Posted by Abdul Alim
Source: Daily Times
By Yasser Latif Hamdani: He is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality.
Secularism merely says that as there are many different religions and interpretation of those religions, the best way is to keep religion out of politics and the state
There is much confusion about the term ‘secularism’ in Pakistan. It is assumed that state secularism means atheism and irreligious conduct. This confusion of secularism with atheism ignores the history of secularism. Atheism has nothing to do with secularism per se, as it deals with the idea that there is no divine, no supreme being guiding our move. Secularism, on the other hand, merely says that as there are many different religions and interpretation of those religions, the best way is keep religion out of politics and the state. In fact, secularism is most useful in societies that are torn by religious conflict — such as ours. Historically, secularism developed in response to the challenges posed by societies much like ours.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah was well aware of this fact. His famous reference to the Protestant-Catholic conflict in England was poignant. Unfortunately, when one points out that Jinnah was secular, i.e. he believed in the neutrality of the state towards religious and sectarian groupings, the naysayers parade his Eid message in 1945 and his speech to the Bar Council on the occasion of Eid-i-Milad-ul-Nabi. Tragically, they miss the basic point: as a liberal lawyer trained in the British tradition, Jinnah’s secularism was never anti-religion. That he wanted a state without any kinds of religious qualification for high office is a fact of history. That he wanted the state to be impartial towards the religious beliefs of individuals is a fact. It cannot be undone by his references to religion few and far between, where too he emphasised that Islam did not believe in an ecclesiastical state and the only way forward was democracy.
Historically, the English idea of secularism is instructive because it has never sought to challenge directly religious authority and its form but has made religious authority irrelevant. This is precisely why despite having a union at the top between Church and State, the officially ‘Anglican kingdom’ is in practice a great secular democratic republic, which is a bastion of religious freedom and home to all people with all points of view. The United Kingdom’s secular politics are rooted in a history of religious conflict, starting with King Henry VIII’s desire to divorce his Queen Catherine of Aragon and the Papal refusal to allow it. Henry, therefore, dissolved the link between the Churches in England and Rome and declared himself the head of the Church of England instead of the Pope. In that, King Henry was supported by reformists who had been inspired by Martin Luther and John Calvin who had long spoken against Papal ways and called for a reform of the Church. This was followed by a continuous religious war between the reformists and the Papists. Much of this conflict finds an echo in our own sectarian conflict that continues to spiral out of control.