RELIGIOUS extremism has come under discussion in numerous forums as incidents of violence and terrorism have increased in recent years reflecting negatively on what many claim to be Pakistan’s Islamic identity. This has left people confused because whatever is done is in the name of religion. Yet the situation is getting worse.

Has it to be so? Created as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent as a result of a political struggle spearheaded by secular leaders, Pakistan was soon after its birth hijacked by elements who have used Islam as a lever to gain control over society and the state. These were parties that had vociferously opposed the creation of Pakistan.

Weak and lacking in confidence, the political leadership, that constantly denied its support for a theocratic state, went on the defensive. Without the vision to anticipate what its weak stance would lead to, the Muslim League went all out to champion the cause of Islam in public life. The Objectives Resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949 was the first demonstration of this weakness. This in due course succeeded in creating rifts between the Muslim majority and those who follow other faiths.

In 1974, Z.A. Bhutto, a supposedly liberal and secular leader, finding himself on a weak political wicket didn’t hesitate to play the religion card. He declared the Ahmadis non-Muslim, thus arrogating to the state the privilege of deciding who is or is not a Muslim. Yet he could not save his political career or his life.

This is not how it was supposed to be. When the Pakistan resolution of 1940, that conceptualised ‘independent states’ as a homeland for the Muslims, was adopted it was clearly stated: “Adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in these regions [where the Muslims are in a majority] for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them….”

In his Aug 11, 1947 inaugural speech to the Constituent Assembly, the Quaid-i-Azam said, “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... We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state....”

Then what went wrong? Why do non-Muslims feel so insecure in a state whose founding fathers had promised them full protection? They suffer discrimination in jobs and education, have spurious charges of blasphemy levelled against them, their young daughters are abducted and forcibly converted, many are targeted and as a result those who can are fleeing this country.

Even though the vast majority disapproves of these ways it lacks the strength and courage to speak out because the state provides no security to its citizens be they of any faith. As a result many non-Muslims live in fear. The report of the National Commission on Peace and Justice documenting the contents of our school textbooks establishes how the authorities actively promote hatred against other faiths. This religion-bashing has vitiated the socioeconomic atmosphere for the minorities and reinforced the mullah elements’ drive to gain control over society.

It is time we addressed this issue before it is too late and the irrational extremists take total control of state policies. In a consultation organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research recently, members of non-Muslim communities objected to their being referred to as ‘minorities’. They felt it symbolised a discriminatory and exclusivist approach that separated them from the mainstream and thus negated the equal status that Article 25 of the constitution grants them. Although the basic law spells out many safeguards for the rights of non-Muslims, the Pakistan Penal Code has provisions which militate against these safeguards.

In the present situation, the religious parties have plenty of space to promote their agendas of exclusivity. A section of the electronic media has played a disgusting role in the whole affair. They have fanned the fires of hatred against minorities by giving undue publicity to the hate-mongers in the name of promoting Islam. Has anyone pondered the real motives?

Asghar Ali Engineer, an Indian social activist, who has investigated scores of communal riots in India, once told me that without fail he has found an economic motive behind every act of violence in the name of religion. Sometimes, title to land was at stake. At other times business rivalry or employment was the causative factor. In our case political power is also the coveted goal.

In this context the move by former senator Iqbal Haider to form a democratic and non-party platform to promote secularism is a significant one. In its inaugural declaration the forum spoke of creating public awareness about secularism and the need to remove distortions in laws by approaching lawmakers, state functionaries, the media and trade unions to facilitate a new narrative of Pakistani nationhood based on social justice for all.

This is not an easy task but the former senator has committed supporters. So far the going has been slow. Until the forum is broadened into a mass movement it will not make any impact. The absence of this awareness has allowed the obscurantists to take centre stage.

