Over the past weekend, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan condemned his political opponents while comforting his supporters that he stood opposed to those who were ‘secular’ or ‘non-believing’; and scolded, “If you go out with a beer, you are unlikely to come across good people.” Many would downplay his expression as a part of gimmickry to woo his political constituency; however, this sweeping, misconstrued and of course, malicious diatribe has deeper effects on an already intolerant socio-polity of Pakistan. As if the expression from the Interior Minister wasn’t enough, an even more regressive statement came from Jamat-e-Islami’s chief Senator Sirajul Haq. But that’s pretty predictable, methodical too, with politicians who play politics in theocratic terms: you accept one thing from them only to know that you are still short of their expectations.
The Jamat-e-Islami’s chief said current rulers had ditched the philosophy of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation, and that the ruling party knew little about the purpose behind the struggle for an independent Pakistan. It feels so rich that this reminder came from the chief of JI, a party which had so vociferously opposed the independence movement for Pakistan — including the harshest invectives it used against Jinnah and his Muslim League.
But let’s look at what Chaudhry Nisar has expressed, which is more spectacular. It’s disappointing to know that having schooled from country’s modern secular academia such as Aitchison, he thinks secular and non-believers stood in the same row for his condemnation. Perhaps, even an O-Leveller would know that secular is something related to age, period, earthly or worldly in comparison to what is religious, holy or divine. For instance, a place of worship such as Mosque, Church or a Temple is holy and sacred as each of these directly relate to God. But a municipal office, shopping centre or a university isn’t, as none of these has any reference to divinity and is essentially worldly. In the same way, for instance, while the Pakistan Peoples’ Party or Muslim League are secular parties, others such as JI, JUI or for that matter TTP are non-secular theological parties or orders. While the former derive their raison d’être from peoples’ right to rule themselves, the latter from a theological doctrine. The former speak for people; the latter claimed to speak for God.
The institution of state is particularly a political and geopolitical entity, while a nation is a cultural and ethnic construct. Hence both ideas are worldly or secular as against holy or theological. It’s pertinent to know here that Jinnah’s struggle for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent of India was triggered by, and based on, the fact that he had sensed an imminent political disenfranchisement of Muslims in the face of Hindu majority following British withdrawal. Certainly, Jinnah had not led the independence movement for Pakistan in order to hand the country over to clergy or to form a theocracy where the likes of Maulana Abul Ala Maududi of Jamat-e-Islami or Mufti Mehmood of Deoband School of Islam would be calling the shots. Both of these parties, its leaders and most of other Muslim clerics of United India had slandered that the idea of Pakistan was the brainchild of the British and that Muslim League and Jinnah were their lackeys. They also considered Jinnah as a heretic and non-believer and used Holy Scripture to vilify him.
So obviously, Jinnah didn’t have a theocratic purpose of the state but to develop a modern Muslim democratic republic. It’s unfortunate he died so immediately after independence and the later leadership lacked his clarity of vision to keep theocratic propensities from mainstreaming and influencing the body politic of Pakistan. In a way, Chaudhry Nisar and his views, despite all the exposure of western education and parliamentary politics that he has been to, sadly, are direct result of the kind of sway and influence clerics have enjoyed in Pakistan over the past decades in shaping the political discourse in religious terms. His stereotypical tirade on glass of beer would also have certainly judged Jinnah, who of course drank alcohol, as among not-so-good people!
It’s for this confused narrative and untoward wedding between the statecraft and theological sanctions that we as people are more divided than ever before. Continuing to insist on this marriage has disastrous consequence for it leads the state to obscurantist sectarian minefield, where unfortunately we already are. The Interior Minister’s rant only helps intolerance, ignorance and augments the propaganda of Islamists who hate the very idea of democracy being a western notion and it’s being secular as atheistic. Pakistan needs sanity and inclusiveness from its elected representatives and more so from those who are also at the helm of affairs such as Federal Interior Minister.
The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He’s accessible on twitter @Zulfirao1