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State vs Religion

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State vs Religion 

By S. M. Hali 

The debate between the authority of the state vs. religion is age-old and many countries including those in the occident have struggled to find a balance. There have been instances, where heads of state have declared themselves to be God claiming divine powers. In other instances, medieval monarchs established themselves as the head of the Church too albeit with a personal agenda. In the 1530s, King Henry VIII of England, in an act of desperation, since Pope Clement VII refused the annulment of the marriage of Henry with his wife Catherine, broke ties with the Church and declared himself as the supreme head of the newly created Church of England. The monarchs of Great Britain have retained ecclesiastical authority in the Church of England since Henry VIII, having the current title, Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Various countries have different views towards the relationship. The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees freedoms concerning religion. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices.

In the case of other countries, the degree of separation between the state and religion varies. Constitutionally, Pakistan’s state religion is Islam. In India and Singapore, the state and religion are totally separated while Maldives declares the total prohibition of the practice of any religion other than Islam.

Let us examine a few other Muslim countries. Turkey maintains a strict division between religion and politics, believing that the intermingling of religion and politics creates unnecessary space for the religio-political parties to manipulate religion for narrow political ends. Thus Turkey has been able to achieve socio-political harmony and economic development through its form of secular democratic governance, tolerance and economic justice.

Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population, does not call itself an Islamic republic. Its Constitution embodies the convention of Pancasila (Five Principles) comprising Belief in the divinity of God, Just and civilized humanity, the unity of Indonesia, Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations among representatives and Social Justice for all of the people of Indonesia. Thus Indonesia has been able to keep a clear separation between religion and state, despite attempts by various groups to change the Constitution and impose their own version of religious dictates. Resultantly, Indonesia has emerged as the 16th largest economy in the world, rapidly developing to achieve even higher pedestals of growth, by providing equal rights to its diverse society.

Malaysia is a country where Muslims are in a majority but it has not declared itself a theocratic Muslim State. Despite its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, Malaysia practices tolerance and integration, which has paid rich dividends by bringing it prosperity, economic growth and a high level of development. By not allowing religion to impede statecraft, Malaysians are well aware of each other’s sensitivities and owing to prudent policies of governance and the segregation of state and religion, live together peacefully in society as a nation.

The creation of Pakistan was on the basis of a separate homeland for the Muslims but the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had declared in the historical speech to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947: “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…We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State…I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”Unfortunately, Mr. Jinnah, who was already terminally sick, after the Independence of Pakistan, was unable to run the affairs of the state and later leaders ignored his inaugural address and its clear cut message of secularism and imposed religion on the Republic instead.

The message of the Quaid, “Unity, Faith, Discipline” is also very significant, especially the order of the slogans. With prescience, the Quaid had placed “Unity” ahead of “Faith” because he knew that people would question which faith but later political leaders have imposed “Faith” ahead of “Unity”, creating confusion. It is imperative to emulate the Turkish, Indonesian and Malaysian experience for Pakistan, if we want to progress as a nation and avoid being bogged down by the imposition of religion on politics. Political Islam trying to create emirates and fiefdoms in Pakistan has created more damage than even military dictators.


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