Behind the veil

In South Asia on 29. December 2013 at 21:41

Jamaat-e-Islami (also known as Jamaat or JI) has since its foundation used an anti-corruption agenda and lack of honesty among politicians in order to win support. Making itself the honest alternative due to its righteousness the Jamaat has escaped and managed to dodge much criticism. However, the Jamaat is not as innocent as it seems, that needs to be understood without labelling critical voices as an attack on Islam, which has been a shield for too long.


During recent Pakistani reaction to the execution of a Bengali JI leader, the leader of Jamaat in Pakistan Syed Munawar Hasan would proclaim that East-Pakistan was lost due to lack of Islamic ideology. Jamaat used the same rhetoric during civil war in 1971 in order to support police brutality against Bengali students and Army crackdown on protests and later guerrilla movements. According to this narrative, which became official propaganda, one should not allow the division of a Muslim state. This was a higher goal for the Army ruled state with its supporters than the public grievance in East-Pakistan or the grave violations of human rights.

Pakistan never took those behind atrocities committed in Bangladesh to trial. It took Bangladesh a while to do this task, and even they have to answer for acts against civilians of non-Bengali origin. As the state did not learn from history by repeating same mistakes in Baluchistan, neither did Jamaat-e-Islami. Rather they considered their actions noble and right. In the end, they were fighting and supporting a cause, which was in their view according to Islamic principles.

Only some years later would the same Jamaat alongside several other religious groupings and political parties launch initiative to label Ahmadis as non-Muslims in the Constitution of 1973. This was a continuance of events which took place in 1953 where Jamaat had a leading role in Ahmadi pogroms. Maudoodi the founder and then leader of Jamaat escaped death penalty as appeasement to bigots and zealots had become politician’s favourite weapon when faced with criticism.

During the 80s, Jamaat became the sole Islamist political party with effective links to the Army. These events and this relation is quite contrary to the pious and righteous facade the organization tries to portray.


In its entirety, Jamaat has been against progressive ideas and modernity. These ideas are challengers to their worldview, but at the same time in evidently accepted several modern ideas but still being inherently against new ones. Jamaat protested against smallpox vaccines during 60s, calling it a conspiracy to sterilize Muslim kids. Taliban outfits in north Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa against Polio drops use this argument today.

Religious parties should not be banned, but there is no doubt that there is an excluding nature in these groupings. As one can change ideologies, it is much harder to change religious identities, and as Jamaat and other religious organisations preach to be the true path and face of Islam, they at the same time tell others that their belief is wrong and needs to be corrected. This is not uncommon for religious groupings, but Jamaat is a political party as well, and wants to introduce (to some degree has implemented) laws which promotes their version and translation of doctrines and books – compromising on freedom of faith.

During a debate on sectarian violence, former Jamaat-e-Islami member and later leader of the Salafi Tanzeem-e-Islami Dr. Israr Ahmed suggested that if Shia Muslims compromise on some of their doctrines there would be no sectarian violence. Hence putting the blame on ‘wrong belief’ rather than on violent reactions or the draconian blasphemy law. With such an approach, violence will be justified. Especially when those more violent as the likes of Sippah Sahaba Pakistan and its militant wing Lashkar-e-Jhangwi do not find mere rhetoric to be enough.

Faith in subcontinent has historically been universal and composite. Being universal in spirituality, it has now become more divisive. Hindu revival movements and Islamists are the manifests of this trend. Sectarian identity has also strengthened from being a non-issue to be the prime object of any transaction or interaction.

Since religion is the sole identity religious parties use in their agenda, any criticism of their conduct automatically, in their view, becomes a criticism of religion. Jamaat-e-Islami has been among those frequently chanting that ‘Islam is in danger’ and that criticism of their conduct is ‘attack on Islam’. Effectively banning critical voices from pointing fingers on their conduct. It should be no surprice that Munawar Hasan calls former TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud a martyr. They are at least honest on what they think of human lives and what justifies death.

The hypocrisy

With the advent of Taliban, a grouping with offspring from Sami-ul-Haqs Jamaat-e-Ulema Islam, the Jamaat too aligned with these new rulers in Kabul. Both providing cadres and political support whenever needed. Taliban’s massacres against civilians in general and Hazara population in specific was no hinder in that matter. After all, applying Islamic law was the priority, they were supporting the right cause. The brutal massacres and persecution of Rohingiya Muslims by Burmese state and local Rakhine militias although is being exploited to confirm a narrative that Muslims are at war with non-Muslims. There is little humanity in their care for Rohingiyas, the higher goal is much more important, that is the reason for silence when Taliban are involved in massacres.

The student wing Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) has a record of its own. Pakistani universities during the 60s had student activity banned. Partly due to left-wing criticism of Field Marshal Ayub Khans dictatorship and partly due to clashes between the leftists and islamists. Following opening up for student politics the IJT soon became a more organized and dedicated group. Several cases has been reported on moral control, beating up of students who do not follow IJT rules, and even teachers who criticise their conduct. In one event, the IJT enforced ban on selling the mango drink from Shezan because its owner was supposedly an Ahmadi. Student wing has also been a huge recruiting arena for youth who were sent to war in Afghanistan. There has also been several cases on IJT hiding Al-Qaeda personnel or weaponry in their dorms.

Jamaat in 80s was a major supporter for General Zia-ul-Haq’s intervention through proxy and direct involvement on Afghan territory. At that time, even being confident with Pakistani intelligence cooperating with CIA and Mossad. The same tune turned sour when US decided arrogantly to bomb Osama bin Laden out from his hiding in Afghanistan. Now it was completely unacceptable that a foreign power intervenes in other states internal affairs. Jamaat is obsessed with sovereignty now over drone attacks, but the same sovereignty Pakistan breached in Afghanistan by providing support and cadres to different warlords was understandable. The rationale Jamaat puts in order to legitimize its difference in stance is that the world is at war with Islam. Hence using conspiracy theories to confirm.


Learning from history

Despite being comparatively clean on financial matters, Jamaat-e-Islami has a bloody history from which no lesson has been learned. Jamaat has been keen to label its opponents, the more secular of them in prime the leftist flank of Pakistani politics, to be hypocrites and hence those God warned against. However, as is evident through its own history the hypocrites thrive in their ranks.

Pakistan still got a long way to walk when it comes to truth and reconciliation policy towards the Bangladesh debacle. Such issues take time, but old wounds are important to open up in order for them to heal, and in order to deliver justice.

Even European states as Hungary have elements who rather than learning from history, make up a distorted worldview to justify actions or to make them conspiracies in order to ‘weaken the nations standing in the world’. Problem is that such rhetoric works for a while among your own, but world cannot be fooled. By time, such approach builds an imaginary castle, which is easy to blow away. Leading to automatic reactions against even a hint of criticism, effectively hindering free speech and democratic rights.

Jamaat cannot hide behind its façade of being pious and avoid consequences of its politics. Sadly, it is too easy to get away for such groupings by merely invoking religion and an anti-corruption agenda. PTI can easily align itself with JI in its provincial Government, while at the same time be ferocious to financial corruption among the others.

Truth cannot be hidden, it is revealed by time. Challenge remains to be in tune beforehand in order to avoid suffering of human lives for causes being taught to be worth bigger than humanity. Lessions not learned lead to repeating same mistakes.

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