Pushing ahead on Islamization -- but with whose Islam?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

There appears to be more controversy and confusion swirling around the military government of Muhammad Zia ul-Haq on its moves to ''Islamize'' this Muslim nation than on any other program it has embarked on since clamping the country under martial law. The sophisticated Western intellectual disdains it. Women have taken their protest to the streets.

In 1979 the Zia government introduced the dreaded ''hadd'' laws, the most severe, by Western standards, of Islamic punishments. A hand is cut off for stealing; an adulterer is stoned. Yet the laws were never enforced. They continue as a source of often heated debate among this country's eclectic Muslim population, such as Islamic scholars, and even judges on the federal ''sharia'' (Islamic law) court. This court issued a surprise ruling in 1981 accepting a petitioner's claim that stoning, as a punishment, was not sanctioned by the Koran.

Prohibition has done little except to force up the price of alcohol, and has cost the government hundreds of millions of rupees in annual excise tax. Before the military takeover, the landed cost of a bottle of whiskey was $3, but it retailed for $16 to $18 here; the difference went to the government in duty and excise tax. The same bottle of whiskey remains $3 today but sells on the open market for $40 - the difference pocketed by a thriving community of bootleggers, free of income tax.

Recommended: Default

The brunt of ''social Islamization'' - termed ''window dressing'' by the religious extreme - has been borne primarily by Pakistan's women, who fear even harsher measures and the loss of hard-won rights. They may no longer dance or sing in public. A dress code for government employees is now prescribed, and the depiction of women on government-controlled TV is forbidden. Pakistan's female athletes, among the best in Asia today, are now barred from participating in spectator sports. But even more frightening is an ordinance which, as feminists here see it, makes it impossible for a woman to report, or prove, a case of rape.

Women also fear changes in the family-laws ordinance, which protects many of their rights. They fear being segregated in an academically inferior women's university. But most important, they charge that they are being sacrificed to an ill-defined concept of ''official Islam,'' whose primary raison d'etre is to defuse ''militant Islam.''

Indeed, President Zia ul-Haq - whose devoutness as a Muslim is not questioned , even by his detractors here - has gone out of his way to establish that he is not an Islamic fundamentalist. And officials here are clearly embarrassed when comparisons are made between Pakistan's Islamization and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Iran.

General Zia himself, in an interview, accorded priority to Islam's egalitarian side, to its shunning of materialistic values, and its emphasis on the redistribution of wealth.

And though Western economists doubt the long-term viability of government efforts to make the economy conform with Islam, its introduction of the ''zakat'' appears to be the most popular measure yet begun.

A 2.5 percent tax on savings deposits and money, the ''zakat'' has been used since the earliest days of Islam as a major means of aiding the needy and redistributing wealth. There are now 32,000 zakat committees throughout the country, which collected nearly $66 million last fiscal year. Its compulsory collection directly from bank accounts is one of a number of reasons that wealthy Pakistanis are sending their money abroad. Since the tax applies only to savings, rather than total wealth, others are now investing in gold, land, jewels, and rugs.

A second Islamic tax, the ''ushr'' - a 5 percent levy on agricultural produce - is to be levied for the first time when this year's crop is in. But a good deal of opposition has already begun to emerge. Landowners say they will refuse to pay it, since they have received little from the government in the way of agricultural support.

And the provincial governments are critical of the ushr, which will supersede to a large extent the regular provincial tax, from which they derived a substantial income. Other economic measures, particularly those attempting to mold the banking system to the precepts of Islam, may prove difficult to sustain for long, according to Western economists. Non-interest-bearing bank accounts still produce interest, although it is now called a ''profit-loss sharing project.'' But higher returns distributed to accountholders in 1981 cost Pakistani banks $5.2 million, which under the traditional system would have been profit for the banks.

Who then are the Islamic militants challenging the military regime?

In Pakistan religious power has traditionally been held by the Islamic political parties and secular lay groups. The strongest is the Jamaat-i-Islami, which, with over 1 million members, is not only the country's best organized and strongest religious force, but in the view of many, its most dangerous political group.

But even within the Jamaat-i-Islami there are deep divisions, for the Islam of Pakistan is not a homogeneous force. Above and beyond the traditional Sunni-Shiite divisions, there are three main Sunni Muslim sects and scores of amorphous groupings, all of which have differing interpretions of the Sunna and the Koran.

''That,'' said a Western missionary, ''is what makes Islamization so difficult in Pakistan. Unlike Iran, you have no clear majority: no hierarchical structure. The groups are so divided, they won't even kneel behind each other in prayer. . . . So, when the government says, 'We're going to introduce Islamization,' the question is, 'Whose Islam? How and where?' ''

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...