VIEW: Success lies in secularism —Dr Irfan Zafar
Just a few days before the creation of Pakistan, while inaugurating the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, Jinnah spoke of an inclusive and pluralist democracy promising equal rights for all citizens regardless of their religion, caste or creed
Most people seem to suffer from a preconceived, inherent repulsion to the idea of secularism, equating it with atheism, anarchy, anti-religious or, more importantly, anti-Islamic concept. What do we really mean by a ‘secular’ Pakistan? We mean a nation that neither supports nor opposes any religion, where all citizens, regardless of their faith, are respected and treated as equal. It defines a state in which the faith of citizens becomes irrelevant for the will of the majority reigns supreme. Pakistan was conceived as a country where every citizen will live in harmony while practising their individual faiths without interfering in the beliefs of others. Pakistan equally belongs to the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, atheists and all other minorities living in it. We are all Pakistanis first. Going by this definition, it is all the more clear that Islam carries within itself the inherent attributes of a secular code of conduct, forming the very foundation of the Islamic beliefs.
The inherent secular nature of Islam is evident from the following Quranic verses: “Had God willed, they had not been idolatrous. We have not set thee as a keeper over them, nor art thou responsible for them” (6:107) and “Do not revile those unto whom they pray beside God, lest they wrongfully revile God through ignorance” (6:108). Islam does not preach coercion of believers of other faiths as the Holy Quran says, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “(So) for you is your religion and for me is my religion” (109:6). According to Abu Dawood 3:170, the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Beware! If anyone dared oppress a member of minority community or usurped his right or tortured him more than his endurance or took something away forcibly without his consent, I would fight (against such Muslims) on his behalf on the Day of Judgment.” At another point the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Whoever killed a member of a minority community, he would not smell the fragrance of paradise though fragrance of paradise would cover the distance of forty years (of travelling)” (Ibne Rushd, Badiya-tul-Mujtahid, 2:299).
The phrase ‘laa ilaaha illa Allah’ (there is no deity except God) is one of the major pillars of the Muslim faith. The phrase echoed in the slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kya : Laa ilaaha illa Allah” as the struggle for the creation of Pakistan was nearing its completion, despite the fact that most of the religious leaders and parties were against this idea and joined the chorus at a later stage when the creation of a separate homeland became inevitable.
What was the father of the nation fighting for? Just a few days before the creation of Pakistan, while inaugurating the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, Jinnah spoke of an inclusive and pluralist democracy promising equal rights for all citizens regardless of their religion, caste or creed. His vision was very clear. A homeland was being created for a population, the majority of which was Muslim, but which ensured equal rights for all the people living under the same umbrella. He did not want Pakistan to be a theocracy, a form of government in which a state is understood as being governed a clergy or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. During a broadcast talk to the people of the US on Pakistan (recorded February 1948), the Quaid said, “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims — Hindus, Christians and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” Ironically, Quaid’s vision was ignored and instead Objectives Resolution was adopted which simply negated what Jinnah had conceived.
In addition, Pakistan’s name was changed to ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. A new definition of who is a ‘Muslim’ was legislated and it was required that all citizens, while applying for a passport or a national ID card, must sign an oath in this regard. Religion is a personal matter of an individual and a matter between him and his Creator, but we have ordained it to the state. Not only that, we have given the state a religion of our own interpretation. A state cannot be categorised or labelled on the basis of religion. In Europe, there are 22 secular states followed by 20 in Africa, 17 in Asia, seven in North and South Americas and three in Oceania. Interestingly, the growth rates in the fields of science, technology, and literature, just to name a few areas, in developed secular countries are the highest in the world.
The Quaid’s vision of Pakistan was in line with the true spirit of Islamic injunctions. But both of these have been ignored in favour of religious orthodoxy that is pushing the nation towards complete disaster. Self-interested interpretations of religion have politicised religion and turned it into a salable commodity. The irony is that the majority is afraid to speak up against backward religious elements, who have done disservice to Islam by distorting its message and caused huge damage to the country in the name of religion.
The writer is a social activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org