Religion and State in Pakistan

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Iqbal Ahmad Khan*


(The Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah gave clear and unambiguous guidelines to the constitution makers of the new state of Pakistan. His historic address of 11 August 1947 embodied the raison d’être of Pakistan. “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State,” he told the members of the Constituent Assembly. With his passing away and the emergence of parochial and incompetent governments, there set in a gradual dilution of the Quaid’s message. The most lethal attack came with the attempt by the military dictator General Ziaul Haq to set up a theocratic state in Pakistan. Presently, we are facing the blowback from his misguided and duplicitous policies. The general sought inspiration from a religion-based political party which had the dubious distinction of opposing both the founder of the country and the Pakistan freedom movement.

It is the unenviable task of the incumbent democratic government to cleanse the body-politic of the policies and practices pursued by the dictator. If this is not done Pakistan will continue to harvest the bitter fruit of intolerance, bigotry and religious persecution. Despite its history of faith-based persecution and wars of religion, such oppression and violence has been absent from the west in recent centuries and lessons can be drawn from this experience.)

Religion-related violence in Pakistan has become a familiar and painful part of the contemporary socio-political scene. It has pitted the preachers who exploit the powerful medium of a free media to spew poison against opponents; it has led to the emergence of militant sectarian outfits armed and trained in the targeting and physical elimination of their so-called adversaries; it has regrettably demonstrated the inefficacy of state institutions entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of citizens; even worse, it has given rise to widespread allegations from a range of credible sources about the complicity of certain state institutions with militant outfits; it has badly stained the international image of the country with predictable consequences; it has made women, who account for more than half of the total population of the country, retreat further into seclusion because of fear and confusion; it has instilled fear and insecurity among the minorities, and; it has seriously undermined economic and social development and prompted emigration of professionals and the flight of capital. The following events which occurred in the past few months illustrate poignantly the brutalization of Pakistan society.

The end of February 2010 saw the celebrations on the occasion of the birthday of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) marred by the tragic deaths of several Muslims at the hands of a rival sect. A large number of people were also injured and considerable damage was done to public and private property by an enraged and unruly mob. The police attempted to restore a semblance of order, but it too fell victim to mob violence. The bloody incidents took place on 28 February in the districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Faisalabad. Troops had to be deployed in D. I. Khan and Section 144 imposed in Faisalabad. According to a newspaper report a procession commemorating the anniversary of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday was fired upon in D. I. Khan as it passed by a seminary. Soon thereafter a charged mob retaliated by launching an attack on the seminary.1All this fratricidal violence occurred on one of the most auspicious days in the Muslim calendar.

On the same day and on the same occasion Faisalabad too witnessed armed clashes between two sects, one of which was celebrating the birthday of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the other allegedly fired upon the procession and that too from the precincts of a mosque. The clashes were followed by accusations and counter-accusations while arson and vandalism caused extensive damage to public and private property.

An  editorial  carried  by   a   Lahore-based  English  newspaper revealed that the clashes took place essentially between the Barelvis and Deobandis. The Barelvis “more rooted in the culture of the sub- continent and deeply influenced by Sufism have always promoted the more human side of religion by spearheading celebrations of the birth of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)….This has irked the conservative schools of Sunni Islam, notably the Deobandis, who had been campaigning before the occasion that celebrating the birth of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was a heresy because neither he nor his companions celebrated the event. The eruption of violence on such an insignificant issue between two Sunni denominations is an indication of deep insecurities and a wish to impose one’s interpretation of religion on all others.”2

A few weeks earlier on yet another religious occasion – the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain – a several thousand-strong procession of mourners in Karachi were subjected to a heart wrenching bombing in which dozens perished and hundreds received injuries. Property including landmark buildings worth billions of rupees were looted and burnt. The misery encompassed hundreds more who overnight lost all their worldly possessions or their near and dear ones or both. The scale of human suffering which this one act of sectarian terror inflicted on a peaceful religious procession of devoted and reverential men, women and children was unimaginable and simply unbelievable.

