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State & religion

Huzaima Bukhari

“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 State” Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah

The state is a nation or territory that is constituted of an organized political community under one government. Since the territory is marked, all persons living therein automatically become its citizens unless they voluntarily, or forcibly in some cases, revoke it and choose to settle elsewhere. In other words, a group of people in the confines of certain political boundaries live their lives like we live within the security of our home. As we are aware, a family comprises human beings of all ages bound together in a natural or attained relationship, professing either uniform or diverse ideologies. This implies that the house itself does not boast of any faith but provides an abode for those with or without faith for a harmonious living. A problem may arise where the head of the family in charge of running the household has a despotic albeit well-intended tendency, forcing everyone to observe a particular doctrine or set of rules, of course to maintain some discipline. In this case, there would be multiple situations where either everyone obediently follows instructions without questioning, or even if there is some resentment, continue to obey for the sake of peace but what if there is rebellion? There would certainly be a lot of unrest and argument leading to unpleasantness.

The moot point is that the abstract notion of a home cannot envisage a particular set of beliefs because at one point it can be occupied by, say Christians, at another, maybe Muslims or Hindus meaning thereby that it is the occupants who define the ideology of a house. Another example is that of an apartment building accommodating multi-ethnic and multi-faith families. What could be the faith of that building and with a diverse community living practically under one roof, would there be a state of turmoil?  Not necessarily and depending on the overall administrative system of that building. The one conclusion that can be drawn is that whereas dwellings are for the physical body, faith or dogma is related to spirit encased within a body, however, manifesting itself in visible actions. As long as these acts are restricted to maintaining law and order, they hurt no one but the moment they encroach upon the freedom and emotions of others, then it is time to reconsider many things.

History has witnessed many crusades or battles fought in the name of religion, Ironically, all religions teach peace, love, empathy, tolerance yet destruction is caused without remorse and blood is spilt mercilessly in the name of God, Jehovah, Bhagwan or by whatever name the Al-Mighty is addressed. Interestingly, these expeditions were mostly carried out by orthodox rulers who considered the faith they were born with as the purest and truest, rejecting all others and conquering lands to establish their own beliefs forcefully over the subjugated nations. Where the populace showed resistance, they were ruthlessly persecuted. It appears that in reality economic interests were masked in the garb of either reforming humans or punishing them for their infidelity and all in the name of God!

A little closer look at the recent events would reveal the gruesome nature of brothers poised against one another. It is all very well to be followers of altogether different faiths but when it comes to sectarianism, it becomes even gorier. The Muslim block comprising almost 26 countries is largely divided into two major sects, Sunni and Shia with the former being represented by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the latter by Islamic Republic of Iran, both threatening to wipe out the very existence of one another. Had this aggression remained to the extent of their respective countries, it would have been a different story but the problem becomes more acute when their ‘friendly’ states are dragged into the conflict.

For a moment one wonders about the exact nature of dispute. As far as belief in one Allah and one Prophet is concerned, they are on the same footing. They are also very similar in their outlook of establishing an extremely conservative society with both having similar notions about stringent laws and women in particular. There are indeed severe differences about entitlement to Caliphate but do these justify a reign of terror? What is the fault of those people who are born in one household or the other and raised to nurture specific beliefs? Why cannot they live together in peaceful coexistence? Is it because, conflicts help to run the multi-billion dollar arms industry of the West? What was the result of the 10-years long Iran-Iraq war or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait? Can one call these crusades?

A cursory look across countries where religion is the private affair of each person without the government interfering in what he thinks, how he performs his religious rites and what kind of doctrines he observes will show how multi-faith communities live side by side keeping a respectable distance. As a Muslim, one may find Switzerland a safer place compared to Syria or Yemen. As a Jew, outskirts of Israel are more perilous than the secure environment of New York. As a Hindu, living in a Muslim locality of India could be more uncomfortable than the life in the United Arab Emirates. Even the Dalai Lama of Tibet finds it safer to remain in exile rather than in China. So how come, the so-called ideological countries have a higher intolerance level with a more jeopardizing situation for the survival of human beings when seen in the backdrop of those states that do not publically show adherence to a particular set of tenets?

The fact is that just like the house, a politically defined territory should be neutral allowing its denizens to breathe with ease. Imposing a certain doctrine on thinking humans is the biggest torture that can be inflicted on mankind. Even the very basis of divine religions, especially Islam, is the concept of reason and logic to unlock the secrets of the universe rather than blind following. In order to rationalize, one needs to defy, debate, reach conclusions before making peace with God. If the tests of falsification are not allowed to be conducted in a closed society, we would have no choice but to live in a world of ignorance the leaders of which thrive on the lack of intellect of their people and exploit the country’s resources to serve their own selfish interests.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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