Pakistan between Dream and Reality

VIEW: Pakistan’s imaginary synthesis —Suroosh Irfani
Daily Times, August 15, 2007

Responding to my article Islam, Dreams and Jung (Daily Times, 27 July, 2007), Brijen Gupta asserts that it “ignores Jung’s view that Islam was a totalitarian movement and the putative mother of Nazism”. He concludes, “to Jungians, a symbiotic relationship between Muslims and Christians appears unlikely” (Daily Times Letters, 28 July).

Like many thinkers, Jung is as much known for his original ideas as the controversies some of his ideas have spawned. However, regarding Islam, it goes to Jung’s credit that he acknowledged his own limitations as a human being brought up in a western milieu, where prejudice against Islam had rubbed on him as well.

During a seminar on dream analysis in Zurich, Jung candidly acknowledged that as with many westerners, he was unable to consciously reconcile within himself “the irreconcilable nature of Islam and Christianity” — and yet affirmed that reconciling these opposites was the challenge of a ‘new enlightenment”.

In fact, Jung believed that Islam was misrepresented by prejudiced teachers: “It is represented by our theologians as dry and empty, but there is tremendous life in it, particularly in Islamic mysticism, which is the secret backbone of Islam” (C G Jung, Dream Analysis. Princeton, 1984. p.336).

He seemed overwhelmed by a brush with Islam when he visited India. As he wrote about Hindu temples, gods and goddesses in “the dreamlike world of India”, Jung notes: “in comparison, Islam seems to be a superior, more spiritual, and more advanced religion.” He lauds the Taj Mahal as “ the secret of Islam”, a monument of love where the “perfume of Islamic culture still lingers in the air”.

Indeed, the Taj symbolised an incredible flowering of the “delicate secret of the rose gardens of Shiraz and the silent patios of Arabian palaces... in the rich Indian earth”. (C G Jung. C W vol. 10. p, 519-520).

Clearly, Jung’s poetic description of Taj Mahal is more than a homage to a Mughal emperor’s love for his Persian queen, Mumtaz Mahal — Jung also alludes to a synthesising Indo-Persian culture that historically shaped Muslim identity in the subcontinent.

This makes one wonder whether Jung had a case for his double-take on Islam: as a force of totalitarian domination a la Nazism on the one hand, and an energy of eclectic spirituality a la Taj Mahal, on the other.

Veteran historian K K Aziz notes that while Jama’at-e Islami leader Maulana Maudoodi shunned democracy and freedom of thought, he admired the Nazi and Fascist parties for having achieved power “through deep faith in their principles and blind obedience to their leaders” (Pakistan’s Political Culture p.265). After independence, the Jama’at supported military dictator General Zia in promoting an Islamic state, where “no one can regard his affairs as personal and private because an Islamic state is a totalitarian state” (p.261).

Such totalitarian thrust took a triumphal turn when US arms and Saudi petrodollars fuelled the Afghan jihad under Zia’s stewardship and religious parties’ patronage, giving rise to a complicit culture of violence in the name of jihad.

Consequently, with the advent of the “Arab-Afghans’ and Taliban, the synthesising impulse of Indo-Persian culture was largely eclipsed by an ‘Arabist shift’- the tendency to view the present in terms of an imagined Arab past with the Arabs as the only “real/pure” Muslim, and then using this trope of purity for exorcising an “unIslamic” present.

Small wonder that in Pakistan’s imaginary today, Taj Mahal has been displaced by Lal Masjid, and the Persian Mumtaz Mahal by ‘Arabist’ Umme Hassan, Principal of Jamia Hafsa believed to be the moving spirit behind Lal Masjid radicalism. The wife of Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz, Umme Hassan’s reported renunciation of her Pakistani name, Majida, for a primordial Arab identity was emulated by many of her students.

Indeed, the Lal Masjid debacle shows the extent to which the distinction between ‘terrorist’ and ‘mainstream’ religiosity has gotten blurred in today’s Pakistan. For example, if security forces arrested Al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh from a Jama’at-e Islami nazima’s house four years ago, security forces cornered the top Taliban commander Abdullah Mehsud last month in the house of a JUIF leader, where he blew himself up.

Likewise, the Lal Masjid complex thrived and expanded because of a complicit religious culture shared by various shades of Islamist militants, government functionaries and religio-political groups.

The unmistakable strain of fascism in this culture is borne out by researcher Farhat Taj’s account of her visit to Jamia Hafsa last January, where she found the students, teachers and the charismatic Umme Hassan more than eager to tell what they were up to: the madrassa was “grooming wives and mothers for jihadis, female suicide bombers and female foot soldiers who will clash with the law enforcement agencies of Pakistan, if necessary” to enforce their version of Sharia- first in Islamabad, and then the rest of Pakistan.

The generic affinity of Hafsa women and Nazism was summed up by a student who told Taj, a liberal Muslim, “we will bring you all into the fold of Islam or eliminate you from the face of the earth, Inshallah”. (Daily Times, 2 Feb, 2007).

Even so, Pakistan’s Indo-Persian legacy seems much too pervasive to be subsumed by an ‘Arabist’ shift. The legacy goes back to the eleventh century, when the Persian Ghaznavid rulers made Lahore their capital and the Persian Sufi mystic Ali Usman Hajwiri (d.1077) wrote the first Persian treatise on Sufism entitled Kashf-ul-Mahjub (The Unveiling of the Hidden).

As Persian became the administrative language of India’s successive rulers, it also became the medium for a new cultural force symbolised by Sufism. With its extensive network of hospices, khaneqahs, teachers and devotional qawwali music concerts, Sufism reflected the lived experience of a spiritual humanism that cut across a multiethnic and multi-religious society.

Ironical as it may seem, the political expression of such spiritual pluralism was summed up by Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his speech of 11 August, 1947: the historic speech affirms that religion is a personal matter which has nothing to do with the matters of the state. Indeed, the French Revolution, the American Bill of Rights and the Westminster parliamentary traditions have been adopted to serve Pakistan’s aspirations as an Islamic Republic also reflect the assimilative impulse of Indo-Persian culture in Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution — where the democratic ethos of modernity spurred.

A graphic expression of such aspirations was the lawyers’ movement this summer for the restoration of the Chief Justice, a movement in which religious, ethnic and secular identities were subsumed by an overarching struggle for justice and democracy, led by male and female lawyers in unisex black coats and white shirts.

While the lawyers’ movement may be a long way from the Jungian concerns of totalitarianism and Taj Mahal, it reflects the seeds of a ‘new enlightenment’ that might yet rescue Pakistan from the regressive forces undermining it in the name of Islam.

Suroosh Irfani teaches Cultural Studies at National College of Arts, Lahore


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