Pakistan’s Islamist parties have contributed richly to the Pakistani politics, at some points, even leading the charge to crystallise the country’s Islamic identity. At the same time, however, the growing influence of Pakistan’s Islamists has been a source of great concern for the powers that be. Since the inception of the state of Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami has played a pivotal role in advancing Islamic doctrines as the normative standard for codified law. Since its birth in 1941, the party has not only advocated for an Islamic state, but it has also resisted secularising forces, notably the Muslim League led by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Despite being one of the oldest Islamist social movements in Pakistan, the Jamaat boasts a mere four seats in the National Assembly making it one of the weakest and least represented parties in the Parliament. By all accounts, the Jamaat has failed as a political party and future prospects look equally as unpromising. Why then has the party failed? Jamaat has suffered from an acute identity crisis, simultaneously straddling both anti-statism and a desire to evolve into a competitive political force in Pakistan. Its positioning of itself as a purely Islamic movement unwilling to participate in the nation-state model and its simultaneous characterisation of itself as a domestic political force resulted in not only confusion about the mission of the organisation but also disunity within party ranks. Today, while Jamaat-e-Islami is comfortable acting as a domestic political force and has resolved its ideological cleavages, its consistent electoral failures can also be explained by the period in which authoritarianism remained as a dominant status-quo. In order to understand Jamaat-e-Islami’s political failure, the institution’s roots must be traced back to Abul A’la Maududi — founder and primary ideologue of the movement. We can subdivide Abul A’la Maududi into two distinct personalities: the ideologue and the politician. Both personalities emerged in two distinct phases, and both emerged as means to two different ends. For Maududi, the Jamaat would remain anti-statist, at least in the early years of its existence, viewing the political process as deviation from its objectives of spreading Islamic revivalism. In an interview with Brookings’s Shadi Hamid, Asif Luqman Qazi, ‘a senior leader within Jamaat-e-Islami’, argues that despite Jamaat’s affirmation of democratic values, its acceptance of the constitution of Pakistan, and its participation in the electoral process since 1951, it views change making as best done through education and training Maududi even remained opposed to the two nation theory advanced by Jinnah well until the state of Pakistan was created in 1947. This refusal to construct a new homeland for Muslims was rooted in two sets of beliefs. According to Ayesha Jalal, Maududi ‘drew on the fantasy of fostering mass conversions of Hindus to Islam,’ and more specifically, was distraught at what he characterised as the ‘rank opportunism’ of the Muslim League to convert Pakistan into a Muslim homeland. On a more fundamental level, Maududi remained opposed to nationalism that the nation-state model seemed to catalyse and that Pakistan would eventually epitomise. In his piece ‘Nationalism and Islam’, published in Nationalism and India, Maududi makes the distinction between the globalist egalitarianism that Islam institutionalises versus the greed and narcissism that secular nationalisms seem to embody. While Maududi held true to these normative perspectives on the nation state, it is also important to note that he was cognisant of the rise of Hindu power and the increased sectarian language being employed by the Indian National Congress. The Congress party’s newfound Hindu backdrop, particularly the Arya Samaj and Shuddi campaign which sought to reconvert low-caste Muslims back to Hinduism, had convinced Maududi of two painful realities: that India was slowly becoming inhospitable for Muslims and that Pakistan may very well be a political necessity. It is important to note that Maududi’s aversion was not toward democracy, but rather towards domination of the democratic framework by India’s Hindu majority. Despite criticising Western democracy on several occasions, Maududi argued that democracy and Islam were indeed compatible so long as democracy was ‘framed within tawheed’. It was precisely this framework through which Maududi’s Jamaat sought to operate, leaving it vulnerable to its own political tendencies. For Maududi, the prospects of codifying the tenets of the Sharia into the state apparatus became an elusive possibility. Constructing the state through an Islamic lens was an inherently political process and Maududi was slowly becoming cognisant of this fact. Maududi was willing to construct the Islamic state in one country so that the Islamic state model could be successfully exported to the rest of the world later on, a significant change from his earlier goal of exporting the Islamic revolution worldwide. Certainly Maududi’s commitment to institutionalising Islam cannot be undermined, but the Jamaat’s political opportunism must also be acknowledged. While Pakistan was forged on the backs of the Muslim League — an organisation he eyed with the utmost scepticism — political participation in Pakistan was a means of ‘perfecting it as an Islamic State’. More than just an annoyance, the Muslim League began to take direct action against the Jamaat’s