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.


Author: Mahmood Adeel


  1. Mahmood,those groups that you mentioned in your article and who claim to be the guardians of Islam are petty minds
    trying grope at the worms in their craniums.The Koran does
    mention mankind divided into tribes so that they learn to
    understand each other and live peacefully together.But now
    these ‘Hellbrand Firebenders’ decided to make their brand of sects from one of four school of Islamic jurisprudence
    namely Hanbal whose followers as custodians of two holy cities have unleashed these groups on us.Today outsiders are using the doctrines of these sectarian groups for their vested interest while these fanatics leading their
    bands of marauders join with joy in the bloodshed of their religious kin.Their tentacles as well as their venom is spread deeply into our Establishment,let alone the ordinary public only GOD sent sanity could stop their
    fanatical insanity.

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