A Secular Pakistan

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Yasser Latif Hamdani[1]


(There is much confusion about the term “secularism” in Pakistan. There is to start with, of course, the burden of Pakistan’s founding myth i.e. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, which gives our priestly class a veto on any progress towards secular equality in Pakistan. This is stemmed in confusion regarding the events that led to the partition of the subcontinent. What is clear, however, to a historian is that Pakistan’s founder, Jinnah, expected the new nation to follow Europe’s example when he said that “in due course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual, but in a political sense as citizens of the state”. – Author)

The secularism debate has taken off in recent days. An increasingly diverse group of people drawn from almost all walks of life have begun to agitate for a secular state. The violence against religious minorities as well as sectarian minorities has convinced many people that secularism in Pakistan is the only option left.

These include urban intellectuals who claim that Pakistan’s founders, especially Jinnah, did not have an exclusivist Islamic state in mind when they asked for Pakistan. It also includes the Socialist and Marxist movements and newly emerging parties like Awami Workers Party and other communist groups such as KissanMazdoor Communist Party. It includes regional nationalists from Sindh and Balochistan who claim that Pakistan ought to be a federation of units respecting provincial autonomy and not bound to any particular creed or ideology.

They are pitted against the state narrative that Pakistan has an ideology to which its survival is bound. The state narrative – which has been concocted by the state especially in the 1970s and 1980s – is that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. This state narrative is open to several gaping holes which cannot be gripped. As the historian par excellence Ayesha Jalal said recently at the Lahore Literary Festival “the idea that Pakistan was founded in the name of religion is ahistorical and inaccurate”. She emphasizes that Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was essentially for power sharing and not a division based on religion. It did not have a theocratic or religious agenda. Once Pakistan became a reality, it was obvious that Pakistan was going to have not just religious minorities but also differing points of view about Islam.  Therefore having an Islamic state would not serve Pakistan or the interests of its citizens.
There is much confusion about the term “secularism” in Pakistan. There is to start with, of course, the burden of Pakistan’s founding myth i.e. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, which gives our priestly class a veto on any progress towards secular equality in Pakistan. This is stemmed in confusion regarding the events that led to the partition of the subcontinent. What is clear, however, to a historian is that Pakistan’s founder, Jinnah, expected the new nation to follow Europe’s example when he said that “in due course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual, but in a political sense as citizens of the state”.

It is assumed that state secularism means atheism and irreligious conduct.  This confusion of secularism with atheism ignores the history of secularism.  Atheism has nothing to do with secularism per se, as it deals with the idea that there is no divine, no supreme being guiding our move.  Secularism on the other hand merely says that as there are many different religions and interpretation of those religions, the best way is keep religion out of politics and state.  In fact, secularism is most useful in societies which are torn by religious conflict – such as ours.   Historically secularism developed in response to the challenges posed by societies much like ours.

A history of secularism in confessional societies

The history of England under King Henry VIII’s reign from 1509 to 1547 had a fundamental and lasting impact on the history of the world. By all accounts it was not an easy time for England especially since King Henry left England in terrible financial straits, economic crises, horrendous corruption, religious extremism and conflict.  Sounds familiar?

I do not wish to delve into the merits of the great King Henry VIII’s reign over England, beyond saying that, like all great men in history, he too had feet of clay, and most of the monumental changes that were given effect during his reign did not arise out of any personal conviction or concern for the people of his realm but personal and dynastic considerations. Such is the way of the world.  Yet the changes were so monumental that they shaped the western world and civilization in the modern age.  The dissolution between the Catholic Church and the Church of England came because the Pope failed to endorse Henry’s plans to divorce his first Queen. For the remainder of his reign King Henry continued to play Protestant reformists and the Papist sympathizers against each other.  The Law Lords at Westminster presided over the trial and execution of Sir Thomas More, a martyr to Catholics for asserting the right of dissent and religious freedom, as well as that of Thomas Cromwell, the fanatical reformer who was out to purge England of all Papal heresy.  The Protestant-Catholic conflict or as it went by its various names the conflict between radical reformers of Christianity and guardians of the old order, continued within the Church of England till the passage of the Act of Uniformity under Queen Elizabeth some decades later.

