Secularism and Islam

By Shah N. Khan

Secularism is the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education. The word secular means worldly rather than spiritual and not specifically relating to religion or to a religious body such as secular music and secular government.  Most of the 57 member countries of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) having a population of about 1.20 Billion are called Islamic states only because they are inhabited predominantly by Muslims not because of the type of government they have. Only in a few countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Nigeria many of the orthodox Islamic laws prevail but no uniformity exists either in judicial procedures or the form of the government.

The spiritual and political leadership of Muslims stand separated since 7th century after assassination of Hazrat Ali (RA), son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and fourth caliph.

Like many other Islamic States, the government of Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a secular government. Its legislators, bureaucrats or the ministers do not have to be a qualified Aalim (scholar of Islam) but now they must have the bachelor’s degree in liberal arts or science or mathematics. Many of Pakistanis laws do not conform to Sharia that is silent on many aspects of modern life and there is no standardized version of Shariah acceptable to different sects of Muslims.    

The only thing that raises the issue whether Pakistan is a republican Islamic state or secular state is the provision in the constitution of Pakistan that the laws of the country would not be repugnant to Holy Quran and Sunnah. Islam does not prescribe theocracy or any political system. Only broad moral principles are given for evolving our own political and judicial systems to dispense justice to all irrespective of cast, race or creed.

In accordance with Islamic traditions for minorities equal rights are guaranteed. They are free to follow their personal laws for marriage, divorce, inheritance etc. They pay the same taxes as Muslims and allowed to collect religious tax like tithe privately. There is no forced conversion to Islam as it is prohibited in Holy Quran. Often the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan has been held by a Non-Muslim. There is representation of minorities in the legislative assemblies. Quran is a book of guidance and most of the moral standards of Islam are not in conflict with the moral standards of different religions.  

In Pakistan like most Islamic but a few secular countries there is a ban on prostitution, alcohol as also homosexuality, adultery and fornication, blasphemy and nudity.

Women in most of the Islamic countries like Pakistan enjoy equal rights and do not have to wear veil or burqa as was made mandatory by Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Women are free to engage in any profession they like including fashion designing, modeling, acting, dancing and singing but not prostitution. There are women who are movie stars, politicians, airplane pilots, lawyers, doctors,  writers,  journalists, computer experts and business executives to name a few professions. Beauty parlors in big cities are doing roaring business and their number is spreading. But persecution of women takes place among ignorant and backward classes of the population. Quite a few organizations have sprung up for emancipation of women.

Contrary to what a few orthodox Islamic scholars say Islam is not opposed to multi-culturism, modernity and secularism. Ayatullah Mutahari (Shaheed) Tehran University citing example of verse 2.170 succinctly described the right approach toward old convictions.  The Qur’an constantly reiterates the view that the idea of antiquity of an idea is neither the evidence of its falsity, nor is it a testimony of its truthfulness. Antiquity affects material objects; but the eternal truths of existence never become old and outmoded. Truths like: “God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves … (13:11) are true forever and ever… ”

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