Farzana Shaikh is an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. Born in Karachi, she was largely educated in Pakistan. She has a PhD in Political Science from Columbia University and is a former Research Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge. Dr Shaikh is a specialist in, and has published widely on, Pakistan and South Asian Islam. She has held university lectureships in the UK, the US and Europe, and most recently was a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She is also a respected foreign policy expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan. She is the author of Community and Consensus in Islam (1989, 2012) and Making Sense of Pakistan (2009), which was published to critical acclaim. Her project at IAS-Paris explores the politics of Sufism in Pakistan.
My project will analyse Pakistan’s relation with Islam after 9/11 through the prism of the country’s historically troubled engagement with popular Sufism, which has recently emerged as a powerful counter-narrative within the discourse of a ‘moderate’ Islam seeking to curb the advance of Muslim militancy that now threatens the survival of Pakistan. My project will rest on three main lines of inquiry. The first will explore whether the empowerment of Sufism, such as it is in Pakistan, is inherently constrained by the terms of a dominant Muslim ‘modernist’ discourse that has been ambivalent about, if not hostile to, popular Sufism. The second will attempt to establish whether the current appropriation of Sufism by the Pakistani state, though by no means new, represents an exceptional development inasmuch as it is driven by both domestic and international imperatives. Finally the project will address some broader implications by considering whether, in the current climate of worldwide Muslim anger against a US-led war that is perceived to be ‘against Islam’, the polemical use by the Pakistani state of Sufism as the ‘right’ kind of Islam risks dangerously conflating ‘the war for Pakistan’s survival’ with ‘the defence of Islam’.