Quite appropriately Jinnah had quoted the example of Great Britain where Protestants had long persecuted Catholics but had ultimately come to see themselves as one nation, Protestant and Catholic. Ten years before this famous speech, on 20 September 1937, he had spoken in the Indian legislative assembly of a “distant ideal to mould the whole of India into mere citizens when the Hindus will cease to be Hindus and MusalmansMusalmans politically” but had argued for a solution to “the problem of minorities first” instead.

The point here is that Pakistan’s creation was the result of the inability of the representative parties of India to agree on a constitution. The myth of Pakistan being founded in the name of Islam, thus, is a sham and the more we insist on it the more we will prove it a white lie.

The kind of terrible violence that England went through in those days is not unknown to a common Pakistani in 2013. There is a reason why Jinnah had referred to the Protestant-Catholic conflict of this era in his landmark 11th August speech while emphasizing religious toleration and neutrality of the state  (I daresay secularism). Unfortunately Pakistan has become quite what England was under King Henry. Just like Henry used religion to either achieve personal or political ends, our callous elite, resembling the latter day King Henry in the age of senility, too makes unabashed use of religion. The PPP and PML-N – said to be the two main parties of this our modern day realm- each have a set of sectarian allies.  Barelvis are played against Deobandis and Ahle-Hadith, what to say of sectarian and religious minorities. Blood continues to spill as our would be reformers – inspired by Abdul Wahab just as English reformers were by Luther – are baying for each other’s marrow.  The tragic fact is that in 2013, Pakistan’s religious clerics and thinkers are still settling the same questions England settled by hook or by crook in the 16th century.  Just as reformers and traditionalists argued over whether the images and intercession of Jesu (Jesus) Mary and the saints was allowed, Pakistani religious debaters argue over whether going to Mazars is alright or not.

Is Pakistan going to be the Islamic world’s England then? Is this our reformation to be followed by a renaissance? Who knows but I suppose there is no harm in taking such flights of fancy. After all there are people who with a straight face will tell you that Hafiz Saeed’s seminary in Muridke has the makings of Oxford and Cambridge.  No sane or reasonable person can agree, but it goes without saying that on a long enough timeline even the most solid of stones withers away. Be that as it may we have to live in the here and now.  That Pakistan is going through a defining phase is undisputed. It is only if we put our faith in our democracy and allow elections to take place and enough cycles of democracy pass, will we actually begin to define Pakistan in a way that would redeem us in history.

The coming elections will be decisive in the sense that they would determine whether Pakistanis are willing to allow democracy to work or not. In the opinion of this writer, it is very important for democracy, Pakistan and Pakistan People’s Party itself that the PPP loses the next election – which it seems poised to do so- so that people get to vote out an unpopular government and PPP goes back to the drawing board to reinvent itself as a true people’s party.  Such a defeat will be a reminder to whoever is in the saddle next that there is no mightier sword than the sword of public opinion that the people have forged in this country primarily through their own effort and their faith in democracy.

Jinnah was well aware of this fact.  His famous reference to the Protestant-Catholic conflict in England was poignant.  Unfortunately when one points out that Jinnah was secular, i.e.  he believed in the neutrality of state towards religious and sectarian groupings,  the naysayers parade his Eid message in 1945 and his speech to the Bar council on the occasion of EidMiladunNabi.   Tragically they miss the basic point – as a liberal lawyer trained in the British tradition, Jinnah’s secularism was never anti-religion. That he wanted a state without any kind of religious qualification for high office is a fact of history.  That he wanted the state to be impartial towards religious beliefs of individuals is a fact.  It cannot be undone by his references to religion few and far between where he emphasized that Islam did not believe in an ecclesiastical state and the only way forward was democracy.

Historically the English idea of secularism is instructive because it has never sought to directly challenge religious authority and its form but has made religious authority irrelevant.  This is precisely why despite having a union at the top between Church and State, the officially “Anglican kingdom” is in practice a great secular democratic republic, which is a bastion of religious freedom and home to all people with all points of view.  United Kingdom’s secular politics are rooted in a history of religious conflict, starting with King Henry VIII’s desire to divorce his Queen Catherine of Aragon and the papal refusal to allow it. Henry therefore dissolved the link between the Churches in England and Rome and declared himself the head of the Church of England instead of the Pope. In this King Henry was supported by reformists who had been inspired by Martin Luther and John Calvin who had long spoken against Papal ways and called for a reform of the Church. This was followed by a continuous religious war between the reformists and the Papists.  Much of this conflict finds an echo in our own sectarian conflict that continues to spiral out of control.

The rejection of Papal authority in England was endorsed by people who were extremely religious and believed to be doing God’s work.  The next generation saw John Locke theorize on what the true ends of a government ought to be.  John Locke was inspired by the Christian tradition and is yet hailed the father of modern secular society.  John Locke’s works inspired Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison.  Jinnah’s 11 August speech too is a faithful reflection of John Locke’s ideas.

The United States of America’s own history of secularism is rooted in religious conflict.  America was settled primarily by puritans who founded theocracies.  One religious thinker, Roger Williams, was expelled from Massachusetts Bay Colony for having radical religious views (including a curious belief that Jesus is to send a new apostle to renew the Church). He had advocated a separation from the Church of England in addition to religious freedom.  For this he was charged with heresy and sedition in 1635 and subsequently exiled.  He went on to found the colony of Rhode Island. There he organized the colony on three principles:  1. Separatism (from the Church of England) 2. Religious freedom and  3. Separation of church and state.  This essentially was  the beginning of American secularism.  The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution in 1789 recognized that early wisdom of one of the pioneers of America.

The point is that this idea of either /or vis a vis religion and secularism is ignorant of the history of secularism which is rooted in religious conflict.  Unfortunately a number of our young people, blissfully ignorant of history, having caught onto certain buzz words but never having investigated the ideas in the first place only serve to discredit the idea. The fact of the matter is that a fractured religious society like ours needs secularism to survive and thrive.  This is what Jinnah wanted and this is why some of us continue to quote the grand old man to bolster our case for a secular democratic Pakistan.

Is Secularism incompatible with Islam?

Ever since, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the Khilafat and separated Church from state, a great debate has raged in the Islamic world. Perhaps no where is it more intensely debated than in Pakistan. The debate is whether the concept of the separation of church from state is acceptable to Islamic discourse. There are obviously two camps, one which believes that it is and the other one which believes that such a concept is alien to the Islamic understanding of politics.

AllamaIqbal, the poet-philosopher who the Islamists don’t tire quoting, was infact the first to accept that a separation of church and state is indeed possible in the Islamic political thought. While defending the Republic of Turkey and its actions, Allama said in his famous lecture on ‘The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam’:

“They therefore reject old ideas about functions of state and religion and accentuate the separation of church and state. The structure of Islam as a religio-political system no doubt does permit such a view.”[2]

This is essentially the argument of the secular Muslims, and the idea that was floated by Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the time of the creation of Pakistan. To him the whole debate about a theocratic Islamic state was ’nonsense’ as Islam and its idealism had spoken about complete democracy. No doubt to arrive at this view, he was greatly influenced by AllamaIqbal who had convinced him that ‘social democracy’ was not ‘revolutionary’ but a return to the true spirit of Islam. Hence to him and most of his comrades, Islam in no way was a limitation, and even when some tried to make it a limitation, Jinnah was quick to shoot it down, by declaring any and all theocratic moorings to be an anti-thesis of the egalitarian and progressive spirit of Islamic ideals.

