Secularism and Sectarianism

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this debate about secularism that is going on in our country. Mostly, it’s left me a little bewildered. Someone will tell me that secularism is not right for Pakistan, and they say the reason is we will descend into anarchy without our religion. I wonder, do they ever go outside? On Saturday, some Hizb-ut-Tahrir guy spammed everyone he could think of on Twitter by linking to a couple of articles in the British press about the London riots and claiming that “opinion makers condemn secularism”. I literally laughed out loud when I saw this. If secularism is responsible for London’s riots, what is responsible for Karachi’s?

Of course, just as religion has almost nothing to do with the riots in London, it has very little to do with the violence in Karachi also. But it has everything to do with the death and destruction sown by groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat AKA Sipah-e-Sahaba. It’s sectarianism, not secularism that is fueling violence and killing Pakistanis.

Actually, the articles the HuT wala linked didn’t even support his point. In fact, in a way they actually defended secularism. Take the piece by A N Wilson for Daily Mail.

All of us — Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Christians — have a rich religious inheritance.

At the core of this inheritance is a sense of right and wrong. And in all these religions, the school where we learn of right and wrong is the family. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus have all, very noticeably, retained this twin strand of family structure and ethical teaching.

Is this the message that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is trying to spread? That each of these major religions should be respected for teaching important lessons about right and wrong? Obviously not. Hizb-ut-Tahrir doesn’t even respect Muslims, unless you’re they’re kind of Muslim. This piece in the Daily Mail is about a British guy worried that his culture turning away from religion and morality – he’s talking about atheism and amorality, not secularism.

And this is the what is at the center of the debate about secularism in Pakistan, an issue of definitions. This is also why I refused to waste my time debating with one of Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s internet commandos. They will tell you that secularism means a complete absence of religion when nobody is arguing for such a thing.

The truth is that what people are arguing for when they’re promoting secularism is actually closer to Sunnah, certainly closer than any mythical re-imagining of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Pakistan today is beset with religious and sectarian anarchy. Mainstream religious forces want the state to become partial towards their sects and have pushed the country to the edge – all in a mad desire to enforce their version of Islam. Bhutto’s and Zia’s ‘Islamizing’ of Pakistan has yielded bitter fruits and a dark legacy. Ironically, before such attempts of Islamization, history suggests that Pakistani society was more peaceful, had less crime and citizens generally felt secure in the practice of their faiths.

Judging by the facts on ground the country has moved away from Islamic ideals in the name of Islam. It would be appropriate to interpret a few instances from Holy Prophet’s rule (pbuh) and contrast his Sunnah to the ideas of modern day Islamists.

The Charter of Madina known popularly as Misaq-i-Madina was a landmark agreement in the history of Islam between the Prophet (as representative of Muslims), pagans and Jews that granted equal rights to all communities of the city. Interestingly, the notion of citizenship of individuals is defined in the Charter as part of specific communities; Jews and Muslims are two distinct yet equal communities. Specifically, that ‘Jews and Muslims are one nation’ as mentioned in the Charter would sound blasphemy to Muslims today yet the Prophet did not see any fault in this wording.

When Pakistan was founded as a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, it was done in reaction to the prospect of being persecuted under a reactionary Hindu majority in India. This is why Jinnah’s often quoted declaration of secularism made perfect sense when they were spoken on 11 August 1947. What doesn’t make sense is the argument by those opposed to secularism today who insist that Hindus and Zionists are intolerant and oppressive to religious minorities…and we should act just like that.

Nobody is arguing that people should not practice their religion. Secularists are only arguing that people should be able to choose their religion as they see fit, not have the state choose it for them, and should not be forced to practice any religion at gun point. It is Lahore’s growing Talibanisation that threatens to erase our culture, not Western secularism. Pakistan is not threatened by secularism, we are threatened by sectarianism. Jinnah foresaw this possibility, which is why he argued so forcefully for the rights of all Pakistanis to be able to practice their religion without interference by the state. And that’s called…secularism.

Declaring Independence…Again

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah

In 1947, we gained independence from the British. Let us honour the memory of the courageous souls who secured our freedom by taking the moment of this anniversary of Independence Day to renew our independence by rejecting the poisonous mindset that has infected and divided our nation. Let us return to the promise of freedom described in Quaid-i-Azam’s speech of 11 August 1947 and his vision set forth at the first Constituent Assembly.

Jinnah’s speech, when read out loud in the National Assembly on the event of its anniversary earlier this week, gained desk-thumping cheers as the Quaid’s words echoed in the hallowed halls.

The only time desk-thumping cheers from both the treasury and opposition benches rang out in the house was when the speaker, while reading out a portion of the Quaid’s speech so lawmakers “seek inspiration and guidance from his wisdom”, finished that famous paragraph often seen as his unfulfilled wish to see Pakistan as a secular state:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

The scene must have been reminiscent of our leaders listening to these words sixty-four years ago whose chests swelled with pride and love for their fellow countrymen.

As we fly our flag with that same pride in our hearts today, let us remember what each part of the flag symbolises.

  • The green representing Muslims who founded this country so they would not be tyrannised as a minority
  • The white stripe representing the minorities who are promised a safe home here
  • The crescent moon representing progress
  • The star representing the light of knowledge that guides us

In 1947, we declared our independence from Britain. Today let us pay tribute by declaring independence from the violence, hatred, bigotry and sectarianism that threatens to divide us. Let us not only recall the words of Quaid-i-Azam, let us go forth and live them.

PAKISTAN ZINDABAD

Tolerance Matters

In my last article I asked the readers if it is justified to have Anti-American sentiments after I had come across an article talking about Farah Ahmed, A Pakistani American woman standing for city council elections and how the US state of Texas had denounced all personal propaganda created against her for being of Pakistani origins. I came across another piece yesterday of similar nature and I find myself asking readers the same question once again.

As mentioned in this post, at a Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, local republican blogger John Hugh Gilmore was harassing Muslim women before he got arrested for disorderly conduct.

According to witnesses, Gilmore saw the women wearing hijabs, or headscarves, traditional to more conservative Muslim women and started asking them questions, confronting them and taking their pictures without their consent. Fortunately dozens of other Americans saw what was happening and jumped in to defend and protect the two women. Here is a what one eye witness had to say about the whole incident.

I also want to mention here that in last weeks Sunday Washington Post there was an article on front page that talked about how Muslims are adapting to US after the terror attacks of 9-11 and also gives a great insight on how an average American is so tolerant of Muslims living in US.

Of course, one will find all kinds of people globally as bigotry isn’t confined to geographical boundaries but I find it extremely interesting to see that people in America still stand up and defend our culture and religion, yet we fail to defend non-Muslims in our own country. A prime example is this article where a prominent media celebrity lashed out at an American USAID (ironically an organization that provides aid to our social sector) employee for accidentally brushing his chair against hers at an Islamabad restaurant.

It should come as a no surprise to anyone that we have high levels of intolerance in Pakistan, religious or otherwise. Our religion teaches us the value of Haqooq-ul-Ibad and yet we fail to see. In order to prove that our religion is superior, we deprive religious minorities of equal justice and alienate them. Extremists and Islamic fundamentalists vandalize churches and loot and burn small Christian villages. We manipulate the law in any way possible to give us the upper edge, the exact same thing our religion teaches us not to.

Not just Christians, but other religious groups face cruel and inhumane treatment in Pakistan as well. We treat all of the religious minorities as second-class citizens and use the Blasphemy laws as a tool for oppressing the small and weak. As far as intolerance goes, women have particularly suffered as well, under the controversial Hudood Ordinances and with recent case of Aasia Bibi, the Christian women accused of blasphemy under the blasphemy law.

In his address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 Quaid-e-Azam rooted for a state in which every citizen would be free to follow his own religion and that the State shall make no distinction between the citizens on the grounds of faith. Here is an excerpt from the speech

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”.

Our religion also teaches us the same virtues of patience and tolerance and justice. I understand that a common Pakistani has become so frustrated with social problems, energy crisis, rising inflation, crime, terrorism and uncertainty that we do not care about coping with these issue while at the same time keeping in consideration the convenience of others. The everyday grind is tiresome no doubt, but venting frustrations at someone without reason is no answer. If the local Americans can stand up for foreigners amongst them and stop injustice wherever they see it taking place, I’m sure we can do the same too.

Remembering the Quaid’s Vision

Quaid-i-AzamIn his memorable address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, on August 11, 1947 he (the Quaid-e-Azam) explained the secular nature of state in the most unambiguous terms:

“Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the wellbeing of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long, long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Can there be a better interpretation of secular ideals that Mr Jinnah cherished? It may be noted that he discusses these ideals in the background of British History.

Taken from book “The Battle of Ideas in Pakistan” by the late Syed Sibte Hasan and published by the Pakistan Publishing House, Karachi. Published in The News on 25 December 2010 in honour of the 134th Birth Anniversary of the Quaid-i-Azam

Raza Rumi: On secularism, Jinnah and Pakistan

Raza Rumiby Raza Rumi

What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy, not for a theocratic state – Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Sixty-three years after the country was created, the term secular remains the most contested and misunderstood political concept in Pakistan. Mention the word secular and there is a litany of protests. The right wing thinks that secularism is an outright blasphemy of sorts, while the liberals hold that the genesis of Pakistan was through an anti-secular process. It is amazing that this happens in a country which was founded by a genuinely secular leader of the subcontinent. Until the 1930s, Jinnah was an undisputed ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity and even in 1946 he was willing to make political bargains within the context of a secular and decentralized India.

If anything, the Indian National Congress despite its rhetoric of secularism failed the ultimate test of being accommodative of the Muslim demands. Here ‘Muslim’ was not a religious identity but a broad banner for a community’s cultural, economic and political interests. It would be naïve to suggest that there was no religious motivation in Pakistan’s creation. In fact there were many who interpreted Pakistan as an Islamic country. However, Jinnah was categorical in his stance. There is enough evidence to suggest that he shunned the notion of a theocracy. Yet the contradiction of creating a country for Indian Muslims posed a challenge to the new state-project. For instance Jinnah is said to have told Raja Saheb of Mahmoodabad as to whose Shariah would Pakistan follow. Iskandar Mirza’s version is even starker when he quoted Jinnah: “Shariah? Whose shariah? No. I shall have a modern state.”
Whatever doubts on Jinnah’s intentions or political rhetoric employed by the Muslim League, Pakistan was meant to be a polity where state was separate from religion. Jinnah was unequivocal about the vision of the state when he spoke on the floor of Pakistan’s first constituent assembly on August 11, 1947:

“You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

The controversies surrounding Jinnah’s politics were quashed when the statesman and the formal head of the state-to-be said: “Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in due course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of the individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

This rare speech by the founder of an ostensibly “Muslim” country was a watershed in history. Fortunately, unlike his successors he was not a mere rhetorician. His decision to retain J.N. Mandal as the first law minister of Pakistan made it amply clear that the Quaid did not want politics to be influenced by faith. It is a separate matter that Mandal resigned in 1950 once the pledges made by Jinnah were squandered by his successors.

Jinnah’s failing health and the capture of the Pakistani state by men, whom Jinnah reportedly described as khottey sikay (counterfeit coins), driven by power-quests and shortsightedness unleashed a process of Pakistan’s descent into ideological anarchy and a serious identity crisis that haunts us to date.

Less than a year after Jinnah’s death in 1948, the passage of Objectives Resolution was the first blow to the secular, progressive vision of Jinnah. The Objectives Resolution promised a vague sense of Islamic identity and statehood and was a clear attempt to pander to the hardcore religious lobby that had opposed Pakistan in the first place. The Resolution since 1949 has haunted us; and today it is an operative part of the Constitution (Article 2-A) thanks to a dictator who abused religion to amass and sustain power. Article 2-A of today’s Constitution cannot be touched. Not because there is no political will, but because religious lobbies and fundamentalism writ large have gripped the Pakistani state, turning it into a sectarian and brutal society.