activities, which it viewed as undermining the League’s political legitimacy. Party members were put under surveillance and its activities became restricted. While the attack on Jamaat’s institutional capacity may have been warranted in the opinion of some, the League also moved to retroactively revoke a grant which had been given to Maududi for the construction of a school, making it a direct attack not simply against Jamaat, but against Maududi himself. To make matters worse, and in an apparent reflection of Jamaat’s political naiveté, Maududi refused to swear allegiance to the state, arguing that it was both sinful and shirk. It is here that Jamaat’s inability to discern its institutional identity reveals itself for the first time; the organisation attempts to simultaneously pursue an active role in forging the identity of a state, but refuses to swear allegiance to it. Jamaat, in its fervent anti-nationalism, had raised the prospects of Pakistan, in its entirety, being an un-Islamic creation — a major threat to the Muslim League’s legitimacy. From a political perspective, a political party cannot succeed in the participatory model if it rejects the existing system. In other words, a political party which questions the legitimacy of the existing framework will inevitably draw significant opposition and repression from the existing majority, leading to a significant degradation of its own political autonomy. The Jamaat’s innate predisposition to the Muslim League and to the alleged non-Islamic methods it espoused inevitably mobilised the state’s repressive mechanisms. For Maududi, challenges to the state’s authority never constituted sedition, for ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the reprehensible was after all incumbent on the holy community’. It is this difference which stands as a valuable explanation as to why the Jamaat met considerable resistance. Jamaat and the Muslim League were both political in their structure and in their aims — both sought to forge a state and both aimed to establish legitimacy from popular support — but both existed into two largely competing frameworks, leading to what can broadly be described as a clash between two paths. Tensions between the Jamaat and the Muslim League had become more pronounced because both frameworks were actively trying to accommodate a space for the other. Maududi himself was now behind bars — a reflection of the tenacity of Pakistan’s increasingly strong repressive apparatus. Despite a systematic attempt on the part of the Muslim League to constrict the activities of the Jamaat, Maududi ‘pushed for the resumption of the campaign for Islamisation, but this time with the objective of confirming the Jamaat’s commitment to the state’. Essential to the Islamisation campaign was influencing the content of the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly. The Objectives Resolution would become the precursory document to the Pakistani constitution so the prospects of enshrining the essence of Islam into the fabric of the country’s governing document was a political necessity. According to Vali Nasr, “accepting the state’s legitimacy after its promulgation of the Objectives Resolution meant that the task of Islamisation would be carried out from within rather than from without.” Championing the cause of the Objectives Resolution then meant that perhaps Jamaat-e-Islami had not entirely accepted the framework the Muslim League had institutionalised, but Maududi understood that he was now living in Pakistan, and that the Muslim League’s nationalism and use of Islamic rhetoric acted as political pressure on the Jamaat. Jamaat’s identity certainly had evolved since its inception in 1941, and its acceptance of the constitutional document reveals as much. Its firm rejection of democratic participation and its challenges to the state had led to government sanctioned repression against the party and dilution of the original mission of the organisation. In facing these political pressures, the party adapted. It pushed for individual initiatives, notably the Objectives Resolution. It played a similar, more political role in shaping and accepting a constitution it did not view as wholly Islamic. These points are critical because it gives insight into how the organisation has straddled both its religious foundations with its political ambition and simultaneously embraced ‘contradictions of doctrine’. Despite a willingness to participate in elections, Maududi still resisted the transformation into a mass party, arguing that despite Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic republic, a majority of Pakistanis knew very little about Islamic doctrines. The focus of the party, then, would still remain on educating and igniting and Islamic fervor from within the individual. By extension, the party “continued to demand the strictest disciple and loyalty from its members and would not permit the slightest deviation from its doctrines.” In 1958, the Jamaat nominated 23 candidates for the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) elections “with full vigour.” Losing just four seats in that election, the Jammat ensured that its focus on Islamisation and eliminating corruption had resonated with the population. Furthermore, the prospects of Jamaat’s ability to forge legislative alliances shocked the Muslim League establishment. Jamaat’s victory has been defined by brevity; months after winning the KMC elections, Pakistan was put under martial law on October 7, 1958, and Ayub Khan