Recently, during a conversation with friends on the state of Pakistan, the conversation drifted to the pros and cons of a secular Pakistan versus ‘the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. While the conversation itself was quite mundane and one that is oft-repeated, what I found particularly interesting was the use of secularism and tolerance as synonymous by my pro-secular friends, and the implicit assumption that a religious government could not be a tolerant one. This struck me as odd, as I don’t see secularism and tolerance as synonyms. There are many examples of tolerant religious countries and intolerant secular ones. While I strongly support the need for a more tolerant Pakistani society, I do not believe that a secular Pakistan is a prerequisite for a tolerant Pakistan nor do I believe that using secularism as a vehicle to promote tolerance is a productive approach.
The recent rise in Islamophobia in the West highlights the fact that a secular society does not equate to a more tolerant one. The ban on the burqa in France, the ban on making minarets within Switzerland, and the movement in the US to ban Sharia law (whatever that means) are all indicative of intolerant secular societies. On the flip side, you have examples of tolerant Muslim countries, such as Malaysia. I recently visited Malaysia where I saw people eating in public during Ramazan, women roaming in miniskirts and alcohol being served openly. While all of these are superficial indicators, they strongly go against Muslim sensibilities. Seeing a tolerance for these things in a Muslim majority country showed to me that religiosity and tolerance are not mutually exclusive. One can hope that Pakistani Muslims can take a page from Malaysian Muslims and be more tolerant of people with differing views.
Currently, the public space for debate is shrinking within Pakistan. There is little or no tolerance for differing opinions. Liberals in particular are being targeted and being murdered/abducted for just making their voices heard, as is evident by the fate of the Taseer family. In addition, journalists who write provocative stories are targeted and murdered, giving Pakistan the ‘prestigious’ title of the ‘most deadly place for journalists’. More efforts must be made by the government to ensure an avenue for debate between groups with differing ideologies and safeguarding the security of both parties. Without the ability to engage in healthy debate and to freely speak one’s mind, the voice of each and every Pakistani is in danger of being muted.
As opposed to people expending efforts on promoting a secular Pakistan, it would be more productive to promote lessons of tolerance within the existing framework. A secular Pakistan is an oxymoron to most Pakistanis. Proposing a foreign concept such as secularism may detract from the positive goal of increasing tolerance within the country. However, just the simple message of a more tolerant Pakistan, which safeguards the rights of minorities, women, and religious groups is one that may resonate more with Pakistanis.
In my experience, Pakistan is a unique society where most people get offended if you don’t agree with their opinion. Everything is black and white, and there are no shades of grey. I, however, strongly believe that the world is full of shades of grey and I hope that those who don’t agree with me just agree to disagree.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2011.
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@Author: Oh Really? And what do you think about punishing an 8th grader for blasphemy just because she misspelt a word she wasn't meant to have written in the first place.
there are two types of islamic republics and republics with islam as state religion .. malaysia is republic with islam as state religoin
malaysia is a de facto secular country as per every website on malaysia. yes it's muslim majority yes there's tolerance and yes it's secular. enough said
@nick: Good input. I like this: it is religious insanity that they are against. when you teach a person one thing day and night like a monkey ,he is going to lose his rational thinking. the concept of god is imaginary . but the consequences are deadly. Thank you Tribune for allowing this sort of opinions getting printed. You can think differently, but it is important that we hear such voices of dissent.
this article is totally wrong. if those west becomes intolerant they would have ban total islamic world. you know freedom of speech is really important to them. it is religious insanity that they are against. when you teach a person one thing day and night like a monkey ,he is going to lose his rational thinking. the concept of god is imaginary . but the consequences are deadly. real deadly. history has proven it. whether Catholics killing protestants for 400 hundred years . all the witch hunting. now this is happening here. our only hope is the promotion of human values which are same all over the world. which are almost genetically universal. and devoid of any particular religious indoctrination. let the science be new religion. force it and implement it forcefully and we all may prosper in peace and harmony.
Secularism ensures that all citizens are treated the same by the state, regardless of their religious convictions. That is the definition of tolerance!
Indeed secularism does not ensure the end of intolerance, but that is as stupid as arguing that preventing drivers from overspeeding will not ensure the end to all road traffic accidents, therefore speed is not worth regulating!
I never said you were
@mind control: Further correction: Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad was second Muslim President of India and APJ Abdul Kalam was third
@woohoo, we are non-secular and we are not the biggest democratic nation of the world
@omg!...... If Emraan Hashmi cannot get a house in Mumbai..Just ask him where does he live and practise his craft.He lives very much in mumbai and earns his living there.
@Waseem to Sanity
Well in india they had a muslim president,
Correction, two of them, Late Dr Zakir Hussain and Dr A P J Abdulkalam.
And how many Muslims are migrating to other Islamic countries viz from Pakistan to Iran, Iran to Afghanistan, Iraq to Saudi Arabia? And how many are migrating to 'Secular Islamophobic' countries like US, France, Norway,UK,,Australia etc? As they say , The proof of the pudding.........
@sanity: Well in india they had a muslim president, you don't even let a non muslim get to the higher level of army let alone be a president of Pakistan, You couldn't even afford choudhry zafrullah khan who was muslim ahmadi to become the foreign minister so no Pakistan is not a tolerant country and NO you are wrong about western countries being non tolerant. If that was the case 95% of Pakistanis wouldn't want to run away from your so called tolerant country and immigrate to Europe or America's... It is because they are tolerant that they let you live with them and share equal rights. So as the writer say we don't like anyone who critcizes our opinion, you are one of them.
Only countries who uses its 100% potenitial of educated people prospers. In pakistan anyone who is hindu, christian, sikh, ahmadi is automatically kicked out of the main stream becuase of the religious difference. Then comes the cast system, after then its the regional and provincial system that kicks out people from the main stream.
We need to change the mentalility of Pakistani people and write articles that allow the readers to learn and be more tolerant towards other religions, provinces, nations.
excellent piece. totally agree!
@sanity: "What about India? The name originates form the word Hind (i.e. Hindus). Even Bharat has deep roots in Hinduism. " "Hind" itself is distortion of "Sindh" over a period of time. "Hindus" were the original inhabitants of "Sindhu". Its got nothing to do with religion. In fact religion got its name from that place.
@omg!: It is always better safe than sorry.(I think you got the point)
A Hindu, Sikh or non-sunni muslim cannot even get to live in Pakistan. That's the difference.
emraan hashmi cannot get house in mumbai. lmao! secularism of india.. intolerable
Invite him to live in Karachi and watch the reaction.
emraan hashmi cannot get house in mumbai. lmao! secularism of india.. intolerable..
If your argument is right then the "western intolerant secular societies" should have been intolerant to other religions or ethnic groups as well. Can you count any example of institutional intolerance towards hindus, sikhs or different sects of christians in these societies? Whereas in Saudi Arabia you can't even declare practice your religion if you are not Muslim.
You are missing the point. Secularism does not mean tolerance for the intolerant as we do in Pakistan as it results in an intolerant society in the end. 'No tolerance for the intolerant' policy is both fair and wise. West are correct in discouraging intolerant cultural values. Of course if west were so bad everyone would be running away from it instead of running towards it.
Malaysia is performing much better than pakistan. that is true. But it has a different population ratios. Over 40% of the Malaysians are Chines. Another 6% are of Indian origin. So the Muslim population of Malaysia is just over 56% Muslim. That makes it difficult to change to a sharia state. And yet, laws give preference to Muslims. Prime ministers cannot belong to any other faith. Whereas others are welcome to change to Islam, it is still not allowed the reverse, although Anwar says he will allow it if he wins a two third majority. (highly unlikely) So Malaysia is not as good their defendants want us to believe.
we need secularism... i agree with nawaz sharif on this point, that Two Nation theory was a tool to get pakistan, it was need of 1947, but secularism is need for a prosperous country like Turkey and Malaysia... yea! we need it... religion is personal matter.. Muhammad preached it.. not forced it.. He went on hills to preach, not went inside houses..
@Dr Khan: So you mean to say that the god who created you to be a muslim and created me to be a non-muslim are different? Sirji, its not he who has differentiated us, it is we humans, we are hell-bent in differentiating ourselves in the name of xyz religion and wanting to prove that ones own belief is better and stronger than the other. Grow up and stop taking the name of god in vain!
The Laws which are made by ALLAH are for are for a person individually, if somebody makes a mistake or does not follows those laws then it is a matter of between him and his ALLAH not of any third person or of any state. If a muslim man is having alcohol then he is responsible for his acts towards ALLAH not to any third person or to the state. Its on a person's will if he wants to follow ALLAH's Law or not, you or we are no one to make them follow.
Well done. Makes sense and you're right, is more productive than saying ban religion in Pak altogether. Never gonna happen, so let's do what we can and use religion as a tool for positive change rather than freaking out everytime we hear the Azaan.
Most religions preach tolerance, but when it comes to organized religion, or worse, state religion, tolerance goes out of the window. Fascism (believing any race, caste, creed or religion is superior to others) is the root cause of all intolerance. Being human, and imperfect, secularism is the best choice for any society that wants to be tolerant. Every individual, and every belief system to be considered equal in the eyes of the state and society.
If Malaysia is your model for tolerence then we know where you are heading.
@Feroz: What about India? The name originates form the word Hind (i.e. Hindus). Even Bharat has deep roots in Hinduism.
People all over the world get offended if you do not agree with them. Westerners get really offended if you say something against their culture or country. Indians will kill you if you point finger at the wrong practices in Hinduism. Tolerance all over the world is just overly hyped by the respective media and governments.
Once upon a time Nepal called itself "The Hindu Kingdom of Nepal" subsequently Pakistan became "Islamic Republic of Pakistan". Now Nepal has dropped the semantics but Pakistan took the change in name seriously which emboldened Islamic extremists resulting in an adverse change in the accompanying mindset of citizens. From the day of name change the journey has been downhill. Tolerance is an outcome of secularism but does not mean an individual cannot be intolerant. Any society that robs individuals of choice of Religion he would like to follow as opposed to one he is born in is a slave society. It has no liberty or morality to comment on the tolerance level of any society.
and add if 2+2=4, then secularism equals tolerance.
Dear author Your title is a contradiction in itself.
@Dr Khan, dear friend come out of the Illusionary assumption of a just society based on Arab tribal traditions for which we are waiting for last 1400 years.
Pakistan is a diverse society with diverse culture, through out our history due to presence of other faiths among us our culture therefore manifests pluralistic view and peaceful coexistence.This is our strength we neither need Arab tribal tradition nor the secular slogans of the west. our culture and understanding of religion is enough to understand our societal issues.
On the other hand tolerance is not a one minute phenomena it requires understanding and teaching since childhood, it has become evident that we need to change our syllabus of Pakistan studies and Islamayate and remove the hatred sections from them. we are 180 population comprising of Muslims and non Muslims divided among different interpretations with in Islam therefore we need to devise our syllabus according to our need and stability which is the ultimate truth.
we need to admit these truth and taught in schools and madrassas that 1.Pakistan is state where all individuals are free to interpret Islam and practice in their own way 2.respecting other faiths and traditions are essential for our society
Different and Well written..
Tell me all this was actually with your tongue firmly in the cheek, and I will say youhave a sense of humour. If not, I would wonder what happened to your senses.
Laws are almost universally good but until you come up with decent honest people to implement them we will not get anywhere. We cannot come up with 10 honest police officers to serve karachi , and 10 honest impartial judges to man our courts , how could we ever come up with enough appropraite people to enforce the sharia.To do so in a incompetent way would be an insult to the laws of the creator. Clean up your own house , street , neighbourhood and city and run it well before trying out any to rule the country.
It is absurd to equate banning minarets and burqa to intolerance when a non-muslim can't even do something as basic as EAT during certain months in muslim countries?
If france and switzerland were intolerant at a level of 2 or 3 on a scale of 10, then Pakistan would be on 10 out of 10.
The comparision of "tolerance" between west and Pakistan itself is an oxymoron concept because there is ZERO tolerance in Pakistan
This is what we know as " Baal Kaa Khaal Nikalna"
Agree with you. Good piece. Keep it up!
Religion teaches tolerance, but religionism and religiosity will only tolerate what suits selected interpretation of religion.
The problem with us is that, for a solid majority of muslims, violence against people of different sects is "Holy"! They believe in dealing with differences through violence. The voice of liberals is too tiny. They're hushed and cornered in universities, workplaces etc. If only the clerics take a 180 degree turn and start preaching "Tolerance" would we see any appreciable difference.
Islam is a synonymous for "Absolutism" and therefore any discussion of tolerance in the Pakistani society is totally out of place and hypocritical.
Anybody believing in one more or less God then theirs become inevitably wajib-ul-qatal......anybody opposing their belief in Khatme-nabuwat is welcoming a collective persecution and liable to be killed ......END OF TOLERANCE AND DISCUSSION!
I have very often walked alone in the darkness of night, in the streets of Germany, Italy, France, Holland without ever having feared of being stabbed from the back because of my religion affiliation or skin colour.
Agreed with the writer. We, neither can afford nor can get back to the drawing board as far as social norms are concerned. What we can do in ongoing scenario is to improve the current structure. And how far we will be able to proceed in this regard, is the real acid test.
Out of more than 60 Muslim countries the author could only come up with one example, Malaysia, big deal! Having visited Malaysia several times, I could see a big difference rather improvement when one goes to Singapore. There is no country in the civilized world where talking for the rights of women or minorities can get one killed. Malaysia has been away from the tribal and ancient Arab traditions and it would be even more tolerant if it were any other religion. This article is not worth the paper it is written on. In no secular country of the world the places of worships are not targeted. The problem with the religious people is that "we are right the rest are wrong". How can they be open and tolerant?
what an innocent lapse u have committed in comparing both the ideological foundations help better running a state system,wile favoring religious a best tool to operate a society equally with out any sectarian discrimination ,in Pakistan 1973 constitution is framed keeping in the mind both major sects wile there is no clause for minor religious sects,,,Iran Saudi Arabia,Iraq,Yemen,etc are a all Muslim countries based on theocratic values but what makes them separated with one-another??across the border conflicts,with individual military set up Saddam was unacceptable for Shia majority population while Ahmadi Nijad AND SUPEREME LEADER is too not a favor able person towards Suni minor sects any way religionizing way of state affairs ,any how retain discrimination,,the whole middle east is divided while Palestinians are awakened by severities of cruel time and space ,intra -state system is based on dominance of majority sect,s interests over the minor sects....religion is a private matter if dragged into battle field ,will create chaos,Islam is a universal religion without any biased it totally nullify sectarian divide,,,it focuses humanism and human values..secularism respect all the citizens without any further division in a society
...secularism means to deal all the citizens with out any superior doctrine concoct for a specific sects,,,
@AnIndian:It's not a question of proportion. I think DN is arguing that one does not have to equal the other. A single contradictory case (Malaysia e.g..) to the normal belief proves that an alternative is possible, and in fact represents a more desirable goal to work towards.
And does religious society equal an indoctrinated society? I think not. A religious society can be tolerant.
You say "only complete enforcement of the Laws of the Creator". Would you like to explain me how people will earn 'Jaza' or'saza' if governemnts force them to do something or not to do. Surly a religious concept where Allah is the judge and punishes or rewards people according to their intentions and deeds presupposes a free will. For example if a women wears hijab such as in Saudi Arabia or Iran because she has to, otherwise police will get to her. How can she earn 'sawwab' as she is being forced to veil by the police and is not doing it because she wants to please Allah.
Weak and unconvincing arguments. Author cherry picks "worst" instances of intolerance in few secular societies and compare them with the "best" instances of tolerance a theocratic (Islamic) state. Doing so, creates a faulted argument which appears to be designed to conform to his pre-set conclusions he WANTED to reach.
