itself with the country's religious leaders. In subsequent years, many Pakistani regimes professed a commitment to Islam in order to maintain their legitimacy and popular support.

    In 1949 the efforts of the ulama and the Jamaat-i Islami movement led to the passage of a resolution requiring Pakistan's constitution to be based on Islamic principles. The country's first constitution, approved in 1956 , was basically a collection of modern secular laws for the administration of a democratic state guided by Islamic beliefs. The document designated Pakistan an Islamic republic and required the president to be Muslim. The national parliament would have 300 members, with equal representation for East and West Pakistan.

    Factional, regional, and sectarian issues soon threatened the country's political stability. In 1958 when Pakistan's first general election was scheduled to be held, President Iskander Mirza suddenly abolished political parties and the constitution and placed the country under martial law. Shortly afterward, a military coup brought General Muhammad Ayub Khan to power. He announced a new constitution that retained most of the Islamic provisions of the earlier document but did not make them compulsory. This constitution stated that “no law should be [inconsistent with] Islam” but gave the responsibility for making this determination to the legislature.

    In addition to political challenges, Ayub Khan faced continued domestic and foreign concerns. Tensions between East and West Pakistan, partly rooted in the economic imbalance between the two regions, had come to the foreground. Hostilities with India intensified, and war broke out over Kashmir in 1965 . As turmoil increased, Ayub Khan's attempts to pacify the political opposition failed. In 1969 he resigned from office, handing power over to General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan .

    Responding to Loss.

    General elections took place in 1970 . Sheikh Mujib , the leader of East Pakistan's Awami League, won a majority of the seats in parliament. Sheikh Mujib's party advocated self-government for Bengal (East Pakistan). Unable to reach a compromise, Yahya Khan ordered troops to the region in March 1971 , and a civil war ensued. Fleeing the violence, millions sought refuge across the border in India. In response, the Indian government sent its own forces into East Pakistan to end the fighting. In December 1971 , East Pakistan realized its dream of independence and became the state of Bangladesh.

    The trauma of civil war profoundly affected the Pakistani people. Islamic groups insisted that the country had lost East Pakistan because its leaders had betrayed the cause of Islam. They urged Pakistanis to return to religion as a remedy for political problems. In political disgrace, President Yahya Khan resigned in December 1971 . His successor, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto , began a policy of Islamic socialism. The new 1973 constitution declared Islam to be the state religion. It made non-Muslims ineligible to hold the office of prime minister and mandated Islamic studies in schools. Other provisions strengthened the religious nature of Pakistani society.

    Despite Bhutto's efforts, few concrete changes resulted from his reforms. He became increasingly autocratic, and political unrest grew. In 1977 General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq seized power. When the people demanded elections and it seemed certain that Bhutto would win, General Zia had him arrested and charged with attempted murder. Bhutto was later sentenced to death and hanged.

    Zia's military government defined its mission as “laying down the foundations of the Islamic system in Pakistan.” He moved to conform the country's social, economic, and political structures to traditional Islamic law. Most importantly, Pakistan adopted Islamic penal law (hudud), which introduced such punishments as flogging, stoning, or amputation for the crimes of drinking, adultery, and theft. Other changes included compulsory zakat, Islamic-centered school textbooks, and the creation of the International Islamic University. Successive governments retained most of Zia's substantive measures. Although some Islamic groups criticized these reforms as inadequate, others regarded them as extreme and felt that Zia was merely manipulating the religious feelings of the masses for political gain.

    External Influences.

    The Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union significantly affected Pakistani society. The success of the revolution in Iran encouraged Pakistani Islamic groups to advocate similar changes at home. At the same time, millions of Afghans, fleeing war between the mujahidin and Soviet forces, took refuge in Pakistan. The Muslim resistance fighters, who were supported by the United States, used territory in Pakistan for military training. This arrangement provided Pakistan with extensive U.S. economic aid.

    In August 1988 , Zia and his leading generals, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, died in a mysterious airplane crash. A new election brought Benazir Bhutto , daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto , to power in 1988 . In less than two years, the military ousted her from office. Bhutto regained power in 1993 , but economic and social problems had escalated. Ethnic and religious clashes intensified, and Islamic extremists attacked Christians and members of the Ahmadi Muslim sect. Although Bhutto attempted to quell the violence, charges of corruption against her government surfaced. Elections in 1997 brought Mohammed Nawaz Sharif to office.

    A Nuclear Power.

    In May 1998 , Pakistan conducted six successful nuclear weapons tests in the province of Balochistan and declared itself a nuclear power. Pakistan regarded its weapons program as a necessary defense against India, which had exploded five nuclear devices just two weeks earlier. Although India claimed that its nuclear program, begun in 1974 , was not directed against any particular country, Pakistan felt directly threatened. Indeed, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had stated as early as 1965 that, if India succeeded in producing a nuclear bomb, Pakistanis would spare no expense to acquire one too.

    After the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998 , both countries announced that they would prohibit further nuclear testing. Pakistan also offered to participate in new peace talks with India and proposed a nuclear-weapon-free zone in South Asia. Pakistan agreed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if India would sign it at the same time. In March 2003 , however, both Pakistan and India tested nuclear-capable missiles, further increasing tensions between the neighboring countries.

    Ongoing Challenges.

    Unable to achieve serious economic reform and charged with corruption, Mohammed Nawaz Sharif's government was short lived. In 1999 army chief of staff General Pervez Musharraf arrested Sharif and suspended the constitution. Musharraf's government faced significant challenges. Continued conflict in Kashmir, where Pakistan allegedly supported Muslims who rejected Indian rule, strained Pakistan's troubled relationship with its neighbor. India blamed Pakistani-backed Islamic militants for an assault on the Indian parliament in December 2001 . In response, India ordered almost a million troops to Pakistan's border. War—and even the use of nuclear weapons—appeared possible. The crisis eased in June, when Musharraf promised to end the movement of militants across the border into India. Sporadic violence between Muslims and Hindus continued.

    The international focus on al-Qaeda after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, placed Pakistan in an extremely difficult position. Despite Pakistan's previous support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Musharraf decided to back U.S. efforts to drive the regime from power when its connection to al-Qaeda became known. This decision, however, incited considerable opposition from segments of the Pakistani population who supported the Taliban's extreme version of Islam. Nonetheless, in 2002 , Pakistanis granted Musharraf five more years in office.

    Pakistan still faces serious domestic issues. The government's suppression of political parties and political activism has led to increased influence from religious movements. Religious intolerance and violence against women remain critical problems. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported in March 2001 that at least 1,000 people had died in religious or ethnic violence every year since 1990 . The report also stated that more than 1,000 Pakistani women died in 1999 as a result of honor killings. A woman can be killed by a male member of her family for a wide variety of offenses. Marital infidelity, divorce, and even rape can all be perceived as bringing shame and dishonor to a family. See also Afghanistan; Ahmadi; Bangladesh; India; Iqbal, Muhammad; Kashmir; Mughal Empire; Qaeda, al-; Taliban.

    • Previous Result
    • Results
    • Highlight On / Off
    • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
    • Next Result
    Oxford University Press

    © 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice