The insertion of faith in public discourse

Published: October 3, 2011
The writer teaches history at Forman Christian College and is an editor at Oxford University Press

The writer teaches history at Forman Christian College and is an editor at Oxford University Press

The recent episode of the thirteen-year-old Christian girl accused of blasphemy and expelled from her school has yet again showed how the blasphemy law can be misused. But allow me to highlight another related and important issue.

In this episode, it is significant that the girl was not in an Islamiat class during the alleged incident. According to news reports, she was commenting on a ‘naat’— a poem written in honour of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in an Urdu class.

According to Article 22 of the Constitution of Pakistan, no person can be asked to study another religion, or be forced to take part in any ceremony or event associated with another religion. This article was inserted in the 1973 Constitution to safeguard the minorities and to allay their fears that even after the declaration of Pakistan as an ‘Islamic Republic’ they would not be forced to practically become Muslims. After all, this was exactly the same fear that led the Muslims of South Asia to demand a separate homeland for themselves.

In 1937, when the Congress formed ministries in nine out of eleven provinces of British India, several of their policies irked the Muslims. The singing of the Bande Matram (‘Ode to the Motherland’), which was composed during Hindu resistance to Muslim rule in Bengal in the eighteenth century was considered especially offensive, and thought of as exhibiting the non-acceptance of Muslims and Indian Muslim history, by the Congress. Whatever the truth in this perception, the result of such policies of the Congress ministries was that the Muslims of South Asia (barring some significant sections), were alienated from the Congress and threw in their lot with the Muslim League, thereby reinvigorating an almost dead organisation. Subtle policies like the singing of songs with Hindu overtones and the slighting of Muslim rule were the bedrock of Muslim support for the Muslim League.

Pakistan is an Islamic country and so Islam has a public role. But this does not mean that it has to be inserted in everything. Asking a non-Muslim student to study something which is clearly Islamic is a clear violation of the rights granted to minorities in the Constitution.

The insertion of religion in every sphere of life in Pakistan has meant the religion has lost its special value. Shallow and rash understandings of the religion have become the vogue, and a meaningful study of the religion has been relegated to the domain of the few religious scholars. It would be much better if the aforementioned ‘naat’ were studied by Muslims in an Islamiat class. There they would have been able to not only appreciate the literary qualities of such a composition, but also be able to analyse and understand the theological concepts which underlay the poem.

Putting in religion in every school textbook, not only alienates non-Muslims, it also makes Muslims take the study of faith for granted, and makes the mere appellation of something Islamic enough for the people. It is time that the study of religion is returned to its proper sphere, so that we can develop citizens who have a deep understanding and appreciation of the tenets of Islam. Only grounded Muslims can become good Pakistanis, and this project cannot be achieved through piecemeal learning of Islam through Urdu or other subjects, and can only be achieved through a scholarly approach to the study of Islamiat.

The usage of Hindu symbols alienated the Muslims of South Asia from the Congress and fractured the unity of India which had been the crowning achievement of the British Raj. It gave rise to the religious polarisation which not only led to the creation of Pakistan, but also sowed the seeds of the religious massacres during the partition and riots thereafter. Pakistan is already a fractured country, with little sense of citizenship and a confused notion of nationalism. In this scenario we should not deliberately exclude non-Muslims and make them feel like second-class citizens, especially when they have contributed, and continue to contribute, towards the betterment of Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2011. 

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Reader Comments (33)

  • Nasir
    Oct 4, 2011 - 12:05AM

    So when the secular says make Pakistan secular, what do they mean? As you mentioned, the constitution has already protected the rights of minorities and its just that the law has not been implemented properly. Thats what we have been saying for a long time. What else can be done with the constitution to make it secular? and to what advantage if the the law has not to be implemented.


  • Khan jr
    Oct 4, 2011 - 12:28AM

    The Citadel of Islam concept inflicted upon makes many people behave as if Islam came into existence in 1947. If one pauses think such iniquities and injustices seem to predominantly take place in Pakistan where these days any hate crime committed under the guise of religion appears to have become permissible.

