The struggle for the future of Pakistan is well under way, regardless of whether we want to admit it or not. Will we be a modern power or will we be more like our neighbor Afghanistan? This is a question not about what US or other Western powers do, but about the choice we make ourselves.
Bangladesh Supreme Court has declared religious parties banned from politics and Law Minister Shafiq Ahmed has said, “Secularism will again be the cornerstone of our constitution”. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, religious parties are stealing land and building illegal mosques.
We must ask what is the point of this illegal construction? There is certainly no shortage of mosques and madrassas in this nation. Religion is practised openly and freely by the millions of Muslims here. Where is the man who cannot find a mosque to pray in?
But this is not the reason for building illegal mosque. The reason is to challenge the authority of the state. To establish that religion is not only master of the soul, but master of the taxes and master of the state. It is a small group of extremists who want to create a false impression that their numbers are greater than they are, when actually it is the majority of Muslims here who are moderate and accepting, not violent and extremist.
Daily Times condemns the act of illegal mosque building today and calls for government to follow the path of our former Eastern wing and build a strong and secular state.
The news of a band of clerics from a religious party constructing an illegal mosque on government property in Green Town, Lahore, served as a reminder to our authorities that their writ was being challenged. It was good to see that the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) took quick action late night after Daily Times’ exclusive reportage and demolished the illegal building. A case has also been registered against 50 people and so far seven people have been arrested. Since the clerics in Green Town had threatened to kill people on blasphemy charges if the illegal construction is stopped, they should be locked up behind bars. More such illegal encroachments should be identified and demolished. When religion is used as a tool to create fear amongst the masses, it is time to think logically and aim for a secular state instead of letting the state be a tool in the hands of vested interests.
Building illegal mosques is not a new phenomenon in this land of the pure. In the not-so-distant past, the notorious Lal Masjid issue started with the demolition of illegal constructions by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad. Mosques built illegally were razed but the Musharraf government acquiesced in the demands of the Lal Masjid clerics to rebuild them after they terrorised the citizens of Islamabad. This only made things worse as the fanatics, high on their ‘religious’ power, started making demands that bordered on absurdity. If there is a lesson to be learnt from that whole fiasco, it is that the state should never give in to the demands of religious zealots. Islam does not teach us to occupy land illegally to build mosques or seminaries. These so-called religious clergy have to be taken to task for maligning the true meaning of our religion.
Pakistan should take a leaf out of its old wing, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where its Supreme Court has struck down the bulk of the controversial 5th Amendment by reinstating a ban on Islamic political parties. Bangladesh’s original constitution was secular in nature but following a coup in 1975, the constitution was amended and given a religious tinge. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that she was “not in favour of banning any political party”. This may have more to do with the fact that the Jamaat-e-Islami is a large political party with some clout. Earlier, the Bangladesh High Court had outlawed punishments handed down in fatwas (religious edicts), after a series of cases of Muslim women being beaten and caned. Not only that, the Bangladesh government has also banned books by Maulana Maududi because they “encourage terrorism and militancy”. It is time that Pakistan follows in the footsteps of Bangladesh, also a Muslim country but which is paving a path towards the traditions laid down by its founding fathers. Mr Jinnah had also visualised a secular Pakistan but this was not to be. Soon after his death the Objectives Resolution inseminated the seeds of religious intolerance into our body politic. The religious parties in the Indian subcontinent were the most vocal in their opposition to the new state, but as soon as Pakistan came into being, they became its ‘guardians’. Appeasement of religious fundamentalists has led to an intolerant society where hate-literature is sold freely and religious minorities are persecuted. The state’s role has been far from ideal. State support to militant and sectarian outfits has bloodied our soil while our history textbooks have adopted a religious colour.
John Locke introduced the idea of separating the church from the state back in the 17th century and since then many countries have adopted this secular, democratic model. In Pakistan, there is a misconception about secularism being ‘anti-religion’ when it is actually ‘religion-neutral’. If we are to make this country a progressive state, we must get rid of obscurantist and reactionary ideas so as to imbibe religious tolerance amongst our ranks and make Pakistan a state that can hold its head up high in today’s world.
We must make a choice – not between religion and secularism, but between whether we will be a secular state with a strong religion or a weak state under the tyranny of dictators in clerical robes.