Thursday, May 12, 2016

Secularization of An Islamic Republic

When the British colonized South Asia, the native population were believers in God. The Mughal Empire was disintegrating. There were many regions ruled by Muslim monarchs. The Muslims residents lived according to their centuries old traditions. Their culture was a mixture of Persian, Turkish, Afghan and Indian influences. Arabic was a foreign language for them and they were dependent on their scholars to interpret religion for them. The scholars for the most part were answerable to the ruler and presented the ruler’s version of Islam. The people were taught to read the Quran for blessings but were not aware of what they read. The rulers were not interested in educating the general population in the religious sciences. Most centers of learning were fixated by jurisprudence rulings about matters instead of the principles of religion. The societies were for the most part deprived from the fresh wisdom from the study of the Quran. In fact, the religious elite considered it haram to translate the Arabic Quran until the time of Shah Wali Allah of Delhi.

The British arrived with their technology, civilization, religion, culture and education and set about establishing their institutions for its dissemination from Calcutta to Delhi and beyond. The Muslims were in no position to oppose the civilizational onslaught. There were two main reactions from the Muslims. One group said that they will completely boycott the Western influence and culture. This group dispersed to the corners of society and study to the teaching of the religious sciences. The Darul Uloom of Deoband represents this group. Traditionally, its students have been blind to modernity. The second group led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan said that they cannot avoid the knowledge which presented itself to them. He argued that they will study Western knowledge, take whatever fits Islam and discard all that does not. Modern Muslim education institutions were established in India and then in Pakistan based on this philosophy. In theory the attitude of this group was right, but in practise the students of these institutions were mesmerized by Western civilization and the hard physical sciences like physics. They applied the methodology of Western scientific inquiry to explain their own religion. As it was, the practise of Islam was lost in the decadent Muslim monarchies. 

These educated elite then set about explaining religion based on their own warped reasoning rather than through the understanding and practise of the Prophet (SWAS). There were very few students of this system who mastered Western knowledge better than the Westerners and excelled at it to the degree that they were able to see the inherent flaws in it. One such student was Muhammad Iqbal who then used inspiration of Quran and Hadith to realize flaws in Western thought and the centuries of decay which has characterized the Muslim civilization. He realized that the sources of Islam had the basis of a system of life which was inherently stronger, just and better. He outlined the methodology Muslims needed to regain the intellectual heritage through his seven lectures in the “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”. His poetry yearned to wake up the Muslims. Other than Iqbal, the majority of the graduates of this education system were Muslim versions of their colonial masters especially in later times. Other than the feudal landowners, in time they became the Muslim elite. It was such elite who were the leaders of the movement to create a modern nation state for the Muslims in South Asia – Pakistan. The theoretical basis on this state was to be the system of life of Islam. That was the rallying point for all the Muslims of South Asia.

When the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was created in 1947, most of its citizens were cultural Muslims in the image of the Muslims ruled by the Muslim monarchs of pre-colonial South Asia. They were completely depended on the ulema to explain the religion to them. The fact that they never attempted to learn Arabic and have a personal relation to the Quran, has resulted in a very strong Pakistani clergy in a religion in which there is no place for clergy. Whereas the Muslim clergy in India suffered deprivations and state oppression, their counterparts in Pakistan flourished in the Islamic Republic. Their waistlines expanded and they become notorious as “halwa eaters”. For the most part this clergy was educated in Deoband style madrasas and were alien to modern thought. Hence the gulf between modern education and religious education separated the society into people of very different thought processes. Using the masses, the clergy exerted their influence to make sure that the underpinnings of the new state was in theory based on Islam. Thus the constitution states that the sovernity of the State belongs to Allah and that no laws in the legislation can be made contrary to the Quran and Sunnah. But in practice all this has shown itself to be just lip service to Islam. The average Pakistani – educated or illiterate – is deeply sentimental about Islam even if they do not understand the principles of Islam. This sentiment is in fact not for religion, per se, but can be better understood as a form of nationalistic fervor.

Pakistan has managed to produce very few scholars who tried to reconcile the education from the modern secular West to the principles of the Quran and Sunnah. Maulana Fazlul Rahman Ansari was appointed by Ayub Khan for this task. After years of struggle he left Pakistan disillusioned to become the Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies in the University of Chicago in the 70s. He was severely criticized back home by the Mullahs.

