By Farah Zia
As we discuss the case for Pakistan as a secular state, it would be instructive to revisit the events of Pakistan movement to see how terms like "secularism" and "Islamic state" were played out in the years preceding partition.
fundamental error to pitch secularism against Islam"
became irrelevant after Objectives
contradiction between secularism and Islamic humanism"
"Should we accept if tomorrow parliament declares secularism, and not Islam, as the state polity?" Clearly the remarks of the chief justice during the course of hearings on petitions challenging the eighteenth amendment raised more than one concern. One, whether it is the job of the Supreme Court to tell the parliament what it could do? Two, what to make of the tone of disdain reserved for secularism as an ideal?
What is worrisome is that these were not off the cuff remarks but a considered view shared by a majority of the country's educated elite. This is the post-partition generation that has been fed an overdose of the dominant discourse that propagates secularism as an equivalent of ladeeniat or anti-religion instead of the separation of state and religion that it actually means.
If truth be told, Pakistan never availed this chance of becoming a secular state. Jinnah's secular vision, categorically spelled out in his August 11, 1947, speech, was deliberately sidelined and what was proposed instead as the new state's polity was the Objectives Resolution.
Therefore, for 63 years now, Pakistan has existed as a state that rejected secularism. And look at what it has ended up as -- an intolerant society where non-Muslims feel insecure and justifiably so and where every sect of Muslims is a kafir for every other sect. In the words of Ziauddin Sardar, "Islam in Pakistan… has ceased to be a religion and worldview; it has become an obsession, a pathology. It has been drained of all ethics and has become a mechanism for oppression and injustice. A society that locates the notion of honour and shame on the female body, that believes it possesses absolute truth and all truth and denies legitimacy to all other religions and outlook is an inhuman society."
We at TNS therefore thought it was time to reopen the debate -- what is this fear of secularism about? Sardar has talked about the extremism of secularists who would have nothing to do with religion. We agree with him and hence the debate.
Of course, we have focused more on the complexion of the Pakistan movement and what kind of a state it evolved as by rejecting secularism. But the scholars we have interviewed for our Special Report today have also talked about the commonalities between Islam and an all-tolerant secularism. We hope to initiate a new debate whereby the term secularism is divested of all negativity and solutions are sought for a better state and society that Pakistan currently is.
Case for SECULAR Pakistan
The price paid by Pakistan for rejecting secularism
By I. A. Rehman
Perhaps the greatest injustice done to the Quaid-e-Azam in the state founded under his leadership is that his August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly is treated as a charter of non-Muslim citizens' rights only, whereas in reality it lays down the fundamentals of Pakistan's ideal, its constitution and the path to the entire population's goal of self-realisation. Most of Pakistan's crises of governance have largely been caused by repudiation of the ideal defined by the Quaid.
Why did the Quaid's colleagues and aides fail to appreciate the import of his words? Most probably, they could not get over two misunderstandings. First, they thought the Indian Muslims' choice of their religious marker, out of the several cultural markers of their identity, as the decisive marker in order to escape non-Muslim domination, would survive the creation of a Muslim-majority Pakistan.
They did not heed the warnings that once Pakistan was achieved all other non-religious identities (linguistic, social and cultural) and politico-economic interests of the communities inhabiting the new state would be revived in force. They persuaded themselves to believe that the religious-cultural marker that had superseded the other markers during the freedom struggle would continue to be effective after independence too. The people were pushed into a barren controversy whether Pakistan was created in the name of Islam (the inappropriate controversy continues to this day) while the real issue was religion's (any religion's) proven incapacity to provide an unbreakable bond of unity in a multi-national state.
The second misunderstanding was the assumption, contrary to historical as well as theological evidence, that Islam had provided for a state model a Muslim people could disregard only at the cost of betraying their faith. This debate also remains unresolved to this day.
As soon as Pakistan came into being and the reference to the religious identity of its Muslim (majority) population became irrelevant, as confirmed by the Quaid on August 11, 1947, all other identities of the various communities (they could be called nationalities or nations even) comprising Pakistan started asserting themselves. The country's leadership, which had been overwhelmed by the partition problems, chose to fall back on the religious marker that had served it well in the pre-partition days. This started happening in the Quaid's lifetime and the process accelerated after his death.
The Quaid-i-Azam's ideal of a secular sovereign Pakistan received a fatal blow when the Constituent Assembly adopted the Objectives Resolution. Whereas the Lahore Resolution of 1940 had called for states whose constituent units were to be 'sovereign', the Objectives Resolution compromised sovereign status of the state of Pakistan itself. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, the moving spirit behind the resolution, presumably thought otherwise – that the resolution did not affect the parliament's sovereign rights. This view is supported by the fact that Pakistan's first draft constitution (Basic Principles Committee's report of 1950) presented by Liaquat Ali Khan himself was secular – the name of the state was simply 'Pakistan', no office (President included) was reserved for Muslims, there was no reference to any Islamic advisory body nor to the scrapping of laws contrary to the injunctions of Islam. This report was rejected partly because it did not meet the Bengali Pakistanis' national aspirations and partly because the clerics did not find the draft Islamic enough. The Objectives Resolution had begun to be interpreted in a way different from Liaquat Ali Khan's claim.
Speaking on the Objectives Resolution, a non-Muslim member of the Constituent Assembly had warned the majority party of the appearance of an adventurer who might claim to be ordained by God Almighty and enforce his will in Allah's name. A mere 28 years later, this dark warning came true with the ascent to power of Gen. Ziaul Haq who changed Jinnah's secular Pakistan into a religious state according to his own flawed view of Islam and statecraft both, though critical concessions to the orthodoxy had been made by several rulers during the intervening years.
Each constitutional proposal after 1950 marked a step away from secularism. General Ayub made a feeble attempt in 1962 to change the name of the state from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the Republic of Pakistan but as a dictator he did not have the public support he needed for the success of his scheme. Besides, he had undermined his position by dropping the chapter on fundamental rights from his constitution of 1962. He was also guilty of offering the clerics monopoly over politics by banishing politicians and giving them, the mullahs, the only political stage that had survived the martial law (the mosque). Bhutto tried to pre-empt the clerics by adopting Islam as the state religion and throwing the Ahmadis out of the Islamic fold but even he did not surrender the parliament's exclusive right to make laws.
This crucial step -- robbing the parliament of its exclusive right to make laws -- was taken by Gen. Ziaul Haq when he created the Shariat Courts that may have given a couple of good decisions but which are responsible for the blasphemy law, the bar on land reforms and the huge embarrassment caused by the cases on rajam and interest-related laws.
One unwelcome consequence of the efforts to Islamise Pakistan's laws and practices was the rise of divisive forces. The authors of the 1956 constitution could not agree on the system of franchise and left the matter to the two provincial assemblies. East Pakistan opted for joint electorate while West Pakistan considered retention of separate electorates essential for the preservation of the state's Islamic identity. A government notification in early 1958 enforced joint electorate throughout the country but the smouldering controversy gave Gen. Zia the handle he needed to bring back separate electorates in 1985, and the consequences are known.
This fresh division of Pakistanis on the basis of belief was inevitably followed by divisions in the Muslim community on the basis of sects. The majority sect claimed the right to impose its version of the Islamic state while another sect claimed this right on the strength of its material resources and its fire-power. The tussle has made Pakistan a battleground for a bloody and unending sectarian strife.
The misplaced reliance on the religious marker and the consequent rejection of the demands of secularism made many political issues intractable. The refusal to grant Bengali and the languages of other nationalities their due status, the move to adopt Arabic as one of the official languages, the formation of One Unit, the shift away from territorial nationalism and in favour of a religion-based nationalism, and the treatment of the military operations in East Bengal as a holy war for Islam – all these aberrations can be traced to the basic mistake of preferring a religious state to a secular one.
Among other things the Objectives Resolution gave rise to the concept of two sovereignties -- a lower level sovereignty of the state and the ultimate sovereignty of God. There was never any doubt about the latter enjoying the power to supersede the former, and the only question was as to who would decide the matter in case of conflict between the writs of the two sovereigns. Till 1979 this was the job of the parliament. Gen. Zia replaced the parliament with the Shariat Courts. Many Muslim groups and individuals -- militants, some businessmen and a majority of those who do not wish to respect the man-made laws -- say they have a right to violate Pakistani laws because they claim to follow God's injunctions. Thus, a suicide bomber considers it his religious duty to kill Muslims in mosques because in his eyes they are kafirs or worse (munafiqeen). Anyone can get away with any crime by claiming to be obeying Divine commands. A large number of Pakistanis (including Gen. Musharraf in 1999) saw nothing wrong with Taliban if they only wanted to establish the kingdom of God. Today, militants swearing by pristine Islam are recognised as the greatest threat to Pakistan's integrity.
The theory of the religious state has also given rise to the dangerous idea of the country's ideological frontiers. Unimaginably heavy is the price the people have had to pay for the rise of forces that have appropriated to themselves the right to defend the state's ideological frontiers and the much maligned civilians, especially the pest known as politicians, can have no role in this holy task.
The question as to what might have happened if Pakistan had stayed on the secular path lies in the realm of conjecture and Muslims are told to avoid speculation. But one thing is clear -- the quest for a theocratic dispensation is bound to cause Pakistan harm one is afraid to imagine. History records only one outcome when religion is used to resist an oppressed people's nationalism. As a Dhaka editor told Ayub Khan in 1965, "the more of a religious polity you talk of, the smaller will become the size of Pakistan you will be left with". His diagnosis was confirmed in 1971. Are we determined to go on proving him right?
Revisiting the events of Pakistan movement to see how an Islamic state was carved out of a secular movement
By Farah Zia
As we discuss the case for Pakistan as a secular state, it would be instructive to revisit the events of Pakistan movement to see how terms like "secularism" and "Islamic state" were played out in the years preceding partition.
The conduct of leadership that formulated and guided the movement, particularly that of Jinnah, and the role of religious leaders may lead us to a better understanding of history, which in our case, has been exceptionally problematic. It could not have been otherwise. Carving out a separate country for Muslims in India was not a simple idea. It had to be premised on the controversial "two-nation theory" which, as it turned out, could not sufficiently address the cause of the majority Muslim population left behind in India or the Hindu, Sikh and Christian minorities in what became Pakistan.
Pakistan's history was equally problematic because its leaders, thinking that Muslims were a distinct nation, were seeking a nation-state where Muslims will be able to exercise their social and political rights. There was an inherent contradiction between the primacy accorded to the religious identity during the movement and the secular vision of Jinnah as enunciated in his August 11, 1947, speech for running the polity of the new state.
The movement itself passed through phases in history and acquired a religious flavour towards the very end, albeit for political exigencies, which only helped the cause of those who propagated Pakistan to be an Islamic state with no room for secularism. Little wonder that scholars of this school saw Jinnah's August 11 speech as a "remarkable reversal."
Historians like Hamza Alavi are of the view that rejection of secularism only strengthened religious fundamentalism and "half-educated and bigoted mullahs… are holding our civil society and the state to ransom." While asserting that Pakistan movement "remained firmly committed to its secular concerns" he, like many others, has reminded us that the religious clergy was bitterly opposed to the idea of Pakistan and abused the secular leadership of the movement. Hence the terms like Kafir-e-Azam and Na Pakistan were reserved for Jinnah and the new state by none other than Jamaat-e-Islami under Maulana Maudoodi. Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind and Majlise Ahrar were equally bitter enemies of the idea of Pakistan.
Alavi has particularly talked about the leadership of Mulsim League being in the hands of educated Muslim professionals whom he calls "salariat" and how it was a movement of "Muslims" rather than a movement of "Islam". It was organised along political lines and any attempts to put Islamic ideology on the League's agenda and demands for setting up of an Islamic state were immediately aborted.
It is indeed true that the movement was a political struggle launched not by religious leaders but by secular men who did not want it to be theocracy but a modern, progressive state. But a political struggle has political compulsions -- by the 1945/46 elections, therefore, the complexion of Muslim League changed and landed magnates and religious leaders were all welcomed into its fold in a bid to become a mass movement which was able to win the election. This phase of the movement indeed has a bearing on the subsequent speeches of its leaders as well as the conduct of the new state.
In this context, the personality of Jinnah as a secular leader or otherwise has been a subject of great discussion. Intriguingly, scholars on both sides of the divide have found it equally easy to paint Jinnah in their own light. In a state where Islam has been pitched as an opposing force to secularism -- despite the historical facts that the movement largely stayed committed to secular ideals and the religious forces opposed the new country -- Jinnah's deliberate ambiguity on the subject has only complicated matters.
Truth is that an objective assessment of Jinnah is difficult; especially, because he did not utter the word "secular" during the entire course of the movement. In his significant article "Jinnah and the Islamic State – Setting the Record Straight", Pervez Hoodbhoy has asked this relevant question as to whether Jinnah wanted a Muslim majority state or an Islamic state. He says that having stated that Hindus and Muslims could not live together as one nation, Jinnah "left a legacy of ambiguity." And he did so because of the political compulsion of "building a coalition of zamindars, pirs and parts of the Indian Mulsim elite."
Of course he did not share their retrogressive views and in the ultimate analysis, he must have thought, in the words of Hoodbhoy, "that a liberal, secular Pakistan would one day follow once the messy business of partition was over with, and it was unnecessary to raise the issue of secularism now."
About the Quaid using the words Islamic state, Muslim state and Sharia interchangeable, Hoodbhoy quotes Ayesha Jalal who cautions that they need to be placed within the "proper historical context". She says "He was from first to last a constitutionalist who had argued at the time of the debate on the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1930 that if there was a clash between a so-called religious and public morality, then morality had to prevail, mullah or no mullah. There was no change in this basic outlook even as he made tactical adjustments in his later years to accommodate new political exigencies. When asked to discuss the future constitutional framework for the Muslim homeland he was demanding, he insisted that it would be up to the people of Pakistan to decide what sort of a state they wanted even though he had no doubt that their choice would be for a moderate, democratic and forward-looking state."
It may have been a logical consequence of a problematic history that Jinnah who was looking for a loose federation within the Cabinet Mission Plan ended up making a country that has stayed highly centralised all along. And arguably the most westernised political leader founded a country that refuses to call itself secular. Leaders on the other side managed to establish a different state altogether.
The building of an exclusionist society tried to purge culture of its non-Muslim sources
By Sarwat Ali
Culture has many dimensions to it, the most important being rituals and traditions and behavioural patterns as expressed in day-to-day living. And then it finds a rarified expression in the fine arts where music, literature, painting, dance, drama and film drill deep into these very vast reservoirs. A sum total of the ideals, the aspirations and the beliefs of the people when given a local habitation and a name employ the flavours and colours of the land and its traditions as conduit to its essential expression.
A culture epitomising a set of beliefs originating in one land and spreading to other lands takes a necessary course. But the fine arts are basically an idealised construction and a take-off on the given reality. This persistent gap between the given reality and an idealised one has more often than not worried those who have insisted on being in the best possible world running the best possible set of belief, ideas and work systems.
In Pakistan, the conflict about beliefs and the ideals also gets resonated more in the external form of local habitation and a name. But actually the conflict resides in what kind of society we want to create and live in -- whether it should be open and inclusive or closed and exclusive.
In Pakistan, the building of an exclusionist society launched the drive quite early on with the desire to purge culture of its non-Muslim sources. A censorial replacement of the names of the deities and personages as well as the renaming of the ragas was initiated. At best it did not make any difference because the effort was only based on cosmetic and visible signs and did not penetrate to the true spirit of intonation and structure of music. Similarly, from time to time, efforts have been made to censor literature and purge the imagery either said to be from alien sources or overshooting moralistic limits. In painting and visual arts too the debate has not only been whether some of it is good while the other is not but whether it should be there at all in the first place. And about drama and film, the entire field is riddled with ambiguity. These drives have been going on with damaging consequences.
It is generally assumed that the arts in the Indian subcontinent before the Mulims era were in the service of the religion. This view has been fortified by the Indian scholars and critics dwelling on the organic links between the two, but it is not certain what was the role assigned to the arts within the Indian subcontinent by the ruling elite which held a different faith from the ones whom they had subjected. The common response would have been to assign a diametrically opposite role to the arts which the local society had generally favoured. This approach was also facilitated by the open-ended reality that there appeared to be no definitive lines drawn regarding the arts by the so called High Church of the religious establishment. As literature, music, dance and drama did not find ready supporters, the legitimacy was usually drawn in a very long-winded argument that had many weak and probably unnecessary historical references and sources. This bending over backwards search for legitimacy has been a liberating experience.
The arts in all its forms have had an adversarial relationship with the society avowedly based on narrow religious lines. The religious symbols were subverted in poetry -- especially in ghazal which has been the major form of expression in Persian and Urdu poetry of the subcontinent. The sanams, the buts, the qais, the majnoon, the kohkun, the rind and the badakhawrs assigned heroic roles while the waiz, mehtasib and naseh have been cast in villainous categories.
There hardly seemed to be any distinction between the various heroes or certain historical references in music. The compositions were commonly sung by singers belonging to all religious denominations. The raags were named after deities, places, personages, seasons and instances of historical import.
While there have been some who stressed that the expression in the arts should only be limited to architecture and calligraphic design in its pure abstraction, one related to the mosque and the other to the word, the rest are worthy of excision. In the subcontinent, a happy compromise was arrived at. Rather than getting bogged down in the reductionist debate on what was Muslim and what was not, what was sacred and what was secular, a tenuous link was developed between these two extremes. There was ashiq e majazi and there was ashiq e haqiqi, with no difference significant enough to form the basis of exclusion. The two were related within a dialectical setup and, as in all arts, the journey should take you from the particular to the general.
-- Ziauddin Sardar, writer, broadcaster, public intellectual and cultural-critic who specialises in Islamic Studies
The News on Sunday: The Chief Justice has questioned the power of the parliament if it takes the 'drastic' decision of declaring Pakistan a secular state. You have talked about reformulating the Shariah and given examples of some Muslim countries that have done this. The question is, who is the competent authority to effect these changes if not the parliament? Or, what is the role of an elected parliament which is supposed to reflect the will of the people and was declared a legitimate consultative body, as envisaged by Islam, even by Iqbal?
