‘What Pakistan did Jinnah want?’ is a question still being debated some 65 years on since the partition. Did he intend to establish a secular Pakistan (a state impervious to religion), or a country to be run according to the Sharia (Islamic religious law, based on Quran)? The disparity between these two conflicting school of thoughts is only mounting by the day – as evident on social media, at least – with each group getting fervent in advocating their perceived ‘ideal state’.
While the debate is healthy and should be encouraged, it goes awry when proponents of Islamic-rule perceive secularism as something atheistic; amiss still, when the secularists start picking on the religion per se – both are skewed approaches to the debate, and manifest ill-informed opinions on the subject.
I think the main cause of religious class comparing secularism with atheism is that it’s the atheists who are the staunchest supporters of secularism. In a recently published article in the guardian, for example, Julian Baggini, editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine, has presented a ‘manifesto for heathens’ declaring: “we are secularists” – no surprise, however. Point is, religious people get skeptical (and cautious) of secularism because of such associations. Contrarily, secularists use essentialist clichés as their argument which cast Islam as an obstacle to democracy and religious tolerance; sometimes, even as a regressive, torpid religion which has no relevance in the contemporary world.
Secularism refers to a principle whose political expression is separation of religion and government. The object is to afford all the religious minorities, individuals, and smaller groups an equal opportunity and rights to observe their religion freely, placing none on the pedestal. The principle profits minority religions as much as atheists; so, if people support secularism, (the ideological principle behind secularisation) they can still be religious, privately.
Ireland is frequently cited as a country where a religious state was replaced with a secular one, as a result of which it made unprecedented progress, and the prolonged persecution at the hands of the Church was ended.
Merits and demerits aside, is this secular model applicable in our social settings?
Before we start drawing parallels between these two, we’ll have to keep in mind the innate difference in the nature of Christianity and Islam. “Islam is more communal in its expression than Christianity,” notes Richard T. Schaefer, professor of sociology at DePaul University, Chicago, “particularly the more individualistic Protestant denominations. Consequently, in countries that are predominantly Muslims, the separation of religion and the state is not considered necessary or even desirable. In fact, Muslim governments often reinforce Islamic practices through their law.”
Does this explain the commonly lamented ‘Pakistani’ fixation on religion’?
Turkey is another frequently quoted example of successful secularisation. But we have to keep in mind that they have ‘earned’ it through a continuous process. There are certain prerequisites for secularism to take roots in any society; amongst which, I’d like to discuss some:
- Ideal condition is that people of a country are atheists;
- If not atheists, they should believe that religion is a private matter between man and God which has nothing to do with the public life and (especially) affairs of the state;
- Their history does not bode well of theocracy, i.e., they have suffered persecution at the hands of religious rulers; or
- Masses detest religion because it, according to them, breeds violence, bigotry and fundamentalism.
As other conditions are set aside, we’re left with only one provision: people detesting the religion itself considering it dangerous to live with, and – thanks to our hate-mongering cult of extremist Mullahs for whom anyone but them is an infidel – this is already a work-in-progress. With increasing radicalisation in the religion, we will not need a Richard Dawkins to stand up in some ‘Reasons Rally’ and call on the people to ‘show contempt for faith’ (which might eventually help in secularisation), because befuddling fatwas from the pseudo religious scholars will have the same results, eventually.
Secularism does not come naturally to us; but if the bigotry and violence in the name of religion, the bullying of minorities under the cover of blasphemy laws, and the relentless killing of innocent citizens under the pretext of Jihad continue unabated, people will be so fed-up of this tarnished face of religion, that they will voluntarily surrender the demand for enforcement of Sharia – en masse.
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