Freedom of Religions Secularism

Coexistence of Religion and Secularism

A look at how Islam responds to the challenge of secularism as a form of governance in the modern world with particular reference to Pakistan.

52 The Review of Religions – May 2005 Is there any common groundbetween Islam and Secularism? Can Islam and Secularism approach each other in a spirit of cooperation? What is that fundamental principle, the adoption and practice of which would make any form of government consistent with Islam? How valid is the concept of ‘Islamic Secularism’? This article seeks to answer these and other related questions in the light of the Qur’an and Practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa). Varying shades of Secularism. The word ‘Secular’ literally means “worldly”, not connected with religion. In secularism, the authority to run the state is derived from the people. People are regarded the fountainhead of power and their representatives rule the country by obtaining a mandate from them. Secularism is generally understood as separation of state from religion with religion having no place in the legislative process, Constitution or law of a c o u n t r y. This is completely oppo- site to a theocratic State in which the authority is derived from God through a dominant religious body. There are, however, diff e r i n g views that exist about secularism. Extremist secularists would not allow freedom of expression and practise of faith publicly. A n example is in the strict form of Communism. Liberal secularism (as can be found in many Western democ- racies) requires state affairs to be conducted independent of any religious authorities. The Church has no formal power to oppose a law on grounds of being contrary to any teaching of the Bible. The Church and State are totally independent and do not interfere in each other’s sphere. There are some exceptions to this – in Britain, for example, some Anglican Bishops are members of the House of Lords and can exert a certain amount of influence on Coexistence of Religions By Khalid Saifullah Khan – Australia 53The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS government legislation. Some countries in the Muslim world have adopted reforms consistent with Western democracies and the U . N . ’s Human Rights Charter, without calling themselves Secular. They believe that none of the reforms are contrary to the teachings of Islam. Some extremist Muslims, however, strongly disagree with such views and hold that secularism is tantamount to atheism and so it cannot coexist with Islam. This interpretation is contrary to the original teachings of Islam as illustrated during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(sa) who was a staunch defender of religious freedom for all. According to Islam, the basic principle of government should be absolute justice After migration from Makkah to Madinah, the Holy Prophet( s a ) concluded a written agreement with the Jews and their pagan allies of Madinah, which holds a very important position in the history of Islam. It is called M i s a q – e – M a d i n a h or the Covenant of Madinah. A very early book of Islam’s history – Seerat Ibn Hisham has recorded its complete text. It was, as it were, the Constitution of the first ever true Islamic government and was based on absolute justice to all. The whole population of Madinah comprising tribes of diff e r e n t religions, traditions and customs were declared as one Ummah or Nation. All citizens of Madinah (men and women) had equal rights and responsibilities and freedom of religion was assured to all. All of them accepted joint responsibility of defence against outside aggression. Islamic Sharia was not to be imposed on non- Muslims and their affairs were to be decided according to their own Sharia or custom as they liked. It was thus in essence a pluralistic society based on justice that protected the fundamental rights of all, (including the protection of life, property, places of worship and the right to religious freedom). They were all equal citizens forming one nation, and they were never considered as D h i m m i i.e. conquered non- Muslims living under the pro- 54 The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS tection of a Muslim govern-ment. Instead of being D h i m m i t h e y were Mu’ahid, i.e. equal partners made under an agreement or contract. Indeed all the modern concepts of justice, human rights, religious freedom and pluralism found their most solemn application in Madinah of the Holy Prophet’s(sa) time. Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan(ra)i, provided the following summary of the Covenant of Madinah in his book Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets. He says: ‘After a thorough exchange of views, agreement was reached and was reduced to writing of which the principal provisions may be summarised as follows: 1. The Muslims and Jews would deal with each other on the basis of sympathy and sincerity and would not indulge in any aggression or wrong against each other. 2. All sections of the people of Madinah would enjoy complete religious freedom. 3. Everyone’s life and property would be secure, and would be respected, subject to the maintenance of law and order. 4. All matters of diff e r e n c e would be submitted for decision to the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) and would be determined by him according to the laws and the customs of each section of the people of Madinah 5. No section would go forth to fight without the permission of the Holy Prophet(sa). 6. In case of aggression against the Jews or the Muslims, both would combine in repelling the aggression. 