Updated Nov 07, 2012 12:20am

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Comments (31) (Closed)

Gir na
Nov 07, 2012 05:32pm
Pakistanis are secular ? Do they know what secular means ? Yes , might be the meaning only , but they haven't experienced yet ? Because their society is not that diverse to experience that .They can't even tolerate free speech and free opinion and the way they acted for a mere movie , it was shocking.No Islamic country is secular .
Ahmed Sultan (India)
Nov 07, 2012 08:32am
Ironic: In 1947 secular jinnah wanted a nation based on religon and religous gandhi wanted a secular nation
Nov 07, 2012 09:03am
Under the prevailing situation in Pakistan, secularism is better than extremist(distorted) version of Islam. We need a society based on the principle of live and let live not on kill others (in the name of Islam) and kill yourself also ( by suicide bombing). Unfortunately, majority of champions of Islam in Pakistan have sectarin views. Either they extend tacid moral support on killing of innocent and unarmed people (by jihadies) or remain criminally silent on the terrorism ( so called Jihad) issue.
Nov 07, 2012 09:10am
A clear & concise article. Pls continue to write with suggestions of ways forward. Sen Iqbal Haider's efforts should be lauded & supported by all large political parties who believe in Jinnah's vision of Pakistan. A large section of our media can still be trusted to play a responsible role too..
Nov 07, 2012 09:39am
things will change and are changing. i still believe that majority of Pakistani are actually secular though they wont admit it because they don't actually know what it means to be a secular. the word "secular" is taken as a synonym for 'infidel' thus people don't want to be labeled as a secular person.
Cyrus Howell
Nov 07, 2012 09:37am
Incidents of violence and terrorism are increasing now at a very rapid pace. Hard to miss that unless people are simply trying to put it out of their minds.
Cyrus Howell
Nov 07, 2012 09:55am
In the Developing World tribal systems are breaking down because of modern commerce. In these non Muslim countries people have been left without any rules, other than the laws of the state. In Muslim nations the tribes cling to the tribal practices and sharia style laws they have adopted. Muslim tribal people are less able to adapt to the new commercialism and materialism with the changes it brings. Suddenly everyone is not equal under Islam. The urban middle class is winning the race and tribal authority is under threat more than ever.
Nov 08, 2012 01:46pm
Keep dreaming my friend! Appeal to rationale and reason cannot happen in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan unfortunately
Shahid Masud (@HotMasud)
Nov 08, 2012 02:01am
How can we call Pakistan a homeland for the Muslims of subcontinent when the majority of the Muslim population opted to stay in India.
Shahid Masud (@HotMasud)
Nov 08, 2012 02:05am
Well said
Nov 07, 2012 11:39pm
Inshallah we will go back to Jinnah's Pakistan. The true original. Pakistan in 1947 was far more modern than it is in 2012
Nov 07, 2012 10:55pm
Histroically Pakistani people with degree (i m not using word educated )living in urban areas are more in religion and race ,which make media also have a religious inclination . Any political party's which really represent whole Pakistan never have a strong hold in cities. Not only this if we look our universities , student religious party are much stronger than political parties.
Nov 07, 2012 10:25pm
Well put. I most confess, I never thought of the it the way you put it. Well done buddy. Really food for thought.
Nov 07, 2012 09:41pm
The solution is not that difficult. Just remove political content of Islam and everything would be normal. State must giving any patronage to any religion. Scrap blasphemy law. Ban religious schools. Public pronouncement of all religious literature must be banned. Make scientific education compulsory for everyone. Only science/technical graduates should be allowed to become religious heads after doing a one year or so course. Religion should be a private matter only to be practiced inside homes. No public gatherings including friday namaz for religious purposes. Just follow it for 10 years and Pakistan wlll be a developed country. This country followed Islamic principled for 60 years and results are in front of everyone to see. Try giving new ideas a chance.
Nov 07, 2012 09:28pm
Some one in Pakistan has to take charge to change the discriminatory laws based on religion. Civilians can be gunned down by religious fanatics and killers will be glorified. Army is the only institution to take some action. Even Mushraf did not do anything. The Malala case did present an opportunity but most condemned the act, not the mindset or the people behind the terrorist act.
Nov 07, 2012 06:45pm
