Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Kashmir dispute secularism and Muslim Umma

Kashmir dispute, secularism and Muslim Umma
Dr Shabir Choudhry 02 September 2012

Groups and parties which want to see dominance of religion in the society have deliberately distorted the meaning of ‘secularism’, as that helps them to protect their privileges and advance their agenda. They have intentionally presented secularism as ‘anti religion’ or ‘anti Almighty’, which is far from truth. Because of this propaganda, especially in Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir and some other developing countries secularism is perceived as anathema - an evil that has to be opposed by all people who believe in religion.

The Pakistani society is deeply divided on religious and sectarian lines; and unfortunately whatever happens in Pakistan spills over to different parts of Jammu and Kashmir and creates serious problems for us. I have always maintained that policies of both India and Pakistan are imperialist in nature; but Pakistani governments and different religious parties have camouflaged their designs in name of Islam. As soon as people of Jammu and Kashmir talk of independence of Jammu and Kashmir and assert that the Kashmir dispute is not religious in nature; jihadi warriors and imperialists of Pakistan accuse and abuse us as ‘non Muslims’, ‘Kaffirs’ and ‘agents’, just because we want to have a democratic and secular society in Jammu and Kashmir.

Former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir is multi religious and multi ethnic State. It has a great geographical significance and is surrounded by three nuclear countries, namely India, Pakistan and China; and it also has a border with Afghanistan. Different regions of Jammu and Kashmir have majority of either one religion or the other; and then within some regions districts and sub districts are dominated by certain sects. In other words, it is impossible to find a solution of the Kashmir dispute in name of religion, unless we want to divide the State on religious lines and promote extremism and religious hatred as a result.

What is Secularism

Secular and Secularism are Western terms; and originate from the Latin word Seculum, literal meaning of which is related to earthly life. In the Middle - Ages the Roman Catholic Bishops were divided between those who were strict followers of the religion and confined themselves to unmarried lives in churches; and those who lived lives like ordinary citizens. Those who lived lives of ordinary citizens were called ‘seculars’, as these people did not adhere to strict Christian life style of Bishops in Churches. Also all those institutions which were not controlled by Churches or property and estates that were sold by Churches were called ‘secular’.

Secular ideas have been practised for many centuries in various parts of the world; however, it was the British writer George Jacob Holyoake (1817 – 1906) who first coined the term "secularism." George Jacob Holyoake was a teacher in Mechanics Institute in Birmingham (England). He strongly believed in individual’s right of expression and right to choose and right to disagree.

Secularism does not mean atheism – against religion or non – believer, as propagated by religious groups. Atheist is a person who does not believe in any religion or God; and of course, Atheism means no belief in religion or God. However, Secularism does not promote that view, as secularists believe in religions and some of them are very dedicated followers of religions.

In view of these secularists, secularism advocates free thinking and individual’s right to hold an opinion and express it. Secularism believes in free thinking and equality. In other words, secularism believes in a framework of a democratic society where people belonging to various religions and ethnic groups can live in peace and harmony without attacking each other or imposing their views on others.

It must be pointed out that Atheists feel secularism is closer to their thinking, and it could be used to promote the kind of society they envisage; so obviously they have interest in supporting secularism. However, unlike Atheism, Secularism does not directly challenge the tenets of any religion. Furthermore, Secularism does not make any attempt to impose atheism on anyone or promote it as an alternative to any religion.

In a secular society people are regarded as equal irrespective of their views on religion. Secularism protects and promotes right of expression and right to question. Religious groups have the right to express their beliefs publicly; but other people have right to question those beliefs. In a democratic and secular society, all ideas and beliefs must be open to discussion. Individuals have rights, ideas do not.
Britain has a secular society where people have equality, justice, right to free education and free treatment, right of expression, right to protest, right to practise religion, build Masjids, Temples and promote religions as people like. How could a system that feeds the poor, provides free education to all, provides equality, justice and other fundamental rights is against ideals of Islam?

