Saturday, October 22, 2022

Naipaul on Pakistan and Conversion to Islam

In his 1998 book, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples, V. S. Naipaul describes his 1995 journey through four Islamic countries—Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia—and examines the issue of conversion to Islam. What does conversion to Islam entail? According to Naipaul, conversion to islam entails total Arabization—the convert must discard his ancestral culture and struggle to develop an Arabic character. Here’s an excerpt from an early passage in the book’s Prologue: 

“Islam is in its origins an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert's worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away has to be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil.”

In the book’s Part III, which is on Pakistan, Naipaul opines that during the period of British rule, the Hindus were able to regenerate their culture while the Muslims degenerated: 

“The Hindus, especially in Bengal, welcomed the New Learning of Europe and the institutions the British brought. The Muslims, wounded by their loss of power, and out of old religious scruples, stood aside. It was the beginning of the intellectual distance between the two communities. This distance has grown with independence; and it is this—more even than religion now — that at the end of the twentieth century has made India and Pakistan quite distinct countries. India, with an intelligentsia that grows by leaps and bounds, expands in all directions. Pakistan, proclaiming only the faith and then proclaiming the faith again, ever shrinks.”

He believes that Pakistan was a criminal enterprise conceived by Muslims who were plagued with insecurity. “It was Muslim insecurity that led to the call for the creation of Pakistan. It went at the same time with an idea of old glory, of the invaders sweeping down from the northwest and looting the temples of Hindustan and imposing the faith on the infidel. The fantasy still lives; and for the Muslim converts of the subcontinent it is the start of their neurosis, because in this fantasy the convert forgets who or what he is and becomes the violator.”

Published in 1998, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples, is a sequel to Naipaul’s 1979 book, Among the Believers.

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