Secularism, 'patriotism' and Marvi Sirmed

Perhaps someday in secularism, Pakistan will be a better and more Islamic state than it is right now.

Abu Bakr Agha September 18, 2011
Surfing along my Facebook newsfeed like any other day, today I came across a link a contact of mine had shared. It was titled, “Marvi Sirmed exposed again”. I watched the 10 minute video clip of Miss Sirmed on a current affairs show, making what I thought was perfect sense. The other guests on the show disagreed strongly with what she had to say, but could only support their argument by calling her anti-Islamic.

Posted under the link were a flood of comments written in very bad taste against Marvi. Besides those that were too profane to mention, she was called anti-Pakistani, anti-Islamic, a Zionist and indecent and pro-Indian because she was wearing a saari – all from that video. This was not the first time I had come across something like this. I had seen the infamous Shahidnama episode she was on with Zaid Hamid and a few other shows, but this time it was on a forum that I could be part of. I put on my internet activism boots and commented away in her defense.


I was baffled by some of the responses I received.

All the people on the thread were convinced that just because Marvi Sirmed did not believe that Pakistan was meant to be a theocracy, and that she was against the two nation theory in that capacity, she was anti-Pakistani. She was a Zionist because she believed in rights for homosexuals, and she was anti-Islamic for saying Muslims should allow nude picture ceremonies.

I thought Marvi spoke boldly and truthfully. She spoke of the artistic aspects of nude paintings and the intellectual growth they produce; she spoke against the violence inside an art gallery against an innocent woman; she spoke about how religion should be kept at an individual level because everyone has their own interpretation of it, and how it should not be used to govern a country where there are people of different faiths.

She did not deserve the ridiculous descent that was directed at her. However, this angry, emotional hatred teaches us an important lesson about present day Pakistan.

A very large part of our society shares a particular opinion considering history, religion, culture and nationalism with a slightly radical element. They cannot endure anyone who would dare to disagree with them. Common views include:
“Pakistan was made in the name of Islam and for Islam”

“Islam is the greatest religion and Islamic laws should be used for people of all religions”

“anyone who disagrees is a non-believer and hence inferior to us and could be harmed lawfully”

In matters like these, people become judge, jury and executioner. They seek justification for their acts through a moulded version of their religion.

The narrow-minded, uncompromising nature of society can also be studied on a micro-level by analyzing its blind trust in some self-proclaimed heroes. Even after being exposed numerous times, people give their unconditional support to Dr. Aamir Liaqat just because of his pro-Islamic accepted profile. No matter what Zaid Hamid says on air to anyone, how factually incorrect his history may be or how far-fetched his conspiracy theories may be, he will always be loved because of his patriotism.

Speaking of patriotism, is secularism the answer to Pakistan's woes?

The debate about whether secularism would make Pakistan more progressive or tolerant has been rekindled recently. It has been intriguing to read different opinions on the matter, but still the argument doesn’t remain quite settled.

First of all, it has to be admitted that secularism is a tried and tested philosophy that has been extremely successful wherever implemented. But that does not mean being a theocracy spells out inevitable failure.

Pakistan unfortunately, as I see it, is neither here nor there. Jinnah clearly stated that he did not want Pakistan to be theocratic, and was a man who did not believe in religion intervening with state affairs, the inspiration and idea of Pakistan though, came from Muhammad Iqbal who believed in the Islamic role in politics and legal philosophy, and today Pakistan is officially an Islamic state, but is still mostly governed by secular laws. Sixty four years independent now, it is no wonder we struggle to agree on Pakistan’s identity.

Secularism guarantees you freedom of religion, but so does Islamic law. Yet today in Pakistan, Hindus cannot get married legally, innocent Christians are killed after being wrongly accused of blasphemy, Jews are unconditionally hated and Ahmadis are murdered and also declared non-Muslim. This shows that the problem does not lie in the philosophy you chose to govern the country, but in the society.

Secularism will not save Pakistan, because it will not make any difference. There is no pure culture, religion or form of politics that denies human rights or freedom of religion to members of the state - only personal, self-made forms and interpretations of the aforementioned have done that.

That’s why in my opinion to save Pakistan we need to nurture its people. We need to educate them on matters of sociology, philosophy and critical reasoning in ideas from the east and the west. We need to educate people on basic human rights and stop the enforcements of a particular brand of religion on them. Religion should be a personal matter and learned by study and examination rather than force, and no one should be able to call anyone a non-believer of any faith because they think their own faith, or version, of it is superior.

The lack of education is Pakistan is staggering, and even where there is education, the quality must be improved. Illiteracy and also injustice both drive people towards crime and extremism. Unfortunately, some of these acts are justified wrongly by the use of religion, hence tarnishing its name and calling for cries of secularism. If the idea of secularism is mentioned presently and to such a society, unprecedented violent reaction may occur; an example is the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the general reaction of the public and then the subsequent praise for the murderer.

With all this being said, I must confess that personally, I do favour a secular Pakistan, just not now. Even though Pakistan was created for the freedom of the Muslims of India, there are non-Muslims living in Pakistan. If you guarantee equal rights to all citizens of your country, you must make it legal for any citizen to run for president or prime-minister, which is not the case.

Religious minorities cannot show patriotism if you ask them to chant slogans like “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La Ilaha Illallah”, especially if Pakistan translates to ‘Land of The Pure’. But most importantly, to me it does not seem like a safe option to govern the state using religion. Everyone has a different interpretation of Islam today, which hides its true essence, and values. The religion is used wrongly and is being used to hurt itself in the process.

A country cannot progress in this system unless the true spirit of religion is brought forward, which I do not see happening. In its perfect form, I wholeheartedly believe Islam governs peacefully and justly in every capacity. The charter of Medina is a fantastic example of how two different religious populations lived in harmony. Sadly, this version of Islam is not going to be allowed to show itself in Pakistan. Rather the Islam of our heroes like Aamir Liaqat and Zaid Hamid, who we all follow so blindly, is the Islam we have come to know.

In a secular state where religion is kept away from state matters and cannot be used to curb laws and justify acts, the society will be free and justice will prevail. Pakistan will know to recognize its true champions of the oppressed, like Salman Taseer and Marvi Sirmed, and perhaps someday in secularism, Pakistan will be a better and more Islamic state then it is under the title or being ‘Islamic’ itself.
Abu Bakr Agha A software engineer, musician, writer and activist from Islamabad, currently based in Chicago. He tweets @AB_Agha (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


csmann | 12 years ago | Reply It takes guts to say a controversial thing when you know it is a society of blood-hounds, and you can be killed any time,without warning,anywhere;In a country where people dont have the courage to voice their opinion ,though in their hearts do feel that there is something wrong with the status-quo ,is a land of cowards. They need people like Marvi and Mr. Taseer to wake the people up.Marvi and Taseer are brave people,in a way chosen ones , to help expose the bigotry and duplicity of a society,They know that cowards will attack and kill them , but they stand firm on their principles.They know what anguish ,a minority has to go through daily , worrying about thier life and children. And they appreciate the bravery of Ahmadis to suffer silently and live in razaa ,although they know,that any filth from the street can come and kill them;and their neighbors, or the police ,and the law will suddenly become deaf to their pleas for help.It takes a people of heart to feel their pain and anguish that they have to suffer day-after day,from their birth to the day when they die or are killed. Salute to Marvi;!!!Salute to Mr.Taseer!!! May God save Pakistan from itself !!!
BK | 12 years ago | Reply Dear Wolf In '47, Kashmir, Muslims were 52% and Hindus and Buddhists were the other 48%. A difference of 4%! Respectfully
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