The alternative to Madaris problem

Inconclusive debate about whether Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah wanted Pakistan be a secular state or a state governed by Islamic laws keeps propping up every now and then. The religious forces have realized after the 9/11 that this debate is getting in decisive phase. They have gathered under the MMA flag forgetting all the sectarian differences, which have claimed many lives in the past. The liberals stand divided.


Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy raised this issue in his lecture at The Jinnah Society meeting in Karachi last week. In a jam packed hall, Dr. Hoodbhoy observed that there are equal number of quotations, drawn from Mr. Jinnah’ speeches and interviews, that can be used by the protagonists of secular Pakistan and a Sharia compliant Islamic Pakistan. But one thing is clear that Mr. Jinnah did not envisage Pakistan as a theocratic state ruled by the Ulema. (Or, for that matter by the military. But who cares when it comes to the power game. Hasn’t the military ruled Pakistan directly and indirectly since early fifties?).

You try to take the some light from history and the confusion is compounded. So let’s leave Mr. Jinnah and the past to rest in peace. And think about what is best for the prosperity and progress of our people in today’s globalised world. At the end of the day that is what matters. Nothing is static and sacred when it comes to the interest of the people. Nations that failed to adapt to the changing environments have been wiped out of the world map. States are for the people and are not just geographical lines drawn by the history.


True the present debate on secular Vs Sharia compliant Islamic Pakistan has its roots in the history. The political formulation on which Two Nation theory was based dictated the fate of Pakistan so far. Political space has been provided to the Islamists in the formulation that the Muslims of India needed a homeland where they can live according to the Islamic values.  Political Islamists used this weapon to pressurize the half secularist half Islamist leadership of Pakistan.  Even today the government is shy to admit that state and religion has to be kept separate. The General has coined the term “enlightened moderation.” Why? Because the establishment is afraid of calling spade a spade that is secular democracy.


The fact is that we have declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic and have a constitution committed to make laws according to Quran and Sunah. This gives political space to the people like Imam of Lal Masjid. Their argument is that the state has failed to enforce Sharia as stipulated in the constitution, so the Ulemas have taken it upon themselves to fulfill this duty. (By the way I want to ask these Ulemas is: Why their entire focus is on issues related to sexual morality? Why the religious vigilantes have never launched a campaign against more serious crimes like drug smuggling and pushing? Why they do not rise against increasing muggings and dacoities? Why we don’t hear anything from them on the massive tax evasion by the Bazaar – their donors?) And so on.


If Pakistan has to progress it has to establish itself as a true democracy. No democracy is complete if it is not secular. Does that mean that 97% Muslim Pakistanis of will loose their faith? No, not at all. In secular dispensation they are free to believe what they want. The difference is that they cannot impose their thinking or their brand of Sharia on others. The state has to be neutral. Secularism has been misrepresented by the religious parties. Secularism according to Encyclopedia Britannica is “the term applied in general to the separation of the state politics or administration from religious or church matters.”


Encyclopedia Americana is more specific: It “is an ethical system founded on the principle of natural morality and independent of revealed religions or super-naturalism. Its first postulate is the freedom of though – the right of every many to think for himself. (2) The right of difference of opinion upon all subjects of thought (3) right to debate and discuss all vital questions.”


The term was coined by George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906). In 1851 in his Secularist doctrine he proclaimed: 1) Science as a rue guide of man, 2) Morality as secular, not religious, in origin 3) Reason the only authority 4) Freedom of thought and speech 5) Concentration on improvement of human life.


Thus “secularism,” according to Syed Sibte Hassan “is not an evil design of an evil mind whose object is to undermine our social and ethical values or which conspires to create chaos and confusion in the country. On the contrary, it is an enlightened social philosophy inspired by ideal of human progress and freedom.”


So it should not be misconstrued as anti-religion. While it allows equal status to all religions, it stops them from using the state apparatus for interfering in the public life. No state which tries to control open debate, curbs freedom of expression and suppresses rationalism has progressed. This observation is true across the board and is not restricted to the counties which have Muslim majority. Latin America is a good example, where church is strong and reason is weak. Pakistan must leave this club, where physical and intellectual poverty rules. The country needs new vision breaking from the legacy, which is holding it back. (

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