By Ayesha Khalid; who is pursuing an Mphil in Public Policy and Governance from FCC. She is a graduate of Kinnaird College, with a degree in Economics.
Whether Pakistan was created in the name of Islam or/and what factors invoked the constitution to imply Islam as a state religion; are questions of rather a paradoxical nature and may include authority as a decisive force to lead a nation to either secularism or theocracy. The idea of secular Pakistan should stand on its own terms rather manipulating the statements of authority to conform with a proposed argument. While arguing about the religious and state matters one must know that secularism is not the antithesis of religion, it does not defy religious doctrines practiced in a state. It only frees people from following the religion of the majority and rejects the monopoly of the favored religion. Talal Asad in his book, “Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity”, places secularism as a doctrine and distinguishes between private reason and public discipline. He says that that private reason is not same as private space, it is only immunity from the public reason. The various interpretations and multifaceted texts and its relevance are a complex business depending upon the personal habit, temperament and perceived demands of the social situations. In his book, he argues that Religion and Secularism overlap and are not fixed categories. He assumes that there is nothing ESSENTIALLY religious nor any universal essence that defines sacred language. He concludes his work by stating that secular cannot be viewed as a successor to religion neither can be seen as on the side of rational. It is a category, with multi-layered history related to major premises of modernity, democracy and concepts of human rights.
If we wish to find roots of secularism in history, we may want to look at “French Laicite System”. It refers to the idea of Res Publica (Republic) i.e., to address everyone—believers, atheists and agnostics alike. What pertains to some cannot be applied to all and public institutes must not be under supervision of religion. In the book State and Secularism, the writers differentiate French Laicite and Turkish Laicite: that Kemal Ataturk prohibited religious outfits in the street, which is not the case in France. In France, people were free to choose the kind of faith they wanted. The book moreover, emphasizes that faith can be taught at other places so school is a place where taste of culture and science must be developed. Also, ‘Intelligent design” cannot be taught in Laic schools, it belongs to faith rather a sphere of knowledge. Similarly, in Greece, identity papers do not mention religious beliefs of the bearer anymore and the government of Jose Luis in Spain banned compulsory religious course in public schools. Sweden has also adapted French Laicite system. These are the countries with higher growth rate than the nations holding religion as a sacred law that cannot be surpassed or challenged by the human mind. Countries like Bangladesh, which after 28 years of having Islam as a state religion, has decided to separate State and Religion. Whereas, Pakistan deems secularism as some “Western Agenda” that is threatening to the force of Islam and the only way to propagate Islam is if it is practiced as a state religion. The force of Islam, as we know it, did not spread its wings until Zia’s Islamization. Christophe Jaffrelot in his book, Pakistan: Nationalism Without a Nation, mentions how Islamism controls the politics of sectarianism and displays far more concern for religious orthodoxy than Protestant and Catholic politics do in Northern Ireland. He further blames Islamization which transformed government institutions and policy making apparatuses in accordance with Islamic teachings. Zia’s Islamization was reduced to “Sunnification”, in which Sunni Islamists were not prepared to accept equal status for Sunnis and Shias. Pakistan belonging to 25 percent Shia population and 8-10 percent Ahmadi population is a hub for ethnic and minority differences. However, the intolerance created by exclusive political and economic institutions among states cannot be justified by a single narrative.