“Y

ou are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State”; were the words the Quaid-e-Azam – M. A. Jinnah – spoken on the 11th of August, just days before we broke the shackles and won ourselves independence. He had nominated to his cabinet a Hindu, an Ahmadi and some Shias. One doesn’t find in this anything pertaining to Pakistan having been founded with a staunch religious end in mind. In lieu, all of what he’d said in this speech at the constituent assembly and done afterwards; adhere to a moderate and democratic Pakistan.

Although the start of the film was promising, what followed it has been disturbingly horrifying.

In his book The Future of Pakistan, Stephen P. Cohen fittingly contends that the “idea of a secular, moderate, and democratic Pakistan is under attack from ethnic groups and religious extremists, and Jinnah’s vision is not widely accepted, let alone understood, outside the shrinking liberal community.”

The unabated intolerance for contrary views Pakistan became prey to long before it had become a teenager could best be apprehended via the blood-filled incidents that took place owing to the different definitions of “Islamic state” brought about by scholars of the many sects Pakistan had had. As per Justice Munir’s words, agreeing with the definition of one alim [scholar] meant that you remained Muslim according to his view, but non-Muslim according to those of others.

The very notion that Pakistan is an “Islamic state” implies that Islam therein would be avowed as the official religion and all things concerning law and rules would be based on it. Wouldn’t it have been better had the founders of Pakistan declared it a Muslim state having a Muslim majority that takes an impartial stance on all matters religious?

One other definition of Pakistan, as evident from Jinnah’s speech at the constituent assembly, is that it was destined to be a secular state ensuring minorities’ rights and equality at all levels. ‘How secular should Pakistan be?’ is a query not precisely addressed to date.

Defining secularism in Pakistan hasn’t been unproblematic. It is widely translated as Ladiniyyah (irreligiousness) and has been “the most contentious [word] in the Pakistani political culture”. There have been myriad confusions as to what this means – or should for that matter, mean. The lack of clarity among secularists is one reason that aggravates this confusion.

In his pursuit to explicate secularism, Khurshed Ahmad, a Pakistani economist and a right-winger regards it as an ism that “takes man as the only real source for guidance” as opposed to a revelation that “looks upon man particularly in the context of the divine scheme of creation and its relation to the creator”.

Aitizaz Ahsan of the Pakistan People’s Party accurately states that secularism is “open to different meanings”, and that a secular state could be one “that is not partisan on religious issues and is tolerant of religious minorities”. His definition sounds more befitting a Muslim majority state.

Secularism in Pakistan has largely been dubbed as a doctrine that explicitly rejects God and religion. “The shrinking liberal community” that distinguishes the use of religion for personal purposes from its use for political ends and circularises the former and tries to deter the latter are considered “anti-religious”. Unless tolerance for antithetical views is somehow built, liberal talks can’t be walked.

A deep study of God and His final scripture unearths exquisite ideas. Nature is secular. God doesn’t want a rigid set of beliefs framed by a few people for the entire world wherein only good doings would find home. In His final book, He says that if a people stop committing sins, He will disembarrass them from the earth and will bring a people who would commit sins and ask Him for forgiveness. If a society is run on strict religious lines and sins are far from committed, wouldn’t God then want to do away with it and bring a people more humane – in that they would commit sins and ask for His forgiveness?

The preposterous premise that Islam is a complete code of life that has provided solutions to all of humanity’s problems enhances the fear of secularism in Pakistan, and astoundingly, has no roots in the holy book, nor in the Prophet’s sayings. He (P.B.U.H) acknowledged that He was less learned re worldly affairs than most of His acolytes.

Secularism and religion are intertwined and untying them from each other would wreck mayhem. Religion needs secularism to help build restrained relations among all communities sharing the same political space regardless of the different religions they abide by. On the other hand, secularism needs religion to gratify the needs of believers of a community and condition them, and to provide a source of moral guidance that would widely be embraced.

The ethnic and religious schism in Pakistan can only be relinquished if a secular – not anti-religious in nature but a wholly neutral one – approach on the issues of governance is pursued. The merger of politics with religion has been a major factor behind the prevailing violence and religious extremism in Pakistan. Unravelling mosque from state seemingly is the only way stability and peace can be accomplished, and conflicts managed.

The attempt on Pakistan’s leadership part to adjudicate the confusion apropos its raison d’etre via a state ideology hasn’t rendered the acclaimed vantages. It’s about time the state brought forth a different stance.

This government has much greater responsibilities now than any ever had in the past. To walk the liberal talk and to help transform this state into one wherein the rights of minorities will be protected, and human rights acknowledged, transformation of the societies at large is a prerequisite. If the “Pakistan of Jinnah” is what the party in power wants, it needs to purport at implementing his ideas by word and deed, and not to surrender to mob rule.

The countrywide arrests seem a good omen. It only needs to be last for long enough for the state to curb the extremists.

The writer is doing his Master’s degree at the Department of Political Science, University of Peshawar, and working as a Research Officer at Emerging Policymakers’ Institute (EPI) – an Islamabad based youth-led think tank.