Religious fanaticism gained momentum in the early 1950s when a handful of Mullahs encouraged by an ambivalent state incited violence against the Ahmadiyya minority. The destruction of Pakistan’s democracy in 1958 meant that the legitimate political process was truncated and damaged resulting in social upheavals and break up of Pakistan in 1971. Even then the religious lobby supported the persecution of Bengalis – Muslims and non-Muslims – for Bengal’s essential secular culture was unacceptable to the West Pakistan-dominated institutions of the state.
Bhutto’s turbulent years and political mobilization of the 1970s was challenged by politics based on religion. Bhutto made his greatest mistakes by appeasing the religious lobby and playing with the fire of political Islam. This too was not enough, and a right wing movement fully backed by unelected institutions of the state led to Bhutto’s decline and fall in 1977.

General Zia’s draconian era (1977-88) saw the worst perversion of the ideology of Jinnah, when the state was turned into a flag-bearer of one particular school of religious thought. A systemic perversion of history and textbooks was carried out as a state policy and the inaccurate slogan ‘Pakistan ka matlab kia, La Illaha Illala (What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but Allah) was sold as the ‘truth’. This conception of Pakistan was patently false. Worse, children were indoctrinated with myths, such as that stating the raison d’être for Pakistan was the implementation of Sharia.

The persecution of minorities was sanctified and man-made laws against women were promulgated, citing them as divine pronouncements. The Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union financed this ideological ascendancy and stuck the last nail in the coffin of Jinnah’s Pakistan.

Today, a distorted ideology of Pakistan and the misconstrued concept of secularism have so deeply penetrated the minds of Pakistanis, especially the youth, that it will take nothing short of a revolutionary social change to bring back the Pakistan which Jinnah had envisaged.

In 21st century Pakistan, secularism is un-Islamic and anti-religion. The Urdu translation of ‘secularism’ is ‘La-Deeniyat’ (irreligious). Most importantly, the demonizing of this ideology through state institutions has resulted in deliberate engineering of Pakistan’s history and ethos, and Jinnah is now patronized as a devout and pious Muslim.
Pakistan’s secular irony is deepened when one looks at history. Many have argued that the idea of a secular state and the ascendancy of reason was something that traveled to Europe via the scholarly works of Muslim thinkers such as Ibne Rushd and Ibne Khaldun. Even the Charter of Medina negotiated by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was a treaty between believers and non-believers, which gave equal rights to non-Muslims. The primitive nomadic society of Medina was secular – a fact that the denizens of political Islam conveniently forget in the Land of the Pure.
The implications of abandoning Jinnah’s ideological path have been disastrous. Pakistan is now at the forefront of Islamist militancy and a haven for several variants of political Islam. Tragically, political Islam wants to capture the Pakistani state and has orchestrated a reign of terror for civilians and state institutions alike. Yet there are people in denial about this gritty reality. At the end of the day, recourse to Jinnah’s vision is the only answer to our existentialist crisis.

Pakistan’s first Law Minister Mandal’s resignation letter addressed to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan stated: “Every one of these pledges is being flagrantly violated apparently to your knowledge and with your approval in complete disregard of the Quaid-e-Azam’s wishes and sentiments and to the detriment and humiliation of the minorities.”

We share Mandal’s anguish and pose the same question to Pakistan’s ruling classes, especially the moderate and progressive politicians who have a rare chance to undo several failures of the past. It may be late but any reformation within the Pakistani society will require these essentials: bringing back secularism into public discourse, adding Jinnah’s August 11 address to the Constitution, and thwarting the onslaught of political-sectarian Islam by reverting to Jinnah’s lost ideals.

Raza Rumi is a policy advisor, writer and editor based in Lahore. He blogs at www.razarumi.com and edits on online magazine Pak Tea House