Ziauddin Sardar: The parliament is the supreme decision-making and legislative body in any democracy. It reflects the collective desires of the citizens and makes laws. It is the only body that can decide what kind of state Pakistan should be. The job of the chief justice is not to tell the parliament what it can or cannot do, or should or could do; it is to ensure that the laws established by the parliament are interpreted fairly and upheld by the citizens and applied equally to all. The parliament and the judiciary are independent branches of the state. Just as the parliament should not interfere with the judiciary, the judiciary has no right to interfere with the parliament. The judiciary does not make the law, parliament does. So, it is also the only institution in Pakistan that can decide what aspects of the Shariah to reformulate, change or drop altogether.
The important thing to realise is that the Shariah is not Divine, as most Pakistanis seem to believe; it's a law that was socially constructed in history by Muslim jurists. And, like all laws everywhere, it must by dynamic, adjust to changes in society and accommodate new developments. The only thing Divine in Islam is the Qur'an; and we can only have an interpretative relationship with an eternal, sacred text. Therefore, the sacred text has to be interpreted constantly in the light of new knowledge and changing circumstances – and we need to keep deriving new understanding and new legislation from our primary sources.
The new reformulated Shariah that was developed, for example, in Morocco is a product of a new interpretation that involved both Muslim scholars and secularists, men and women. Since it is based on the Qur'an and Sunnah, it is, of course, just as Islamic as the Shariah we find in classic texts.
TNS: In one of your articles on secularism, where you talk of the victory of Asharites over rationalists in the fourteenth century, you also talk about oppression of secularism. But the examples that you give of Jamal Abdul Nasser and the baathist regimes all come in the twentieth century. What about the period in between? Did we see ideal Muslim societies being formed and put in place that offered a viable alternative to secularism?
ZS: The point I was making was that any good thing, no matter how good it is, can become poisonous if taken to an extreme. Too much sugar and you become a diabetic. Too much salt and you have hypertension. We need both but if consumed in excess they can kill you. The same is true with religion and secularism. We need both in measured doses to become a healthy society. Islam in Pakistan, I am afraid, has ceased to be a religion and a worldview; it has become an obsession, a pathology. It has been drained of all ethics and has become a mechanism for oppression and injustice. A society that locates the notion of honour and shame on the female body, that believes it possesses absolute truth and all truth and denies legitimacy to all other religions and outlook is an inhuman society. On the other side, secularists too have become extremists -- for them everything is 'secular' with no place for spirituality or religion in public space. So, good wholesome ideas are turned into poisonous ideologies.
One way to turn a life-enhancing idea into a pathology is to romanticise it and turn it into an unrealisable ideal. There is no such thing as an ideal Muslim society or a kind of an Islamic utopia. Indeed, all recent attempts to produce Islamic utopias have turned out to be devilish nightmares. Muslims are a human community and, like all humans, they have their strengths and weaknesses. We need to shape the best society we can with all our follies and a limited understanding of Islam. It will not be perfect or ideal. It should be just and egalitarian.
TNS: Secularism may have tended to be 'totalitarian' in its practice in the Muslim world but what about the merits of the idea itself, theoretically speaking?
ZS: What I am objecting to is totalitarianism of all sorts -- secular or religious. Religion can lead to totalitarianism just as easily as secularism. When turned into an arch ideology, in theory or in practice, secularism becomes a tool of oppression. But as a mechanism that allows all members of society -- whatever their religious position, moral outlook or political stand -- to participate equally in public space, secularism can be an invaluable tool for building consensus, for progress and development. Pakistan does not need another ideology. It needs a system of governance where so many competing notions of what it means to be a Muslim and Pakistani can coexist, participate as equals in the political process, and help build a sustainable civic society. Well thought out secularism can provide such a system.
TNS: In Pakistan, secularism has not been given a chance and it has always been pitched against Islam as an opposing idea and the absence of secularism has produced an intolerant state and society.