To be fair, (A) compare the worst instances of INTOLERANCE of an Islamic state vs Worst instances of INTOLERANCE of a secular society. (B) And then, compare best instances of TOLERANCE in an Islamic society and best instances of TOLERANCE in a secular society.
That will be a fair comparison, but author doesn't do that, because if he does that the conclusions he will arrive at will be opposite of his "pre-set" conclusions he WANTED to reach.
The definition of Secular in Muslim countries is not the same as that in open democracies like US, EUROPE, Canada and India. In non Muslim societies it means- in practice, every one's religion is a private affair. No one imposes their religiosity on another and it is assumed that all citizens are equal. In Muslim societies it means muslims practicing their faith peacefully and tolerating each other. But non muslims amongst us can be (and are) denied equality, protection. Ahmadiyas can be coerced into accepting our definition of 'Islam', Hindus and Christians can be barred from seeking the highest offices - constitutionally! Christians can be intimidated to leave Iraq and Egypt. And, just to provoke our sensibilities, when Muslims are harassed in Europe and America, there is a lot of debate and support given to them by non-muslim citizens. That we do not see in our lands.
A very nice article. that is precisely what we need to understand: to devise a solution relevant to our situation. Blind faith in anything, be it secularism or religion, kills the possibility of intellectual progress and eclecticism.
May I remind you that preferring man made laws over the Laws assigned by Allah is Kufr. Secular Pakistan is indeed an oxymoron, because Pakistan means Laa illaha illallaahu. Second, the examples of secular but intolerant France is a perfect example. If secular states are to allow religious freedom, than why is there a ban on all religious symbols? Turkey is a secular state, yet why the ban on headgears? why the ban on the azaan in its original language- Arabic? This is complete idiocy, Pakistanis need to start thinking. Inshaa Allah only complete enforcement of the Laws of the Creator can bring stability. And to the brother up there who called 'jizya' unfair, fear Allah, you are blaspheming against Him by calling him "unfair." Mind you, this is only because of the freedom of speech Pakistan offers you that people are able to freely air their opinions such as above.
finallay the lilberals are coming to terms with the reality that there is no place for 'secularism' in pakistani society and the liberals would do rather well to "tolerate" this reality....
Great article....our society is full of secular and religious extremists both of whom are beating the bush for no reason instead of a progressive healthy debate..
Very apt article. Whether or not secularism and tolerance are synonymous is, to be honest, not even a worthy cause to debate right now. What is a more concerned issue at hand right now is that how 'tolerant' are the those proposing secularism. A friend very aptly described at twitter that the attitude of the secularists towards the rest of the population, the latter being a staggering majority of course, is somewhat like this 'I know better than you and want to make things better. You're a moron and don't know. So shut up and follow me.'
Someone finally wrote some sense. Without debate of right or wrong, you are 101% correct in saying that almost all so called liberals have this false perception that being secular means being tolerant. Same goes for many religious advocates who think they are being tolerant in dealing certain things. IMO both should be let to eat eachother while real moderates live as they want
Just One Word 'PERFECT' I swear to God this is the best article I have ever read in any newspaper. The examples you gave are so relevant.
Hmm...Malaysia may not be a secular society. But it is not an 'Islamic' state either. That I think is a key difference. A non-theocratic framework of government is essential for preventing abusing the rights of people who don't agree with the state's narrative. That has nothing to do with being religious as many of the world's Muslim countries are not 'Islamic states', though they may recognise Islam as the state religion, again a key difference (Malaysia comes under this category) and some of them are even officially secular (such as Turkey). Again, while discrimination may occur in secular countries, its more of a societal rather than an institutional thing, and thus does safeguard the rights of the minorities to a greater extent. I agree about the need to increase tolerance though - ultimately that is the most important thing.
A very interesting argument which in theory is absolutely correct.
In practice, life is different. Your argument about absolutist intolerant secularism v/s inclusive tolerant religion is built on flimsy examples. It compares the current reaction to Islam in West to somewhat 'superficial' examples of tolerance in Malaysia.
