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Democracy in Pakistan: Role of Religion and State

By Deeba Chaudhry
Posted Jun 24, 2012 in
“Democracy” a root word in Greek “Demokratia” means ‘rule of the people’, is also an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation together determine public policy, the laws and the actions of their state, requiring that all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinion. Abraham Lincoln once quoted brief definition of Democracy as “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
On August 11, 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in his historical speech said:
“You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the 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 citizens of one state… in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would case to 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.”
This is considered to the charter of Pakistan and summation of Jinnah’s views on the role of religion and state. It is tremendous quality of Western nations that they have kept faith and religion separate from politics and government. According to Western style democracy religion for each individual is left as a personal matter between him and God. Politics and government are considered to be secular matters.
In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, there are five major ethno-regional communities: Baloch, Muhajir, Punjabis, Pushtuns and Sindhis. Accordingly, there are religious and sectarian groups such as Christians, Hindus, Bahais, Buddhists, Jains, Kalasha, Parsis, Sikhs, and Shias, Ahmadis Muslims sects including Islamailis, Bohras. Almost of half of Pakistan’s history as a modern nation has been military rule. The key role of the military, the political use of religion by governments and a weak civil state, all pose enormous challenges to minorities in a country like Pakistan. At the same time, minorities groups have continued to be the victims of particularly harsh religious laws. According to Mr. Jinnah, in a democratic country, defending the principles of equal citizenship and non-discrimination, and disallowing the use of religion to violate the rights of non-Muslim and non-dominant Muslim citizens, should be priorities for any new government. This is perhaps the only way to protect Pakistan’s ethnic and religious diversity, and the security of future generations.
Till the sixteenth century, Muslims were the greatest global power. Paradoxically, Europe was going through a period of social, moral, spiritual and economic decline - a period generally referred to as the “Dark Ages.” Muslim societies were the cradles of scientific and economic developments. Three great Islamic empires existed during the early sixteenth century: the Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor, Anatolia, Iraq, Syria, and North Africa; the Safavid Empire in Iran; and the Mughal Empire in the Indian Subcontinent. Each reflected a different facet of Islamic spirituality demonstrating diversity and adaptability of Islamic teachings. The Mughal Empire represented the tolerant, universal philosophical rationalism known as Falsafah; The Safavid Shahs represented Shia Islam, while the Ottoman Turks represented them Sunni Islam. Each Empire created a system based on Shariah and each one of them was an early modern institution, governed systematically and with bureaucratic and rational precision. In its early years, the Ottoman state was far more efficient and powerful than any kingdom in Europe. Thus the Islamic models of governance and economic management, based on the agrarian system, should have been updated to meet the challenges of new developments that enabled Europe to transform their societies from the ‘Dark’ to the ‘Renaissance’ period. Sadly, that was not done and the Islamic system failed to maintain its leadership role.
In this time and age, as for as relations between man and God are concerned, it is an area exclusive to religion and the state has no right to interfere. There is total freedom of mind and heart in the affairs of belief and profession of faith. It is fundamental right of man not only to believe in anything which he so pleases, but also to worship God or any other way of worship as dedicated by one’s religion or pagan belief. As per Jinnah’s vision about democracy of Pakistan and the role of religion and state, he speaks of statecraft equally applicable to Christians, Hindus, Bahais, Buddhists, Jains, Kalasha, Parsis, Sikhs, and Shias, Ahmadis Muslims sects including Islamails, Bohras.

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