Muslim Zion

Pakistan as a Political Idea

August 2013 9781849042765 176pp
EU Customers


Pakistan is both the embodiment of national ambitions fulfilled and, in the eyes of many, a failed state. Muslim Zion cuts to the core of the geopolitical paradoxes entangling Pakistan to argue that it has never been a nation state in the conventional sense. It is instead a distinct type of political geography, ungrounded in the historic connections of lands and peoples, whose context is provided by the settler states of the New World but whose closest ideological parallel is the state of Israel.

A year before the 1948 establishment of Israel, Pakistan was founded on a philosophy that accords with Zionism in surprising ways. This book understands Zion as a political form rather than a holy land, one that rejects hereditary linkages between ethnicity and soil in favour of membership based on nothing but the idea of belonging. Like Israel, Pakistan came into being through the migration of a minority population, inhabiting a vast subcontinent, who abandoned old lands in which they feared persecution to settle in a new homeland. Just as Israel is the world’s sole Jewish state, Pakistan is the only Muslim country to make religion the sole basis for its nationality.

Revealing how Pakistan’s troubled present continues to be shaped by its past, Muslim Zion is a penetrating critique of what comes of founding a country on an unresolved desire both to join and reject the world of modern nation-states.


‘…breaks much-needed ground.’ — Contemporary South Asia

‘…provocative but compelling … a convincing example of intellectual history writing.’ — History Today

‘No one but Faisal Devji could have given us Muslim Zion, which offers a brilliant, counterintuitive meditation on the analogy between ideologies of Zionism and Pakistani/Muslim nationalism, and at the same time a nuanced historical exploration of the idea of Pakistan. Intellectual history as a page-turner.’ — Noah Feldman, author of Cool War: The Future of Global Competition

‘Devji is arguably the most brilliant scholar of his generation writing today on South Asian history and global Islam. His explorations of the tensions inherent in the idea of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland, and the fascinating parallels he draws with Zionist and settler-colonial pasts, provide a new point of departure for the study of both Muslim and Dalit politics in British  India. And his reflections on the failure of the category “minority” in decolonizing times will help us rethink the very idea of the political in the twentieth century. A thoughtful and courageous book.’ — Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor, Department of History, University of Chicago

‘Faisal Devji’s brilliantly written, deeply felt book is an important contribution to the study of the tortured relationship between different ideas of Pakistan and of Islam.’ — Anatol Lieven, author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

‘A fascinating, thoughtful, and provocative work, Muslim Zion explores the paradoxical dimensions of Pakistan by focusing on the period when this country was imagined, but yet unrealized.’ — Christophe Jaffrelot, CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS

‘Despite their vast differences, Pakistan and Israel share this strange coincidence of birth: they were both created to resolve the problematic status of minorities defined partly by religion. Scholars in a number of fields have begun to explore facets of this strange parallelism. Faisal Devji has brought the historian’s traditional skills to the task, focusing on the Muslim League’s demand from the 1930s for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. Muslim Zion tells a gripping story and will make an important contribution to this ongoing scholarly discussion.’ — Aamir R. Mufti, author of Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture

‘A trenchant analysis … the book presents a wholly different and more nuanced view of Islamic politics than most recent titles.’ — Publisher’s Weekly

‘Faisal Devji’s latest book is a provocative, fascinating and ultimately brilliant exploration of the origins of Pakistan, comparing its birth in 1947 with that of Israel in 1948 … the book is to be highly recommended, both as a piece of writing – it reads beautifully, which is, unfortunately, not something that can be said about most academic texts – and as a piece of counter-factual historical analysis. Devji both challenges and provokes the reader, but always in the most measured, humanistic fashion, providing the reader with much food for thought.’ — LSE Review of Books

‘A book of refreshing political theory and political history combined that gives the by-now-tiresome academic debate on Pakistan’s foundations an intriguing new angle … [Muslim Zion] represents an important contribution to the study of Pakistan’s past, present and, to the extent to which one can imagine a world free from the yoke of nation states, its future.’ — Vanja Hamzić, South Asia Research


Faisal Devji is Professor of Indian History at the University of Oxford. He is the author of, inter alia, Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea and The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptations of Violence.

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