He was. Knowing what we see now happening in Pakistan, one can say that Indian muslims could be better staying as one country after independence. There are more muslims in India than the total population of Pakistan, and they are better off. They don't have to suffer from extremism and instability. Their lives and property are safe. In combined India, the present rulers of Pakistan would have no chance.
Nov 07, 2012 08:03pm
The Quaid was right in saying that religion is not the business of state. The time has proved it right too.the writer is also on spot by saying that the vision of Quaid was hijaked by the religious + politicians and the rest is a history, a very sad history.
Sehrish Amber
Nov 07, 2012 07:43pm
You have negatively portrayed the whole scenario by dipicting two conflicting ideas. In a single paragraph once you critised that ''state provides no security to its citizens be they of any faith'' and the very next sentence fuels inter religious hatred that this state of insecurity is limited only to non-muslims by declaring that ''many non-Muslims live in fear''. Everybody is exposed to fear in prevailing bleak situation of law and order.
Nov 07, 2012 07:01pm
Which means that people are afraid of a certain segment of society (religious). If they remain afraid, who will stick the neck out and do some thing about the problem?
nain tara
Nov 07, 2012 06:57pm
we are in dire need of such articles in our urdu press.
Nov 07, 2012 06:56pm
It is OK to write such articles, which serve the purpose of awareness. This kind of writing has been going on for a long time. But this is not the end game. The nation has to take some practical steps. "The only thing of consequence is what we do."
Nov 07, 2012 06:31pm
U are wrong u don't need Religious extremist rules to guide your life.Majority of non Muslim people live very satisfying productive life following simple moral principles and I raise the question of what is the difference between communism and state declared Religion forcing and squeezing convert or die.
Nov 07, 2012 03:59pm
Mr. Jinnah hardly followed his religion, may be because his grandfather was an outcast hindu and had no choiice but to become a muslim. He ( like other Pakistani leaders - Mr. Z.A. Bhutto ) consumed alcohol, ate pork. etc. He preferred Gujarati over Urdu. He spent all his life prior to 1947 in what is now India ( Bombay and Delhi ) and not in what is now Pakistan!
dr aq khan
Nov 07, 2012 03:52pm
I say prayers 5 times and recite The Holy Quran.& I am proud to be a SECULAR.
does not matter
Nov 08, 2012 06:19pm
I must salute your optimism. But every passing day, Pakistan is going in two direction in time. Its moving with rest of the world with Science and technology in new century but when it comes to thinking, its moving towards past , probably 1400 years back.
Nov 07, 2012 02:58pm
Agree. From what we know of him he would have taken the Taliban and other crazies head on and thrashed them to submission. A self-confident leader leads and does not spend his political life trying to find out which way the wind is blowing.
Nov 07, 2012 11:54am
Indian Prime Minister Nehru stated upon Jinnah's death, "How shall we judge him? I have been very angry with him often during the past years. But now there is no bitterness in my thought of him, only a great sadness for all that has been ... he succeeded in his quest and gained his objective, but at what a cost and with what a difference from what he had imagined." " but at what a cost and with what a difference from what he had imagined." Was not Nehru right about that....?
Gerry D'Cunha
Nov 07, 2012 10:08am
religion and politics played havoc in the west during the past centuries - without religion in politics in the west have made big progress. the same condition of the past with the western world now been carried by the muslim world and the result is in front of us - using religion as a tool.
Mohsin Ali
Nov 07, 2012 10:51am
To learn what is happening in Pakistan in the name of religion will make Jinnah turn in his grave! Very sad indeed.
Aamir Hussain
Nov 07, 2012 10:53am
The solution is in history and we have not spent so much on education so the result is intolerance in our society. Due to illiteracy the people are unable to listen the point of view of other people and it is not the fault of people but it is the fault of our governments who kept them away from getting education. If we see and compare our country with other countries of the world we find ourselves at the bottom level because in this age of globalization we are listening every voice against us. Its pity that still we are reaping the fruits which were sown by Zial Haq and still our govts are not different from their predecessors because they are not giving any due consideration towards eduaction so we can not expect any miracle. As a student of history I can forsee very dark clouds over Pakistan and God forbid which are not good for the well being of our society in general and our country in particular. Only way is to give education to our masses.
Mohammed bashir
Nov 07, 2012 07:24am
Just words but nothing will change.