But whose idea is more logical? Does Islam really stand for a progressive egalitarian and secular political order, or does it favor a theocratic form of government? In my opinion the secular, Muslims by avoiding this debate, have left the field wide open for the Mullah who has floated weird and obnoxious ideas about Islam. Others like Ibne-Warraq have, through hostile criticism, alienated themselves from the mass of the Muslims. If only someone was to once again call the Mullah for what he has done and expose his lies. For example every Mullah and his mother in law quotes the Mesaq-e-Medina as a true Islamic constitution. What does the Mesaq-e-Medina actually say? Does it really envisage the kind of theocratic state that the Mullah today wants to impose on us in the name of Islam? Mesaq-e-Medina historically was a collection of documents which consist of the agreements between Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Muslims, non-muslims and the Jews of Medina declaring them to be one ‘Ummah’. A direct translation from Ibne-Hisham’s famous work on the seerat reads:

‘This is a document from Muhammad the Prophet between Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrab and those who joined them and labored with them. They are one community (Ummah) to the exclusion of all men …’

The collection of documents that we today know as ‘Mesaq-e-Medina’ is spread over 47 sections. Amongst these sections is a specific mention of complete equality for the Jews and Pagans of Medina who formed an equal part of the Ummah as per the preamble of the document. There was no special tax or Jizya levied on them. The city-state of Medina was a federation of all the tribes residing in the Yathrib Area. Members of each tribe were to have complete rights as equal citizens as well as obligations. Another astounding feature of this document is the nature of authority that the Prophet had over this newly formed Medinan community of Muslims, Jews and Pagans. He was recognized as the political leader and not a spiritual one. Allegiance of the non-Muslims was nothing more than political. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the head of the state did not derive his authority from the fact that he was the Prophet but because he was the leader of the Majority of the people in Yathrib. Therefore there is no divine right to rule, not even for the Prophet (PBUH), as per this collection. Hence the city-state of Medina or more appropriately the Medinan Confederation of tribes, was hardly an ‘Islamic’ state. Rather it was a practical political alliance designed to fulfill the collective needs of all the people who resided in the city, and nothing more.

The Jews were ultimately expelled from the City State of Medina after a conspiracy to murder the Prophet (PBUH) was hatched. From that point onward the Medinan state closed its ranks becoming more exclusively Muslim. Ultimately the Jizya was imposed on the ‘Dhimma’ communities but they were discharged from all other taxes and duties as citizens, which served nonetheless to create a distinction on the basis of faith. Whatever the political and religious reasons for these moves, they are irrelevant to this study. The specific intent is to prove that the Mullah’s contention for a theocratic Islamic state in Pakistan on the basis of ‘Medina’ is not without contradiction, as set in the context of the 7th century, the City state of Medina and its constitution were the farthest from a theocracy. Secularism with or without the justification of Islam is the requirement of the time. Ultimately the idea that faith is a personal matter, and that the state has no right to encroach in such a personal sphere will prevail over all ideas of theocracy, oppression and religion’s organized role in the state.

Jinnahist Secularism

While speaking to the constituent assembly, Jinnah made the clearest pronouncement of his secularism :

“You are free – You are free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state… if we keep this infront of us as a principle, you will see that in due course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense because that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of the state”. (Jinnah 11th August, 1947)

He went on to recount the history of Protestant and Catholic conflict in England and how they had evolved beyond it and he expressed his fervent hope that in Pakistan there would be no bar against any class or religion. This was a tectonic shift from the “Muslim nation” Jinnah had led from 1940 onwards to a secular Pakistani nation. The only other example of this tectonic shift in the Muslim world was Ataturk himself who similarly retired the Turkish nationalism based on Muslim identity in 1928 and sought to define Turkish nationalism on the basis of Turkish language and Pre-Islamic Turkish identity.

Both Jinnah and Kemal Ataturk have the unique distinction of being the founding fathers of two of the earliest Muslim nation states emerging after an era of colonialism. Both were, to a large extent, shaped and influenced by ideas that emanated from Europe and the Western civilization. Both were political liberals and secular in their world view, however, both championed at a certain time in their lives for the cause of a people defined primarily by group identity based on religion- in Jinnah’s case, Indian Muslims, and in Ataturk’s case – Muslims of Anatolia who were called Turks. Yet both imagined their states on European lines as Republics run by modern principles on constitutional lines. The difference however was in approach. Ataturk was a military man and was largely inspired by the French secular strain. Therefore Ataturk’s approach was quite aggressive, which included stringent measures by the state to clamp down on religious symbolism and identity- even if Ataturk had himself used them during the Turkish War of Independence.