The state could neither protect the celebrators of the birthday of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) nor those who had come out to mourn on the anniversary of the tragic slaying of his grandson, Imam Hussain. It  was  widely  reported  that  the  security  agencies  had  received credible intelligence that rival groups would try to violently disrupt the commemorations. To date it is unknown what progress the police have made in apprehending the perpetrators of the heinous crimes. The inability of law enforcers to deliver is hardly surprising given the magnitude of the terrorist challenge that has been mounted against the state and the limited resources at their disposal. These crimes ironically have been committed in the name of a religion which considers the killing of one innocent person, Muslim or non-Muslim, as tantamount to the murder of humanity.

The insecurity and helplessness that the ordinary Pakistani faces at the hands of these fanatics cover all sections of society, Shias and Sunnis, Muslims and non-Muslims, rich and poor, men and women. Only a few months before the Ashura massacre, innocent and harmless Christians were targeted in the town of Gojra. It was alleged that the Holy Quran had been defiled. That was enough to provoke a Muslim mob to kill Christians and torch their houses and churches. In a rehearsal of similar incidents in the past, gangs of marauders packing weapons and incendiary material arrived in the village to literally add fuel to the fire. The Punjab Law Minister declared that preliminary investigations had revealed no evidence of the Quran having been defiled. The Federal Minorities Minister’s orders to the police to ensure peace and security to the Christian population were reportedly ignored. The Minister claimed that here too the banned militant organization the Sipah-e- Sihaba was involved.3  The same murderous outfit is also believed to have been responsible for the carnage in Shantinagar in 2005. In that tragic incident a mob of 3000 aided by the police played havoc with the lives and property of the poor unarmed, defenseless Christian minority community.

A common factor which emerges in all the bloodletting, whether its victims were the commemorators of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday, the Shia mourners or the minority Christian community is the reported involvement of Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS). The SS was born in Jhang in 1984, a product of General Ziaul Haq’s program of Islamisation. It was a Sunni militant organization which not only spewed venom against Shias but was responsible for the targeted killings of hundreds of Shias. Emboldened by the State’s indifference or perhaps even indirect support, the SS assassinated the Iranian Consul in Lahore. It also initiated a campaign of providing recruits from its madrassas to the Afghan jihad.4

The very same organization, which was allegedly behind the killings of the hapless Christians in Gojra and Shantinagar and which had been banned by the government, was openly besought by the ruling party in the Punjab in an election in Jhang in March 2010 to a provincial assembly seat. In a letter addressed to the Punjab Chief Minister, the Governor of the province claimed that the government of Punjab had released two convicted terrorists of the Sipah-e-Sahaba ahead of the by-election in Jhang to get their support. The Governor urged the Chief Minister to take action against the provincial Law Minister under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Minister it was alleged was accompanied by known terrorists of the Sipah-e-Sahaba at public meetings addressed by the Minister.5

Such violent encounters among Muslims, while tragic and painful, do not appear all that absurd to those versed in the interpretation of Islam by various ulema, who boast of large followings. Aitzaz Ahsan, a jurist and a scholar, in an address on “A case for Secularism. Were Iqbal and Jinnah secularists?” referred to the observations made by Justices Munir and Kayani of the Punjab High Court which form a part of the report of the Court of Enquiry appointed by the government to determine the causes of unrest in the early 1950s during what was called the anti- Ahmediyya movement. After eliciting the views of various ulema the Justices observed:

“Keeping in view the several definitions (of Islam) given by the ulema, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has  done and  that  definition differs  from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulema, we remain Muslims according to the view of the alim, but kafirs (non-believers) according to the definition of everyone else…….The net result of all this is that neither Shias nor Sunnis nor Deobandis nor Ahl-i-Hadith nor Barelvis are Muslims and any change from one view to the other must be accompanied in an Islamic State with the penalty of death if the government of the State is in the hands of the party which considers the other party to be kafirs.”6

