Religion and Politics

By Zubeida Mustafa

RELIGIOUS extremism has come under discussion in numerous forums as incidents of violence and terrorism have increased in recent years reflecting negatively on what many claim to be Pakistan’s Islamic identity. This has left people confused because whatever is done is in the name of religion. Yet the situation is getting worse.

Has it to be so? Created as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent as a result of a political struggle spearheaded by secular leaders, Pakistan was soon after its birth hijacked by elements who have used Islam as a lever to gain control over society and the state. These were parties that had vociferously opposed the creation of Pakistan.

Weak and lacking in confidence, the political leadership, that constantly denied its support for a theocratic state, went on the defensive. Without the vision to anticipate what its weak stance would lead to, the Muslim League went all out to champion the cause of Islam in public life. The Objectives Resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949 was the first demonstration of this weakness. This in due course succeeded in creating rifts between the Muslim majority and those who follow other faiths.

In 1974, Z.A. Bhutto, a supposedly liberal and secular leader, finding himself on a weak political wicket didn’t hesitate to play the religion card. He declared the Ahmadis non-Muslim, thus arrogating to the state the privilege of deciding who is or is not a Muslim. Yet he could not save his political career or his life.

This is not how it was supposed to be. When the Pakistan resolution of 1940, that conceptualised ‘independent states’ as a homeland for the Muslims, was adopted it was clearly stated: “Adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in these regions [where the Muslims are in a majority] for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them….”

In his Aug 11, 1947 inaugural speech to the Constituent Assembly, the Quaid-i-Azam said, “You 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… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state….”

Then what went wrong? Why do non-Muslims feel so insecure in a state whose founding fathers had promised them full protection? They suffer discrimination in jobs and education, have spurious charges of blasphemy levelled against them, their young daughters are abducted and forcibly converted, many are targeted and as a result those who can are fleeing this country.

Even though the vast majority disapproves of these ways it lacks the strength and courage to speak out because the state provides no security to its citizens be they of any faith. As a result many non-Muslims live in fear. The report of the National Commission on Peace and Justice documenting the contents of our school textbooks establishes how the authorities actively promote hatred against other faiths. This religion-bashing has vitiated the socioeconomic atmosphere for the minorities and reinforced the mullah elements’ drive to gain control over society.

It is time we addressed this issue before it is too late and the irrational extremists take total control of state policies. In a consultation organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research recently, members of non-Muslim communities objected to their being referred to as ‘minorities’. They felt it symbolised a discriminatory and exclusivist approach that separated them from the mainstream and thus negated the equal status that Article 25 of the constitution grants them. Although the basic law spells out many safeguards for the rights of non-Muslims, the Pakistan Penal Code has provisions which militate against these safeguards.

In the present situation, the religious parties have plenty of space to promote their agendas of exclusivity. A section of the electronic media has played a disgusting role in the whole affair. They have fanned the fires of hatred against minorities by giving undue publicity to the hate-mongers in the name of promoting Islam. Has anyone pondered the real motives?

Asghar Ali Engineer, an Indian social activist, who has investigated scores of communal riots in India, once told me that without fail he has found an economic motive behind every act of violence in the name of religion. Sometimes, title to land was at stake. At other times business rivalry or employment was the causative factor. In our case political power is also the coveted goal.

In this context the move by former senator Iqbal Haider to form a democratic and non-party platform to promote secularism is a significant one. In its inaugural declaration the forum spoke of creating public awareness about secularism and the need to remove distortions in laws by approaching lawmakers, state functionaries, the media and trade unions to facilitate a new narrative of Pakistani nationhood based on social justice for all.

This is not an easy task but the former senator has committed supporters. So far the going has been slow. Until the forum is broadened into a mass movement it will not make any impact. The absence of this awareness has allowed the obscurantists to take centre stage.

Source: Dawn

15 thoughts on “Religion and Politics

  1. "Weak and lacking in confidence?" Duh! The political leaders had all the self-confidence with regard to how to feather their nests. Actually in the scramble for the loot and plunder opportunities that a virgin country offered they had no timeto take note of the drift.

    Actually it was the Two Nation Theory that Jinnah's opponents later perfected into TNT (the explosive trinitrotoluene), continuing to hate even Pakistani Hindus.

  2. Great article. Glad you chose to write on this topic.
    Religion is indeed a powerful tool for exploitation, for power and for money.
    Glad you highlighted that some of the most atrocious religious acts such as declaring others as non-muslims were initiated by great secularists like Bhutto. Many like to push this fact under the carpet and start directly from Ul-Haq who only made things worse.
    Wonder if it is possible for Senator Iqbal's secular forum to say clearly what it stands for instead of spending all energies in explaining the theory of secularism.

  3. I know what you are trying to convene , but it wrong message, you are not clearly focused on your message

  4. The historical slide continues.I hope Iqbal Haider can make a difference.However,i am pessimistic about putting the genie of religion back.The polity is fragmented and there is no national consensus on reversing the ugly trend.In fact,i see a passive pakistani population watching the drift.At this moment i see the extreme rightists on the march,ready to die for what they have gained in the last 65 years.Among the so-called elite/intelligentia,there are just a few passionate writers without the element of action and sacrifice required to stem the tide.

  5. Nothing will change for the people ever. Not until and unless people themselves will be prepared to change their habits and attitude which will enable them to be able to come forward to install a new and just system, which is ‘democracy of the majority’.

    Such a system can be evolved only by the participation of the masses by organizing ‘Co-operative Collectives’ of the people, by the people, for the people, in every locality. This is the only way people can organise the means to have their ‘true and effective representation’.
    By coming together people will be able to become vigilant and observant of how their hard-earned tax money is being used or abused. Peoples’ power thus gained through thousands of ‘Co-operative Collectives’ all over the country will ensure that the people can take corrective actions through their effective representations and avoid any adversity to their common interests.
    Charity begins at home. So the initiative to organize “Co-operative Collectives” has to come from the people themselves in the localities where they live. If people fail to make a move in this direction they will certainly never achieve, what are their just rights, no matter whomsoever they allow to be their leader. We all have seen such things happening in the last 60 years in this part of the world and for centuries in other countries of our world.
    Nothing is in the hand of a leader and everything is in the hands of the people themselves. When the people will be prepared to bring their heads together to think the best way for them and when they will be prepared to act collectively to translate their common thoughts into action, peacefully, methodically then they will then certainly enable themselves to achieve what they want to achieve.
    O’ People, there is just no other way. It is your own collective action which will help you in making your country, your life, Heaven or Hell.

  6. Such stand comes from minorities or on behalf of non-Muslim minorities and perhaps foreign aided and funded individuals and NGOS who cannot reconcile with the ideology of Pakistan that is based on Holy Quran and Sunnah and ignore the Speeches and Statements of the Qaid-e-Azam and the provision made in the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan by none other than the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
    Moreover Mulims are under religious obligation to establish an Islamic Welfare State according to Surah Haj of the Holy Quran

  7. If someone in your words madam use the name of islam for violance,it is not the fault of islam,why we blame islam.secularism is not is the solution for our problems,,it is only the islam which teach us how you will behave with minorities,Dear madam you mention the Qadyani..the reason is that ,,their ideas are totally against of is the duty of the state to clear its people that which one is real the fault which we done is not of Mullah or islam..we the young nation weating for ISLAMIC REVOLUTION..because this is a holy religion and other ideas are created by the haman being,,,Regards

    1. You are deluded and misguided. Definitely the product of Mullah engineered education system in Pakistan. You can not name a country where your type of Islam exists, and other religions are given enough breathing space.
      There are so many explanations of Islam, officially it is recognised, that there are close to 72, apparently only one is correct.
      How would you decide on the correct one? The one you belong to! ?What about the others? Do they become less worthy only because of your whim?
      What do you mean by"weating for Islamic Revolution", if you do not agree on what is the correct version of Islam.Today some Muslims are killing others as they did in the past 1400 hundred years. I bet you can not name a period when Muslims did not kill other Muslims for one reason or the other.

      It is time for you to pipe down and read as widely about the history of Islam as you can, and look at the people living in the Arabian countries and see how many different versions of Islam there are. Then if you are really honest look at their history. It might give you a world wide view of where the Islam is today.

  8. Politics and Religion are two separate subjects but still some combine it. Combination of Politics and Religion though seems to work but does not work completely. Even AKBAR and HIMAYUN also shown a great respect to other faiths and religion.

    In Punjab (Indian part) Shromani Akali Dal (SAD) has combined Religion and Politics successfully. But when this combination stops working for some time then SAD switches to Politics and Secularism.

    I read a news item (around 10 months back) that KALASH minorities of Pakistan are being forced to accept ISLAM. Such forcing must be stopped as 'WON THE HEART' alternative is there.

    Ms Zubeida this POST is also a BRAVE ACT of yours likewise BREAST CANCER and chance is that you may face a strong criticism and opposition.

  9. The problem has just one, clear solution: state and religion should be separate; they cannot coexist. Period. Nations which have separated religion from state affairs have been successful on technological, social and economic fronts. Get rid of the clergy that instigates people to create chaos and anarchy in the country in the name of Islam.

  10. Why is the issue of class inequlaity not addressed in mullah-bashing projects? The fact that poverty makes people turn to madrassahs for material and social sustenance is ignored by the elite. People become mullahs when the larger socio-economic structure does not offer them with equal opportunity to pursue their goals. The elite talk about extremism is as if the mullah phenomenon suddenly sprang out of nothing. It came from the deliberate exploitation of the masses by the English speaking elite. Iqbal Groovy Haider and others from the elite class were/are not interested in addressing the causes of extremism. They just need a whhipping post which is the mullahs. Can't go far with that approach.

    1. Sorry that is not the issue. According to your view all poor people are extremists because the only relief they can get is from the mullahs and their madressahs. Barely 2 per cent of all school goers in Pakistan attend madressahs. It is wrong to say that the poor are extremists. Many of the mullahs are fabulously rich (though they do not have an ostentatious lifestyle and a lot of extremism is in the universities where children of the upper class study.

      1. The poor are not extremists. They are forced to become extremists because their misery is ignored by upper class people such as yourself.

  11. Pakistan’s Islamic identity is a base of confusion started by the international politics of its leaders. It had spread throughout the mullahs and madressahs which were supposed to spread the love of Almighty, but poverty and lack of leadership has changed the identity of a green tree to shed the leaves. Rich in mind, health and happiness is actual richness, the sensitivity of could be felt by every creature on every part of universe, be it in extremism too, it would not be harmful. In a clear nutshell, to conquer the hearts of love through periods of love flowing through managers of loving routes is the way to go.

  12. Must-read for a practical way of introducing pivotal change in leadership by 2013 elections:

    Referendum in 2013 elections: money-based OR merit-based leadership?:

    Democracy Scale:

    Here are the links to my Facebook profile and the Facebook page for the above articles:

    Leadership Change in Pakistan:

    My Facebook profile:

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