7. In case of attack against Madinah, all sections would combine in repelling it. 8. The Jews would not in any manner aid Quraish or provide refuge or comfort for them. 55The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS 9. All sections would be responsible for their own upkeep and expenses. 10. Nothing in the agreement would afford immunity to a w r o n g – d o e r, or sinner or mischief-maker.’ (Muhammad, Seal of the P rophets, by Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1980, pp 88-89) Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru), the fourth Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community commenting on the role of religion in legislation says: ‘According to my understanding of Islamic teachings all states would be run on the same principle of absolute justice and as such every state becomes a Muslim state. In view of these a rguments and over- r i d i n g concept of there being no compulsion in matters of faith, religion does not need to be the predominant legislative authority in the political a ffairs of a state.’ ( I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues, p.197) According to the Covenant of Madinah Muslims and non- Muslims were regarded as two nations religiously, but only one nation politically. The Covenant of Madinah also indicates that the Holy Prophet(sa) regarded Muslims and non- Muslims as two distinct religious groups, who were forged into one nation politically. According to clause 26 of the Covenant of Madinah, as recorded by Ibn-Hisham, ‘ Wa inna Yahooda Bani Aufa, Ummatan ma-al-Momineen. Lil Yahoodi deenahum wa lil Muslimeena deenahum’ i.e. And the Jews of Bani Auf will be one nation with the Muslims; for Jews will be their religion and for Muslims will be their re l i g i o n. This clarified the point that in a Muslim state, though Muslims and non-Muslims would be two nations religiously, they would be one nation politically. This is because of the freedom of religion and the Islamic Sharia would not be imposed on non-Muslims. In 56 The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS fact, there can be no coercion in matters of faith even for the Muslims themselves. Ideals and realities in the case of Pakistan It is interesting – though perhaps not unsurprising – to note that Pakistan, the only major Muslim country that achieved indepen- dence in the past century on the basis of religion, also sought to use this blueprint for its political set up. Before the creation of Pakistan, the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i- Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was asked: What sort of Constitution would Pakistan have? He replied: It will be based on the Covenant of Madinah. The declaration made by Jinnah in the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, on 11 August 1947, was quite consistent with this spirit of the Covenant of Madinah, when he said: ‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the S t a t e … . We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state… Now I think we should keep this in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.’ Referring to the above-referred announcement of Jinnah, Justice Muhammad Munir, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan writes in his book Islam in History: ‘Ch. Muhammad Ali, an ex- Prime Minister of Pakistan, in his book, The Emergence of P a k i s t a n (p240), while commenting on the Quaid-i- A z a m ’s first address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, delivered on 11 August, 1947, has made the 57The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS following pertinent obser- vation: “What is overlooked is that Pakistan came into existence not by conquest but as the result of a negotiated agreement between the representatives of the Hindus and Muslim communities to partition the sub-continent. An explicit and integral part of the agreement was that the minorities in both States would have equal rights and equal protection of law. In that context, the Quaid-i-Azam was wholly right in asserting the fundamental principle that we are all citizens of one State. It follows that the State must give full protection to the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects (and) should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of people, and especially of the masses and the poor.’ (Islam in History by Muhammad Munir, formerly Chief Justice of Pakistan, Kitab Bhavan, Delhi, 299, p.78) However, soon after the death of Jinnah on 11 September 1948, Q u a i d – i – A z a m ’s ideology of a secular Pakistan was demolished by religious parties that had, enough, curiously had bitterly opposed the creation of Pakistan. The religious scholars regarded it as their prerogative to lead and direct the legislature, judiciary and exec-utive on how to run the country according to their interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Justice Munir says: ‘In his speech delivered on 11 August 1947, as President of the Constituent Assembly, the Quaid-i-Azam had presented a picture of the future of Pakistan as that of a purely secular state; but within 6 months of his death Prime Minister Liaqat Ali proposed and had carried out what is called an Objective Resolution. Its outstanding feature was that in form and substance the constitution to be promulgated in pursuance of the Resolution would be some sort of a state with a distinct Islamic bias. This Objective Resolution was adopted and passed by the new Constituent Assembly as the preamble of the Constitution. The Assembly 58 The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS also provided in the Constitution a Council of Islamic Ideology whose func- tions were defined in such a manner as to make the Constitution look like that of an Islamic State. The State was named as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.’ (ibid p 247) This shift away from Islam has left Pakistan in a severely fragmented state, devoid of the immense benefit that it could have gained if it had adhered to the true Islamic principles. E x t reme Secularism or Theocracy results in serious c o n s e q u e n c e s . Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad( r u ) s a y s : ‘According to Islam, therefore, religion has no right to interfere in areas exclusive to the State nor has the State any right to interfere in areas commonly shared by them. Rights and responsibilities are so clearly defined in Islam that any question of a clash is obviated. Many verses relating to the subject have already been quoted in the section d e a l ing with religious peace. Unfortunately there is a tendency among many secular states to sometimes extend the domain of secularisation beyond its natural borders. The same is true of theocratic states or states unduly influenced by a religious h i e r a r c h y.’ ( I s l a m ’s Response to C o n t e m p o r a ry Issues pp199- 2 0 0 ) A complete disregard for any religious or moral restraint becomes a key factor in a society being torn apart from the chaos within. It leaves legislation as the only basis of control thus replacing the self-discipline derived from individual account- ability to a Supreme Being with an ever-increasing set of complex laws that seek to keep a check on the consequences of the moral decline that takes root. There are, indeed, many factors that have contributed to the decline of moral and family values in the contemporary s o c i e t y, such as excessive love 59The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS for worldly things, indi- vidualism, decline of religion, promotion of sex and violence in all forms of media. However, this decline is further aggravated when secular governments pro- mote godlessness in the form of the right to a carefree (and, on the surface, consequence free) society in which religious and moral values are c o m p l e t e l y ignored. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad( r u ) s a y s : ‘Societies are beginning to crumble everywhere alike. As against the countries governed by totalitarian philosophies, the rising con- sciousness of individual liberty in the so-called free world is in itself becoming a lop-sided trend, which is l a rgely responsible for growing social misbe- haviour…. Almost two generations have grown to adulthood in the void of a godless society with nothing to guide and discipline moral behaviour…. The gays, les- bians, drug addicts, skin- heads, punks, and criminals of all sorts, all continue to grow in number and strength. Their audacity to defend their behaviour by simply asking their admonisher, “Why not?” has become the ominous challenge to contemporary s o c i e t y. ’ (ibid pp 53-54) Religions has a vital role in p romoting a peaceful secular s o c i e t y There are many actions of man, which are simultaneously crimes under secular law and sins attracting punishment in the hereafter under religious laws, such as murder, theft, damaging p r o p e r t y, slandering, fabricating lies, embezzlement and numer- ous other social evils, which are condemned by all religions alike. Secularism and religion even moving within their own orbits can cooperate with each other in eradicating such evils which disturb the peace and tranquillity of a society. The maintenance of social and moral help is the joint responsibility of state and reli- gion and religion must play an active role in promoting peace 60 The Review of Religions – May 2005 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS and harmony in any society, secular or otherwise. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) says: ‘According to Islam, the state machinery alone is inadequate to suppress, discourage or minimise crime. Once crim- inal tendencies are permitted to grow and flourish in homes and societies in general, the best a government can do is to wipe out the symptoms from time to time. The root cause of evil is far too deep for the long arm of the law to reach. It is the primary job of families, religious and other leaders of public opinion in every society to eradicate evil.’ (ibid pp 98-99) He further says: ‘Religion and statecraft are two of the many wheels of the wagon of society. It is, in r e a l i t y, irrelevant whether there are two, four or eight wheels, as long as they keep their orientation correct and revolve within their orbits. There can be no question of mutual conflict or confronta- tion. In total agreement with its earlier divine teachings, the Holy Qur’an elaborates this theme by clearly demarcating the sphere of activities of each component of society. It will be over- simplifying the matter if one conceives that there is no meeting point or common ground which religion and state share with each other. They do indeed overlap but in a spirit of cooperation with each other. There is no intent to monopolise.’ (ibid p 195) Muslims should live peacefully under any state that pro v i d e s f reedom of re l i g i o n . Islam makes clear that citizens have a primary role in promoting peace in their society. There are no exceptions to this general principle. Provided the state does not dictate matters of faith, individuals are required to obey the laws of the land and serve their country diligently. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad( r u ) s a y s : 61The Review of Religions – May 2005 ‘A believer of any religion can practise his beliefs under a secular law. He can abide by truth without any state law interfering in his ability to speak the truth. He can observe his Prayers and perform his acts of worship without the need of a specific law being passed by the state to permit him to do so.’ (ibid p 197) Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad( a s ) s a y s : ‘The truth is that according to Holy Qur’an, it is forbidden to go to war against a gov- ernment which does not interfere in any way with Islam or its practices, nor uses force against us in order to promote its own religion.’ (Kishti Nuh, p.68) Does not the Qur’an mention many Prophets of God who lived, preached and practised their religion in societies and governments ruled or dominated by Pagans? Implementation of Enlightened Moderation. As stated above, it is difficult for the extremists of opposing ide- ologies to live in harmony. But there should be no problem to do so by the enlightened moderates, who respect the ideas and faiths of others. Absolute justice is the cornerstone of every civilised and good government. On grounds of absolute justice Islamic Sharia cannot be imposed on non- Muslims, otherwise the same right would have to be conceded to non-Muslims over their Muslim subjects. The punishment of common crimes should be dealt with separately from the crimes committed under religious laws. For example drinking alcohol is no crime for Christians and Muslims have no right to punish them under Islamic law, if there is any such law. Similarly, the Jurisprudence (Fiqh) of one sect of Islam cannot be imposed on persons belonging to other sects. Relations between man and God belong to God exclusively and the state has no right to interfere in COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS 62 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS The Review of Religions – May 2005 any peaceful practice or prop- agation of a religion. No discriminatory law specific to the members of a group or com- munity can be made. Justice demands respect for Human Rights and pluralism for all citizens equally. Mutual respect is a fundamental principle of religions. Islam in particular has laid strong emphasis on this as a precursor to social peace. The manner in which we utilise any resources or power that is entrusted to us is a test for us. Man must discharg e such responsibility with justice, as the Qur’an clearly states that justice is nearer righteousness and it is righteousness that is the foundation for peace. Islam also teaches us that justice is an attribute of God and there is great benefit for man if he too can seek to acquire this characteristic. Explaining the Attributes of God, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad( a s ) the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community says: ‘Our God has never discriminated between one people and another. This is illustrated by the fact that all the potentials which were granted to the Aryans were also granted to the races inhabiting Arabia, Persia, Syria, China, Japan, Europe and America. The Earth, created by God provides a common floor for all people alike and His sun and moon and many stars are a source of radiance to all alike; they also have many other benefits. Likewise, all people benefit from the elements created by Him such as water, fire, earth and other similar products such as grain, fruit and healing agents. These attributes of God teach us the lesson that we too should behave magnanimously and kindly towards our fellow human beings and should not be petty of heart and illiberal.’ (A Message of Peace by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam A h m a d( a s ), pp.7-8) God does not discriminate on the basis of caste, colour or creed and regardless of them, takes care of man’s physical as well as 63 COEXISTENCE OF RELIGIONS The Review of Religions – May 2005 spiritual needs. For man’s spiritual and moral well-being, He has sent His Messengers with guidance to all the peoples in all the ages. God is the Just Judge. If non-discrimination, justice and treating humanity equally and freedom of faith are the principles of secularism, then surely they reflect the characteristics of Universal Government of God and any such government automatically becomes Islamic; whatever its name. The Holy Qur’an enjoins absolute justice to all, even to the inimical people. According to the Qur’an, God is the ‘True King’ (Al-Malikul-Haq C h . 2 3 : V. 117). And He has delegated His authority to people (and not to the religious clergy), commanding them to choose their rulers, by placing the trusts to those who are best fitted to rule with absolute justice. Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Ch.4: V.59) As such, a Muslim Government cannot make any law which is repugnant to the Qur’an and conduct of the Holy Prophet(sa). Therefore, it can be seen that Islamic principles that create conditions conducive to practising good and shunning evil form an ideal moral framework that gives rise to a beneficial model of secularism. Absolute justice to all is the fundamental principle which is shared by both Islam and secularism and this forms the bridge that encourages co- operation between the two. i. The first Foreign Minister of Pakistan, President of the 17th Session of United Nation’s General Assembly and a former President of the International Court of Justice Hague. We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. The Review of Religions will continue to provide discussion on a wide range of subjects and welcomes any comments or suggestions from its readers. 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