The most dreaded and feared word in Pakistan these days is ‘secularism.’ If some poor unsuspecting soul even mentions it by mistake, virtual knives, swords, and a bombardment of insults are catapulted towards him without fail.

This comes not only from those who adhere to the extremist way of thinking but also the so-called moderates. “You liberals, libtards” is usually how their argument starts and ends too with not much else in the middle.

The majority of the people seem to associate secularism with being atheist, being against Islam, blasphemous, having no morals, being out of control drunkards, and there being no law to keep things in control. They also seem to think that kids will end up marrying their own parents due to secularism. (True story!)

They could not be further from the truth.

So what exactly is secularism?

This term was first used by a British writer George J. Holyoake in 1851. He wanted a social order, which separated religion from it. This did not mean that everyone could dismiss or criticize religion (Christianity in his references).

He stated:

'Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question Christianity; it advances others.'

In politics, secularism simply asks for the separation of religion and the government. It basically says that the same exact same law should exist for everyone, be it a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, etc.

This means that the state would remain neutral and no one will be privileged or be at a disadvantage based on their beliefs (or lack of). The state would not throw its weight behind any one particular religion or give preferences.

Secularism ensures that all the problems are solved rationally by just scrutinizing the bare facts. There are no personal biases or emotions involved.  This ensures equality for all, regardless of what sect or faith he belongs to. This also breaks down the barriers of caste and class as well.

It does not mean that people will be told not to practice their faith, or mosques will be pulled down, or women told to walk naked on the streets (as this is usually what most are concerned about – women and their clothing). It will not ask everyone to abandon their religion either.

In even simpler terms, it means that there will be one civil law for all. Everyone will be equal before it. There will be no discrimination on the basis of religion. This will not only lead to protecting the rights of religious minorities but also add to democracy.

Another positive aspect of secularism is that it ensures that religious groups don’t get to interfere in affairs of state. For example, in a secular setting, after Pakistan passed the Women’s Protection Bill, our active and extremely vocal Council of Islamic Ideology would have had no say. The way they have been advocating and demanding the right to beat women, they would have no room to. They would have no choice but to accept and abide by the law that women cannot be beaten up.

Again, this does not mean secularism is against religion but rather against those who abuse it. We have many such scholars in our country who twist religion to further their own power over people and to acquire wealth. Secularism would put a stop to that.

The exploitation would stop.

Take for instance, the people who tried to beat up singer turned cleric Junaid Jamshed at the airport. They would in fact be punished for taking the law in their own hands and not ignored like they were. There would also no longer be false blasphemy cases against anyone; no more making up stories against Muslims and non-Muslims just to settle personal scores.

Even if you still remain defiant and adamant that secularism is a curse, then you need to take a step back and look at what is happening in the world of today.

In just one week of Ramadan this year, terrorists killed –

15 in Somalia,

43 in Yemen,

45 in Istanbul,

10 in Syria,

40 in Kabul,

22 in Dhaka,

140 in Baghdad.

In just one week. 7 days! And I am not even talking about Boko Haram, Germany, Nice, or the other people dying on daily basis. Yes, we Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorism. They have killed more Muslims than anyone else, which is why we need to take a step back and reflect on what is going wrong.

India and Bangladesh remain secular on paper, but they have also suffered because they have acquiesced to extreme elements.  People are killing others over eating beef, while others from educated rich backgrounds are killing those who simply can’t recite verses from the Quran. There are those who kill others because they think them kafirs.  In an ideal secular setting, every person who does this would be punished by law.

Another example would be of the US, if President elect Donald Trump follows through on his anti-Muslim rhetoric the US will step away from its secular foundations.

There are people on social media who tell students to book their professors/educators for blasphemy without fear. There are those who come on TV and incite violence. There are those who wish to see women locked at home and never come out of their four walls. There are those who think there is dignity in honor killing. There are those who think Mumtaz Qadri was a hero and gave him the funeral of one. They even built a shrine in memory of him.

And the worst is that regular people like you and me, with access to the news, Internet and education are the ones who become apologists for them all. They make excuses. They don’t realize that every time they justify the actions of terrorists/extremists they only give them more power to do even more destruction. Today it was a café, tomorrow it will be your own home.

If we don’t want extremists to take over our country and turn it into their own personal kingdom, if we don’t want them to sit on thrones shouting “off with their heads” every time someone opens their mouth, if we don’t want to see the literal version of Game of Thrones around us, secularism is the only way to ensure that does not happen.

It is no longer poor helpless kids who are becoming terrorists because they needed money, were disillusioned about life, were confused or were brainwashed at madrassas. They are rich, they are educated, and they dream of becoming terrorists because they see nothing wrong in taking the life of another. Terrorists killed 120 kids in Pakistan, and there were still those who defended them and made excuses for them.

Secularism is the one way to push them back, to break them and take away their power. When there is no religion in the state for them to abuse, there is not much they will be able to do.

Again, this does not mean one will be not be able to practice their religion. Secularism in fact is the best guarantee of freedom of religion or belief as it does not curtail religious freedoms in any way.

“Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people; it is against just such people that we have fought and will continue to fight.” – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk