In 1981, the University Grants Commission of Pakistan issued a directive for authors and publishers of school and college textbooks which stated, “The depiction of Jinnah should be that of a man of orthodox religious views who sought the creation of an Islamic state. The ulema should be promoted as genuine heroes of the Pakistan Movement. There should be an emphasis on ritualistic Islam, together with a rejection of liberal interpretations of the religion. The books should guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan, which is, the creation of a completely Islamised State.” The complete text of the directive can be found in Mutala-i-Pakistan, published in 1983 by Allama Iqbal Open University.

According to independent researcher Dr Rubina Saigol, in Enemies Within and Enemies Without (Futures, volume 37, 2005), and anthropologist Aminah Mohammad-Arif, in Manufacturing Citizenship, the immediate roots of such directives lay in the trauma of the 1971 East Pakistan debacle. The shock of losing East Pakistan was followed by the concern that Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory had come into question with the departure of the equally Muslim East Pakistan on the basis of Bengali nationalism.

Saigol writes that, instead of acknowledging the shoddy manner in which West Pakistan’s ruling and economic elites had treated East Pakistanis, the state and government of Pakistan began to explain East Pakistan’s antagonistic departure as a diabolical conspiracy hatched by the “enemies of Islam”.

The state and a new government formed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party feared that the same enemies would now fan the fires of ethnic nationalism in other provinces.

In 1972, a conference was organised by the new regime in which various intellectuals and historians were invited. Shumaila Hemani, in Representing Pakistan through Folk Music (University of Alberta, 2011), writes that the session bifurcated into two opposing groups. One group urged that the new Pakistan should be described as a historical sum of various ethnic nationalities and faiths – Islam being one such faith. The other group disagreed, suggesting that a more robust and monolithic form of nationalism be promoted. This proposal was adopted.

This decision gradually evolved into becoming a narrative that explained Pakistani nationhood in an extremely narrow manner. In his 2011 essay for the Mauritian free-expression magazine Lalit de Klas meaning class struggle, sociologist Iqbal Ahmad Khan writes that this narrative eschewed the ideas of pluralism, diversity and moderation, which were inherent in the nationalist rendering of the founders of Pakistan.

In fact, Iqbal held the view that the process of narrowing the idea of Pakistani nationalism actually began in the 1950s, especially after Jinnah’s demise.

Drawing from the thesis developed in this context by the prominent Pakistani sociologist the late Hamza Alvi, Iqbal writes that the idea of having a separate Muslim country was largely fashioned by middle-class Muslims of India who were struggling to compete against the Hindu middle classes who were in the majority.

Even though this segment of Muslims demanded a separate Muslim state, they were not envisioning an Islamic state, writes Iqbal. They were visualising a country where Muslims would be in a majority and thus be able to enhance their economic condition more fluently.

According to Iqbal, this is why the modernist aspect of Muslim nationalism formulated by the likes of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal and Jinnah, appealed to this segment of Muslims. It rationalised the existence of a state in which the Muslim majority did not have to enact a theocracy and was able to pragmatically adopt economic and social modernity, but without compromising its overarching Muslim identity.

Iqbal is of the view that this was clear in the minds of the founders, but things became complicated soon after the creation of Pakistan when the nascent state was almost immediately confronted by a plethora of economic and political problems. The more the government struggled to address these issues, the more it began to use the so-called religious card to mask its failures.

One often comes across the term the religious card. Keeping in mind Saigol, Arif and Iqbal’s thesis, it can be concluded that this card was invented by politicians, then adopted by the state, before becoming a weapon of sorts in the hands of various members of the society, especially after it began to influence the contents of the constitution.

Ali Usman Qasmi, in his book The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan, writes that in 1953 Punjab Chief Minister Mumtaz Daultana, in an attempt to distract the media’s attention away from an economic crisis in Punjab, did not hesitate to allow religious parties to instigate a violent movement against the Ahmadiyya community.

Iqbal is of the view that the state, governments and religious groups are not the only ones who began to use the religious card. He writes that the “urban bourgeois” constituencies that had originally responded positively to the modernist notions of Islam during the Pakistan Movement, too began to endorse it by supporting movements against those they feared were threatening their economic well-being.

For example, in 1965, the modernist regime of Ayub Khan questioned the religious beliefs of his opponent Fatima Jinnah. Certainly, a trend had begun to take shape since 1953.

In his 2018 essay The Clarion Call, Z Ahmad writes that when the situation in 1969 had greatly deteriorated in East Pakistan, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, Shah Ahmad Noorani, told Gen Yahya, who had replaced Ayub, that the commotion in East Pakistan “was being created by the Ahmadiyya community”.

In 1970, the Jamaat-i-Islami Chief, Abul Ala Maududi, penned a fatwa against Socialism and land reforms, mainly to target Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. Despite the fact that the Bhutto regime allowed the inclusion of certain Islamic clauses in the 1973 constitution, its attitude towards Islam was attacked when it refused to constitutionally oust the Ahmadiyya from the fold of Islam. By 1974, however, the government capitulated and enacted the Second Amendment, doing just that.

Three years later, the religious card once again came into play against the Bhutto regime by an alliance of religious and other anti-Bhutto parties, some of them secular. In July 1977, the regime was toppled through a coup by Gen Zia whose 11-year dictatorship would go on to actually institutionalise the religious card through draconian ordinances, additional clauses in the constitution and an assortment of directives.

It is through this institution­alisation, fortified by the consti­tution and textbooks, that the idea of using the religious card became a disconcerting norm. It is frequently used by politicians against each other; by the state to undermine so-called anti-state elements, and even by various segments of society to settle scores and grudges. In a way, it rationalises the act of initiating mob violence against enemies and the demonisation of opponents, on the basis of faith, to achieve entirely cynical goals.

This article first appeared on Dawn.