became president of Pakistan. For the Jamaat, Ayub Khan’s ascendancy and the revocation of Jamaat’s victory was perceived to be an affront to the party’s electoral and democratic ambitions, indicating the establishment’s opportunistic commitment to the democratic process. In other words, democratic participation was a monopoly reserved to the Muslim League elites. Systemic arrests, restriction on publications, and office closures forced an evolution of the organisation’s institutional aims, and weakened Jamaat’s commitment to ideological purity. The Ayub Khan years were a much more pronounced extension of the period in which Jamaat and the centralised state remained at odds. According to Ian Talbot, author of Pakistan: A Modern History, Khan pursued a ‘modernist approach to Islam’, and as such demanded the “dropping of the title Islamic from the country’s name.” The Jammat did respond, and did so in the most practical of approaches conceivable. In fact, Jamaat’s response to Ayub Khan reflects not only the extreme secularisation that Khan sought to institutionalise, but reveals the extent of Jamaat’s internal secularisation. In 1965, Khan’s government called for elections and the Jamaat, viewing this as an opportunity to regain its political status through which it could once again push for Islamic reform, joined the Combined Opposition Parties. Interestingly enough, the COP manifesto only included ‘one Islamic reference’, and to make matters worse, the COP endorsed ‘the candidacy of Miss Fatima Jinnah’, Jinnah’s sister, a decision justified by the doctrine of necessity. Eventually Ayub Khan would hold onto power, pushing the Jamaat to the extreme. It would go on to join the Pakistan Democratic Movement and the Democratic Action Committee and until the 70s, its goal would remain overthrowing the regime of Ayub Khan. The Party Today Following Jamaat’s experience in the Combined Opposition Parties, Jamaat itself had evolved in both its outlook and its structure. The party was now ‘controlled by leaders who received modern educations, who maintained only informal ties with Islamic entities,’ and by no means ‘were bound by their norms and discipline’. The party was also opening its gates to an onslaught of ‘lower middle class young men’ who had been educated in the Western tradition. Today, the party still straddles both its hesitation to the political process and its deep rooted political ambitions, but does so more comfortably. To an extent, it has accepted its identity as a political party, but still insists that the ultimate goal remains a peaceful Islamic revolution. Today, its platform includes calls to action to remedy pressing socio-political issues, but employs Islamic rhetoric as the solution to these ills. Siraj-ul-Haq, the Jamaat’s current Amir, argues that ‘Jamaat-e-Islami has chalked out a plan for the next 25 years for Pakistan’. He says, ‘we made a list of 500 people who are PhDs and M. Phils in various subjects. They would help Pakistan grow in IT, Industry, Agriculture, and various other sectors’. Recently, in May 2017, Pakistan’s People’s Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari met with Haq to discuss electoral reforms, indicating Jamaat’s commitment to operating in coalitions with other political parties. By all appearances, Jammat-e-Islami is running a modern political party, but it is still unfair to characterise Jamaat and parties like the Pakistan People’s Party as the same. Jamaat continues to represent a different type of politics on the Indian Subcontinent. In an interview with Brookings’s Shadi Hamid, Asif Luqman Qazi, ‘a senior leader within Jamaat-e-Islami’, argues that despite Jamaat’s affirmation of democratic values, its acceptance of the constitution of Pakistan, and its participation in the electoral process since 1951, it views change making as best done through education and training. Such an intentional distancing from the utilitarianism of politics suggests that Jamaat-e-Islami remembers well the repercussions of its previous electoral victories—it is cognisant of its struggle during both the early years of Pakistan and during the Ayub Khan years. Jamaat’s electoral failure is not a failure of Islamism in the democratic context. Its ability to enshrine Islam into Pakistan’s Objective Resolution and into the country’s constitution reveals as much and the fact that Jamaat still remains the standard bearer of Islamism in the country after 76 years illustrates that there is a place for political Islam in democracies. But Jamaat’s electoral failure is not a political one either. Jamaat-e-Islami understands that tangible political gains must be made with caution, and only when the established political framework allows for a political opening. If it does not abide by this governing precedent, by the sheer fact that Jamaat-e-Islami represents Islamic politics in a country in which nearly 90 percent self-identify as Muslims, it represents a threat to the establishment. That is a standard for measuring political power, and by this standard, Jamaat-e-Islami remains a powerful political force in Pakistan — one that simply happens to be devoid of many electoral victories. The writer is an undergraduate student at Davidson College where he studies Political Science and Arabic. He focuses on Islamist movements in the Middle East and South Asia. He has previously also covered the Syrian refugee crisis as a fellow for the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting Published in Daily Times, November 1st 2017.