Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Secular Pakistan means a nation that neither supports nor opposes any religion. Everyone is equal, i.e. it does not only belong to the Muslims but also to Hindus, Christians, atheists and other minorities. We are all Pakistanis first. Pakistan’s founders were not clerics and fanatics, but poets and secularists. In fact, most of the religious parties were against the creation of Pakistan
Pakistan : Salmaan Taseer was a prominent businessman and politician who served as the governor of Punjab from May 15, 2008 until his assassination in Islamabad on January 4, 2011 by his own security guard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Salmaan Taseer was born into an affluent family of intellectuals. His father, Dr Muhammad Din Taseer, was a close friend of Allama Iqbal and was the first person from the subcontinent who obtained a doctorate in English Literature from Cambridge University. His mother, Christobel Bilqis Taseer, was an Englishwoman and the sister of British-born writer Alys Faiz, the wife of the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Salmaan Taseer received his early education at St Anthony’s High School and Government College in Lahore and then went on to obtain a degree in chartered accountancy from London. Taseer started his political career as a member of Z A Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the late 1960s and it finally reached its zenith when on May 15, 2008, he was designated for the office of governor of Punjab. He is the author of a political biography on Bhutto titled Bhutto: A Political Biography. Apart from being a politician, he was a successful businessman who set up chartered accountancy and management consultancy firms, a full service brokerage house, WorldCall group (a major private sector telecom operator), a news channel, and a children’s channel. He was also the publisher of an English and an Urdu language newspaper.
One of Taseer’s bodyguards, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, disagreed with his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and shot him 27 times with a submachine gun. Qadri’s father, a vegetable seller with no educational background or intellectual orientation, is a resident of Muslim Town. Malik Mumtaz Qadri holds a C grade higher secondary school certificate. He was associated with Dawat-e-Islami, a religious organisation associated with the Barelvi movement of Sunni Islam. In the 1990s and 2000s, sporadic violence resulted from disputes over control of Pakistani mosques between the Barelvis and Deobandis (another Islamic sect) and in April 2007, Sunni Tehreek activists attempted to forcibly gain control of a mosque in Karachi, opening fire on the mosque and those inside, resulting in death and injuries.
So here we have a brainwashed illiterate fanatic vegetable seller’s son extinguishing a bright intellectual by interpreting the religion and passing a judgement on the faith of another human being. This itself is against the very teachings of the Holy Quran, which says: “God is the only One who can judge humans” (46:9). The only crime Mr Taseer seems to have committed was that he appealed for the pardon of a Christian Pakistani woman, Aasia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy by a law which, according to him, needed an ‘improvement’ (not scrapping) so that it could not be used by people for their personal motives to punish their opponents. Is the state’s tolerance towards all the minority faiths not part of our religion, as clearly mentioned in the following verses of the Holy Quran; “Had God willed, they had not been idolatrous. We have not set thee as a keeper over them, nor art thou responsible for them” (6:107), “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “Do not revile those unto whom they pray beside God, lest they wrongfully revile God through ignorance” (6:108).
As if the barbaric act of an uneducated man was not enough, the same misguided understanding of the religion by the clerics came in the form of chief cleric of the Badshahi Mosque refusing to lead the funeral prayer of Salmaan Taseer. Not much of a surprise, as Bulleh Shah, a Punjabi Sufi poet, a humanist and philosopher, was denied a funeral by the religious orthodoxy (clerics) of his time.
This all comes down to the basics that Pakistan was conceived as a secular state by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Most of the people somehow wrongly believe that the meaning of secular is “not pertaining to or connected with religion” or equate secularism with atheism or anti-Islamism or anarchy. Secular Pakistan means a state that neither supports nor opposes any religion. Everyone is equal, i.e. it does not only belong to the Muslims but also to Hindus, Christians, atheists and other minorities. We are all Pakistanis first.
Pakistan’s founders were not clerics and fanatics, but poets and secularists. In fact, most of the religious parties were against the creation of Pakistan. We grew up with our official documents having the name of the new nation as ‘Republic of Pakistan’. However, with the passage of time because of politico-religious compulsions, the original name conceived by the father of the nation was changed to ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. Does the name of a person depict what his religion is? Do we have to add Muslim, Christian or Hindu as an attachment to one’s name to show our religious inclination? The answer is a simple ‘no’. The same goes for the state, which cannot be categorised or labelled on the basis of religion. More importantly, it should be on the basis of the humans living in that particular land. ‘Islamising’ the name sowed the seeds of religious frictions, which has ultimately resulted in the present state of affairs in the country where killing human beings using religion as a weapon has become a norm. Look at the plight of Islam now, where there is a focus only on trivial issues such as whether the hijab or burqa should be worn or not. The real issues like the need for education and learning, as laid down in the Quran and the hadith, seem to have been forgotten.
Politics and religion do not go together, a fact our exploited, uneducated masses fail to comprehend. Similarly, someone’s faith is not something physical that can be eliminated by bullets or silenced by threats. What needs to be understood is that there can be causes worth dying for, but there cannot be any worth killing for. How many secular people will you kill? There will be one born in every house.
The writer is a social activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org