Pakistan Table of Contents

About 97 percent of all Pakistanis are Muslims. Official documentation states that Sunni Muslims constitute 77 percent of the population and that adherents of Shia Islam make up an additional 20 percent. Christians, Hindus, and members of other religions each account for about 1 percent of the population.

Basic Tenets of Islam

The central belief in Islam is that there is only one God, Allah, and that the Prophet Muhammad was his final messenger. Muhammad is held to be the "seal of the prophets." Islam is derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition and regards Abraham (Ibrahim) and Jesus (Isa) as prophets and recognizes the validity of the Old Testament and New Testament.

Islam is held to be the blueprint for humanity that God has created. The word Islam comes from aslama (to submit), and the one who submits--a Muslim--is a believer who achieves peace, or salaam. God, the creator, is invisible and omnipresent; to represent God in any form is a sin.

The Prophet was born in A.D. 570 and became a merchant in the Arabian town of Mecca. At the age of forty, he began to receive a series of revelations from God transmitted through the angel Gabriel. His monotheistic message, which disdained the idolatry that was popularly practiced at the Kaaba (now in the Great Mosque and venerated as a shrine of Muslim pilgrimage) in Mecca at that time, was ridiculed by the town's leaders. Muhammad and his followers were forced to emigrate in 622 to the nearby town of Yathrib, later known as Medina or "the city." This move, the hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic era. In the ten years before his death in 632, the Prophet continued preaching and receiving revelations, ultimately consolidating both the temporal and the spiritual leadership of Arabia.

The Quran, the holy scripture of Islam, plays a pivotal role in Muslim social organization and values. The Quran, which literally means "reciting," is recognized by believers as truly the word of God, and as such it is eternal, absolute, and irrevocable. The fact that Muhammad was the last of the prophets and that no further additions to "the word" are allowed is significant; it closes the door to new revelations.

That there can be no authorized translation of the Quran in any language other than the original, Arabic, is crucial to its unifying importance. Cultural differences such as those that exist among various Muslim groups throughout the world cannot compromise the unifying role that the religion plays.

The Prophet's life is considered exemplary. His active engagement in worldly activities established precedents for Muslims to follow. These precedents, referred to as the hadith, include the statements, actions, and moods or feelings of the Prophet. Although many hadith are popularly accepted by most Muslims, there is no one canon accepted by all. Such things as the way in which Muhammad ran the state in Medina and the priority he placed on education remain important guidelines, however, have continued to remain important in modern times. The Quran and the hadith together form the sunna, a comprehensive guide to spiritual, ethical, and social living.

The five pillars of Islam consist of certain beliefs and acts to which a Muslim must adhere to affirm membership in the community. The first is the shahada (testimony), the affirmation of the faith, which succinctly states the central belief of Islam: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his Prophet." To become a Muslim, one needs only to recite this statement. Second is salat, the obligation for a Muslim to pray at five set times during the day. Muslims value prayers recited communally, especially the midday prayers on Friday, the Muslim sabbath. Mosques have emerged as important social and political centers as a by-product of this unifying value. The third pillar of Islam is zakat, the obligation to provide alms for the poor and disadvantaged. The fourth is sawm, the obligation to fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan, in commemoration of the beginning of the Prophet's revelations from Allah. The final pillar is the expectation that every adult Muslim physically and financially able to do so perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in his or her lifetime. The pilgrimage occurs during the last month of the Muslim lunar calendar, just over a month after the end of Ramadan. Its social importance as a unifier of the greater Muslim umma (community of believers) has led to the establishment of hajj committees for its regulation in every Muslim country. The pilgrimage of a Muslim to the sacred places at any other time of the year is referred to as umra (visitation). At various times of political crisis in Pakistan, almost every major leader has left for Saudi Arabia to perform umra. Performing umra may or may not increase the politician's reputation for moral standing.

A number of other elements contribute to a sense of social membership whereby Muslims see themselves as distinct from nonMuslims , including prohibition on the consumption of pork and alcohol, the requirement that animals be slaughtered in a ritual manner, and the obligation to circumcise sons. Another element is jihad, the "striving." Jihad is often misunderstood in the West, where people think of it as a fanatical holy war. There are two kinds of jihad: the far more important inner one is the battle each Muslim wages with his or her lower self; the outer one is the battle which each Muslim must wage to preserve the faith and its followers. People who fight the outer jihad are mujahidin. The Afghan rebels waging an insurrection against the Soviet-backed government in the 1980s deftly used this term to identify themselves and hence infused their struggle with a moral dimension.

The concept of predestination in Islam is different from that in Christianity. Islam posits the existence of an all-powerful force (Allah) who rules the universe and knows all things. Something will happen--inshaallah--if it is God's will. The concept is not purely fatalistic, for although people are responsible to God for their actions, these actions are not predestined. Instead, God has shown the world the right way to live as revealed through the Quran; then it is up to individual believers to choose how to live.

There are two major sects, the Sunnis and the Shia, in Islam. They are differentiated by Sunni acceptance of the temporal authority of the Rashudin Caliphate (Abu Bakr, Omar, Usman, and Ali) after the death of the Prophet and the Shia acceptance solely of Ali, the Prophet's cousin and husband of his daughter, Fatima, and his descendants. Over time, the Sunni sect divided into four major schools of jurisprudence; of these, the Hanafi school is predominant in Pakistan. The Shia sect split over the matter of succession, resulting in two major groups: the majority Twelve Imam Shia believe that there are twelve rightful imams, Ali and his eleven direct descendants. A second Shia group, the numerically smaller Ismaili community, known also as Seveners, follows a line of imams that originally challenged the Seventh Imam and supported a younger brother, Ismail. The Ismaili line of leaders has been continuous down to the present day. The current leader, Sadr ad Din Agha Khan, who is active in international humanitarian efforts, is a direct descendant of Ali.

Islam in Pakistani Society
Politicized Islam
Non-Muslim Minorities

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress