Kashif Hafeez Siddiqui

Do We Need Secularism?

In Clsh of Civilizations, Islam - A Study, Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 at 5:33 am
By Dr. Khalil Ahmad
Secularism is an old song that keeps reverberating in the liberal, enlightened, progressive, leftist, and socialist circles of Pakistan. Earlier this January news from Bangladesh that its supreme court banned use of religion by political parties provided a fresh impetus to the choir. Since then a plethora of op-ed appreciating and envying this progressive step of Bangladesh continues appearing in the newspapers. They all regret Pakistan’s lagging behind in this important improvement.
In Pakistan, secularists have always been understood to mean something that is, harshly to mildly, against religion. However, their position is quite different: they hold that the state ought to be acting in an areligious manner instead of playing religious. They aim at neutralizing the state’s role vis-à-vis religion.
But has the Pakistani left built its position philosophically? Or is it just a political ploy? An act of postponing it for a convenient future date to confront? Whatever the Pakistani leftists have intellectualized seems to ignore the tenacity of the religious factor! That makes their approach an idealistic one.
Another entity in Pakistan, Classical Liberals or Libertarians, believe otherwise. Their position though not based on the constitution of 1973 is akin to many of the fundamental rights ensured in it. The articles that relate to the issue under discussion here are freedom of speech (19), freedom of association (17), freedom of assembly (16) generally; and freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions (20), safeguard against taxation for purposes of any particular religion (21), and safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion (22) especially.
In essence, these constitutional articles presume individual citizens of Pakistan as independent thinking beings. They consider them as believing many a different views, opinions, philosophies, and professing various religious systems of thought as well. That is why the constitution secures the above-mentioned rights (16, 17 and 19) as fundamental to them. More than that, by way of association and assembly it provides the individual citizens with the rights (20, 21 and 22) to practice their views, opinions, philosophies and religious thoughts as well. Obviously rights 20, 21 and 22 are integral to rights 16, 17 and 19. One group of rights is just meaningless without the other. 
Likewise the Libertarians too consider individual persons as free and independent thinking beings naturally endowed with certain inalienable rights that include right to life and property (Articles 9, and 23 and 24), and to a life of their choice as all the rights (Articles 4, and 8 to 28) in unison aim at ensuring. That is why the Libertarians in Pakistan do not favor secularism as a viable political philosophy. They hold personal freedom as supreme and see the constitution of 1973 truly embodying this spirit in the form of fundamental rights and unequivocally declaring all the laws inconsistent or in derogation of these rights to be void (Article 8).
For Libertarians, religious freedom is an inseparable part of this natural personal freedom that the constitution of 1973 so purposefully protects. This position is also tenable with the larger scheme of fundamental rights of individual citizens enumerated in the constitution. Thus protecting religious freedom as a fundamental right is not only morally, spiritually, and intellectually of greater merit but is socially harmonious also.
In contrast to this, the Pakistani secularists expect and somehow demand from the state and via it from the individual citizens to act in an ariligious manner. On the one hand, this amounts to denying individual persons their due fundamental right to religious freedom, and on the other, this invalidates the constitution of 1973 and especially its articles 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, and 22. Instead the liberals, progressives, leftists, and socialists of Pakistan should be putting their energies to pressurize the government to strictly implement fundamental rights generally; and to secure especially the fundamental right to religious freedom to all the individual citizens of Pakistan without any discrimination. That’s the urgent need of the times!

The writer is founder/head of the Alternate Solutions Institute.

  1. […] in Bangladesh in a blog post I had open somewhere in my many open Firefox tabs. It’s called Kashifiat’s Blog, written by Dr Khalil Ahmed. It certainly got me […]

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