Religion-based persecution and violence was virtually unknown in Pakistan during the period spanning its birth and till the 70s. The advent of General Ziaul Haq and his compulsion to gain legitimacy, both within the country and abroad, set in motion a process whose bitter fruit the nation is reaping today. It represented the most drastic and the most disastrous departure from the ideals and principles of the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Unlike Ayub Khan, General Zia had deposed a legitimately elected civilian government which constituted an act of treason under Article 6 of the 1973 Constitution. Moreover, unlike the weak and incompetent government Ayub Khan overthrew, that headed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arguably one of the most popular in the history of Pakistan. Thirdly, the army under General Ziaul Haq did not enjoy the same prestige that it did when Ayub Khan was its commander-in-chief. In the past nearly two decades it had been politicized, accused of corruption and held responsible for the shame and humiliation of the 1971 defeat at the hands of India and the subsequent disintegration of the country. General Ziaul Haq was a usurper. The action that he took on 5 July 1977 was purely and simply a power grab. The usurper general was able to extract some measure of legitimacy from an obliging Supreme Court, but this too was conditional. The Supreme Court accepted the legitimacy the 1977 coup on the grounds of the ‘doctrine of necessity’ but while doing so clearly stated that it had validated the coup “not only for the reason that he (CMLA) stepped in to save the country at a time of a grave national crisis….but also because of the solemn pledge ….that the period of constitutional deviation shall be of as short a duration as possible and that during this period all his energies shall be directed towards creating conditions conducive to the holding of free and fair elections leading to the restoration of democratic rule in accordance to the dictates of the constitution.”7

The  Supreme  Court’s  verdict  notwithstanding,  as  the  months went by the military regime found itself increasingly isolated, both domestically and internationally. Internally, General Zia decided to acquire the required legitimacy by attempting to transform the Quaid- e-Azam’s Pakistan into a theocratic state by    unilaterally initiating a process known as Islamisation. The period between 1977 and 1984 was traumatic. During this phase, Pakistan’s political system began to exhibit characteristics commonly associated with totalitarian regimes. In February 1979 General Zia announced the Hadood Ordinance which contained severe punishments for theft, adultery and drinking, such as amputation of hands, stoning and flogging. In a unique decision, the Shariat Court declared that stoning for adultery was against Islam. As a result the Shariat Courts were barred from reviewing martial law ordinances. Through a series of ordinances in 1980, 1982 and 1986 the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code were amended to declare anything implying disrespect to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), members of his family, his companions, Islamic symbols and the Quran a cognizable offence, punishable with death, imprisonment or fine depending on the nature of the violation. It is relevant to point out that barring flogging, the other two penalties were never carried out primarily on account of the strong domestic and international criticism directed against these laws.

The targets of the most severe criticism were provisions directly affecting women in cases of adultery. Indeed, it became extremely difficult to distinguish rape from adultery. The father of an 18 year old blind girl Safia Bibi registered a case of rape leading to pregnancy against her employers, father and son. Both father and son were finally acquitted while the girl was sentenced to 15 lashes in public, 3 years imprisonment and fine. In view of an enraged public, the Federal Shariah Court rescinded the judgment. A Law of Evidence was promulgated which in certain cases equated the evidence of two females with that of one male. The Law of Qisas (Retribution) and Diyat (Blood Money) provided half payment for a murdered woman as against full payment for a murdered man.