Once Ilford South Member of the British Parliament, Mike Gapes came to address a Muslim Community in Ilford and there were some misguided youths shouting slogans of Khilafa and some other unpleasant slogans. During his speech Mike Gapes said: We have created a system which provides equality to all. A system which provides you justice, right of expression, right to practise your religion and promote your religion as you wish. I know no Muslim country can provide you the facilities we have provided to you; learn to respect that. It is because of our secular and democratic system that you people are allowed to protest outside and shout slogans against us.
Common points in Islam and Secularism
Allah SWT says: Do not confound truth with falsehood [2/42]

Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said: "Say what is true, although it may be bitter and displeasing to people."
I have explained above what Secularism is, but I note with regret that religious scholars and various religious groups have deliberately distorted true meaning of ‘secularism’ and propagated it as a system of government that was anti religion, anti tradition and which promoted immoral ideas, bad manners, bad culture to create chaos and divide people. This is far from truth. As explained above, Secularism promotes equality for all citizens, rule of law, fairness, freedom and human rights. It is based on two fundamental principles: strict separation of the state from religious institutions; and that all people are equal before the law.
This is not to suggest that Islam does not speak about equality, fairness, freedom and rule of law; if any thing, Islam is the best religion and Qur’an is the final revelation from the Almighty which preached equality, rule of law and right of expression many centuries before the Western societies practised all this. However, early this year I met a senior Israeli diplomat and during course of our long meeting he said: we have no problem with Islam and Qur’an; but problem is the wrong interpretations of Qur’an by the extremist groups who want to advance their political agenda under cover of Islam.

I agree with this assertion that various religious groups advance their political agenda by interpreting Qur’an and Hadees (saying of the Holy Prophet) to justify their actions, wrong or objectionable as they may be. Unlike contention of critics of Secularism, it clearly supports certain elements of the Islamic teaching; and is in line with the policy adopted by the Prophet of Islam in Madina when he gave a written constitution to the State of Madina and which could be rightly called the first written constitution of the world.

This contract or agreement was known as Meesaaq e Madina or The Constitution of Islamic State of Madina. It has 63 Articles, and I will quote some Articles to prove my point. Article 3 is translated by world famous religious scholar Dr Tahir Ul Qadri as ‘Formation of the Constitutional Nationality’. He defines it further by saying: ‘The aforementioned communities shall formulate a Constitutional Unity as distinct from (other) people.’ 1

Article 20 says: Non –Muslim minorities (Jews) have the same right of life protection (like Muslims).2

Article 50 makes further clarification: Equal right of life protection shall be granted to everyone, who has been given the constitutional shelter.3

Article 30: Guarantee of freedom of religion for both the Muslims and non Muslim minorities. 4

Article 40 explains further: Equality of rights for all branches of the Jews. 5

So one can see what the Holy Prophet practised in the State of Madina was equality, fairness and religious freedom; and secularism, in its own way promotes rule of law, equality and religious freedom. Its main principle is separation of religion from affairs of the state, emphasising that religion is a personal matter of citizens and that the state must not interfere in religious affairs of citizens. Conversely, religious groups must not interfere in affairs of the state.

A true secular society has a duty to protect all its citizens whether they believe in any religion or not. They should be allowed to enjoy all rights and privileges, and must get equal opportunities in all walks of life. A true secular society aims to protect religious beliefs of its citizens and makes no attempt to curtail religious freedoms. We all need hospitals, schools, the police and other services provided by local authorities; and it is absolutely important that these services are ‘secular’ and are available to all, and no one is discriminated on grounds of religious beliefs or lack of them.

Khilafa or Umma

Whenever we people of Jammu and Kashmir demand respect for our identity, fundamental human rights and independence, people with vested interests get activated to oppose us and portray us as anti Islam, anti Pakistan and agent of some country. These people with vested interest confuse people by bringing issues of Khilafat and Umma and unity of all Muslims.

The system of Khilafat, as people with knowledge know, got in to serious problems during the rule of Hazrat Usmaan (May Allah be pleased with him). Those who opposed his rule virtually took over the Capital (Madina) and martyred him while he was reciting holy Qur’an. Hazrat Ali (May Allah be please with him), became the fourth Khalifa (Caliph) but the trouble continued, and all issues could not be resolved to satisfaction of all. Unfortunately in year 40 of the Islamic calendar, he was also martyred in a mosque while he was praying; and Hazrat Hassan, his eldest son, who succeeded his father resigned from his position for the sake of unity among the Muslims.

That was effectively the end of Khilafat. The Prophet of Mohammed peace be upon him also predicted that the Khalafat will end after 30 years after his departure from this world.6 What we Muslims had afterwards was a ‘monarchy’, and not a system of Khilafa, especially after Ameer Mahvia (May Allah be pleased with him). When after resignation of Hazrat Hassan, Hazrat Saad Bin Abi Waqaas met Hazrat Ameer Mahvia and addressed him as a king. Hazrat Ameer Mahvia protested and said: It would have been better if you had called me a ‘Caliph’ (instead of a King).

Hazrat Saad Bi Abi Waqas replied: I swear in name of Allah that I would not have become a ruler the way you have become.7 Later on in his life, Hazrat Ameer Mahvia himself conceded that he was the first Muslim King.8 Very famous Muslim historian Ibne Kaseer also asserted that it is better to call Ameer Mahvia as the first King of Muslims.9

Anyhow, call it ‘Khilafa’ or the system of Monarchy, it continued under different shapes and forms until 1924. Like rulers of any other nation or religion, we had good rulers and we had not so good or bad rulers. It was under the Muslim rule that Holy cities of Madina and Makkah were attacked and ransacked; and holy place of Kahba was attacked and destroyed.

Muslim countries and Muslim rulers attacked each other and killed millions of innocent Muslims; and Muslim history is full of these tragic events. Despite this tragic history, some people living in imaginary world claim that Khalafa provided unity to Muslims. The fact is that after the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) more Muslim countries were attacked by Muslims and more Muslims lost their lives at the hands of Muslims than non Muslims. I am not speaking against Islam or the institution of Khilafa as it existed during early years of Islam, but I am merely quoting few examples of Islamic history which put us to shame.

The fact is many of the Caliphs were corrupt, inefficient and not even good Muslims. The system of Khilafat which ended in 1924 was corrupt to the core; and some Muslims want to bring that back, may be it suits their designs but that is not suitable to overwhelming majority of Muslims. Moreover, not one country out of 57 Muslim countries in the world wishes to bring back the system of Khilafat; but some Pakistanis and Kashmiri Muslims want us Kashmiris to be tied to that system and deprive us of our fundamental rights in name of Khilafat and Umma.

These people with tunnel vision and misplaced loyalty want us Kashmiris to be part of Pakistan, because to them it is an Islamic country (may be because its official name is Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and would help to establish Khilafa and unite Muslims. Reality, however, is that in this country, Muslims are systematically killed and no one feels safe; and those who could not be killed by them, they allow the Americans to kill them with drones. Furthermore, majority of Pakistani Muslims became Bangladeshis when the minority with help of weapons tried to impose their will and deprived them of their fundamental rights.

Apart from that, if purpose of establishing Pakistan was to unite Muslims of the world and revive Khilafa, then why not Pakistani government takes this initiative and become part of neighbouring countries and then invite other Muslim countries to join this united country or united front. Why this illusionary unity has to start with depriving the people of Jammu and Kashmir of their fundamental rights and their identity.

Those who preach us unity and give us lectures on Khilafa and Umma know very well that no Muslim country is serious about Khilafa or Umma, as each country has its own problems and interests; and each country strives to protect its interests, and often fight another Muslim country or help non Muslims countries to attack neighbouring Muslim state.

India killed Kashmiris and committed human rights abuses and Muslim Umma remained quiet. Pakistan regularly kill Shias in Gilgit Baltistan and deprive people of their fundamental rights and Muslim Umma remains quiet. America attacked Afghanistan, Fort of Islam and other Muslim countries supported that, and continue to do so. America attacked Iraq; again some Muslim countries supported that. Now Syria is under attack and some Muslim countries support those who are attacking the government with help of non Muslims.

More than thirty thousands innocent Muslims were brutally killed in Burma a few months ago; and their suffering continues; but I did not see any action from any Muslim country to stop that carnage. Fort of Islam (Pakistan) also decided to remain quiet, as they were busy fighting each other and killing Muslims inside the country. OIC took some action, but that was not to help the suffering Muslims of Burma but to expel another Muslim country (Syria) from this debating club (OIC).

So where is that Muslim Umma? Why fool and confuse people in its name and prolong our suffering? Are you our friends or enemies? A criterion of friendship and animosity is simple: are you prolonging our miseries under different pretexts or helping us to get our fundamental rights and independence.

Love your country

If some Muslims want to live in past or live in a dreamland, I cannot help that, as that is their choice; but Allah has blessed me with wisdom, courage, ability to think, analyse, plan and speak out; and I am doing that. Nowhere in Qur’an Allah has ordered us not to fight for our rights, not to protect ourselves and not to protect our families and not to look after our interests?

Allah SWT in Qur’an said: "We created you out of one father and one mother and made you groups and families in order that you may recognise each other; only they are the most honoured (with Us) amongst you who are most mindful (of the law of God)." (49:13)

Allah’s Prophet (peace be upon him) on many occasions said; I am an Arab, I am a Qureshi and Hashmi; and that was not to express any arrogance or pride but to identify who he was. Love for place of birth is natural. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said: love of a country is half faith. On many occasions, after being forced to leave Makkah, the Holy Prophet faced towards Makkah and unbuttoned his shirt and said: breeze coming from Makkah give me pleasure and satisfaction.

By that gesture, the holy Prophet expressed his love for place of his birth which he had to leave because of animosity against him in Makkah. If we express love for place of our birth and try to get it united that we can manage its affairs in accordance with our needs and interests, why this is against any religion; and especially why is it against Islam which highly talks of rights of individuals, rights of expression, humanity, care for others, care for neighbours and non Muslims?

We have no intention of dividing human beings in any name. However, those who divided Muslims by using name of Islam in 1947; and those who divided Pakistan in 1971 want to divide people of South Asia in name of religion and different sects that chaos can continue. We have to fight and defeat people with this mindset who believe they have monopoly over wisdom; and those who divided the Indian Sub Continent in name of religion to create chaos, spread extremism, hatred and intolerance.

When we Kashmiris talk of our identity, our fundamental rights and unity of our divided country some people get activated and they confuse people in name of Muslim unity, Khilafa and Umma. These people urge us to join Pakistan in name of unity of Muslims, even when they know the future of Pakistan is bleak and the country is fighting for its survival. These people have only one option for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and that is to join Pakistan or put up with the present suffering, forced division and chaos.

My request to these ideologues is, let people of Jammu and Kashmir get their identity, just like people of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and other Muslim countries have their identity; and when Muslims of the world will decide to become one Umma or when they will decide to get united on one platform, we people of Jammu and Kashmir will support that process and will not hold back. But for Allah’s sake do not perpetuate our misery and troubles in name of Umma and Islam or unity.


1. Constitution of Madina, Dr Tahir Ul Qadri, page 117
2. ibid, page 134
3. ibid, page166
4. ibid, page 145
5. ibid, page 156
6. Molana Abu Ahla Moduudi, Khilafat Aur Malooqiat, page, 148
7. Ibid, page, 147
8. Ibid, page, 148
9. Ibid, page, 148

Writer is a political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

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