ZS: It is a fundamental error to pitch secularism against Islam. To begin with, it assumes that there is one kind of secularism and only one Islam. But there are different forms of secularism and numerous interpretations of Islam. The fear of secularism in Pakistan is based on ignorance of what secularism can mean or be interpreted to mean for a highly fragmented society. It is also based on the ridiculous assumption that Islam is 'a complete way of life' and has solved all the problems of humanity forever. You only have to look at the Muslim world to realise just how absurd this sounds. This assumption also generates a sense of moral superiority. Much of the intolerance, bigotry and sheer inhumanity we find in Muslim societies is based on this absurd belief. Islam is a not a ready-made solution to all the problems we face but a way of looking at and shaping the world based on faith. God has provided us with an eternal source of ethical and moral guidance to solve the constant and perpetually changing streams of problems we face as a human society. But we have to find the solutions ourselves. And, in shaping our societies and solving our problems, Muslims, like all other human beings, have to use whatever tools are available. So, instead of fearing secularism, we need to engage with it and shape it to suit our purpose with full confidence in our own faith. This is exactly why the Islamic parties of Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia have embraced secularism and, as can be seen, are reaping the rewards.
TNS: You have also spoken of interpreting Islam according to the times one lives in. What about the peculiar reality of Pakistan which is sharply divided into sects and no one interpretation of Islam will do for the rest?
ZS: The important thing to realise is that there has never been a single interpretation of Islam. Right after the death of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), numerous interpretations with competing interests emerged and have been with us ever since. So Islam has always been about plurality of interpretations but throughout history we never learned to live with this pluralism. What we cannot have is one interpretation claiming to be the absolute truth, the complete and utter understanding of Islam, at the expense of all others -- and actively persecuting and suppressing other interpretations. Unfortunately, this has been the tragic reality of our history.
But for me the most important interpretation is the interpretation of our own context – the times we live in. We cannot live in history. The interpretations of history made sense in their own particular times. The Shariah, for example, was developed during the Abbasid period and made a great deal of sense in that context. That is why, wherever it is implemented it recreates the social condition of the eighth and ninth centuries which makes little sense in the 21st century. Similarly, the verses of the Qur'an have little significance for us outside our own time. We have to understand them in relation to the world we inhabit so we can gain guidance from them to solve the problems we face today. We have to reinterpret them in the context of our own time so they make sense to us and provide meaning and direction for us today. Otherwise we will be perpetually living in history -- rather than moving to a viable future.
TNS: One reason why Muslims shirk from the idea of secularism is that since there is no organised religious class in Islam there is no ground for separation of religion and state. But, in Pakistan, the influence exercised by the religious orthodoxy is beyond question and they have acquired a vested interest, particularly after Ziaul Haq. What is the role of mullah in Islam?
ZS: The mullahs provide a good example of how absurd things have become. On the one hand, we say there is no priesthood in Islam. On the other hand, what are mullahs if not a priestly class? I think they have reduced Islam from an egalitarian endeavour to a repressive, exploitative one. The classical Muslim scholars, the great jurists and thinkers, shunned politics and stood up against political tyranny and oppression, censorship and suppression of ideas. Contemporary mullahs need to follow their example.
-- Farah Zia &Alefia T Hussain
(The interview wasconducted via email)
-- Dr Mubarak Ali, eminent historian and scholar
By Mazhar Khan Jadoon
The News on Sunday: How do you view secularism as having evolved in the particular case of India where the kings did not run their empires on the clergy's instructions but according to political exigencies?
Mubarak Ali: Secularism has been in evolution since medieval times and if you go back to the ancient Ashoka period in India, you will find the ruling pattern to be entirely secular. It was a requirement for all the empires in India, including the Mughal Empire, to be secular and tolerant towards different religions under their rule. Ghauris, Mughals, Durranis and all other emperors had to opt for a secular approach to keep their vast dynasties intact. Clergy was not allowed to interfere in state matters and all the decisions were taken according to practical political exigencies. Allauddin Khilji was one of the great rulers of India who did tremendous welfare work for his people. Once he asked the Qazi whether his acts were according to Shariah or not. The Qazi said no. Khilji told Qazi, "I am illiterate and I don't know whether my acts are according to Shariah or not, but what I am sure of is that I work for the betterment of my people."
TNS: Does secularism have any place in Muslim history?
MA: Yes. Almost all the rulers in Muslim history applied the model of secularism during their rule. During the Abbasid period, ulema were not allowed to interfere in the political affairs of state and the caliph was not allowed to meddle in religious affairs. The Abbasid came to power with the help of Iranians who wanted the caliph to remain secular while the clergy at that time wanted the caliph to adhere to Islamic laws and impose Shariah. The conflict was resolved with the signing of a pact regarding state and religion being separate. Great historian Ziauddin Burney, in his book Fatwa-e-Jahandari, also emphasises that state and religion should be kept separate.
TNS: What about the political role of Sufia in this region?