As a general policy, the government exercised its patronage in favor of the explicitly conservative elements.  Among other things, the new approach led to the task of rewriting the history of Pakistan, in order to highlight the vanguard role of Islamic ideology and ulema in the struggle for independence. General Zia’s inspiration and concept of an Islamic state came from Maulana Maudoodi the head of the Jamaat-e- Islami whose Islamic state involved an all powerful, monolithic, public institution upholding a coherent religious ideology. Maudoodi’s state envisioned that the full weight of state power would ensure that all segments of society reflected the character of an Islamic polity.8

Omar Noman analyzing General Zia’s Islamization process claims that it represented a distinct shift in the ideological paradigm within which the state operated. It marked a departure from the conception of society held by the Muslim elite, which led the Pakistan Movement. Their perception of society symbolized a different form of Islamic response to the modern age. They were the intellectual descendents of Sir Syed and Allama Iqbal, both of whom evolved a flexible interpretation of Islam, which made it compatible with 19th century Western liberalism. This was done by separating the principles from the letter of the law, disengaging the spirit of religion from the social context of 7th  century Arabia. This view of religion necessitated the rejection of specific punishments and measures contained in the Quran and the Hadith on the grounds that they were meant to be applied only to the particular social formation in which the prophet and his immediate descendents lived. This approach was one in which the delineation of what is good and desirable is made, and such positive attributes are shown to be compatible with the spirit of religion properly understood. This is in direct contradiction with the fundamentalism preached by the Zia regime.9

Unfortunately for the general his Islamization program could not confer legitimacy to his rule. He then had to resort to further political maneuvering to achieve his goal. Assistance for the general came from a totally unexpected quarter – the Soviet Union. On 27 December 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This set in motion a series of events whose repercussions we continue to feel to this day. The embattled General Ziaul Haq accepted the US and Saudi proposal for the use of Pakistan territory to train, arm and launch Afghan freedom fighters into Afghanistan in a jihad to force the Soviets to withdraw. The goal was achieved 10 years later. In these 10 years, Pakistan received over 3 million Afghan refugees and guns, drugs and violence spread like cancer within Pakistan society. The CIA reportedly recruited some 25,000 Arabs to join the Jihad or holy war against the Soviet Union. There were hundreds of others who, fired by the passion to rid a Muslim country of infidels, volunteered their services and provided financial assistance. Among them Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda outfit.

When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in February

1989, Pakistan was confronted not only with 3.5 million Afghan refugees, thousands of non-Afghan Mujahideen who refused to return to their countries of origin, but also with a civil war in Afghanistan among the Mujahideen factions which had ousted the Soviet Union. To make matters worse for Pakistan, the US which was the principal beneficiary of the war packed up and left. It simultaneously imposed economic and military sanctions on Pakistan on account of its nuclear program. These multiple problems Pakistan had to manage at a time when internally it was undergoing a transition from an 11 year old military dictatorship to a democratic order.

Pakistan at  this  stage  could  have  totally extricated itself  from the Afghan imbroglio and concentrated its energy and resources on internal consolidation and growth. Unfortunately, a nascent democratic government had to on matters of national security give in to the military who adopted the policy of acquiring ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan and of ‘coercive diplomacy’ in Kashmir. The former led to the creation of the Taliban and the latter to Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e- Tayyaba. These groups have now combined with Al Qaeda to terrorize Pakistan.

It was this extremely sensitive and potentially divisive relationship between religion and the state which was uppermost in the mind of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah as he prepared to confront multiple challenges facing the new state of Pakistan. The Quaid had the utmost respect for the rule of law, justice, fair play and equity. He was liberal, modern and democratic. His belief, that the formal mixing of religion and politics, would necessarily lead to intolerance, in-fighting, and disunity surfaces time and again in his political career. It is evident as early as 1929 during the debate in the Legislative Assembly on the Child Marriages Restraint Bill which was introduced in 1927. The bill had evoked widespread anger among the fundamentalists, who sent thousands of petitions to the Assembly alleging that the bill violated rights of the Muslims and demanded that it be withdrawn. This massive opposition from the fundamentalist lobby did not cow down Jinnah. In his remarks, while accepting the right of the fundamentalist lobby to voice their anti-bill sentiments, Jinnah asserted that he could not allow such opposition to drag them down and be an impediment to the march of progress. “In the name of humanity, I ask you. And if we are going to allow ourselves to be influenced by the public opinion that can be created in the name of religion, when we know that religion has nothing whatsoever to do with the matter I think we must have the courage to say: No, we are not going to be frightened by that.” Several years later on 7 February 1935 Mr. Jinnah observed in the Legislative Assembly that “Religion should not be allowed to come into politics…..Religion is merely a matter between man and God.”10

Admittedly, there were certain contradictions between the two- nation theory and the demand for a state where religion and politics would be in separate compartments. On the eve of the passage of the Lahore Resolution Mr. Jinnah in his presidential address spelt out the two-nation theory. He said that Islam and Hinduism were not religions in the strict sense of the word, but distinct and different social orders. The Muslims and the Hindus did not inter-marry, they did not inter-dine; they derived their inspirations from different sources of history; the hero of one is the foe of the other and their victories and defeats overlap; indeed they belonged to two different civilizations based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.

While the emphasis on theological divergence in Jinnah’s address was unmistakable, the Lahore Resolution passed the next day had only a marginal reference to religion. It was this resolution that became the manifesto of the All India Muslim League and it was on this basis that an overwhelming majority of the Muslims opted for a separate state for the Muslims of India.

Similarly, when in April 1943 Dr. Kazi at the Muslim League’s Delhi session called for the constitution of the proposed state of Pakistan to be based on the Quran and the Sunnah and the principles of government established during the reign of the first four Caliphs, Jinnah insisted that the resolution be withdrawn.(Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan.) In the same fashion Allama Iqbal, the poet-philosopher who played an important role in the freedom movement and in raising political consciousness among Muslims took pains at the 1930 Allahabad meeting of the All India Muslim League to reassure Hindus and Sikhs that there would not be religious law in the autonomous regions where there was Muslim rule.

Pakistan was the culmination of Jinnah’s decades long struggle. It was the fruition of a movement whose direct aim was the establishment of sovereign power for the Muslims of South Asia within a defined territory. This and not a theocratic state had the support of the people who believed that their political and socio-economic interests would be best safeguarded in an independent Muslim state. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s address on 11 August 1947 to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on his election as its president embodied a definition of the struggle that led to the establishment of Pakistan and the foundation on which the edifice of the state was to be raised. The address was by the creator of Pakistan to those entrusted by the people to formulate the fundamental law governing the new state and delivered on the eve of the formal establishment of the state. It was perhaps the most important speech of his political career. Given the enormous significance of the address, it would be appropriate to reproduce the words that the Quaid used and which pointed in one and only one direction, namely, that religion is essentially a personal matter and that is how it should be in the new state. The Quaid said:

“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 color, 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……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 among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence….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 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. 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…… 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.”11

The  above is  an  extensive quote from the  Quaid’s address.  It is necessitated by the fact that it contains in clear and unambiguous language guidelines for members of the Constituent Assembly entrusted with the onerous responsibility of drafting the fundamental law of the country. He draws attention to the ethnic and religious diversity existing in the new state. He recalls the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics and admires the measures taken by the State to ensure that both communities live side by side in peace and harmony. He cites this as the ideal that needs to be kept in mind and if this indeed is the case then 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.’ by leading scholars and jurists. Aitzaz Ahsan in the above-mentioned address at the Institute of Peace in Islamabad in his typically learned and logical fashion makes a convincing case for the separation of religion and the state. In the process he quotes the observations of Justices Munir and Kayani contained in the report of the Court of Enquiry appointed by the government to determine the causes of the unrest in 1953 during the anti-Ahmediyya movement. The Justices characterize the Quaid’s

11 August address as a landmark event which was intended to define the ideal towards which the new state was to devote all its energies. “There are repeated references in this speech to the bitterness of the past and an appeal to forget and change the past and to bury the hatchet. The future subject of the state is to be a citizen with equal rights, privileges and obligations, irrespective of color, caste, creed or community. The word ‘nation’ is used more than once and religion is stated to have nothing to do with the business of the state and to be merely a matter of personal faith for the individual.”12  These are the observations of two learned judges of the Punjab High Court and they leave no doubt as to the role of religion in the new state.

