By Saman Siddiqui
It has been a long time debate whether Pakistan should be a secular state or not, particularly during and after Zia regime. It has been a most concerning issue for Human rights activists and for the people belonging to the liberal thought. The recent protest sit in at the capital and how the protest was resolved, has raised some grave concerns. But how can the possibility of declaring Pakistan a Secular state can be debated, without knowing what secularism really is?
A contemporary French scholar Jean Baubérot has provided with a good provisional modern definition. Separation of religious institutions from the institutions of the state and there is no domination of the political sphere by religious institutions. Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion for all; with everyone free to change their beliefs and manifest their beliefs within the limits of public order and the rights of others. And no state discrimination against anyone on grounds of their religion or nonreligious world view, with everyone receiving equal treatment on these grounds.
Separation of state from religion at first became a constitutional feature of some western countries in 18th century. This separation was meant by separating church from the state affairs, the back ground was struggle for power between churches and governments. Later in the 20th century, many states in Asia and Africa also declared separation from religion constitutionally, but following their own traditions. For many it is considered as the basis of modern and democratic ideals.
In country the believers of the very thought that Pakistan should be a secular state are a considerate minority and that seems like an uphill. Such people try to portray it as a fact that it was Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan to be a secular state, they have to pave the way for the separation of religion from the state.
In the 1973 constitution, Islam has been declared as the state religion of Pakistan and it was passed unanimously. It was certainly the will of the masses. The founding concept of Pakistan was the Two Nation Theory, based largely on Muslim nationalism.
On August 11, 1947, Jinnah delivered his renowned speech clearly elaborating: “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”.
The debate on secularism also took place in 2015 on a very high level, when Chief Justice at that time, Nasir ul Mulk himself while hearing petitions challenging the procedure for appointment of superior court judges under the 18th Amendment and the establishment of military courts under the 21st Amendment to try terrorists.
Chief Justice Nasir ul Mulk inquired that if Article 2 of the Pakistan Constitution, which states that Islam is the state religion, can be replaced with secularism and asked whether this could be done by the present parliament or a Constituent assembly, would be required.
Justice Main Saqib Nisar asked “Can a political party with unequivocal support in its manifesto to secularism, if given vast majority of the people, still be entitled to change the Constitution,”
Senior counsel Hamid Khan, representing at least three district bar associations which had challenged the amendment replied, ”Not without a referendum”. The salient feature of the Constitution that recognizes Islam as fundamental norm is not open to change.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while sharing his thoughts, said that Pakistan had been created in 1947 in the name of Islam and it was declared that Islam would be the state religion.
The main reason for which people turn towards secular thought is that they are irritated with the increasing religious intolerance and sectarian violence. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure such practices in the society where all the communities regardless of their faith cast and creed can live a peaceful life. When religion participates in politics, it becomes an excuse to exploit people on religious grounds.
In the constitution, rights and protection of the minorities have also been guaranteed. Article 2-A of the Constitution, comprises that adequate provisions shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities, backward and depressed classes. Article 36 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.
No one should be subject to discrimination by State, institution, group of persons, or person on grounds of religion or other beliefs. Effective measures must be taken to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.