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Slam Seeks Separate States
Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith was an outstanding Western scholar...
Sep 2017

Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith was an outstanding Western scholar, of religion (1916-2000). In 1949 he visited Pakistan and came out with a booklet of 100 pages entitled: Pakistan-As An Islamic State. In a few pages he explains what is an Islamic State? Given below are some of his observations vis-a-vis Pakistan on this important concept.

Indeed, it (Pakistan) owes its birth to the fact that it was Islamic from its conception. The very idea of Pakistan as a separate state for the Indian Muslims, once it was conceived in the 30s and especially once it was given form, however abstrusely, in a political programme by the Muslim League's Lahore Resolution of 1940, attracted unprecedented attention and enthusiasm from those Muslims and swiftly succeeded in becoming realized in 1947, just because it was Islamic. 
The existence of Pakistan is itself an Islamic development of prime significance. It is prior, both in time and in import, to that Islamic ideal of what a society ought to be like, to which Pakistani Muslims are endeavouring to adapt their nation now that it exists. There is a sense in which Pakistan is already an Islamic society; and there is another sense in which it is not yet an Islamic society but may become one.
What is an Islamic State?
The questioner was searching for characterstics which would distinguish an Islamic from other kinds of state; to find wherein it differed from a democratic or a secular or a liberal or, for that matter, a Christian state. As there is Islamic art, Islamic theology, Islamic mysticism, so there is or may be an Islamic state. Before August 14, 1947, the Muslims of India had their art, their theology, their mysticism; but they had no state. When Jinnah proposed to them that they should work to get themselves one, they responded with a surging enthusiasm. Their attainment, on that date, of a state of their own was greeted with an elation which was religious as well as personal; it was considered a triumph not only for Muslims but for Islam.
Islam Seeks a State
This is the more relevant in that the whole principle on which Pakistan was mooted and then established was Islamic. It was not a territorial or an economic community that was seeking a state, but a religious community. The drive for an Islamic state in India was in origin not a process by which a state sought Islamicness but one by which Islam sought a state.To appreciate this, we must recognize why Islam sought a state for itself. We have called it a form of Islam. It is more; it is an especially appropriate form. And yet it is not a form in which all religions have sought expression. Westerners have particular difficulty in appreciating what is involved, since Christianity has had quite other emphases. Islam is a religion; and, like other religions, is transcendent, ineffable; no form can contain or exhaust it. Like other religions, however, it has been (partially) expressed in many forms - artistic, intellectual, mystic, -and, more than some others, social. The Prophet Muhammad not only preached ethics; he organized a state. Indeed, Islamic history is calculated to begin not the year Muhammad was born (after the fashion of the Christian era) nor when he began to receive divine revelations, but when the Muslim community came to power in a state of its own. The year 1 A.H. marks the establishment of Islam as a religio-political sovereignty in al-Madinah. That state was organized in accordance with God’s revelation; it prospered and expanded, and Islam as a process in human history was launched on its career. That career has continued until to-day, with many human ups and downs, many variations of fortune and of form, many vicissitudes, both of achievement and indeed of aspiration. But never very far from central has been its concern with itself as an organized community.
Islam and Christianity
There are many illustrations of this fact. One is the superlative importance, in Islam, of the law. As theology is the dominant symbol of Christian faith, so the Law is the dominant symbol of Islamic. In modern times, Christians have been talking in terms of a social gospel; Islam has been a social gospel from the beginning. Major sectarian differences in Islam have had to do with divergences not primarily over dogma but over questions as to how the community should be organized. While Protestantism seceded from the Catholic Church on a point of doctrine, the Shiah seceded from the majority community on a point of political leadership; while Christian groups (denominations) organized themselves around diverse interpretations of theology, Muslim groups (the madhahib) organized themselves around diverse interpretations of procedure. There is in Arabic and indeed in all the Islamic languages no term quite corresponding to the Christian concept “orthodox”: the nearest counterpart (Sunni) would better be rendered “orthoprax”. And so on. Islam is by tradition and by central genius a practical religion, a religion of ethics, including social ethics; and of organized, legalized ethics. As the Muslims like to put it, “Islam is a way of life.”
Islam, then, by its own dynamic seeks a state for the social expression of its faith. The Muslims of India established Pakistan in order to live Islamically; as their Constitution puts it, they are setting up a “sovereign independent State of Pakistan… wherein (they) shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accord with the teachings and requirements of Islam…”
The intention here involved is decisive. An Islamic state is not one merely in which Muslims live or rule; but one through which their purpose is to live or rule (in a democracy, live and rule) as Muslims. Some Pakistanis would draw a distinction on this score between their own newly-won dominion and, say, Egypt; pointing out that most of the populace of such a state as Egypt may be individually Muslims, but they are politically, not only by statute but by intent, Egyptians; the integrating and guiding principle of their state is not and does not pretend to be their religion. In the case of Paksitan, on the other hand, the whole raison d'etre of the state is Islam; it is Islam alone which brought it into being, and Islam alone which holds it together. We shall not consider here the Egyptian aspect of this judgment, for which neither we nor the Pakistanis who proffer it have the evidence; but so far as Pakistan is concerned the point is relevant. A country is not more Islamic than its people intend it to be.


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