The Dissembler



This following Arabic fable is found in al-Qazwini’s classic Wonderous Creatures

It is said that once a pious man heard about a community that worshipped a tree instead of Allah. He picked up an axe and went off, intent on chopping the tree down. Satan met him on the road in the form of an old man and said to him: “Where are you going, and what do you want.”

The man replied: “I want to cut down the tree that people are worshipping instead of Allah.”

Satan said: “What does this have to do with you? You left your own worship to involve yourself with this. If you cut down their tree, they will find something else to worship.”

The man said: “No, I must cut it down.”

Satan said: “I prohibit you to cut it down!”

The man wrestled Satan to the ground and sat on his chest. Satan said: “Let me go so I can speak to you.” When the man did so, Satan said to him: “Allah has not placed this burden upon you. Had He wished, he has many servants on the Earth he could order to cut it down.”

The man said: “No, I must cut it down.”

Satan then asked: “Would you let there be something between me and you that is better than what you want?”

The man said: “I’m listening.”

Satan said: “You are a poor man. Maybe you would like to provide something in charity for your brothers and your neighbours and become independent of the people.”

The man said: “Certainly.”

Satan said: “Desist in what you are doing, and I will place two gold coins under your pillow every night. You can use them to support your family and spend something in charity. This is better for you and for the people than cutting down that tree.”

The man thought about it and said: “What you say is true. Swear to me on what you say.” So Satan swore an oath to him, and the man returned to his personal worship. When he woke up the next morning, he found two gold coins under his pillow. He took them. The same thing happened on the second day.

When he woke up on the third morning, he did not find the coins under his pillow. He became angry, picked up his axe, and went out intent on chopping down the tree. Satan met him in the form of the old man he assumed before. He asked: “Where are you headed?”

The man replied: “I am going to cut down that tree.”

Satan said: “You do not have the ability to do so.”

The man then reached out to strike Satan, but Satan struck him down instead and said: “If you do not desist, I will slaughter you.”

The man cried: “Let me go and tell me how you overpowered me.”

Satan said: “When your anger was for Allah’s sake, Allah submitted me to you and brought me down before you. But now, you are angry for your own sake on account of worldly desires, so I am able to subdue you.”

This is, of course, just a story, but like any good fable, it has an important moral.

When we do things for the sake of the people and abstain from them for their sake, we cease doing so for Allah’s sake. This is why the Prophet said: “The thing I fear most for you is the lesser polytheism… which is showing off.” [Musnad Ahmad]

This does not mean it is wrong for a believer to enjoy the praise of others. Showing off is only where the intention behind the person’s action is for other than Allah, so that if the person was not being seen by others, he or she would not act. There are many ways to show off:

1. Showing off in one’s belief. This is hypocrisy, where a person makes a public show of faith while concealing their real disbelief.

2. Showing off in one’s appearance. This is to make oneself look like someone who exerts a lot of effort in worship. This is like someone who cultivates a prostration mark on the forehead to make it seem like they pray a lot, or someone who cultivates dry lips to make it look like they are fasting. It also includes bowing the head in false humility while walking or keeping dishevelled hair to appear ascetic.

3. Showing off through what one says. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever calls attention to himself, Allah will call attention to how he really is.” [Sahīh al-Bukhari and Sahīh Muslim]

This includes quoting wise sayings, exhorting people to righteousness, and quoting hadith to bolster one’s “pious” reputation. It also includes moving one’s lips to give the appearance of being engaged in God’s remembrance.

4. Showing off through one’s deeds. This includes spending an extra-long time standing, bowing or prostrating in prayer when others are watching.

5. Showing of through association. This is like making sure to be seen with prominent scholars and pious people in order to be associated with them in the people’s eyes.

In all cases, the crux of the matter is not the action itself, but what motivates the action in the first place. The motivation for showing off stems from either a desire for praise, an aversion for people’s low opinion, or a covetousness for what other people possess. If something of this nature comes into a person’s heart while the person is already engaged in an act of piety, then it does not nullify the blessings of that act.