The Quaid’s speech has also been commented upon by Hamid Khan, a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. In his book “Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan” Hamid Khan observes that it is evident that “Jinnah’s prescription for the Constitution of Pakistan included guarantees that: one, all citizens of Pakistan would be equal regardless of their belief, caste or creed; two, that all citizens would be guaranteed freedom to practice whatever religion they believed in; three, that all religious, sectarian, ethnic, linguistic, and other similar distinctions would cease to matter in political sense, and the Constitution would ensure that the nation should progress regardless of such distinctions; and, four, that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state and religion would be a citizen’s private and personal matter.”13

Dr Mubarak Ali, a respected historian and former Chairman of the History Department, Karachi University believed that Jinnah was a perfect secularist as far as his private life was concerned, yet he believed The propelling slogan during the struggle for Pakistan was to establish a distinct identity of Muslims as a nation. And Jinnah used Islam as a motivating force to rally the Muslims to the cause of Pakistan politically. But the state he aimed to create was to be secular, not a theocracy. And the method to achieve the goal was not a religious movement but political agitation.

At this stage it would be appropriate to take a glance at the rise of secularism in Europe, particularly since the Quaid-e-Azam made a special reference in his 11th August speech to the animosity and persecution that once existed between Protestants and Catholics. It is noteworthy that religion-generated violence is virtually unheard of in the overwhelmingly Christian countries of Western Europe and the United States. This was not the case a few centuries ago. In the 15th century the vast mass of Europeans were Christians and those who lived in Central and Western Europe owed complete allegiance to the Catholic Church. They believed that a common faith and a common moral code was part and parcel of a safe, secure and stable society. Every child born to Christian parents was born into the Church. The Church had recognized official standing and the state made sure that its citizens respected the authority of the Church. The Church, it was believed, was founded by Jesus Christ to teach and disseminate his message to enable its members to properly order their lives in this world and to prepare for the hereafter. Those guilty of showing disobedience or challenging the Church’s divine authority, were likely to be punished by the state.

As the 16th  century dawned an increasing religious consciousness made many Christians aggressively and many eloquently and wittily question  the  corruption,  immorality  and  worldliness  rampant  both in Rome, where the Pope resided as well as among clergymen in general. The  invention of  the  printing press  enabled this  criticism to  be  disseminated among the  masses  by  a  host  of  pamphleteers. There were, on the one hand, many within the Catholic Church who demanded religious reform, which could best be achieved by means of a reformation within the Catholic Church, that is, without disturbing the unity of the Church. A large number of critics of the Church also felt, to find under divine guidance the same truths in the same Bible. Martin Luther was convinced that his reading and interpretation of the Bible reflected true and pious Christianity, as did John Calvin with respect to his interpretation or Henry VIII of England who regarded himself as infallible and like Luther and Calvin put to death many in the name of religion who differed from them in their reading of the religious texts.

The split between the Catholics and the Protestants transformed Europe into a bloody battlefield the likes of which Europe had seldom experienced. “Catholic leaders felt that they were defending traditional Christian civilization against anarchical forces of rebellion and greed. Protestant leaders felt quite as sincerely that they were restoring the pure Gospel and safeguarding it against despotism, superstition and corruption. To the former, Luther and Calvin and all the so-called “reformers” were possessed of devils; to the latter, the Pope was the beast, the “anti-Christ.”14As the battles surged through Europe every Christian, Catholic or Protestant fanatically believed in his own version of Christianity and was prepared to kill to have his ideas accepted.

