Religion in the election campaigns


ANP leaders offer prayers

ANP leaders offer prayers / Photo: ANP

The leftist groups of Pakistan do not agreed that Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s (Founder of Pakistan) efforts had been for a religious state. However, all the politicians are convinced that the religion is a dominant factor of the country’s politics.

In 1940 the Muslim leaders of the Sub-Continent presented a two-nation theory that paved the way for the creation of Pakistan. In this viewpoint Muslims and Hindus were two separate nations, whose religion and life styles could not afford living in one state.

Since then religion has played a principal role in all the political movements and most slogans are created with religious theme. Some of them became the state identity and are still popular in the community. The following is an example of that:

“PAKISTAN KA MATLAB KIYA? LA ILLAH ILLALAH” “What’s the meaning of Pakistan? There is not god but Allah alone”

Professor Asghar Sodai, poet and educationist from Sialkot, coined this slogan in 1944 that attracted the Muslim population across the sub-continent. The slogan is still used by rightist groups.

 PTI not started

Imran Khan, chairman Tehreek-e-Insaf, claimed that if his party win 2013 Elections, they would unite the nation under one Kalama “LA ILLAH ILLALAH.”

A religious party, Jamat-e-Islami’s flag is uniformly respectable among the workers because the same KALAMA has been inscribed on it.


In 2002 Elections, a coalition of religious parties Mutaheda Majlis Amal (MMA) got the book as an election emblem but during the campaign they made people believe that it was the Holy Quran and subsequently won with a clear majority on provincial and National Assembly seats in Khyber Pukhtoon Khwa as no Muslim could think of stamping on any other emblem in the presence of their Holy Book’s image there.

For 2013, the Election commission of Pakistan issued a guideline that no one will be allowed to ask for votes on the basis of religion or sects. This guidelines was not implemented.

On social media Jamat-e-Islami has been criticized when they put the scales of justice (their election emblem) over a model of KAABA while campaigning for the 2013 Elections.

On May 1st, 2013, Professor Saifullah Khan (retired) wrote an article “Extorting votes through distorting meanings of the word AALIM (Scholar)” in a local Urdu Newspaper (Daily Chand). He said being an ALLIM should be a prerequisite for candidates but unfortunately our religious parties misinterpret that word and restrict it to refer to just any madrassa (religious school) student. However, he noted, it’s an Arabic word that means knowledgeable person/scholar which could be religious, PhD scholar, university graduate or any other educated person who knows the rules of governance.

We’d expect to see the inclination of rightists towards religion, but in Pakistan’s politics, we have frequently observed the irony of situation when leftists also take refuge under the umbrella of religion to meet political objectives.

“Religion is a tool for successful campaigning and nothing more,” said Professor Ghulam Subhani, Chairman Political Science department at Jahanzeb College Swat. Subhani affirmed that Field Marshal Ayub Khan was a leftist president; in 1962 constitution he made an unsuccessful attempt to exclude the word “Islamic” from the official name of the country i.e. “Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” While on the other hand Ayub exploited the following verses of the Holy Quran to sustain his power.

Translation of the verses: “Obey Allah and Obey the Apostle and those in authority from amongst you.” (Surah Nissa, Verse No 59)

Subhani explained, “We consider Pakistan Peoples Party as a leftist party.” However, he said, Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former head of the party, used to appear at public gatherings with a string of prayer beads wrapped around her hand.

ANP flag

The Awami National Party (ANP) was part of the leftist coalition and ruled for five years. In Swat, their candidate’s banners contain KALIMAS rather than their achievements and future plans.

“It’s not a big issue, at the start of our daily tasks, we recite the KALIMAS and we did the same in the campaign,” said Muzafar Ul Mulk, ANP candidate for national assembly seat from Swat. While responding to a followup question asking why he didn’t use it in the 2008 elections, Muzafar said, “That time we didn’t think it.”

One public perception is that through religious mongering, these parties are protecting their images, as it’s hard for them to face the voters due to their poor performance in the last five years.

Ex-MPA, Wajid Ali Khan, faced the consequences while he was door-to-door campaigning in Mingora for the upcoming election. The accident was publicized on Twitter by Naeem Khan, a resident of Swat, with the following words:

Naeem Khan @naeemswat1 #ANP’s Learders should right [write] “Kalma Tayaba” on their forehead too. One is beaten in Main Bazar #Mingora today bcoz of their performance. 2:58 PM - 1 May 2013

In spite of this, last week, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said, “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan.”

1 Comment

  • Good background on this issue. The promise to bring Sharia everywhere in Pakistan was also part of the election campaigns.