I am reading Adeeb Khalid’s book ‘Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia.’ That’s it, I just thought you should know….Juuuuust kidding. Though I plan on summarizing and reviewing the book when I’m finished, I came across this interesting passage discussing Islam and the state that I would like to share. It’s a bit lengthy so bear with me (hey, I’m the one who has to type the darn thing!):
But even when states have sought to control Islam, they have don so to put it to work on their behalf. Having freed up large areas of public life from the authority of Islam and its carriers, they nevertheless have used Islam to bolster their legitimacy or to found systems of public morality based on a particular reading of Islam. The Egyptian state, for instance, derives a great deal of its legitimacy from the argument that it serves Islam. In Turkey, in an approved and properly nationalized form, Islam remains part of the moral education of all schoolchildren. In both these countries, religious higher education is under state supervision or control, but it remains uninterrupted, and the public presence of Islam is unmistakable. The Saudi state, of course, stakes all its legitimacy on Islam, but it keeps strict control over Islamic institutions. In Pakistan, in contrast, the state was never able to institutionalize control over Islam. Rather, the military, both in and out of power, has used Islamic groups for various purposes, from sponsoring the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan, through instigating an insurgency in Kashmir, to fomenting sectarian violence within Pakistan itself.
Before this passage, Khalid emphasizes that Islam should be looked at like all other religions in the world and in history, in terms of its relations to the state. That is, that the state attempts to use it or suppress it for its own interests. This is Khalid’s main thesis of the book, that Islam is not monolithic and is strongly affected and changed by such other societal factors as governance and economics.
Back to the passage above, Khalid is accurate in that for the most part Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have ‘successfully’ controlled most aspects of Islam while at the same time using the religion and culture for legitimacy claims. The first two, Egypt and Turkey, are mostly secular states, with Turkey’s constitution guaranteeing this, while Saudi Arabia’s government is much more tied to its Wahhabi-Islamic roots. Interestingly, these three states are all key US allies. Saudi Arabia and Egypt both run oppressive societies, but the US sides with them anyways for geopolitical, resource, and stability reasons. The US government appears to accept these repressive regimes over possible Islamist party takeovers, which it fears my have a similiar world outlook to Iran. Come to think of it, did the hostile nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s towards the United States ruin forever possible US support for Islamist parties throughout the Middle East?
The fourth country and only outlier that Khalid mentions, is Pakistan, and it is a state that may be the most important US ally of them all at the moment. Khalid is correct, the Pakistan military, much less its government, has never had control over Islam in the country’s short history. What amount of the blame should the current domestic and regional problems facing Pakistan should be attributed to this lack of state control over Islam? Is there anything different about the culture and religion of Islam that makes it harder for governments to control? Or are geopolitical, economic, international, and other societal factors more responsible?