Jinnah was a lawyer and parliamentarian for most of his life. Furthermore his liberalism and secularism was of a constitutional variety derived from the rich British tradition. The British tradition itself is much more tolerant of religion (indeed there are some like archbishop of Canterbury who state that perhaps even Islamic sharia has a role to play in modern legal system) and accepts religion as the civic basis of secular laws- keeping with the work and thought of John Locke who had initiated the whole idea of a modern state with his social contract and the “true end of government” by applying Christian ideals to statehood. Thus Jinnah’s secularism was not aggressive but steeped in British tradition in so much that it expected evolution to a point where religion would become a non-issue. In any event, the short run has shown greater success for Kemal Ataturk’s model of secularism in Turkey. In Pakistan, the state has increasingly moved away from Jinnah’s conception of an impartial secular state and has increasingly created new religious bars which have made some question the very basis of the country. In Turkey we have seen that after decades of repression, the pro-Islam forces have come to define secularism in terms that would be closer to Jinnah than Ataturk- secularism as state impartiality instead of state’s active persecution of the religious minded.

Selena Karim, a little known author from the UK, has written a book called “Secular Jinnah: Munir’s hoax exposed.”The entire issue revolves around a quote attributed to Jinnah dating to a pre-partition interview.

The late Justice Munir, paraphrasing the Quaid’s interview with Doon Campbell of May 21 1947, said that Jinnah believed that sovereignty would rest with the people regardless of religion, caste, creed etc.  I reproduce the actual quote by the Quaid: “Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of Government. Its Parliament and Cabinet responsible to the Parliament will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will be the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and program of the Government. The minorities in Pakistan will be the citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all the rights, privileges and obligations of citizenship without any distinction of caste, creed or sect. They will be treated justly and fairly. The Government will run the administration and control the legislative measures by its Parliament, and the collective conscience of the Parliament itself will be a guarantee that the minorities need not have any apprehension of any injustice being done to them. Over and above that there will be provisions for the protection and safeguard of the minorities which in my opinion must be embodied in the constitution itself. And this will leave no doubt as to the fundamental rights of the citizens, protection of religion and faith of every section, freedom of thought and protection of their cultural and social life.” How is this in substance different? How does this actual quote change the secular nature of Jinnah’s vision? Any lawyer, historian or political scientist will tell you that this is a perfect summation of a secular democratic state. Of course Selena Karim is neither a lawyer nor a historian nor a political scientist. Her book is a rehashed version of Allama Pervez’s dogma on why Pakistan was created. The book is not worth the paper it is written on.

In a nutshell, Jinnah’s vision was of an inclusive democratic state where religion would be the “personal faith of an individual” and each citizen would have the same opportunities in every field – including the highest offices in the land – without any distinction of religion. The example that Jinnah quoted was from the history of Great Britain where religious wars between Catholics and Protestants were brought to an end by a practical separation of church and state. Jinnah believed – and many of his colleagues like Zafrullah Khan agreed- that this was a vision that was compatible with Islam.  It must be remembered that Jinnah made his 11 August speech where he explicitly declared that religion would be a personal matter after Krishan Shankar Roy in his speech asked Jinnah to declare Pakistan a secular state. Jinnah’s response was unambiguous, undiplomatic and entirely secular. In what was his most important policy speech, Jinnah made no mention of Islamic principles or even God. Later that day, JogindranathMandal, a Hindu lawyer from East Pakistan with absolutely no training in Islamic law, became the new state’s first law minister. If Jinnah wanted an Islamic state, he certainly did not lift a finger to make that happen.

Meanwhile in an article published in the Jang Newspaper, Hamid Mir repeats the same old hackneyed question: If Pakistan was supposed to be secular, why break away from secular India and secular Indian National Congress. The Muslim grievances against the Congress were precisely that it did not live up to the ideals it professed.  The gradual relegation of Urdu, which was the foremost symbol of Hindu-Muslim Unity, and promotion of Hindi-Hindustani in its place was one such occasion and there were several others. If Hamid Mir feels that these grievances were not enough as a justification then he is free to question the idea of Pakistan but he has no right to distort history as he did in his article. He went on to do precisely that when he distorted the facts of the Ilam Din case. The facts are that Jinnah did not appear in the case pro bono but for a hefty fee collected by Muslims of Punjab for defence.  Ilam Din, contrary to the legend, never pleaded guilty and consequently Jinnah never asked Ilam Din to change his plea- that is a scurrilous accusation against a man who was straight as an arrow.

