Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Secular 'Dilemma'

We have all heard the debate if Father of our Nation, Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was secular or not, because the liberals think he wanted to make Pakistan a secular country. In his 11th August, 1947 Speech (which some Pakistani bureaucrats and politicians even tried to censor!), he said, “You may belong to any region or caste or creed –that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.  

As a student of Dr. Mubarak Ali, I believe that “Hero worship is not the solution to our problems. New challenges require new ideas”.
Thus, Instead of trying to prove anything about Mr. Jinnah, I would like to clarify some misconceptions about Secularism.
According to members of the ghairat Brigade, secularism is defined as “not religious or spiritual”(which is exactly what the Abridged Oxford Dictionary says).  They also think “a secular person has got nothing to do with religion”. They also translate Secularism as “La-deen” which is the translation for the word atheist.

The word ‘secular’ is derived from the Latin word "Saeculum" (meaning present age or this world). It was first used in 1648 in the Treaty of Westphalia at the end of religious wars in Europe that paved the way for the modern ‘nation state’ concept to become increasingly prominent.
At that time it denoted “the removal of territory or property from the control of ecclesiastical authorities.”  George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906) was the main exponent of this doctrine and defined it as “well being of mankind in the present life”.

According to
Britannica Encyclopedia, “Secularism is  any movement in society directed away from otherworldliness to life on earth. In the European Middle Ages there was a strong tendency for religious persons to despise human affairs and to meditate on God and the afterlife. As a reaction to this medieval tendency, secularism, at the time of the Renaissance, exhibited itself in the development of humanism, when people began to show more interest in human cultural achievements and the possibilities of their fulfillment in this world”.

Oxford advanced Learners’ dictionary
defines Secularism as, “the belief that religion should not be involved in the organization of society, education, etc.” 

provides the definition as “the attitude that religion should have no place in civil affairs”. 

The one-sided definition and mis-translation of the word ‘secular’ is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, almost 80 years ago, a certain Mr. Maududi translated ‘Secular’ as ‘Atheistic’ (La-deen). He did so in his book
Musalman aur Jadeed Siasi Kashmakash, Hissa Awwal (“Muslims and the Modern Political Struggle, Part 1”), published in 1937, in which he wrote a chapter named “Qaumi Jamhoori La-deeni state” (National Democratic Secular State).
In part three of that book, he wrote, “It is worth mentioning that not a single political leader from Muslim League or any resolution from the party have ever clarified that their ultimate goal is to create Islamic type of Government in Pakistan. Rather what they have said and repeated is that they want to establish a democracy with equal rights for the minorities” (Maududi, Musalman aur Jadeed Siasi Kashmakash; Published in 1941; Volume 3; page 130)

For Reference and comparison, lets also take a look at the definitions of Atheism.

According to Britannica Encyclopedia, “atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence”.

Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines Atheism as “the belief that God does not exist”.

Dictionary.com defines Atheism as “the doctrine or belief that there is no God” and “disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings”.
But even then, Atheism or any form of Disbelief is not some ‘conspiracy’ or some sign of ‘pure evil’ as some people tend to needlessly panic over. People should not be judged on what they believe in, but on what they do and contribute to society as equal human beings. That is the basic premise of secularism; equality, respect and fairness towards each other.
Secularism is not a religion, it’s a political ideology. The idea of secularism in Islamic society means favoring a modern secular political system (preferably democratic) with separation of mosque and state, as opposed to Islam as a political movement.
Interestingly, a famous Muslim Philosopher Ibn e Rushd(Averroes)  has been described as the founding father of secular thought, becoming known as "The Commentator" in the Christian West.
The list of Secular states with majority Muslim populations include Chad, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Syria, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Turkey – each of them behaving differently with their own unique interpretations of secularism.

A person can be secular and still be a practicing Muslim/Christian/Hindu/Jew etc. unlike what the fake nationalists and the Ghairat Brigade think.
 Being a ‘secularist’ as a political position means one wants religious inclinations to be confined to personal preferences, and for each person in society to be treated as equals based on laws that don’t discriminate or distinguish on personal beliefs but rather conduct and character.
It is fair to say that instead of arguing over what political stance or ambition Quaid-e-Azam had, we need to educate ourselves and think critically over what we are told to hold dear without ever daring to question. We must not fall to hearsay and speculation, but rather we should be willing to understand and use our own brains to figure out the problems we face with cool heads rather than through emotional rhetoric.
Only then can we sit together, and resolve our issues as human beings rather than as agitated animals.
P.S I am expecting both positive and negative responses to this post, but as a secular person, I respect your opinion, even If you don’t agree with me. 


  1. Finally someone collected all this information together. Well researched and written.

  2. the belief that religion should not be involved in the organization of society, ? So dat means No Islam or religious teaching in our education system and in the organization of society ????

  3. @Mishi Khan

    Islamic teaching should not be FORCED upon the students, thats all. Regarding the "organization" of the state, you are free to practice your religion as long as you don't become an inconvenience for others and LAWS should NOT discriminate based on religion(consider the case that HINDUS in Pakistan CAN NOT get legally married BECAUSE there is no marriage registration system for anyone other than Muslims or Christians.!!! and the case that a MINISTER in Punjab had to wait for many months before his religion was changed to CHRISTIANITY by NADRA.!! WTF)

  4. Dictionary definitions matter, yes; but what matters equally is how things are understood in the common context.

    Yes, secularism--like "fundamentalism" and "Islamism"--have a dictionary definition, but they also have a definition in the political science context. But too often, as, I will humbly submit, you have above, a distinction is not made between "secularism" and "anti-clericalism" and being "anti-religion". Nehru's secularism was what you have defined above; but most Indians I meet today do not follow that: they are actively anti-religion, not indifferent to it.

  5. Love the Maududi quote, by the way.

  6. @Sabahat Ashraf
    I admit that there is difference between theory and practice and what I have written is mostly theoretical. Like in Turkey, Secularism started as anti-Khilafat, anti-religion movement, In bangladesh, they have out-lawed use of religion for Political Parties. thus, when things become practical, there is evolution and increased understanding of the ideas.
    I basically wrote this whole thing in response to the PCF video in which they defined Secularism and tried to use Quaid e Azam's speech to justify their own hatred.

  7. I couldn't agree with you more over the need to move on from what Quaid e Azam wanted to do or not do and instead deal with the problems we face now. Gain knowledge and critical thinking as opposed to dogma and blind following. Just started following your blog by the way and I am already a fan ^_^

  8. I think there is not even a single Islamic state in the world in which Islamic laws are fully applicable.Secularism is truly the deviation from religious matters. I think if a Muslim can't work to making the country a Muslim welfare state (where every one is treated fairly- irrespective of religion) instead he's nullifying the role of religion in state affairs, he must take an overview of his / her actions and try for some correction.........As regards no registration system for Hindu's marriages, it can't be called an Islamic system failure. It must be taken as the fault on the parts of the institutions concerned with these matters.