While Malaysia is in general a good example for a somewhat relaxed approach to Islam, its not good enough for your comparison.
For one, the reaction in West is also a reaction to overall caucasian communities trying to understand how to interpret a new culture that is growing. The reality is that Muslim communities are increasingly significant parts of these countries - demographically, socially and politically. For example, certain school districts in the US have changed policies to meet the needs of Somali migrants. State and local governments are innovating so that women from these conservative cultures can access healthcare and other facilities.
There is a right wing in the West which is decidedly intolerant. Bush's war on Iraq and decidedly Christian Crusader sentiments allowed a lot of these to emerge from the woodwork, but there isn't a country in the world which would have turned around by electing a man with the middle name of Hussain.
Put in this perspective, Malaysia is not that tolerant. Till the rise of China it persecuted the ethnic Chinese who led the business community. It continues to do so with respect to the South Asian migrants. Both communities are denied access to opportunities in comparison to Malays.
In short, Daniyal - which I agree with the theoretical premise of your argument, I am disappointed in your examples.
Not to offend anyone, but I feel that the Shariah law is inherently discriminatory. Jizya, for example, is pure discrimination based on religion. It also discriminates based on gender (divorce is harder for women, for example, and women get half a man's share in inheritance.)
Secular countries may become intolerant, but shariah law seems to imply discrimination and consequently intolerance for sure. Maybe that's why people assume that secularism will bring tolerance.
Secularism may not automatically mean tolerance, but it makes sure that those who think differently are not punished or persecuted. I admit that many in west are not happy to see a different culture obsessed with faith. Women wear burqas or head scarfs, men with long bears and girls being given inferior status within Muslim families. It is also true that west should accept different cultures more willingly, in spite of these differences. But the point is that laws of the countries treat such people as part of the their own. You cannot control all minds, as this would mean dictatorship and brain wash. You can go to your temples or mosques. But the laws do not make one faith more powerful. In Germany, with the arrival of so many Muslims, many states have removed Jesus portraits from the schools not to annoy non Christians. That is tolerance. Yes, we want to see more, but Muslims are better off here and happy. A few decades ago minorities were persecuted by law. So we have come a long way. I am sure it will get better in coming years, although slowly. But Do not make mistake of accusing these societies as intolerant. How can Pakistan become secular when it is called Islamic Republic? How can you give equal rights to women when Islamic laws are applied where men get twice the share of the cake than women? I have met many men who drink and call themselves secular, but wait until property distribution is made. Suddenly they want sharia way of distribution.
Let's compare America (where i live, don't know much about rest of the western countries) with Malaysia.
In Malaysia, all ethnic Malays are considered Muslim by law of the Constitution and have almost no choice in the matter. In five states, conversion to another religion is a punishable criminal offense. The propagation of other religions to muslims is severely restricted by the state, even though Muslims may proselytize. I guess in the opinion of the author, allowing non muslims to drink and eat openly during Ramazan is such an amazing proof of tolerance. Talk about low expectations! There is a growing number of cases, where the unequal laws are having an effect and fuelling cases of intolerance.
Almost south east asians in my opinion are naturally tolerant because of their past culture and other reasons I dont know about. However, when you put down inequality in the constituition and legal system and institutionalize, it is bound to have an effect in the long run on the temperament of the society.
In america, freedom to practice, preach all religions is in the constitution. At a societal level, americans are amazingly tolerant and welcoming of diverse peoples. In my opinion, the growing resentment is against Sharia law (which is an idea or a principle and quite regressive in my opinion) and not against Muslims (who are people).
Secularism- "All religons are equal and religion is personal thing." This means respecting other's religious freedom. Secularism means religious tolerance.
You are quoting exceptional cases.. general empirical, & logical too, rule is secularism does equal to tolerance..
You might instead have meant that turning Pakistan wont reduce intolerance, because there is something inherently wrong with the DNA?
Dear Writer, Do you seriously believe the proportion of intolerance in secular societies matches the proportion of intolerance in religious societies? (irrespective of which religion)
Religious indoctrination, as opposed to being religious; is always antithetical to tolerance.