Islamic Law, the Nation State, and the Case of Pakistan | Wilson Center
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Islamic Law, the Nation State, and the Case of Pakistan

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Webcast Recap

In recent decades, ambivalence toward modernity, along with the promise of justice and morality, have led to efforts in some Muslim-majority countries to partially “Islamize” the state. Pakistan presents an important case study. Pakistan’s Islamization program in the 1970s and 1980s promised increased justice and other public goods by virtue of laws purportedly rooted in revelation. This program has resulted in some controversial outcomes, such as Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Some argue that laws such as Pakistan’s blasphemy statute have contributed to sectarian strife and helped undermine the rule of law.

Most Muslims today live in political systems that operate on a nation state model. By contrast, classical Islamic jurisprudence developed in the context of empire and a robust and relatively independent scholarly class. Is there something about the nation state that makes “Islamization” unworkable? In what contexts might "Islamization" be most successful? Is there a role for classical Islamic law in Pakistan, and, more generally, for Muslims living within the framework of modernity? This event, co-hosted with the Religious Freedom Institute, addressed these questions and more.

Image: Umair/Flickr


Selected Quotes


Ismail Royer

“[Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law] and its application actually contradict the Sharia in many ways, Islamic law in many ways, in ways that I think are inevitable due to the fact of its introduction into the context of a modern nation-state.” 
“In reality, the Hanafi school of thought, which Pakistan follows or purports to follow, actually does not mandate the death penalty for non-Muslims who insult the Prophet. But the fact that this law was introduced into parliament by a military leader, passed by parliament, upheld by this court, has obligated upon all future leaders of Pakistan to apply this law.” 
“There have been challenges to [Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law] and challenges to its specific application. For example, most recently, in the case of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who was accused of insulting the Prophet, it seems very clear that those accusations are spurious.”

Sohaib Khan

“The religious establishment, or class of Ulama or scholars, they have this ambiguous relationship with the state. They understand it is important to implement the Sharia, but now that they are living in the world of nation-states, they know that this can only be practically or efficiently done through institutions of the state, so they have this sense of necessity of implementing the Sharia, but at the same time they recognize that the draconian body known as the nation-state could actually take over the Sharia.”
“Often times, we also tend to think that Sharia is this autonomous legal system which is different or in direct opposition with secular law, but the phenomena that we’ve observed historically in post-colonial, Muslim nation-states is that Sharia law and the law of the state are in dialogical interaction with each other."

Abdullah Hamid Ali

“State-ism is something that has definitely made it difficult for Muslims in the times [that] we live to really cope with the transition from pre-modern state-ism as opposed to modern or post-modern state-ism.”
“What anyone who has any detailed knowledge of Islamic law would notice that there is a celebration of a certain type of pluralism. That is to say that Muslim jurists found it easy to accommodate other religious groups, especially groups like Christians and Jews, and also you find accommodations for Zoroastrians.”

Shaykh Mohammed Amin Kholwadia

“The idea that we want to explain Sharia to somebody who doesn’t know Sharia is like explaining cricket in terms of baseball and baseball in terms of cricket. I don’t think that’s possible.”

“The idea that people want to abolish Sharia means you are asking Muslims to give up their civilities, to give up their civilization’s values… That’s not going to happen.”

“We need somebody or a group of people who can be a bridge between the [Islamic] scholars and the legal theorists of Pakistan and the judges – [so] that they can meet and discuss things from a very academic point of view."


10-26-2018 Islamic Law, the Nation State, and the Case of Pakistan




  • Ismail Royer

    Research and Program Associate, Religious Freedom Institute
  • Sohaib Khan

    Doctoral Candidate, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University
  • Abdullah Hamid Ali

    Senior Faculty Member, Zaytuna College
  • Shaykh Mohammed Amin Kholwadia

    Theologian and Authority in Islamic Philosophy and Theosophy, Darul Qasim