By Pervez Hoodbhoy First published in The News on Sunday. November 7, 2010.
Though some Muslim scholars see no contradiction between secularism and Islam, a secular state is possible only if there are enough thoughtful people who can make it happen
Decades from now Pakistan will cease to discriminate between citizens of different religious faiths; its public schools will not poison young minds with hatred; Pakistanis will look for human qualities rather than an individuals' religious affiliation; and the life and property of all citizens will be considered equally valuable. The concept of "minorities" shall have become irrelevant.
Today these appear to be impossible dreams. Indeed, most Pakistanis are demanding an ever greater role for religion in public life. Even as faith-based extremist movements disrupt society, the cry gets louder. For example, sharia-seeking Taliban had blown up hundreds of girls and boys schools in 2008. Although many found this distasteful, a survey, conducted at that time by World PublicOpinion.org, discovered that 54 percent of Pakistanis still wanted strict application of sharia while 25 percent wanted it in some more dilute form. Totaling 79 percent, this was the largest pro-sharia percentage in the four countries surveyed (Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia).
More recently, a nationwide survey of 2,000 young Pakistanis between 18-27 years of age found similar data. The report says that "three-quarters of all young people identify themselves primarily as Muslims. Just 14 percent chose to define themselves primarily as a citizen of Pakistan." This young majority feels the nation is adrift. An overwhelming number are deeply disillusioned not just by Pakistan's present rulers, but also by what they see as major failures in governance, justice, education and science. Educated in a system which General Zia-ul-Haq had put in place, religion is a firm anchor for the clueless youth lost in a sea of distress.
But states that take religion too seriously, and which inject their young with too much of it, can be in deep danger. Attempts to make Pakistan a mamlikat-e-khudadad (theocracy) have lighted uncontrollable fires of religious intolerance. Today increasing sections of Pakistan's population are alienated and resentful at being treated as second class citizens. Earlier on, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis were outcasts. Ahmadis followed in 1974. These groups withdrew from public life or migrated overseas, taking with them precious human and non-human resources.
But the list of undesirables expanded further and further as religious belief became more central to the Pakistani state. Many mainstream Muslims now fear other mainstream Muslims. Today, if you are known to be Shia or Barelvi, you could be endangered in many parts of the country. Pakistani Muslims now offer Friday prayers under the shadow of vigilant gun-wielding guards.Read more of this post