    It is a tragic reflection on what our country has descended to. Rather than regularly cursing outsiders we should instead be raging at ourselves.


  • faraz
    Oct 4, 2011 - 1:38AM


    The Federal Shariat Court has declared that Parliament cannot override its decisions, thus placing itself above the reach of elected legislators. For example, it declared that land reforms are unislamic. The land reforms of elected government were reversed and subsequently hundreds of thousands of peasants were put under bonded labour. It was clearly a result of feudal-mullah alliance.


  • MD
    Oct 4, 2011 - 1:41AM

    you said, we shouldn’t make non-Muslims a second class citizens, but, sir, they already are not only second class citizens, but not even third or fourth class either, in fact, the minorities in Pakistan are no citizens at all. However, I congratulate you for bringing this atrocious anomaly to the fore.
    Which country in the world forces its minorities to learn about the majority religion and forces a minority child to write an essay with perfect theological language? And when a minority girl child, at her school, commits some spelling mistakes while writing an essay about the majority religion’s iconic person, gets punished and threatened to be slapped with dreaded blasphemy law, which carries mandatory death sentence, then, why the world community shouldn’t shun such a country? Nothing could be more cruel and disgusting to see the religious bigots victimizing a little innocent child student,
    The biggest irony of it all is that these same so called soldiers of Allah, go wild when non-Muslim countries do ban face covering burqas and never get tired at moaning and bemoaning that India is discriminating against its minorities. What a joke indeed!
    It is said that those who live in the houses made of glass shouldn’t throw stones at others, but, sadly Pakistanis don’t even live in the glass houses, they live in the open!!


  • Rehan
    Oct 4, 2011 - 2:53AM

    Mr Yaqoob, that was an excellent and very pertinent article. I really enjoyed reading it. There’s only one slight criticism I wish to make: it’s the ‘tenets’ and not the ‘tenants’ of Islam. Two completely different words.


  • Oct 4, 2011 - 3:07AM

    Well you can start by rewriting the whole constitution almost.

    To start with … no Secularist ever can say that Pakistan Is a secular country. What they do say however is that in light of the speech of Jinnah dated 11th august to the constituent assembly Pakistan should have been a Secular State.

    First thing that needs to be done is the removal of the name Islamic republic and state clearly that Pakistan will be a secular state. Second would be to do away with Laws such as Article 295 -A,B,C,D and Article 298 in the penal code. Also do away with the Ahemdiya Act. Also do away with the constitutional clause that no law contrary to the quran and sunnah will be made. And then do away with the law that bars non-muslims from holding the office of the Prime Minister and President.

    then do away with the law the makes it compulsory to teach Islamic Education in schools. When we have done all that we can begin to call Pakistan a Secularish State.


  • Sajid
    Oct 4, 2011 - 3:23AM

    @ Nasir: You probably have a lowly understanding of what secular means. In Pakistan non-Muslims cannot become the president. This is in the constitution. A certain Islamic sect has been expelled from Islam, constitutionally. Just two instances.
    Moreover, Pakistan is nonsecular at civilizational level more than a constitutional level.


  • Test123
    Oct 4, 2011 - 7:27AM

    watch for references to god that will be made in the comments section to prove the author right ;)


  • Doctor
    Oct 4, 2011 - 8:16AM

    @ Nasir – are you kidding? We can get rid of laws that actively discriminate against minorities. We can rid ourselves of laws like the Blasphemy Laws and enact laws to recognize the legality of Hindu marriages. We have a long way to go before we can truly consider Pakistan a country that treats religious minorities on par with Muslims.


  • observer
    Oct 4, 2011 - 11:03AM


    There’s only one slight criticism I wish to make: it’s the ‘tenets’ and not the ‘tenants’ of Islam. Two completely different words.

