Before Pierre Gassendi gave Epicureanism a new life in the 17th century, the teachings of Epicurus had been relentlessly misinterpreted – and hence shunned – for nearly two millennia. Epicureanism had been misapprehended as atheism and propagated as such.
Dante’s Divine Comedy threw Epicureans in the sixth circle of hell, while those who shared the beliefs of Epicurus had no place in Mishnah’s afterlife either. This was because Epicureans were perceived as ‘heretics’ and ‘non-believers’, even though they were – like Epicurus himself – merely deists who propagated the concept of “neutral gods” that do not influence the laws of nature and hence, do not interfere with human lives. Peddling any form of theism that differs from orthodox religion’s idea, as atheism, historically kept the church’s stranglehold over the state.
In Pakistan secularists have been suffering the fate of Epicureans since the country’s inception. People like Maulana Maudoodi, the founding father of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and a staunch opponent of Pakistan’s creation, dubbed secularism as “atheism” or “irreligion”. Even though all secularism asks for is state neutrality on matters of belief, where everyone is free to practice their religious rituals as long as they do not breach another person’s individual liberty and basic human rights. Secularism merely propagates – as reiterated by Epicurus around 307 BC – the separation of religion and state, and not the dissolution of religion per se.
Since Epicurus’s God was neutral and didn’t interfere in human lives, Epicureans condemning the interference of religion in personal life was its logical corollary. And of course, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds.
[quote]Shelving religion as a political tool is the need of the hour[/quote]
Secularism has been touted by some quarters as the solution to Pakistan’s multi-pronged problem for as long as the country has existed. However, it has never been more pivotal, with sectarianism and religious extremism redefining the quintessence of Pakistan by reaching their respective nadirs on a daily basis as manifested by the TTP orchestrated blasts in Bannu and Rawalpindi. With the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their blood brothers Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) using their religious zeal to wreak havoc in the country, shelving religion as a political tool has become the need of the hour.
On the face of it, the TTP’s demand of implementing the Shariah in Pakistan falls perfectly in line with the 1973 Constitution’s Preamble, according to which Islam is the state religion and Allah has the sovereignty. And so it’s ironic that a group so often accused of breaching the constitution is actually the most fervent proponent of its founding principle. The fact that when TTP’s passion spills over the blood of Pakistanis also spills over, is in synchrony with the ideology that they propagate, contrary to popular belief.
From attacking Malala Yousafzai to orchestrating suicide bombings, the Taliban defend every single one of their heinous crimes through religious scriptures and historical precedents, as current TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid and his predecessor Ehsanullah Ehsan have regularly reiterated. Dubbing it as misinterpretation on the Taliban’s part is as convenient as it is dangerous considering that it’s a direct case of “my interpretation versus yours”, with the only difference being that the TTP’s interpretation endeavours to recreate 7th century Arabia as accurately as possible. Which ‘version’ of religion is correct, becomes a redundant question when one particular ‘version’ has taken up arms against every other ‘version’. The question of safeguarding the lives of “the others” from the menace of this particular ‘version’ thence becomes the most pertinent question, with the answer simply being: secularisation.
There is a need to understand that no religion envisions an ideal pluralistic society. For the biggest selling point of every religion is the superiority of its followers which in turn is taken care of by incorporating their authority through laws emanating from religious scriptures. Fighting over which ‘version’ is accurate can only be a relevant exercise, where all ‘versions’ are guaranteed basic human rights. Which again, is only workable in a secular society.
When you disseminate terms like ‘Islamic republic’, ‘Islamic democracy’, ‘Islamic socialism’, ‘Moderate Islam’ or any such oxymoron as a part of your political ideology, you’re creating room for all ‘versions’ of the religion to become stakeholders, with the most dangerous becoming usurpers through sheer clout. By separating religion from the state you put human rights at the forefront of everything with any violation, regardless or its religious or cultural motivations, becoming a punishable offence. Whenever religion and basic human rights end up being at odds – as they quite often do – it’s the latter that is given precedence in a secular state.
There’s a need to comprehend the fact that the question of Pakistan’s future is now a binary one. It’s either the Taliban ideology that shall rule the roost or it’s going to be a secular one. For any attempt to find “middle ground” would inadvertently leads towards the former. It’s simply either Talibanisation or secularisation.
The only reason that some quarters in Pakistan are actually mulling over making barefaced terrorists like the TTP as stakeholders in government, is owing to the fact that carrying religion on your sleeve or even shoving it down others’ throat garners popularity. And so in a country where religion can be used – rightly or wrongly – to subjugate human beings owing to their identity; to defend chopping off heads; and to decide who can and can’t read any particular scriptures, accurate depiction of secularism obviously becomes crucial.
Just like Epicureanism, secularism doesn’t deny the existence of a deity or endeavour to create a state sans religion. All it vies to formulate is a society where all citizens are equal regardless of who they worship or don’t; regardless of which historical figures they respect or don’t and regardless of what they believe in and what they don’t.
There is a dire need to put this rather simple narrative in the mainstream media.
In the current state of affairs, who is going to destroy his political career and personal safety by suggesting a secular pakistan??
someone with the courage of his/her convictions. but not many of those around.
“biggest selling point of every religion is the superiority of its followers which in turn is taken care of by incorporating their authority through laws emanating from religious scriptures”
The same could be said of every competing political ideology, be it capitalism, socialism, communism or the various cocktails of these. Or indeed religion-less nationalism. The solution should then be to separate state and politics?
The problem with secularist extremists is that they want to keep their cake and have it too. The hallmark of exclusivism, in other words.
I don’t think you understand what is freedom of speech and freedom of religion – which are the main issues in this article.
No religious state grants these freedoms and that is the main point.
Secular extremists let you practice your religion; but islamists will not let you practice even islam when it does not adhere to their interpretation.
Think before equating secularists and islamists.
Here’s what secularists don’t understand, every society will evolve and start introducing laws that run counter to the ideals of secularism to mold the “ideal society”-just as religion says it will do. For example, in many secular European countries holocaust denial can lead to imprisonment. Is this any different than religious laws which ban certain types of expression? In mexico, another secular country, the country introduced gender-segregated buses after women complained of harassment. Another secular country, Iceland, banned strip clubs and online pornography. Sounds a lot like religious laws,eh? Here’s the thing, in the long run a country will settle on laws that the majority is comfortable with. Any attempt to force a country to choose between secularism and “talibanization” is futile.
as-Salamu ‘Aleikum. I suggest Mr. Kunwar Shahid should face the binary choice of declaring himself as either a Hindu or a Muslim. Because his dangerous ideas are directly from some or other school of Hindu philosophy – not from ANY school of Islam. Once munafiqs like this are weeded out from our society, peace will automatically descend on our chosen nation, which has an Arab, Turk, and Iranian blood and culture. He should move to India, since he is already advertising his Hindu ancestry with the name “Kunwar”.
Our friends who begin to froth at the mouth at the mention of secularism need to be reminded (politely, of course) that whatever religion we adhere to is, for an overwhelming number of people, merely an accident of birth. Muslim, hindu, christian etc. Sunni, shia, ahmadi, deobandi, barelvi, we follow the faith and sects of our families and parents. These are not reasoned choices made on any other basis except our respect for tradition and norm. Can one accident of birth be given precedent over another by a society? Can a society possibly be run on a such a subjective basis? My accident of birth must be respected and implemented as a social order while yours cant be granted the same status.Absurd, if you ask me.
Such peanut gallery observations should be kept out of a logical column , the likes of which are rare.