Jinnah’s argument at the appellate level was that the sessions court had deliberately ignored two witnesses. How does that amount to support for Rajpal’s killing? It certainly did not mean a support for death penalty for blasphemy. Jinnah was part of the select committee that limited the punishment for scurrilous outrages to 2 years. Even then he had warned against the misuse of Section 295-A and wanted guarantees for genuine and academic criticisms of religion. Could such a man have supported the killing of Rajpal? Nor was it a political stunt. Jinnah made no public pronouncements about the case but conducted it professionally, just as he had represented Phanse in the famous Bawla Case. Contrary to the claims of our right wing, the only pro bono brief Jinnah took, by his own admission, was BalGangadharTilak’s case.
Nor is the idea that Jinnah’s nuanced idea had no resonance with the people he was leading entirely accurate. Pakistan Movement itself was supported by people with divergent agendas. In Bengal it was the peasant nationalism. The urban left leaning intellectuals supported it because they believed that it would lead to the rise of a bourgeoisie nationalism which would then create a state where the second stage of revolution would be possible.  The Muslim landlords supported the movement for their own vested interests which worked at cross purposes to the interests of the peasantry which was also supporting the movement.  What is clear in all of this is the following:

1. There was never one idea of why Pakistan was being demanded.

2. The religious parties by and large opposed the creation of Pakistan.

3. The leaders of the Pakistan Movement were more or less neutral towards religion and theology and did not want or envisage an expanded role for it in state.

In 1949,  Liaqat Ali Khan and other Muslim Leaguers conceded an important point to the religious parties through the Objectives Resolution but even after the Objectives Resolution, the Constitution of Pakistan remained secular and there was no real application of it under the Government of India Act, 1935. The Constitution of Pakistan 1956 named the state an Islamic Republic and limited the office of the president to a Muslim, but beyond this was largely a secular constitution without a state religion. The 1962 constitution followed the same scheme. It was the 1973 Constitution – ironically given by the secular PPP – which made Islam the state religion of Pakistan. In 1974 the state made another stride towards exclusivism by declaring Ahmadis to be Non-Muslim- a major step backwards. Yet it was General Zia’s Islamization project that provided the teeth to exclusion and imposition of one kind of religious interpretation which ultimately changed the fabric of society from a multireligious one to an authoritarian Islamic state. The historical compulsions for this move were obvious – Zia was a military dictator who needed legitimacy domestically and an ideology to fight the Soviets.

The “historical memory” of the Pakistani state as it were is warped and distorted. The great leftist historian HamzaAlavi examined the causes and the events leading to the creation of Pakistan in many of his works and rejected in entirety the state-sponsored narrative introduced largely during the Zia era. In his enlightening paper Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity or Ideology, HamzaAlavi traced the formation of the ‘salariat’ or the secular Muslim middle-class, which became the engine for the Pakistan Movement. He showed how the basic ideas of Islamic modernism had moved into the sphere of conventional wisdom for this group. Therefore, far from arguing a moral superiority based on Pan-Islamic religious identity, Muslim nationalism as it emerged was the attempt of a nascent Muslim bourgeoisie in the subcontinent to secure a foothold economically and politically. It was also indicative of an internal struggle between the professional and secular-minded classes amongst Indian Muslims led by Jinnah and the clerical class that opposed them. This is what prompted Jinnah to declare in 1938, “What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of maulvis and maulanas.”

SalmaanTaseer was the foremost symbol of the professional and secular-minded Muslim bourgeoisie that created Pakistan. He was a self-made man, a professional and a businessman. The late governor was the physical embodiment of the confluence of Pakistan’s genuine historical memory and modern, information age capitalism.

