Book Review: Purifying the Land of the Pure

On September 26th 2016 Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously passed the Hindu Marriage Bill. The Bill allows Hindu marriages in Pakistan to be recognized by the state Constituting approximately 1.6% of the population, Hindus in Pakistan have reportedly faced “neglect and unfair and biased treatment”. The marginalization of minorities in Pakistan has oftentimes come under scrutiny in the past, and Farahnaz Ispahani’s book Purifying the Land of the Pure cautions us against majoritarianism.

Ispahani discusses the “intrinsic relationship” between Pakistan and Islam, and its impact on the country’s policies concerning religious minorities. She begins her narrative by describing the state of religious freedom under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and goes on to describe its evolution through the various leaders Pakistan went on to have.

An interesting reflection of the change in religious openness is seen in architectural transformations. Ispahani points out that in the early days of Independence churches, synagogues, Parsi fire temples, and Jain and Hindu temples also found their place in the architectural landscape alongside mosques in Pakistan. However, over the decades following this picture of tolerance has turned topsy-turvy as Jinnah’s vision of a modern pluralist Pakistan has been abandoned for a Sunni Islamic Nation.

Now referred to as ‘blasphemy laws’ the introduction of a majority of Pakistan’s regressive religious laws happened under General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule in 1977-1988. Shias, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Christians were categorically targeted through various legal instruments. Ispahani explains that the purpose for creating Pakistan “was to protect the subcontinent’s largest religious minority.” However, it became a popular opinion amongst various leaders post-Independence that in actuality, the purpose for creating Pakistan was “the setting up of an Islamic state”. Furthermore, Ispahani explains that the rise of majoritarianism can be linked to efforts “by Islamic radicals to make Pakistan ‘purer’ in what they conceive as Islamic terms.”

Purifying the Land of the Pure serves as an examination of Pakistan’s relationship with religious extremism, and provides possible foresight on threats in areas where Islamist militancy is on the rise. The Indian Express lauded Ispahani’s book for serving as “a reminder that once the state and the society start conceding ground to majoritarian religious bigots, it will lead to where Pakistan has landed today.” India Today also termed Ispahani’s book a “brave narrative, described aptly by Asma Jahangir, well-known human rights activist, as ‘an amazing account of the manner in which Pakistan's laws were instrumental in perpetuating injustice and encouraging brute force by religious militants with impunity.’”