MA: There are many Sufi orders in the subcontinent. Sufia were very successful in spreading Islam, as many aspects of Sufi belief had parallels in Indian philosophical literature. The Sufis' tolerant approach towards other religions made it easier for Hindus and other communities in India to accept Islam and Muslims. The Sufia played a crucial role in bridging the distance between Islam and the indigenous traditions.
TNS: How has India being secular helped the cause of Indian Muslims?
MA: Though Indian state is secular and its constitution provides equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion, Indian society is not at all secular. Secularism of mind takes time and the process is on. The attempts by successive political leadership in the country to integrate Indian society under a secular code are strongly resisted by Hindu extremist groups like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Muslims in India favour secularism because it will ensure maximum religious freedom for them in a Hindu-dominated society.
The Partition of India in 1947 triggered large-scale sectarian strife and bloodshed. Since then, India has been experiencing violence sparked off by underlying tensions between sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities. These conflicts mainly stem from the ideologies of Hindu nationalism versus Islamic extremism that exist in certain sections of the Indian population.
TNS: Was Muhammad Ali Jinnah secular? People managing the dominant discourse have questioned his August 11 speech as a reversal from his earlier stance. How would you assess Jinnah's politics?
MA: Yes, Jinnah was secular and an honest and upright leader and politician. But, why are we following Jinnah now when he is part of history? We should look into the merits and demerits of secularism instead of bickering over what Jinnah had said in his August 11 speech. Instead of brooding on the past, we should act like a vibrant society by keeping our approach futuristic.
TNS: How do you view the post-partition political developments in Pakistan that progressively Islamised the state, starting with the Objectives Resolution?
MA: The Objectives Resolution decided the fate of Pakistan as an Islamic country. Jinnah became irrelevant with the passage of the Objectives Resolution by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1949. The resolution, proposed by the then prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would not be modelled entirely on a European pattern, but on the ideology of Islam. But most of the Islamic provisions were introduced in the 1973 Constitution and Islam became the religion of state.
TNS: Is it true that the dominant military and religious elements are supporting each other to Islamise the society?
MA: Till the time of President Ayub Khan, Pakistan army remained secular and it used to follow the tradition of a colonial institution. The army became religious during the Zia regime. Yes, the impression that army and religious elements are in agreement over an Islamic outlook of Pakistan is somewhat correct.
-- Prof Iftikhar Malik, leading historian and Senior Lecturer,
Bath Spa University
The News on Sunday: Ziauddin Sardar, in one of his articles, has quoted you as saying that "secularism comes not at the expense of religion but as a method for reinterpreting and revisiting religion itself". Would you like to elaborate?
Iftikhar Malik: I do not believe for a moment that we will ever see a post-religion world despite all the skepticism shared by a wide variety of people including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others. In countries like Pakistan, both religion and secularism need urgent revisits per se so as to seek a fresh and conducive interdependence between the two instead of seeing them as eternally antagonistic paradigms.
In other words, Islamic humanism based on unfettered tolerance and respect for all kinds of human ideas does not need to conflict with an all-tolerant secularism where religion is not denied its due existence within an individual space but without assuming any vetoing or hegemonic role. In Pakistan, Jinnah, Iqbal, Faiz, Ameer Ali, Manto, Nazrul Islam, or the early Sufis were secular Muslims who never denied their Muslimness nor did they ever see Muslim secularism as something oxymoronic. I guess this is the only way forward to escape intra-Muslim violence that we are confronted with all over the Muslim world. We can definitely flourish by banking upon Muslim humanism and by liberating both Islam and secularism from their ritualistic and hegemonic rigidities as two poles apart.
TNS: Scholars adhering to the ideology of Pakistan discourse, people like Sharif al Mujahid, dismiss the assertion that Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan. Secularists, on the other hand, see great value in Jinnah's August 11 speech as the key to constitution-making and defining the polity in the new state. Would you agree that Pakistan movement did not address this crucial question of what kind of state will Pakistan be and the Aug 11 speech was indeed a "remarkable reversal"?
IM: The freedom movement in India retained several parallel trajectories, which were mutually competitive and all of them kept changing and evolving with time. Not only the Muslim League but also the Indian National Congress and all other regional and religio-political parties underwent the same processes. The League was mainly concerned with the collective welfare (identity cum parity) of the Muslims and had even accepted an all-India framework as provided by the Cabinet Mission in 1946. Jinnah's idea of Pakistan and Hindustan as two post-colonial entities was quite different from what we have been witnessing since 1947 on both sides. The Nehruvian secularism and the Jinnahist representation of Muslim modernism had several things in common but atavistic forces on both sides find faults with both of them. The political and economic considerations for the respective communities in pre-1947 India as upheld by Jinnah and Nehru should not blind us to their honest and shared idealism for a post-British sub-continent. The religio-political parties on both sides have every right to pursue their politics but the deliverance for the most plural and populous region like South Asia lies in equal citizenship where instead of a theocracy, the state provides equal space to all its citizens which will guarantee an enduring peace. I fully agree with Asghar Ali Engineer's reconstruction of this discourse that combines the best of Islam and secularism. Jinnah's creed as articulated in his historic speech is not a negation of Pakistan as an ideal, though in reality it did cause discomfort to authoritarian and intolerant forces both within the state and society, especially under Gen Ziaul Haq.
