Religion and Pakistan

The Islamic republic of Pakistan and Islam are synonymous since Pakistan was carved out of the Hindu dominated British India so that Muslims could live and practice their religion free of any bondage, subjugation and fear. Today, about 97 percent of all Pakistanis are Muslims. As per a rough estimate, Sunni Muslims constitute 77 percent of the population and that adherents of Shia Islam make up an additional 20 percent. This makes Pakistan the second largest Sunni population in the world (after Indonesia) and the second largest Shia population in the world (after Iran). Most of the Sunnis adhere to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, whilst most of the Shias belong to the Ithna 'ashariyah school of jurisprudence. Smaller Muslim sects include the Ismailis and the Dawoodi Bohras. Christians, Hindus, and members of other religions each account for about 1 percent of the population. Although, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a predominant Muslim state, its minorities are given equal opportunities to participate in the affairs of the state with complete freedom and the right to practice their own faith. This is manifested in the form of large number churches, temples and other holy places of minority religion population.

lahore badshahi mosque

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore


Islam is the dominating religion of almost 97% people of Pakistan, since Pakistan was carved out of the erstwhile British India on the basic plea by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan that Hindus and Muslims are two separate entities and they cannot coexist under one roof for many reasons, religion and religion related dissimilarities being the major cause. While Hindus worshipped cow, Muslims, like all other religions, ate it as a blessing from the Almighty Allah. Hindus drink urine, while Muslims treated as impure thing to do. Hindus turned towards hand made idols for worship, while the Muslims bowed in humility towards the all powerful Creator of the mankind and the universe. Therefore Muslims of India decided to find a place for themselves where they could be free to practice their religion as per the aspirations and tenants of Islam. The popular slogan at that time was "Pakistan Ka Matlab Kia - La Illah ha Illilal La" (What is the meaning of Pakistan - There is no God but Allah").

The central belief in Islam is that there is only one God, Allah, and that the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) 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. 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 Muhammad (may peace be upon him) 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 revealed 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 the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) 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. 

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. 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 saum, 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).

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 Khulfa-e-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, Prince Karim Agha Khan, who is active in international humanitarian efforts, is a direct descendant of Ali.

Left to Right: Faisal Mosque (Islamabad), Shah Jahan Mosque (Thatta), Idgah Mosque (Multan)

The mosques are place of worship of the Muslims and are revered in high religious esteem. Muslims take much love and care while constructing mosques to express their faithfulness and allegiance to Allah. The Muguls during their rule in India, constructed some of the most exotic and beautiful mosques in the world. Badshahi Mosque in Lahore stands as the symbol of Islam throughout the world of Islam. Some other beautiful mosques of Pakistan include the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Masjid Wazir Khan (Lahore), Masjid Mohabat Khan (Peshawar), Idgah Mosque (Multan), Bhong Mosque (Rahim Yar Khan) and the beautiful Shah Jahan Mosque of Thatta.

Other Religions in Pakistan


Christians are the largest religious minority community in Pakistan, numbering only around 1.6 million people, or 1% of Pakistan's entire population, according to the sources cited in the Demographics of Pakistan. Christians found their way to India through missionaries accompanied colonizing forces from Portugal, France and Great Britain, but in north western India, today's Pakistan, Christianity was mainly brought by the British rulers of India in the later 18th and 19th century. This is evidenced in cities established by the British, such as the port city of Karachi, where the St. Patrick's Cathedral, Pakistan's largest church stands, and the churches in the city of Rawalpindi, where the British established a major military cantonment. Christians have made immense contributions to the Pakistani national life. Pakistan's first non-Muslim and certainly most respected Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court was Justice A R Cornelius. Pakistani Christians also distinguished themselves as great fighter pilots in the Pakistan Air Force. Notable amongst them are Cecil Chaudhry, Peter O'Reilly and Mervyn L Middlecoat. Christians have also contributed as educationists, doctors, lawyers and businessmen.

