Within a decade of the nation’s inception, the 1956 Constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic. It also deemed Islam the official religion of the country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the patron of the 1973 Constitution, took it a step further and declared Islam the state religion. An amendment was also added to the Constitution a year later which proclaimed Ahmadis non-Muslims. Bhutto’s government went on to make Islamiat compulsory in schools and banned alcohol in Pakistan. Ultimately, his government’s policies led to the empowerment of Islamist groups. Add in Ziaul Haq’s inclusion of the Objectives Resolution to the Constitution and Pakistan’s destiny was on a treacherous path. Zia managed to indoctrinate religion into the society, media, armed forces and universities. Politicians have relied on religion since that point to garner votes which encourages extremism to seep even deeper into the societal fabric of Pakistan.
The 1973 Constitution, a consensus document, is full of contradictions. For instance, Article 25 states that all citizens are equal under the law, whereas Article 2 declares Islam the state religion. The establishment of one religion as the state religion to the exclusion of others diminishes equality of citizens of other faith. How can Pakistan be a democracy if all citizens are not treated equally? Case in point, a non-Muslim citizen cannot become the head of the state and this is in direct violation of Article 25.
This brings us to present day Pakistan, where debate on the Council of Islamic Ideology’s (CII) rulings has dominated discourses for the past few days. Here is a list of the CII’s accomplishments thus far: DNA testing not permitted as primary evidence in case of rape — instead, a woman has to produce four men who observed the crime — and the Women’s Protection Act of 2006, which was rejected by the council. It has also opposed the Domestic Violence Bill.
The actions of the CII should not come as a surprise to anyone, but should only strengthen the case for separating state from religion, as is the case in the developed world. Women and minorities must be acknowledged as full-fledged human beings and be given back the right to determine their own fate. Abolishing the council is not the ultimate solution; only the first step. If there is a conscious decision by the populace to adopt a “state religion”, then so be it. The people would then have no choice but to live by whatever edicts are given out by the council.
However, if this were near reality, the provincial and federal legislatures would be bursting with religious zealots borne off religious parties. When religious parties usually bag no more than two per cent of the seats, the country has not even begun to approach that scenario. There remains no justification as to why the council should be given a licence to dictate how the nation’s Constitution should be structured. Never has there been a better time than now to abolish the CII. Overcoming years of Islamisation, coupled with rampant illiteracy, will be a historic undertaking and the process needs to begin today if Pakistan wants to recover from the consequences of dogma.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2014.