TNS: Do you think this contradiction defined the creation of a separate state for Muslims, despite Hamza Alavi's assertions that the Pakistan movement remained committed to secular ideals and that Pakistan was created for Muslims and not Islam?
IM: Separation here meant sovereignty and economic empowerment and not a cultural or historical divide. Alavi, on the one hand, assumes proponents of Muslim 'separatism' to be a middle class trajectory, which was strictly interest-based. Nothing wrong with that and the modern state building and even the entire project of modernity is all middle-class enterprise and some historians even believe that Islam was an urban and middle class trajectory in its classical era though Ibn Khaldun thought the other way around but that was in a different context. However, on the other side, the problem with Alavi's premise is that it presupposes salariat to be an already entrenched reality which it was not because it was not an industrial society as such, plus the rural, land owning groups did play a crucial role towards the end by supporting the Muslim League in 1946. In addition, any historical development, especially the creation of a state -- the fifth largest in the world -- cannot be explained in the context of a single-factor explanation. Like Jinnah, I find no contradiction between secularism and Islamic humanism, though I am aware of the fact that it is not so simple. (I do take aboard the thin but immensely significant difference between Muslim and Islamic.) We need to liberate Islam from its insidious reductionism to a mere religion only focused on ritualism, rote knowledge while being suspicious of arts and mundane excellence.
TNS: What about the role of the Objectives Resolution in shaping up the later political developments and precluding the possibility of Pakistan ever becoming a secular state?
IM: The Objectives Resolution was a quick fix amidst harrowing problems at the time of Pakistan's inception. It can be removed from the constitution or may be worded in a larger Jinnahist vision. We do need to tell ourselves that there are seven million Hindus and that many Christians who are fellow Pakistanis and must have equal rights in every realm.
In the same vein, women, smaller sects and ethnic groups all deserve equal rights and also the protection both by the state and civil society. Any rewording of the Objectives Resolution on these lines without being exclusive should not bother anyone and our parliament may be well-poised to initiate such a powerful statement of intent in our constitution.
TNS: Would you agree that in Pakistan, the dominant military and religious lobbies have fed on each other both to keep their hold on the strong centre and to the detriment of ideals like secularism?
IM: In a simplistic way, yes. But then, even parties like the MQM, Muslim League and the PPP have often worked in cahoots with both the Army wallahs and Allah wallahs. I guess politics is the name of 'possibles' and thus changing alignments and so on should not bother us at all. But it is true to accept the fact that forces otherwise having fewer chances to bag more than a few seats in the assemblies would certainly opt either for street agitation or would be more at ease in collaborating together or with the generals. The MQM, according to their dominant thinking, was manhandled by the Army in 1992, but then they worked with it all through the Musharraf years and have even developed a nostalgia for it. The ANP and Sindhi nationalists were always critical of Punjabi army but need it all the time for their protection in Swat, Fata, Karachi and everywhere both during the turbulence and then amidst the floods and other natural disasters. Still, this does not mean that the organs of the state should go beyond their constitutional writ. I think with more education, alert judiciary and vocal media we are already seeing the evolution of an argumentative Pakistani and that gives quite a bit of hope, though it may equally spawn cynicism. This argumentative Pakistani got rid of Musharraf and put the highest judges back in their seats so we should not underrate his/her power.
TNS: What are your views on Pakistan where the absence of secularism has not produced a tolerant state and society, where the role of mullahs is accepted and where no single interpretation of Islam will satisfy the entire population? Does secularism provide an answer given its peculiar conditions?
IM: It is too early to get dismayed though challenges abound for Pakistan. Either we will rediscover our inner strengths or we may have our doomsday. I hope we rediscover ourselves and go for a humanist version of Islam and a more accountable system, which will certainly come from this democracy even if its critics may call it a sham democracy. I guess we need to go slow and the debate and dialogue must go on among ourselves. I do hope that our intellectuals and ulema think of larger and substitutive discourse away from rejection and instead see Islam and secularism not at daggers drawn rather quite similar in their intents and contents.
-- Farah Zia
(The interview was conducted via email)