The changing Pakistani identity

Pakistanis have turned to a Muslim identity which in itself is quite OK for the country is an Islamic republic. But to put all onus on religious identity alone, deprives the country of its own national genesis. Without a cultural identity there remains hardly any difference between people of the same faith living in different parts of the world.




Waris Hussain


The recent outburst of homegrown terrorists from the Pakistani-American community is an alarming development, especially considering the tenuous relationship between Islamabad and Washington. The central issue seems to be why Pakistani-Americans are turning to such violent organizations.

The answer is not so simple, and while many point to the racism and xenophobia of American society that alienated these individuals, I believe the problem started in Pakistan. The national identity of Pakistan has been replaced by a religious one, and this identity crisis has siphoned down not only to Pakistanis, but also their children who were born abroad.

Zahid Ibrahim wrote this week in Express Tribune that the New York Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, turned to terrorism because the apparent hostility of American society towards Muslims. Mr. Ibrahim claims that if these young people like Shahzad could espouse their extremist Islamic rhetoric in the public sphere openly, they would not turn to violent terrorist groups. While I agree with Mr. Ibrahim that American culture must open itself up to its immigrant populations, the question still remains as to WHY these individuals, specifically Pakistani-Americans, espouse such religiously extreme ideals.

For many who move to America or were born here of Pakistani descent, they experience an identity crisis because they want to assimilate but are also viewed as representatives of Pakistan. But what happens when the country you are supposed to represent lacks any national or cultural characteristic? Indian-Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, represent Indian culture with its music, literature, and films Yet, Pakistanis, have turned to the Muslim identity and the concept of Ummah rather than explore their own cultural identity.

This paradigm has affected me, as I would have arguments with my father about how Pakistan is in the same category as other Muslim nations across the world. My ideal of Pakistan being merely a part of the Ummah was emblematic of Pakistan losing its own cultural identity for that of the “Muslim World”. Individuals from my father’s generation are infuriated at the thought of Pakistan forgoing its own identity because it delineates from the vibratant social and political life they experienced growing up in Pakistan.

One should not confuse my distinction between Ummah and Pakistan’s national identity, as an attack on the concept of Ummah. I believe there are several examples of how this Ummah has helped Pakistan as well as other nations in times of poverty or war. However, we see the violent effects of this concept being the ONLY one learned by individuals, without an understanding of the tradition and culture they belong to as Pakistanis.

The misperception of national identity was no more apparent to me than when reports surfaced of a group of American-born Pakistanis being arrested in Pakistan for conspiring to commit terrorist acts. The most striking part of the report was that it stated the Pakistani-American men did not even speak Urdu and were joining the jihadi movement. This raised a red flag in my mind considering these young men did not have any idea of their cultural heritage, but followed the modern religious trend towards extremism and violence nicknamed international jihad.

The solution to me is not allowing these confused individuals space in our public sphere to discuss extremist rhetoric, but to look to each and every immigrant home. The conversations occurring within these homes are where this seed is sown for these young individuals to understand their roles not only as Americans, but as Pakistanis. If all they hear on the news and all they are told by their parents is that Pakistan is part of the Ummah and they only owe duties as a religious follower, they will fall in the trap of extremism far more easily.

However, if one discusses the ideals of secular governance by Jinnah, or talks about the poetry of Iqbal, or mentions the history of Sufism in Pakistan- they fully understand their own identity and Pakistan’s. These discussions would remind Pakistanis of their vibrant national history and could bring new creativity to the nation.

More significantly for immigrants and their children, understanding modern philosophical and artistic movements helps them adjust to American society, which has also experienced similar movements of freedom. Thus, the understanding of Pakistan’s identity as part of the Ummah denies a true understanding of the complexity of the culture and can lead to a rise in extremist thought.


Source: Wichaar, Title image: The Pakistan Update
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.



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4 replies to “The changing Pakistani identity

  1. All over the world youths are short changed by what they learn in the home. New parents have not been properly educated about being good parents except for whatever positive example was set for them. That is, they are producing children and raising them instinctively with little thought about how they are molding the future for these children. The cycle is then established where ignorance breeds ignorance and there is little but accidental education to break the cycle.

  2. @ Howes ,Your perception about the generation gap is very correct .When a religious thought is so intimatly impregnated by the parents in the mind of tender child then he looses its capasity of scintific analysis of the religious practice .In many cases things are happening in the said manner particularly among the followers of Islam leading the breeding of terrorists .

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