-- Dr Mubarak Ali, eminent historian and scholar
By Mazhar Khan Jadoon
The News on Sunday: How do you view secularism as having evolved in the particular case of India where the kings did not run their empires on the clergy's instructions but according to political exigencies?
Mubarak Ali: Secularism has been in evolution since medieval times and if you go back to the ancient Ashoka period in India, you will find the ruling pattern to be entirely secular. It was a requirement for all the empires in India, including the Mughal Empire, to be secular and tolerant towards different religions under their rule. Ghauris, Mughals, Durranis and all other emperors had to opt for a secular approach to keep their vast dynasties intact. Clergy was not allowed to interfere in state matters and all the decisions were taken according to practical political exigencies. Allauddin Khilji was one of the great rulers of India who did tremendous welfare work for his people. Once he asked the Qazi whether his acts were according to Shariah or not. The Qazi said no. Khilji told Qazi, "I am illiterate and I don't know whether my acts are according to Shariah or not, but what I am sure of is that I work for the betterment of my people."
TNS: Does secularism have any place in Muslim history?
MA: Yes. Almost all the rulers in Muslim history applied the model of secularism during their rule. During the Abbasid period, ulema were not allowed to interfere in the political affairs of state and the caliph was not allowed to meddle in religious affairs. The Abbasid came to power with the help of Iranians who wanted the caliph to remain secular while the clergy at that time wanted the caliph to adhere to Islamic laws and impose Shariah. The conflict was resolved with the signing of a pact regarding state and religion being separate. Great historian Ziauddin Burney, in his book Fatwa-e-Jahandari, also emphasises that state and religion should be kept separate.
TNS: What about the political role of Sufia in this region?
MA: There are many Sufi orders in the subcontinent. Sufia were very successful in spreading Islam, as many aspects of Sufi belief had parallels in Indian philosophical literature. The Sufis' tolerant approach towards other religions made it easier for Hindus and other communities in India to accept Islam and Muslims. The Sufia played a crucial role in bridging the distance between Islam and the indigenous traditions.
TNS: How has India being secular helped the cause of Indian Muslims?
MA: Though Indian state is secular and its constitution provides equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion, Indian society is not at all secular. Secularism of mind takes time and the process is on. The attempts by successive political leadership in the country to integrate Indian society under a secular code are strongly resisted by Hindu extremist groups like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Muslims in India favour secularism because it will ensure maximum religious freedom for them in a Hindu-dominated society.
The Partition of India in 1947 triggered large-scale sectarian strife and bloodshed. Since then, India has been experiencing violence sparked off by underlying tensions between sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities. These conflicts mainly stem from the ideologies of Hindu nationalism versus Islamic extremism that exist in certain sections of the Indian population.
TNS: Was Muhammad Ali Jinnah secular? People managing the dominant discourse have questioned his August 11 speech as a reversal from his earlier stance. How would you assess Jinnah's politics?
MA: Yes, Jinnah was secular and an honest and upright leader and politician. But, why are we following Jinnah now when he is part of history? We should look into the merits and demerits of secularism instead of bickering over what Jinnah had said in his August 11 speech. Instead of brooding on the past, we should act like a vibrant society by keeping our approach futuristic.
TNS: How do you view the post-partition political developments in Pakistan that progressively Islamised the state, starting with the Objectives Resolution?
MA: The Objectives Resolution decided the fate of Pakistan as an Islamic country. Jinnah became irrelevant with the passage of the Objectives Resolution by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1949. The resolution, proposed by the then prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would not be modelled entirely on a European pattern, but on the ideology of Islam. But most of the Islamic provisions were introduced in the 1973 Constitution and Islam became the religion of state.
TNS: Is it true that the dominant military and religious elements are supporting each other to Islamise the society?
MA: Till the time of President Ayub Khan, Pakistan army remained secular and it used to follow the tradition of a colonial institution. The army became religious during the Zia regime. Yes, the impression that army and religious elements are in agreement over an Islamic outlook of Pakistan is somewhat correct.