The religious upheaval did indeed consume thousands of men, women and children who became victims of bigotry and fanaticism. In the long run, however, the unprecedented intolerance and bloodshed served to create a situation which contributed significantly to religious tolerance. The belief that political unity depended on religious unity gave way to the realistic assessment that dictated tolerance of religious differences. It was felt that diversity in religion was not necessarily destructive of national unity, that a state or a national monarchy might be strengthened, rather than weakened, by extending its protection to religious minorities. Secondly, sincere Christians, especially if they were of a minority group in a given country, were anxious to secure toleration for themselves and could be counted upon to back the efforts of conciliatory statesmen. In Protestant countries the Catholic minority espoused the principle of religious liberty, while in Catholic countries Protestants were natural advocates of freedom.

The most important lesson derived from the religious upheaval of the 16th  century by the statesmen and political thinkers outweighed all the other benefits. It gave a strong impetus to a process, called secularization, which involved the gradual transfer of direction and control of numerous activities to state authority. Previously, these activities involving education and taxes, in certain cases were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Church. Religion increasingly became a personal affair and a wide array of social, economic and educational matters passed under the jurisdiction of the temporal power.

In the United States too, a society which grew as immigrants from all corners of the world professing different religions and cultures swelled the US population, religious conflict or even religious intolerance is practically unknown. The roots of religious tolerance go back to the same constitutional amendment which guaranteed freedom of speech. This First Amendment to the Constitution contains the equally basic guarantee of freedom of religion. It states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Two provisions concerning religion are contained in these famous words of the First Amendment. The first, the “non- establishment” clause forbids the government to support any particular religious establishment. The second, the “free exercise” clause, bars the government from interfering with the freedom of Americans to worship as they wish.

The separation of the Church from the State was reinforced by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 in a letter to a group known as the Danbury Baptists. President Jefferson wrote:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” 15 letter to Edward Livingston he expanded, “We are teaching the world the great truth that Governments do better without Kings and Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government.”

The 16th  century religious wars tore apart the fabric of European society. European leaders were quick to learn lessons so that the post- Westphalian political order set in motion the process of separating religion and the state. From then on religion became essentially a personal affair and the state protected every individual’s fundamental rights, irrespective of the religion he professed. The system ended religious persecution and religious conflict in Europe. The founding fathers in the United States were quick to grasp the significance of this development for their country and ensured that their constitution placed religion and the temporal responsibilities of the state in different compartments.

The mixing of religion and politics has harmed our national unity, undermined peace and stability, stymied our economic development and tarnished our image abroad. It now poses a serious challenge to our national security. It has become a serious impediment to the emergence of Pakistan as a modern state. It is ironic that the most vociferous protagonists of a theocratic state have been a hated military dictator and a political party which was opposed to the Quaid and the Pakistan movement and whose performance in the elections has been at best rather mediocre. Now that we have a representative government it is in its interest, in the interest of democracy and that of the future of Pakistan to reverse the creeping religious extremism in the country. The Constitution too needs to be amended to align it with the ideas and beliefs of the founder of the country.


1     Dawn, 1 March 2010.

2     Daily Times, 2 March 2010.

3     Daily Times, 2 August 2010.

4     Jalal, Ayeshah; Partisans of Allah.

5     The News,6 March 2010.

6              Quoted by Aitzaz Ahsan in his lecture on “A Case for Secularism: Were Iqbal and Jinnah Secularists?” delivered at the Institute of Peace, Islamabad, 1994.

7              Judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan headed by Chief Justice Anwar-ul-Haq and delivered on 10 November 1977.

8              Noman, Oman; Pakistan – Political and Economic History since 1947.

9              Ibid.

10   Jinnah’s address to the Central Legislative Assembly, 7 February 1935.

11   Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Speeches and Statements.

12   Quoted by Aitzaz Ahsan in his lecture on “A Case for Secularism: Were Iqbal and Jinnah Secularists?

13   Khan, Hamid: Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan.

14   Hayes, Carlton J.H.; Modern Europe to 1870.

15   Thomas Jefferson, “Jefferson’s Letter to Danbury Baptists.”