There is no reason why we should complicate a simple issue. I submit two points: a) all nationalisms are exclusionary and, as Eqbal Ahmad said, “the ideology of the other”, and b) states are duty bound to be above issues of identity and nationalism and this is precisely why we have constitutions. Secularism, historically, has developed from confessional societies, and pluralism is almost always a desired by-product. The example before Jinnah, as the creator and the first governor general of the new state, was Britain which he alluded to in his famous August 11 speech, which, mind you, was not the only speech he delivered where he outlined in clear terms his idea of what the Pakistani state should be. Great Britain’s history is defined by the protestant nature of its monarchy and the struggle between the clergy and the state. It has in its history seen gruesome violence on religious questions including blasphemy. In due course of time, however, the Protestants and Catholics did learn to live together as citizens of Great Britain.

So what is Jinnah’s Pakistan and why is it increasingly becoming the rallying cry of all Pakistanis who want to bring about a change? Jinnah’s Pakistan means a Pakistan where dialogue and constitutional means are the only available choice when resolving disagreements and discord. How then can today’s Pakistan be Jinnah’s Pakistan when the very essence of the man is sacrificed in the name of political expediency and the doctrine of necessity? Jinnah’s Pakistan will remain the only credible answer for positive social change because Jinnah represents something much more substantial than a dead secular politician. He is, for most Pakistanis, a deep structure of identity that remains on a higher pedestal for them. It is for this reason that Jinnah’s Pakistan remains the only viable option for this state to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in. Without Jinnah, the liberals of Pakistan are like fish out of the pond.

Secularism as the only viable option

A secular Pakistan is not a question of idealism. It is not even a question of countering misappropriation of the Pakistan idea.  Nor is it merely about Jinnah’s vision.  It is a question of foremost practical importance for this republic.  Ask the people in Quetta’s Hazara Town, Karachi’s Abbas Town or Lahore’s Joseph Colony.

We are dealing with a sectarian monster in the form of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Another religious monster is the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.   These monsters have distorted Islam and destroyed Pakistan. It must be remembered that none of these groups have emerged organically.  On the contrary, these militant sectarian organizations have thrived due to the patronage accorded to them by General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. General Zia-ul-Haq got the legitimacy for his actions in the name of Islam because the Constitution of 1973 that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave Pakistan and placed religion above all, which in the wrong hands (General Zia) means  spawning of the hydra-headed monster that we are now faced with.  It must be said here that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, though personally irreligious, deployed sectarianism in a most unfortunate way in 1974 to out-maneuver the Mullah.

That Bhutto himself was free of bias against Ahmadis can be gauged from the fact that he had tried to keep Dr. Abdus Salam on in his cabinet and even promised him that he would undo the second amendment one day.  Bhutto also wrote a letter to Sir Zafrullah in 1976, two years after the anti-Ahmadiamendment , appreciating his many services to the cause of Muslims in South Asia, most notably as the one time president of the All India Muslim League.  Yet Bhutto thought that by conceding this important point, Bhutto would out-Muslim the Islamists.  He was sorely mistaken.  His end should serve as an example to all those who think they can successfully ride the tiger of religious exclusivity and then manage to get off it as well.  At the end General Zia had Bhutto’s corpse checked for whether he was circumcised or not.

The Constitution of 1973, the amendment of 1974 and the teeth General Zia gave sectarianism in Pakistan happened in continuity to one another.  The 1973 Constitution made Islam the state religion. Pursuant to this innovation, it was thought important to decide on who is not a Muslim. Finally General Zia took this inherently sectarian constitution to its logical conclusion.  It is time therefore to hit at the root of the problem i.e. the Constitution of 1973. It is now time to recognize that so long as we continue to search for Eldorado, the idea that state ought to implement the faith from the top will continue to lead us in circles.  It is therefore about time to give up this fallacious misconception and realize that Pakistan is inhabited not just by a few million non-Muslims, but almost every sect of Islam, each with its own divergent and at times contradictory interpretations.  The state may enable Muslims to live according to Islamic ideals according to their own interpretation but the state has no business forcing Muslims to live according to Islamic ideals of any interpretation.  All religious questions therefore should be dealt with in the confines of religious places of worship and designated religious areas.  No religious question should either be raised or debated in the parliament or the superior judiciary of Pakistan.  When a person steps into a court of law or in the parliament or any other institution of the state, he should be treated only as a Pakistani and his other identities, be they linguistic, religious or sectarian, should be left at the door. Furthermore the state should protect and jealously safeguard the religious freedom of every citizen of Pakistan regardless of what religion or sect he is from within the confines of his or her place of religious worship or inside his own house. Similarly no public gathering outside the mandated religious area should be allowed and this should apply uniformly to all religious groups.

