Secularism in Pakistan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The concept of the Two-Nation Theory on which Pakistan was founded, was largely based on Muslim nationalism.[1] Secularism in Pakistan went from being a matter of practice in law by the Government of Pakistan to a political movement opposing the Islamization policies of the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. The supporters of Islamisation on the other hand assert that Pakistan was founded as a Muslim state and that in its status as an Islamic republic, it must thereby implement Islamic laws, known as Shariat. And that the context of Jinnah's speech was true implementation of Islam in which all religions would have equal rights and live as free citizens as supported by the Islamic jurisprudence itself as distinguished from a religious oligarchy.[2]

One of Pakistan's most popular media outlets, Dawn (newspaper), was originally founded by Jinnah and still identifies as secular.[3][4][5][6] Other popular media outlets like Express Tribune, Daily Times (Pakistan), and Pakistan Today also identify on a liberal and progressive platform.


Although Pakistan was founded as a separate state for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent in 1947, it remained a Dominion in the British Commonwealth and did not immediately become an Islamic state. Although the 1949 Objectives Resolution envisaged an official role for Islam as the state religion, the state retained the most of the laws that were inherited from the secular British legal code that had been enforced by the British Raj since the 19th century.

In 1956, the state adopted the name of the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan", declaring Islam as the official religion, but did not take any further measures to adopt Islamic laws. The country's military rulers General Ayub Khan (1958–1969) and General Yahya Khan (1969–1971) continued a secularist tradition and repressed much of Islamist political activism.

Jinnah's address[edit]

There are diverse opinions in Pakistan about whether Jinnah envisioned Pakistan to be a secular state or an Islamic state. His views as expressed in his policy speech on 11 August 1947 said:

There is no other solution. Now what shall we do? Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shia's, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some states in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the nation.

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in 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. Jinnah, August 11, 1947 –chairing the constituent assembly.

“….Religion should not be allowed to come into Politics….Religion is merely a matter between man and God”. [Jinnah, Address to the Central Legislative Assembly, 7 February 1935]

“….in the name of Humanity, I care more for them [the Untouchables] than for Mussalmans. ” [Jinnah, Speaking about the Shudras or Untouchables, during his address at the All India Muslim League session at Delhi, 1934 ]

“….I am not fighting for Muslims, believe me, when I demand Pakistan.” [Jinnah, Press Conference, 14 November 1946]

”But make no mistake : Pakistan is NOT a theocracy or anything like it.” [ Jinnah, Message to the people of Australia, 19 February 1948 ]

The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims—Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan. Broadcast talk to the people of the United States on Pakistan recorded February, 1948.

It has been argued by secularists that in this speech Jinnah wanted to point out that Pakistan would be a secular state. But Islamists argue that associating an Islamic state with a theocratic state is wrong and a true Islamic state would also be giving the said rights to the minorities and hold them in equal status and this statement was rather to distinguish it from a religious oligarchy.

Islamists use these statements of Jinnah for Counterpropaganda:

  • I have one underlying principle in mind: the principle of Muslim democracy. It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great lawgiver, the Prophet of Islam.
    • In 1948, Address to Sibi Darbar
  • I cannot understand the logic of those who have been deliberately and mischievously propagating that the Constitution of Pakistan will not be based on Islamic Sharia. Islamic principles today are as much applicable to life as they were 1300 years ago.
    • Address to Karachi Bar Association on 25 January 1948
  • Pakistan not only means freedom and independence but Muslim ideology which has to be preserved which has come to us a precious gift and treasure and which we hope, others will share with us.
    • Address to Frontier Muslim Students Federation on 18 June 1945
  • It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litterateurs. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans (Muslims) derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state.
  • I have full faith in my people that they will rise to every occasion worthy of our' past Islamic history, glory and traditions.
    • Message to the Nation on the occasion of the first Anniversary of Pakistan on 14 August 1948
  • Islam lays great emphasis on the social side of things. Every day, the rich and the poor, the great and the small living in a locality are brought five times in a day in the mosque in the terms of perfect equality of mankind and thereby the foundation of a healthy social relationship is laid and established through prayer. At the end of Ramazan comes the new moon, the crescent as a signal for a mass gathering on the ‘Id day again in perfect equality of mankind which effects the entire Muslim world.
    • Message on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr in October 1941
  • The Quran is the general code for the Muslims, a religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal and penal code. It regulates every thing, from the ceremonies of religion to those of daily life, from the salvation of the soul to the health of the body, from the rights of all to those of each individual from morality to crime; from punishment here to that in the life to come, and the Holy Prophet Mohammad has enjoined on Muslims that every Musalman should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest. Therefore, Islam is not merely confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines or ritual and ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslim society, every department of life, collective and individual.
    • Eid-ul-Fitar message in September 1945
  • As you may be aware, the Government has been making genuine efforts to allay the fears and the suspicions of the minorities and if their (Hindu minority's) exodus from Sindh still continues, it is Not because they are not wanted here, but because they are more prone to listen to people across the border who are interested in pulling them out. I am sorry for those misguided people for nothing but disillusionment awaits them in their 'PROMISED LAND'.
    • Reply to an address of the Welcome Note presented by the Parsi Community of Sindh, Karachi on 3 February 1948
  • I shall watch with keenness the work of your Research Organization in evolving banking practices compatible with Islamic ideas of social and economic life. The economic system of the West has created almost insoluble problems for humanity and to many of us it appears that only a miracle can save it from disaster that is not facing the world. It has failed to do justice between man and man and to eradicate friction from the international field. On the contrary, it was largely responsible for the two world wars in the last half century. The Western world, in spite of its advantages, of mechanization and industrial efficiency is today in a worse mess than ever before in history. The adoption of Western economic theory and practice will not help us in achieving our goal of creating a happy and contended people. We must work our destiny in our own way and present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice. We will thereby be fulfilling our mission as Muslims and giving to humanity the message of peace which alone can save it and secure the welfare, happiness and prosperity of mankind.
  • When we say This flag (Muslim League's flag) is the flag of Islam they think we are introducing religion into politics - a fact of which we are proud. Islam gives us a complete code. It is not only religion but it contains laws, philosophy and politics. In fact, it contains everything that matters to a man from morning to night. When we talk of Islam we take it as all embracing word. We do not mean any ill. The foundation of our Islamic code is that we stand for liberty, equality and fraternity.
    • Address to the Gaya Muslim League Conference in January 1938

Objectives resolution[edit]

Early in the history of the state of Pakistan (12 March 1949), a parliamentary resolution (the Objectives Resolution) was adopted :

Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.

  • The State shall exercise its powers and authority through the elected representatives of the people.
  • The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed.
  • Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Quran and Sunnah.
  • Provision shall be made for the religious minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.

This resolution later became key source of inspiration for writers of Constitution of Pakistan and is included in constitution as preamble.


As a reaction to the bifurcation of Pakistan (due to the rise of secularist forces in East Pakistan) in 1971, Islamic political parties began to see an increase in popular support. In the 1970s, the populist and elected Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto caved in to a major demand of the Islamic parties by declaring the Ahmadiyya Community to be non-Muslims. Under the constitution of 1973, Bhutto also banned alcohol, gambling and night clubs.

Bhutto was overthrown in 1977 by Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq, who went considerably further with the formal campaign of Islamization of Pakistan (1977–1988). However, Pakistan is still a semi-secular state and Islamists and Islamic democratic parties in Pakistan are relatively less influential then democratic Islamists of other Muslim democracies. (See also: Islam and secularism)


Pakistan elected Muslim world's first female prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1988 (and again in 1993). She did not repeal most of the Islamic laws of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (her father) and General (later president) Zia-ul-Haq, but promoted secularism through media, cultural policies, general policy making and style of governance, etc. Military ruler Pervez Musharraf promoted secularism under the banner of Enlightened Moderation during his nine years long military rule (1999–2008).

Benazir Bhutto's assassination in 2007 and the murder of Salman Taseer, a Pakistani politician calling for the removal of the blasphemy laws, have provoked secularists in Pakistani politics, media and civil society. Government led by Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party has followed the legacy of Benazir Bhutto's secular style of governance during five years long democratic period (2008–2013).


  1. ^ Ilyas, Shahid (21 June 2010). "Islam, secularism and Pakistan". Shahid Ilyas and the Daily Times. Shahid Ilyas in the Daily Times. Had Islam not been central to the creation of Pakistan, Zaid Hamid and Hamid Gul would not have been able to invoke it for garnering support for a Muslim caliphate and they would not have been the darlings of our middle and upper class educated youth, we would not have had the Objectives Resolution as a guiding principle of our constitutions, Ziaul Haq would never have been able to pass Islamist laws, our intelligence agencies and army would not have been suspected of links with the various jaishes and lashkars — not to speak of their well-documented grooming of the Taliban and we would not have had tens of thousands of religious seminaries. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  2. ^ Inam Khawaja. "The basis of the demand for an independent Pakistan". Daily News. It would be unreasonable and illogical to give an interpretation in favour of secularism to his speech of 11, August 1947.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^

External links[edit]