It was the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the Soviet-Mujahedeen war in Afghanistan (December 1979-February 1989) that triggered a plethora of debates about new meanings and innovative understanding of Islam. Amidst this multi-dimensional discourse, historicity of Islamic orientation of the Pakistani state occupies a central position and involves the vexatious question of origin, evolution and future of Islamist politics there. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, a Princeton scholar of Islam, copes with the similar perplexity of the historic positioning of Islam both at the institutional and popular level in Islam in Pakistan: A History. The kind of empirical analysis he presents is fresh as it contains a historical account of Islam in undivided India under colonial rule and later reflects how Islam remained an indissoluble part of the state and a bone of contestation since 1947. Readers get an account of numerous Islamic sects, orientations, persuasions and the treatment of Islamic minorities (Ahmadis and Shias) by the state and the political community.
The book is divided into seven chapters and Zaman first identifies division within Sunni Islam in modern South Asia. The most prominent of these segmentations were known to be Deobandi and Barelawi. Both remained devoted to the service of Islam but the former focused on study of Hadith and law while the latter adhered to Sufi piety. Under colonial rule, there were modernist trends too, represented by Nadwat-al-Ulema and Aligarh college of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, which broke decisively with the traditionalist Islam of Deobandi and Barelawi.