By and large, the people of Pakistan have been left ignorant of Arabic and dependent on a clergy to represent their religion, as the Hindu clergy did before them. A clergy who in out of touch with modernity. Due to their historical distance from forming a personal understanding of the message of the Quran in its source language, the revelation does not have the miraculous effect of their individual hearts to establish and grow eemaan. For the most part, the average Pakistani is stilled entangled in the legalistic complication of religious rulings. External form of Islam has become way more important to them than its essential wisdom and guidance. Due to a power struggle the clergy has divided itself based on sectarian and ideological differences and since people are ignorant to the basic message of their religion, they blindly follow the clergy who denounce all other groups to be misguided and destined to Hellfire. There are frequent infighting among the followers of these groups so much so that they refuse to pray behind one another. The participation of religious groups in national elections has resulted in smear campaigns of one Islamic party against another. The question of leadership prevents them from contesting elections as a united body.

In this backdrop, to the average educated Pakistani the bickering among its clergy and the general state of their followers, results in disenchantment with formal religion. To many, the ignorance of the clergy to modern thought and their blind followers, their infighting and their power politics, distances them from religion. Many await for the ideal Muslim leader to help save them. They elect one corrupt politician after another – each one turning out worse than the other. They do not realize that salvation lies in their own hands. Each Pakistani can change his destiny by educating and reforming himself. If he has secular education, he can seek religious education and vice versa.

Since the ideology of the State is theoretically Islam, every Pakistani pays lip service to it, but to most deep down they know that this is a farce. Thus Pakistani society is a society in which hypocrisy in institutionalized. When the 2005 earthquake happened in Pakistani, I made a general appeal in the oil company I was working in Abu Dhabi for donations. Soon afterwards, I was approached by my manager, a UAE national who had studied Mechanical Engineering in US. He was a practicing Muslim. He used to pray dhur in congregation and was in Makkah in the last 10 days of every Ramadan. He told me that Pakistan is cursed by Allah because Pakistanis made an oath to establish it on the basis of Islam and had shown themselves to by hypocritical in this pledge. This earthquake, according to him, was a punishment, so was the floods, the dismemberment of the country, the electricity crises, the law and order situation, the ethnic and sectarian strife, the domination of India and other countries, corrupt leadership, etc. According to him, Pakistanis deserved what they were getting.

In the absence of any practical ideology, the Pakistani state has become a failed state. It consistently ranks among the top most corrupt countries of the world. Its rulers set the example for its population by looting the nation. The son in law of the politician who promised to provide every poor Pakistani bread, cloth and housing, used his father in laws popularity to win the election and soon became the richest Pakistani in the land. In this state of affairs, the average Pakistani equates the failure of the State with the failure of its ideology, i.e. Islam. The War on Terror and the subsequent emergence of terror groups in the name of Islam has also led the whole society to secularize en mass. The world media from the West and India is beamed into Pakistan, exposing the average Pakistani to secular liberalism. Many seek escape from their painful state by immigration. Most of those who immigrate lose their religion in one or two generation. Those who try to hold on can seldom do so till the third generation.

The Pakistanis who are in diaspora throughout the world should realize that they are there due to divine collective punishment from Allah like the Jews were punished before them and were dispersed throughout the world. Their salvation is still the same. They have to change themselves and their children to change their destinies. As Pakistanis (for the most part) have proved themselves to be a hypocritical people, they will do well by associating with Muslims from other countries rather than themselves. Their repentance should include a complete cut off from the hypocritical culture they grew up in. A complete disassociation with Pakistani culture by cutting off all satellite channels in their homes is a good step. If their children lose the Urdu language they should not grieve, but rather take the opportunity to replace the language of hypocrisy with Islam’s source language – Arabic. They will benefit more if they stay away from traditional Pakistani religious groups in the West. It is better for them to join a heterogeneous jamaat with good representation of indigenous Muslims and indigenous or second generation Imams.


Rather than follow the Pakistani formula of success for their children, they must realize that role of their children in the West is not to become cogs in the secular machinery of the West, but rather to become agents of positive change by reforming Western society as Iqbal had envisioned. The West is already technologically very advanced. The effect that your child will have as a Computer Scientist in such a society is insignificant as compared to the role he can have by intellectually challenging the extreme nature of this civilization due to its distance from religion. Thus as spiritual doctors, you children can serve their host society better as it is their own society. As callers to religion, they have a lesser chance losing their way of life and in the process reconcile the modern with the religious in a manner that your intellectuals in Pakistan failed to do. Perhaps then may Allah forgive us.