I am always gutted when I hear people in my society shouting at the top of their voices that secularism is the opposite of, or antipodal to, religion. Generally our people consider secularism as a Western product and are never ready to accept it. They have always taken it as a pre-planned conspiracy meant to destroy their own Islamic system of state.
I was rather surprised when people blasted me on my last article labelling me anti-Islamic and a young impressionable student whose words are not to be taken seriously. The reason I was disappointed is that nowhere in my article did I criticize Islam or Shariah. What I instead attempted to inform the people was that reforming the Islamic injunctions is the key and I am not the first one to say that.
Allama Muhammad Iqbal spent a lifetime advocating the same. Iqbal wanted Quranic injunctions to be interpreted in the light of modern world, keeping in view the changes that have occurred in the modern era. Therefore by the logic of these people, Iqbal was a heretic as well and so were Jamal-ud-deen Afghani, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Abduh, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and numerous other reformists.
We do not even pay heed to the ideas of these gentlemen. Maulana Azad is not acceptable for us since he supported the Congress – another example of our close mindedness.
Now let’s talk address the main subject: is secularism the opposite of religion?
Even though secularism originated from the West, it had deep impact on the politics of the sub-continent. Most of the Muslim scholars in India supported the idea of a democratic and secular India where every community was equal in the eyes of the law and where every community was allowed to practice its religion freely.
For instance, Maulana Husain Ahmed Madni , student of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hassan and a scholar of the Deoband school, supported the idea of a secular and democratic India. He believed that the identity of an individual or a nation is recognized by the land and not by religious beliefs or cult. He said: "All should endeavor jointly for such a democratic government in which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis are included. Such freedom is in accordance with Islam “
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is another example. There is hardly anyone in Indo Pak history that was as par excellence in wisdom, erudition and clarity of thought as Abul Kalam Azad. Any nation aspires for such leaders.
He was an esteemed literary figure, poet, religious scholar and a unique statesman. In addition to being a great religious scholar, he was also a brilliant politician and was entirely secular in his views. Maulana Azad was a member of Indian National Congress and supported its demand of secular-democratic India. Tarjuman Ul Quran is his famous exegesis.
Other than these scholars, a large body of scholars in India (Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind) supported the idea of secular-democratic India. Considering the logic of typical Pakistanis, all these scholars were either anti-Islamic or Western puppets.
It is true that religion demands complete authority over the state and secularism is the separation of religion from the affairs of the state. But here secularism only contradicts one principle of religion. The opposite of religion would be something that opposes its doctrine. Factually, the opposite of religion is atheism and the opposite of secularism is fascism.
Secularism is not a threat or a conspiracy against any religion; rather it is a threat to the clergy, to those who use religion for their own benefit and exploit the poor. Secularism in reality, promotes the idea that everyone should be allowed to practice his or her religion without any restrictions. Secularism is the form of government on the basis of which two persons of different religions can stay at one place and practice their religion independently with full freedom and without any interference by the State.