Why Pakistan needs secularism

In Pakistan, liberals are often accused of working on the Western agendas and being covert agents of “enemies” of Pakistan. They are also thought to be the ones who malign Pakistan’s image by cherry-picking few mishaps in the country. Let us explore the basis of these accusations and why these liberal “fascists” cry for secularism and liberalism and are opposed to Islamic system (aka Khilafat) in the country.

First of all there is this national narcissistic attitude and national state of denial. The incoherent syllabus, media and jingoist protectors of the “ideological boundaries” reinforce this state of narcissism and delusion. We need to realize that there are issues here and we have to address them. The first stage is - to identify these problems, the second is speaking up, third creating awareness and the last stage is where we will be able to move towards finding solutions.

We haven’t yet covered the first phase of identifying problems. Those who undertake this task are not considered well-wishers but instead the enemies of Islam and Pakistan. The narcissism comes at play here which does not let us think straight, creating this delusion that we are the best and any criticism is just a conspiracy against us. We need to realize that we are far away from normalcy let alone perfection. This denial and the resulting hatred breeds fundamentalism, extremism and violence.

There are many identifiable reasons behind our issues, without any doubt, including poverty, feudalism, unemployment and countless others. But there is a major twist here. Pakistan is a country of multiple ethnicities, religions and further religious divides. What we proudly assert most of the time that Pakistan has a variety of cultures does not come without its cons. This variety needs breathing space, harmony and a level of tolerance to accept and rejoice differences. While our ideological gurus are trying hard to ascertain that we may think ourselves as just Pakistanis and Muslims and nothing else, there are people in this country who are bound to their culture and there are people in this country who are bound to their religion. A single version of state sanctioned religion or an exclusive nationalism cannot be imposed on them.

The prevailing thought in our society is that Pakistan was made in the name of Islam. For one thing it is not correct. Pakistan was made for the Muslims of subcontinent to prevent possible future discrimination by extremist Hindutva ideology after they turn into a minority.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah explicitly mentioned in his speeches that Pakistan will not become a theological state. The same religious elements who disdain state-religion separation in Pakistan are the greatest proponents of secularism in the countries where Muslims are in minority, for instance Madrassa Deoband and Jamat-i-Islami in India. This is because they know that the rule of one specific extremist religious version will make their lives miserable. On the contrary, in Pakistan, we see otherwise.

Ironically, the Muslims are safer and more prosperous in India than in Pakistan. Except few inevitable communal clashes there is a lot of harmony there; while in Pakistan we have lost more than 70,000 lives in the last 10 years by our own Muslim brethren and about 30,000 people have become victim of sectarian killings. The plight of thousands of minorities is undeniable.

Secularism does not mean that people may shun their religion. It simply means that religion should be made a personal matter, ensuring that the state does not side with one specific version of it and makes sure that no one could violently enforce their specific version on others.

Liberalism does not mean that people should start drinking and women should start wearing bikinis as is the common perception. It means that everyone should have a right of expression without any fear of violence. Social, religious and cultural norms are always there in all societies. Democracy does not only mean that a government of majority be set. It also means to uphold the principles of equality, justice and responsibility.

If we look around ourselves, we can easily see that the exact opposite is happening around us. The question is not about Muslims and non-Muslims anymore. It is also about the divisions within Muslims. Justice Munir in his famous Munir Commission Report of 1953 wrote this epic statement.

“After taking into account the views of all the scholars on the definition of a Muslim, the Court arrives on the conclusion that even two scholars do not have a consensus over this fundamental question. Every scholar has a definition different from the other. If the court accepts the views of one particular scholar, all the remaining schools of thought fall out of the definition of Islam. If one scholar believes that we are Muslims, the other believes that all of us are infidels.”

This is a perfect analysis. In a country of 180 million, where there are dozens of sects, how can a single acceptable version of religion be adopted by state? And why should it be the state’s problem, or mine, if a person offers prayers with his arms lowered or his pants drawn below his ankles or even if someone is Muslim or not? Why can’t the state treat all its citizens on equal grounds? Why are our religious sentiments more important than humanity?  Is religion not about empathy, love and peace as they claim? Then why does it need to be enforced with blasphemy laws, mob justice, takfir and death threats? If religion is that comprehensive, why does it need the protection of state? And who is benefitting from it?

These are the questions that we should bear in our minds next time when Munawar Hasan says that we will have to make popular the culture of killing in the name of God (Qital fi sabilillah). The same should be kept in mind when a dictator asserts that democracy is not fit for us or when politicians provoke people to burn and loot government property, while minorities are burnt alive in kilns, kept on death row, rotting in jails – on accusations of hurting the religious sentiments of the people and not murdering, raping or provocation of violence.

We will have to bear all this in mind when we hear the news of temples, imam bargahs and churches being burnt to ground, Hindus migrating from Pakistan, forced conversions and sectarian killings. We then need to ascertain whether our problems are dharnas, laptops, internet, metros and lack of mosques in elite housing schemes or justice, peace, tolerance and harmony. Only after having the later can we look forward to a better and developed society. It is for you to judge whether secularism provides a way or not.

Akif Khan is a physical scientist and teaches at a university. He is also a freelance writer/blogger and writes a blog named Random Incinerations. Follow him on Twitter

Akif Khan

Akif Khan is a physical scientist and teaches at a university. He is also a freelance writer/blogger and writes a blog named Random Incinerations. Follow him on Twitter

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