About 97 percent of all Pakistanis are Muslims. Official documentation
states that Sunni Muslims constitute 77 percent of the population
and that adherents of Shia (see Glossary) Islam make up an additional
20 percent. Christians, Hindus, and members of other religions
each account for about 1 percent of the population.
Basic Tenets of Islam
The central belief in Islam is that there is only one God, Allah,
and that the Prophet Muhammad 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.
Islam is held to be the blueprint for humanity that God has created.
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 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 transmitted 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
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 Muhammad 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. Cultural differences such as those that exist among
various Muslim groups throughout the world cannot compromise the
unifying role that the religion plays.
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. Although many hadith
are popularly accepted by most Muslims, there is no one canon
accepted by all. Such things as the way in which Muhammad ran
the state in Medina and the priority he placed on education remain
important guidelines, however, have continued to remain important
in modern times. The Quran and the hadith together form the sunna
(see Glossary), a comprehensive guide to spiritual, ethical, and
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
(see Zakat as a Welfare System, this ch.). The fourth
is sawm, 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). At various times of political crisis in Pakistan,
almost every major leader has left for Saudi Arabia to perform
umra. Performing umra may or may not increase
the politician's reputation for moral standing.
A number of other elements contribute to a sense of social membership
whereby Muslims see themselves as distinct from nonMuslims , including
prohibition on the consumption of pork and alcohol, the requirement
that animals be slaughtered in a ritual manner, and the obligation
to circumcise sons. Another element is jihad, the "striving."
Jihad is often misunderstood in the West, where people think of
it as a fanatical holy war. There are two kinds of jihad: the
far more important inner one is the battle each Muslim wages with
his or her lower self; the outer one is the battle which each
Muslim must wage to preserve the faith and its followers. People
who fight the outer jihad are mujahidin. The Afghan rebels
waging an insurrection against the Soviet-backed government in
the 1980s deftly used this term to identify themselves and hence
infused their struggle with a moral dimension.
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
There are two major sects, the Sunnis and the Shia, in Islam.
They are differentiated by Sunni acceptance of the temporal authority
of the 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, Sadr ad Din Agha
Khan, who is active in international humanitarian efforts, is
a direct descendant of Ali.
Data as of April 1994