A uniform system of secular education must be introduced.  Religious education should be left to the mosques and households.  No religious education of any kind should be allowed in school. By the same token every citizen should be free to pursue religious education in the seminary of his or her religious persuasion. The state’s policy should be neutral but the state must facilitate the individual citizen to practice his faith. All public hate speech, intended to offend, including religiously offensive speech, should be subject to criminal prosecution but without capital punishment.

These are some of the necessary basic steps that need to be taken if our Republic wants to overcome the demon of terrorism and sectarian violence.  It cannot be a half-hearted measure or a compromise between the dictates of reason and demands of emotionalism and crass fanaticism.  The reformists have, for too long, faced and appeased the religious right. Now it is time to adopt plan B. Once all these things are allowed to take root, Pakistan will manage to create a cohesive Pakistani national identity which will be able to withstand any shock, including sectarian violence or linguistic separatism.

To put it mildly – secular Pakistan is the only way left.  There is no other way, except bloodshed and more violence. Pakistan’s history is a series of wrong turns. However now an increasing number of Pakistani citizens are beginning to question these wrong turns and ask for a secular state openly. History will no doubt give its verdict in favor of those who are at this juncture saying consistently and clearly that religion should have nothing to do with the business of the state. It is only secularism that will deliver Pakistan from the precarious position we find ourselves in at this time.

Separation of church and state is not just the right thing to do but it is the only thing that will help build a progressive and democratic state. Other participants in this debate have already informed the reader of the history of the idea of separation of church and state which is rooted in the power struggle between temporal rulers and the church in largely homogenous nation states of Europe and America. The history of Europe, especially the period that is referred to as reformation and renaissance, is also significant as being the history of Protestant and Catholic sectarian conflict.

It is, therefore, not a surprising paradox that secularism in its purest form emerged from confessionalism that was often at the root of the European nation state. England was the bastion of protestantism, even though protestantism itself was rooted in a rebellion against papacy.

Similarly, Spain and other continental powers were self-consciously Catholic. England’s adoption of the Protestant creed, followed by a fanatical purge of the Catholics, was itself the state’s attempt to establish the primacy of the state over religion. The binary thus is not a false one nor can this binary be reconciled. Secularism is the state’s struggle to liberate itself from the burdens of established church and dogma. Multiculturalism comes only later and is at best a desirable by-product.

So what is the relevance of this term or idea in a conservative Islamic society such as ours which is organised under a constitution that defines itself as Islamic and blends religious ends with secular ends?

The recent debate on blasphemy law has once again brought out our internal contradictions to the forefront of the debate. I do not need to remind the reader that the rot started with our leaders, beginning with the framers of the Objectives Resolution, who chose to demarcate a definite role for Islam, in letter and spirit, in our constitutional documents.

Here we are:  Bankrupt and corrupt intellectually, morally and financially, isolated and victims of religious extremism, just as King Henry left England when he died of obesity. The question is whether our fledgling democrats have achieved what Henry did, albeit for personal aggrandizement, in laying the foundation for a prosperous future? In my opinion this inane and inept government of Mr. Zardari and company will be remembered best for the 18th Amendment, the inadvertent ascension of the judiciary and the fact that it gave us an independent and empowered election commission. Those are meaningful and long lasting changes.  So yes, despite everything one continues to be optimistic.

[1] The author is a practicing lawyer based in Lahore.  He is also the author of the upcoming book “Jinnah; Myth and Reality.” He can be contacted at (0300) 555 2232 or at Yasser.hamdani@gmail.com.