    I hope it does not lead to charges of blasphemy as the confusion between two words, ‘Lanat’ and ‘Nat’ did.


  • Ali
    Oct 4, 2011 - 1:04PM

    @ Nasir it seems you dont understand what secularism means it does not mean the rights of minorities or stuff like that secularism means that there is no room for religion in the sphere of governance the constitution treats everyone the same everyone is a pakistani it basically means that in terms of law of the land their are no minorities.


  • Acorn Guts
    Oct 4, 2011 - 1:08PM

    Hold on for a sec, what are we talking about here? Faith or Religion? Asking non-muslims to study Islam as a religion is OK and I actually support that (I support the converse as well, teaching muslims about other religions and their beliefs is equally important) but weighing their output against the Islamic faith is unfair as it has been the unfortunate case in this situation. Here in UK religious studies form part of school curriculum and have indeed helped to create religious tolerence and harmony so I am all for it!.

    Faith and Religion are not the same thing. The author seems to be using the two as synonyms thus creating a confusion. Could just be me.


  • Qaisrani
    Oct 4, 2011 - 1:09PM

    It is unfortunate to describe that our curricula injects hatred in young minds of students in the state runs schools under the disguise of Islamiyat subject let alone the religious seminaries who are clearly based upon sectarian segregation.I still remember my schooling days when in the last chapters of Islamiyat, Sunni students were taught 4 Caliphs biography while Shia students were given lessons about 12 imams. Practically students were separated at the sectarian lines,thus that education culminated in hatred after quitting the schools deep inside the minds of children who know runs their day to day life.Sectarian strife is rampant.We should change state syllabus in order to build a state based upon tolerance,love and respect to all fellow citizen apart from whatever background they come from.


  • Ranjit
    Oct 4, 2011 - 5:49PM

    I agree 100% with the author. The roots of all the major ills afflicting Pakistan can be traced to someone from the outside.


  • Ram Bharose Singh
    Oct 4, 2011 - 9:40PM

    What do you mean you agree?
    I have seen this guy Yamir Houdini say the same line elsewhere that Gandhi introduced Hindu religion to freedom movement against British and so Jinnah joined Muslim League, used religious slogans also and created Pakistan. Now Pakistan is more religious than what Jinnah wanted. But because Gandhi forced Jinnah to use religion all the fault rests with Gandhi and Congress and Indians. Is this the argument? Really?

    Blame Congress! And here this Indian guy Ranjit is saying the same thing. Whatever happened to personal responsibility and what elders have been telling us – “If someone jumps off a cliff to certain death, Will you do the same?”. Don’t the Pakistani leaders have free will or can be swayed by anyone/influenced by anyone?

    I think that is the 100 billion dollar question


  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 4, 2011 - 11:57PM

    @ Ram Singh
    Its a Trillions $ question why jinnah left congress and joined muslim leaque because of
    Ghandi its a truth and i think this was a reason Allama M Iqbal was in favor of creating
    seprate state.


  • Ram Bharose Singh
    Oct 5, 2011 - 5:29AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    You are right. From what I know of Jinah and Gandhi, I know both were different even though both were Gujarati. Jhinah was posh and Gandhi, a half naked fakir. Jhinna was not comfortable with Gandi and started Muslim League.

    Lot of Punjabis are nostalgic about Pakistan just like Muhajarin in Karachi. But a pakka Bhaiyya from Ganga-kinare like me, feels Jinnah was a blessing for India because he took the weakest links out of India. Personally if it were upto me I would make Jinah the father of Indian nation rather than Gandi.


  • BruteForce
    Oct 5, 2011 - 9:32AM

    “The singing of the Bande Matram (‘Ode to the Motherland’), which was composed during Hindu resistance to Muslim rule in Bengal in the eighteenth century was considered especially offensive, and thought of as exhibiting the non-acceptance of Muslims and Indian Muslim history, by the Congress. “

    If you do not know your own history then why quote it?

