Academic journal article South Asian Studies

Can Pakistan Be a Secular State?

Academic journal article South Asian Studies

Can Pakistan Be a Secular State?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The question as to whether Pakistan should be a religious or a secular state has been an academic debate for decades. Particularly during and after the 'Islamization Programme of General Zia-ul-Haq from 1977 to 1988, it became a most concerning issue within and outside the country for Human Rights activists and minorities in Pakistan. This discourse critically addresses this question in comparison to the secularism of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is studied as a model state as she is one of the most developed secular countries and has some commonalities with Pakistan. The theological, historical, and empirical factors behind British secularism are discussed and their possible applicability in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan examined.

KEY WORDS: Secularization, Islamization, Christianity, Islam, Pakistan, United Kingdom.

Introduction

Text books in schools and universities of Pakistan teach country an ideological state created for Islam. The peculiar statement of Muhammad Ali Jinnah - the founder, is quoted that Pakistan is liberated to become a laboratory of Islam. Besides, the Objective Resolution making Islam as the religion of state passed by the Constituent Assembly asserts the ideological basis of the state1. On the contrary liberals quote the address of Mr Jinnah made on September 11, 1947 on the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly. This speech is advocated as a principal de jure policy statement of Jinnah made on the pertinent occasion. Aitzaz Ahsan names it a 'Magna Carta' of Pakistan declared by Jinnah who was most eminently qualified authority to spell out the raison d'être of Pakistan. (Ahsan A. 1998: 57,60) This speech hints at the separation of state and religion, one of the fundamental principles of secularism. Jinnah, after declaring freedom of worship for all religions and equality of all the subjects irrespective of their beliefs in the country, envisaged;

"Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find 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 the individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state" (Bolitho 1954:197).

In the history of earlier three decades of Pakistan, this liberal religious controversy had not been the major subject of national debates. It surfaced with the Islamization era of General Zia ul-Haq. A number of legislations including the Blasphemy Laws towards Islamization of laws and society brought back the disputed question of the nature of state. These were major points of concern for non-Muslim minorities and were particularly rejected by liberals (Bouma 1981). Although the National Assembly has revisited the amendments implemented in the Zia's regime, the changes in the blasphemy law seems to be a hardest nut to crack, particularly in contemporary terroristic-laden scenario of the country.

Pakistan's blasphemy law has been criticized as too broad, and many legal experts say it has been badly misused since its introduction in the 1980s. Recently, opponents of the law in government, Mr Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Mr Shahbaz Bhati, federal minister of Minority Affairs were murdered in January and March 2011 respectively. Both of the murdered men were advocates of liberty and reform of Pakistan's blasphemy law, which carries a death sentence for those who insult Islam2.

This circumstance has been a point of concern for human rights activists, within and outside of the country. Particularly in the Western world, where publication of The Satanic Verses and painting caricatures of the person of the Prophet are seen as part of the literary achievements, it is considered to be barbaric to kill someone who has just hinted to disregard sacred persons or things. It is against the fundamental right of expression of opinion as well. I. A. Rehman advocated, "It is retrogressive piece of legislation, inconsistent with the spirit of the age, which calls for toleration, accommodation, and free inquiry as well as a mechanism for silencing dissent" (Rehman I. …

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