Khaled Ahmed: Shrinking The Nation - From the Middle East to Malaysia, Muslim states are ‘expelling’ minority elements

Is it true that 93 per cent of Malaysia’s women are “circumcised” and that Malaysia’s highest religious authority issued a fatwa in 2009 requiring the “cutting” of all Muslim women? This appeared in Pakistan’s The Express Tribune (February 20, 2015) and is difficult to digest. But a cousin of mine, who was once quite normal living here in Lahore but has gone nuts after becoming a British citizen in Liverpool, has written to tell me that Islam actually allows female genital mutilation.

Years ago, Malaysia’s great leader Mahathir bin Mohamad told us in Lahore that his country couldn’t afford to follow Pakistan in imposing primitive hudood laws that reduced the testimony of non-Muslims and women to half. Today, Malaysian PM Najib Razak says his country is moderately Islamic. But others say he is letting the state go hard-shell Islamic because the Islamist elements in his party are too strong. And he has used the country’s notorious sedition act to jail his opponents because they reject hudood.

If Malaysia goes down this familiar road, it will lose some basic attributes of the modern nation-state and will be of a piece with the rest of the Muslim world. Ironically, nation-states lose the “nation” part after “expelling” minority elements — and, somehow, women. Primitive minds equate a nation with one identity. This has happened to Pakistan. The Balkan region first did this, with its nationalists saying the “state periodically expels its trash”.

Is it “Muslim trash” we see in the states Muslims created as nation-states, getting the word “nation” all wrong? Somehow women get a raw deal in this process of removing minorities from the “nation”. Is Malaysia moving to where Pakistan, and possibly Bangladesh, have already got? What appears to be Islamic reform in Malaysia now will ultimately get the Chinese and Indians expelled like “trash”. Pakistan under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto too did this in 1974, on the pretext of purifying the Muslim identity. Today, it is increasingly a state without a nation.

In The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan (2015), Ali Usman Qasmi reveals what may compare to what Najib Razak is going through — Bhutto got parliament to apostatise Ahmadi Muslims. He was driven, like Razak, by a strange internal impulse Muslims ultimately succumb to. Today, Pakistan is killing Shias, the next “trash” the state wants to expel. What Nusrat Bhutto grasped intuitively about Pakistan’s future was missed by a left-leaning Bhutto in his obsession with the nation-state as he understood it. Today, Shias are being slaughtered while other “trash” Muslims, like the Ismailis, are next in line. Non-Muslims are targeted by the blasphemy law. Those who can run away are leaving Pakistan. Those who can’t are the victims of a state expelling its “trash”. 

In Bangladesh, a secular Sheikh Hasina Wajed is ruling a state gone crazy about Islam. Some say a Salafist fundamentalism funded from abroad has caused Bangladeshi society to become intolerant, but the fact is that the state of Bangladesh had started expelling its “trash” soon after its “liberation” from Pakistan. Mujibur Rahman couldn’t stop the expulsion of Hindus and couldn’t restore the properties grabbed from them by Muslims.

Today, an Islamised Bangladesh is fast becoming a state without a nation. In the Middle East, Muslim states, artificial imperial impositions, should have become nations after living together for half a century. The West’s “democracy evangelism” has picked them apart. Iraq, says Fareed Zakaria, is no longer a state. Once, Kemalist Turkey was the model. M.A. Jinnah kept Mustafa Kemal’s biography under his pillow; Allama Iqbal thought secular Turkey was the new model for Muslims. 

Today, an angry Turk called Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading the nation back to where communities have to suffer to allow the state to cleanse itself. I thought there were no Shias in Egypt, but now the news is, Egyptians find them and thrash them for being “different”. The Muslim faith has reasserted itself and wants to remain unchanging, even as the modern state mutates in order to survive. In Africa and the Middle East, Muslims are not able to cope with change. Now, the Muslims of Malaysia and Indonesia might get pulled into this new crisis.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek

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