Gurdwara Dera Sahib Panjvin Patshahi, Lahore, Pakistan - April 2008

Gurudwara Dera Sahib Panjvin Patshahi - Lahore (Photo courtesy: Autumn Sun and Autumn Colours

Sikhism in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan constitute a very small minority religion, but has many cultural, historical and political ties to the country, and to the historical region of Punjab. Pakistan has a significant place in Sikhism. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was born in present-day Pakistan, and it is said he received his message near Lahore. Therefore, the religion actually originated in Pakistan. Most of Sikhism's holy sites are located in Pakistan. Many other great Sikh leaders, including Ranjit Singh and several gurus, were born in Pakistan.

Prior to the Partition of India in 1947, which divided British India into its successor states of Pakistan and India, Sikhs were spread all across the region of Punjab and played an important role in its economy as businessmen and traders. Lahore, the capital of (now Pakistani) Punjab was then and still is today the location of many important religious and historical sites for Sikhs, including the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh. The nearby town of Nankana Sahib has nine gurdwaras, and is the birthplace of Sikhism's founder, Guru Nanak Dev. Each of Nankana Sahib's gurdwaras are associated with different events in Guru Nanak Dev's life. The town remains an important site of pilgrimage for Sikhs worldwide. The historical and holy sites of Sikhs are maintained by a Pakistani governmental body, the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, which is responsible for their upkeep and preservation.

The largest Sikh population in Pakistan is found in Peshawar, in the Northwest Frontier Province. Sikhs are also found in sizable communities in Waziristan and Swat of the Northwest Frontier Province. There are also pockets of Sikhs in Lahore, Nankana Sahib, and Hassan Abdal in Punjab, and Gwadar, Kalat, and Quetta districts of Balochistan. The (West) Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan were mostly emptied of their Sikh and Hindu population during the process of partition. Today, very large segments of the populations of East Punjab and Haryana states and Delhi in India can trace their ancestry back to towns and villages now in Pakistan, including current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Recently, due to open door policy, Pakistani Sikhs have been given commission into the Pakistan Army.

Gurudwara Dera Sahib Panjvin Patshahi - Shrine of Guru Arjan Dev (1563- 1606 A.D) Lahore : Gurudwara Dera Sahib is situated opposite Lahore Fort near Badshahi Mosque. This is the place where Sat Gur Arjun Dev Ji was martyred in the River Ravi facing the tortures inflicted by Chandu on 30th May 1606 AD. The Gurudwara was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the memory of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru who complied the Adi Granth, the principal part of Sikh scriptures. This shrine has a highly gilded attractive dome. The followers of Guru Arjan Singh assert that it is the same spot where Guru Arjan Dev miraculously disappeared in 1606 A.D. in the waters of river Ravi. The site where Guru Arjun Dev was martyred a Thara (platform) Sahib was built at by Guru Hargobind Ji in Samvat 1919 when he came to Lahore visiting Gur Asthans.

Hinduism was once the main religion of areas that are now included in Pakistan and dates back to Mehrgarh and Indus Valley Civilizations. It remained unchallenged religion of the Indian sub-continent till the first invasion of Arabs in 711 AD by Muhammad Bin Qasim. Thereafter, it endured many conquests and invasions, different rulers, and ultimately political separation from the Hindu-majority India. In August 1947, at the end of British Raj, the population percentage of Hindus in what is today Pakistan was perhaps as high as 30-35%, but would drop to its current total of less than 2 % in the years since partition. When Pakistan gained independence in August 1947, over 7 million Hindus and Sikhs from what was East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Pakistan's Punjab and Sindh provinces left this new state for India, and a similar number of Muslims moved the other way. Many Hindus who attained great success in the public eye in India, like the film stars Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, and Sunil Dutt trace their birthplaces and ancestral homes to the towns of Pakistan. Independent India's first Test cricket captain, Lala Amarnath hailed from Lahore, and former home Minister Lal Krishna Advani was born in Karachi.

Others: Besides, a small faction of Parsis and Zoroastrians also practice their faith, most of whom generally reside in Karachi. Pakistan is also the birthplace of Mahayana Buddhism, the form of Buddhism that is practiced by most Buddhists today, including those in India, Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam. The religion enjoyed prominence in the northwestern section of the country up until the Islamic conquest.

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This page was created on 23 August  2006 25 December  2008

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