    Congress had won most of the seats, but also most of the Muslim seats in India. It is a crowing achievement for the Congress that election was. Muslim league had been thoroughly routed in many areas where majority were Muslims it contested against the Congress.

    Muslim league marginalized, now needed something to offer to woo the Muslims. It played the communal card. It started equating Congress to Hindu rule and many of the pamphlets said the Hindus must be taught a lesson using violence, and this was the time when Jinnah was president.

    Muslim league was successful in playing the British against the Congress and came out in front as a result.


  • BruteForce
    Oct 5, 2011 - 9:34AM

    @Ali Tanoli:

    Iqbal wasn’t the one who proposed Pakistan, rather ‘Pakstan’. it was Rehmat Ali

    Iqbal in his correspondence, in 1938, I think, proposes Muslim league ask for Pakistan to make sure Muslims come on the side of the League, away from the Congress. Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 5, 2011 - 7:41PM

    @ Brute Force
    What is the meaning of making Pakistan in north west india we allways been majority we were never discriminated by hindus in our area then why they made pakistan in this area why didnot they made Pakistan in U.P Bihar or in Hyderabad???? and about your comment Iqbal sahab had dream like martin luther king of black america for having separate land for Muslims where they can implement and try shriah system of Islam and Rehmat Ali was inventor of name Pakistan and wrote it one book also i think but i seen it.Recommend

  • BruteForce
    Oct 5, 2011 - 8:10PM

    @Ali Tanoli:

    Rehmat Ali started distributing pamphlets asking for ‘Pakstan’ long before Iqbal asked for it. Since, he is not a “romantic” figure, the pop culture in Pakistan and its Text Books fail to mention him.

    Iqbal also said, “Saare Jahaan se acha, Hindustan hamara”. People change. They tend to get more communal, more Religious in their leanings, sometime more radical, rather than wise.

    Pakistan was a call which went against the grain of India. The people who never had to fear anything were fed with fear, as you inadvertently imply above.

    So, basically two nation theory is a theory based on division, which necessarily says 2 set of people cannot live together just because they have a different Religion or any other parameter. This unnatural theory is responsible for what Pakistan is today.

    An interesting observation is: Gandhi and Nehru are hated the Right in India and adored by the Secularists and Leftists. While the “Secular” Jinnah is claimed by both.

    Just goes to show how much of a confusion Jinnah managed to create in Pakistan. For this Pakistan will ever suffer.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 5, 2011 - 8:25PM

    @ Ram Bharose singh ji
    please accept my apology if i hurt u but it was not what u understand my point of view was the reason jinnah left congress after they did not want a fedral base sys of govt in


  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 5, 2011 - 9:39PM

    @ Brute force
    I think its true what u saying about Allama Iqbal and Rehmat Ali but then it was a Mr Iqbal
    was in the end ask Mr Jinnah to lead Muslim leaque and pakistani problem is not how
    they made it i think now is how they running the country and also since the its birth
    wars with india and then Russian terrorism in Afghanistan.Recommend

  • Ram Bharose Singh
    Oct 6, 2011 - 12:45AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    India has a federal system now; Every state is pretty free to decide what and how to advance their state. Because each state is free you see growth and development in states like Kerala (95 % literacy) and Gujarat (highest income; highest growth) with very smart and caring leadership. And more poverty and more illiteracy and less growth in UP and Bihar. Federal system has worked well in India. Don’t know if we are speaking the same thing. Anyway Pakistan is a different country with its own unique set of problems which has more similarity with Middle-East than India


  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 6, 2011 - 1:14AM

    @ Ram Bhrose Singh
    Still u didnot get man if Kerala ar Gujrat ststes are rich or prospering its not because of
    fedral system but peoples of those areas are NRI working overseas and sending lot Riyals
    and Dollers and those petro gulf money working well and U.P or Bihar area are poors bhaia
    log dont travel too much just work on paan ki dukan and live in the country and about jinna
    sahab when talk to congress for loose fedral sys that congress denied..


