By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The events as they have unfolded in Swat over the past few months have once again underscored the need for Pakistan to be a constitutionally secular state.
Instead of getting into the debate as to whether Pakistan was meant to be a secular state (which I believe it was but that is not the point here) or a modern Islamic state (whatever that means), let us be very clear- it was NOT meant to be a state where rogue raggle taggle groups like the Taliban would challenge the writ of the state and then establish its own system of “justice” based on a misinterpretation of Islam. Islam is not the problem here. I tend to agree with the interpretation of Islam that is favored by Allama Ghamidi but the question that comes up is “which Islam?” Ghamidi’s? Or Israr Ahmad’s? Rahman Baba’s ? or the Taliban’s? Iqbal’s? or Maududi’s?
In a revealing interview yesterday, Ghulam Mustafa Khar revealed that he played a pivotal role in bringing Maulana Maududi on board with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s constitution. Bhutto was ready to go to any length to secure consensus and the “welding in” of Islam into a democratic popular constitution was one such compromise. Like Liaqat Ali Khan before him, Bhutto was being clever by half with the Mullahs. It was, however, Maududi who was to have the last laugh for Islam – as it was inserted in the 1973 constitution- was akin to leaving the door wide open. Since 1973 we’ve seen a steady erosion of fundamental rights in this country, all justified by the Islamic provisions of the constitution.
Now therefore we must learn a lesson from this. Islam is a rational and pragmatic religion which aims to create a just and egalitarian society. It does not favor any exclusivism of any kind and treats faith as a matter between man and god. Islam also does not favor form over substance. A state does not become Islamic simply because it is called Islamic. Similarly a state meets certain criteria of social justice, equality and human solidarity, it is perfectly Islamic, even if there isn’t a single Muslim living there. This is what prompted Iqbal to call the British Empire the “greatest Mohammadan Empire on Earth”. The issue of what constitutes an Islamic state has no consensus and therefore it much more advisable to strive for a just society that Islam claims it seeks to create.
So let us not forsake the substance for form. Only a secular state which saves Islam from manipulation by various contending groups in this country can truly fulfill the aims and objectives of Pakistan as a prosperous and egalitarian state. This is no paradox. It was no paradox that the Muslims of South Asia chose as its leader someone like Jinnah who was so obviously disdainful of religiousity for anyone else would be too partisan or sectarian. The same principle applies on a state level.
Let us say this openly: Pakistan needs to be a secular state to survive. There is no other way. True Islamic principles of equality, fraternity and justice dictate it.