Centering Pakistan—the ‘Land of the Pure’—in a story of transnational Islam stretching from South Asia to the Middle East, Fuchs offers the first in-depth ethnographic history of Shi‘is and their religious competitors in the region.
The notion of Pakistan as the pinnacle of modern global Muslim aspiration forms a crucial component of this story. It has empowered Shi‘is, who form about twenty percent of Pakistan’s population, to advance alternative conceptions of their religious hierarchy while claiming the support of towering grand ayatollahs in Iran and Iraq. Fuchs shows how popular Pakistani preachers and scholars have boldly tapped into the esoteric potential of Shi‘ism, occupying a creative and at times disruptive role as brokers, translators, and self-confident pioneers of contemporary Islamic thought. They have indigenized the Iranian Revolution and formulated their own ideas for fulfilling the original promise of Pakistan. Challenging typical views of Pakistan as a mere Shi‘i backwater, Fuchs argues that its uniquely South Asian Islam may open up space for new intellectual contributions to global Islam. Yet, religious ideology has also turned Pakistan into a deadly battlefield: sectarian groups since the 1980s have been bent on excluding Shi‘is as harmful to their own vision of an exemplary Islamic state, which has resulted in terrible violence.