May 22, 2007

State and Religion in Pakistan

The First Coup
By Viqar A Khan
The News, May 22, 2007

In March 1949, six months after the death of Jinnah, 'religion' was clubbed with the 'State of Pakistan'. A motion defining the aims and objectives of the constitution, popularly termed as the 'Objectives Resolution' was passed by the Constituent Assembly with a vote of 21 to 10. All Muslims voted for the resolution while all the non-Muslims voted against it. Not a single suggestion from the seventeen amendments proposed by the non-Muslims was entertained.

After the passage of the 'Objectives Resolution', committees were formed to safeguard the interests of the minorities. When one professes to safeguard the interests of others one speaks from a higher ground. If Muslims were superior or stronger, then the non-Muslims had to be inferior or weaker and thus needed to be cared for. This condescending attitude has been the basis for the break-up of Pakistan and of the innumerable discords with which it is currently swamped. Citizens of a country have to be equal and nothing but equal. Only then would they regard themselves as a part of the big whole.

Post independence, the Muslims had a majority and they bulldozed their will on the non-Muslims of Pakistan, just as in pre-partition days the Hindus had bulldozed their will on the Muslims of India. Had the Hindus been more mindful of the sensitivities of the Muslims, Jinnah would never have fought for the creation of a separate homeland. The necessity arose from a sense of deprivation ingrained by the acts of the Hindus. By the same analogy how is one to view the act of the bulldozing of the 'Objectives Resolution' by the Muslims of the newly-created state of Pakistan soon after the death of Jinnah? Our sense of fairness was amply displayed when our Muslim Bengali brothers in East Pakistan, who had a greater role in the creation of Pakistan, sought Bangladesh, a homeland separate from Pakistan. Religion was not enough to hold the Bengalis with West Pakistan. They jerked themselves away from our yoke.

If religion was the only binding force then East Pakistan would not have become Bangladesh, Balochistan would not be seeking independence, the Sindhi nationalists would not be seeking separation, Iraq and Iran would not have fought a ten year war and last but not the least all Islamic countries from Morocco to Indonesia would be one.

On August 11, 1947, in his first presidential address to the Constituent Assembly, Jinnah said: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any region or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the state". Oxford dictionary defines creed as a 'set of religious beliefs'. Jinnah's address to the 'Constituent Assembly' gave finality to his views on the principle of separation of 'state' and 'religion'. Was passing of the Objectives Resolution, which clubbed state and religion, a 'coup' on the State of Pakistan as envisioned by Jinnah?

Politics is the art of reason and thrives and prospers with criticism. On the other hand religion falls in the domain of faith, which is thought to be blind. When one tends to club 'religion' with the 'state' there is an ever present possibility that one runs the risk of subjecting religion to criticism which one cannot afford. If the state were to interpret Islam, then which interpretation would be acceptable to all? No matter how justly the state tries to interpret religion, would it ever be able to satisfy all the schools of religious thought?

We are in the 60th year of independence, 58th year since the passage of the Objectives Resolution and the 51st year since Pakistan was declared an Islamic Republic. During the period since, has religious tolerance become almost non-existent? Do we have innumerable divisions on Islamic lines? Are we any closer to resolving the divisions created by religion? Would the devout Muslims of Pakistan pray in each other's mosques? Would the more radical of these devout Muslims not call others as non-Muslims?

Fifty-eight years since the passage of the Objectives Resolution, Pakistan is still seeking its implementation with sharper discords between the competing forces. Are Christians in America, UK, Canada and so on less free to practice Christianity? Are the Hindus in India less free to practice Hinduism? Would then the Muslims, in a Pakistan in which state and religion are separate, be less free to practice Islam? Is it at all possible that they would be freer since the state would not be interpreting religion?

The writer is a Lahore-based chartered accountant; viqar@lhr.pak-net.com.pk

1 comment:

Muhammad Uzair Bhaur said...

What Quaid said on Aug 11, 1947 was the opinion of one person. We, Pakistanis do not accept any dictator-like position for Quaid. In "Objectives Resolution" the constituent assembly rejected the opinion of Quaid, and adopted the thought of Dr. Iqbal. The constituent assembly had all the rights to do this. People of Pakistan showed their will through their elected representatives. Those who insist on the implementation of Quaid's view, actually want to impose the opinion of a very limited minority over a large majority. The secular minority actually wants to hijack the majority.