  • Balma
    Oct 6, 2011 - 2:09AM

    I was shocked to notice a couple of years ago that “Urdu kee teesri kitab” (Class 3 urdu text) had a section on Tajweed at the end. Until then I didn’t even know exactly what the F this word ‘tajweed’ meant!
    Why do the kids in 3rd grade need to learn Arabic tajweed in their Urdu text book?


  • vickram
    Oct 6, 2011 - 5:32PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    I wish to illuminate on certain points on how federalism has worked in India.

    — Kerala has a booming tourism industry. Petro dollar economy vanished many years back.

    — Gujarat is not being run by Patels’ sending dollars. It is because of corruption-free governance of Narendra Modi. Check the US- report on the development of Gujarat. A state which has provided electricity to every home, in every village. Where every single home is made to pay for electricity.

    —Ever heard of a place called Tamil Nadu? This is the fastest growing state right now. Despite corrupt governments, the employment has boomed. In government schools, there is a Mid-day meal scheme, so that every child gets a sumptuous food at least a day. Due to this, the drop-outs has reduced massively.

    —In Tamil Nadu, in government schools, all girls in 11th Standard (aged16 and above) are given cycles, so that they can move about freely.

    —In Tamil Nadu, in government schools, from this year onwards, boys and girls studying in school matric final, are given Laptops (with linux).

    All these because, each state is allowed to have their policies in certain fields !Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli.
    Oct 6, 2011 - 7:40PM

    @ Vickram
    Thank u for explaining in detail but can u tell us why U.P or Bihar and all other india not
    benefiting from fedral system can u…


  • vickram
    Oct 6, 2011 - 8:29PM

    @Ali Tanoli.:

    haha… hit the nail on the head with your question. Answer: vote bank politics. In UP and Bihar, governments know very well that they can get elected if they please the muslims since they vote en bloc.

    So, the party in power is not interested in development, but only in making token gestures to Muslims…and you know very well Muslims rarely talk about economy or education…..all they want is to be left alone so that they can pray 5 times a day without any disturbance…Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli.
    Oct 6, 2011 - 9:07PM

    @ Vickram
    hahhahah i like your sense of humar.


  • Balma
    Oct 6, 2011 - 9:24PM

    Vickram darling,
    I thought Kerala had a higher percentage of Muslims than UP or Bihar?
    Kyaa logic hae aap kee darling? I am impressed:-)


  • BruteForce
    Oct 6, 2011 - 9:44PM

    @Ali Tanoli:

    Thats a simplistic view to take. Lay blame on the leaders who came after Jinnah.

    Nehru was a great writer. He has written many books, letters and articles explaining clearly what he wants India to be. He had asked for the removal of Zamindari system or the Feudal system in 1928 when Jinnah was still in England!

    He maintained those beliefs and ideals and penned them down. What are Jinnah’s ideals? His idea of Pakistan? What he wanted it to be?

    All you can find in Jinnah’s speeches is how Congress is an evil organization, intent on hurting Muslim interests, even though Congress president for 6 years since 1938 was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. How shallow is does that sound.

    Anyway, what you dont know and no Text book will ever tell you is this: Jinnah was a Britishers man. Viceroy Wavell loved him, Churchill couldn’t get enough of him. Wavell sings praises for Jinnah and had approved for the idea of Pakistan even before the Cabinet Mission Plan. Jinnah’s support base were the feudals.

    That is why you have NEVER heard Jinnah talk economic and politics the same way Nehru has on countless occasions.

    Pakistan was created without much thought or morals. I am not offending you or any citizens of Pakistan, but stating the truth.

    Interesting that Nehru was in Jail for a period of 9 years, while Jinnah hasn’t been to jail a single time. Goes to show how pro-British he was.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 7, 2011 - 2:35AM

    @ Brute forc
    Thank u man for this information and your view i will read more …


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