Some people abstain from doing good deeds fearing that they will fall into the sin of showing off. This is a mistake that leads people to lose out on a lot of virtue and many blessings. As long as your original intention is for Allah, then you should go forward with the good deed you intend. Do not let fear of showing off keep you from doing something good.

Al-Fudayl b. `Iyād said: “Engaging in acts of worship for the people’s sake is polytheism. Abandoning acts of worship for the people’s sake is showing off. Sincerity is for Allah to spare you from both concerns.”

A student at an early stage in his studies rushes ahead and starts issuing Islamic legal verdicts, heads a study circle, and walks about with a regal demeanor. He has a hard time admitting when he does not know something. He speaks as if he is a leading authority, making statements like:

“In my considered opinion…”

“What has become evident to me…”

“I have come to the overwhelming conclusion that…”

“What a person’s heart feels secure with is…”

At the same time, he is harsh and long-winded when he comes across someone else’s mistake, though he cannot tolerate their pointing our any error of his.

Another person gives preference to carrying out public duties at the expense of his own individual obligations. He might even spend excessive time engaged in things that the community might only rarely need, simply because they make him look important.

A third person is overjoyed with any chance he has to argue and debate with people. In the heat of an argument, he is quick to challenge people to invoke Allah’s curse upon whichever one of them are in the wrong. Often, his point of contention is no more than hair-splitting and his only purpose is to publicly expose his opponent as wrong or misguided. It infuriates him when he knows his opponent has made a good point. On the other hand, if his opponent concedes a point to him, he says: “Now you have come to my point of view and my way of thinking” as if he has had a monopoly on the truth all along and decides who can partake of it with him.

In almost all cases, what the Prophet said about debates holds true: “Base motives are obeyed, passions are followed, and each holds fast to his own opinion.” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd and Sunan al-Tirmidhī]

A wise man was once asked: “Why is it that the words of the Pious Predecessors are more beneficial than what we say?”

The wise man replied: “The words of the Pious Predecessors are better than our words, because they spoke to promote Islam, please Allah, and guide people to salvation, whereas we speak to promote ourselves, please the people, and achieve worldly success.”

Some people like to dig up strange opinions and resurrect old arguments to make it seem like they are resuscitating a Sunnah that has been forgotten or neglected. Our scholars had a different attitude about such things. They warned against strange and unusual opinions that show themselves in their very strangeness to be suspect.

It is possible, nevertheless, to go to the opposite extreme. When a well-known custom or tradition is called into question, some people come forward as self-proclaimed defenders of tradition, hoping to earn a prominent position in society by doing so, even if they know that tradition is misguided, does not serve the public welfare, or is contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Another mode of conduct in this vein is to seek after a lot of followers, pit people against one another, erect obstacles to reconciliation, and stake loyalty on adherence to a bunch of secondary controversial opinions.

Al-Dhahabī said: “You can be an oppressor and believe that you are the one who is oppressed. You can be consuming unlawful wealth and fancy yourself to be abstentious. You can be a sinner and think you are righteous and just. You can be seeking religious knowledge for worldly benefit but see yourself as doing so for Allah’s sake.” [Siyar A`lām al-Nubalā’]

Abū Dāwūd, speaking about his Sunan, told Imam Ahmad: “This is something I have done for Allah’s sake.”

Ahmad said to him: “As for saying it is for Allah’s sake, that is a serious claim. Rather say: ‘This is something my heart has been made to incline towards, so I did it’.”

It is also related as something Ahmad admonished himself with. Indeed, identifying your inner motives is one of the subtest but most crucial ways of being honest.

By Shaykh Salman Al Odah


The Silence of Muslims is Haraam!


Imagine your daughter, sister, wife or mother – kidnapped and the kidnappers use your religion – Islam as an excuse for their crime. What do you as a Muslim say?

Imagine a criminal using Islam as a front to carry out atrocities against innocents – imagine that an innocent victim is your loved one. What do you as a Muslim would feel?

Imagine a criminal using and abusing the teachings of the Last Prophet PBUH and claiming he is doing this because he believes that this is what Islam teaches him. Would you defend the Prophets honour or would you defend this criminal?

The news from Nigeria is blood-curdling.

The kidnapping of around 300 Nigerian girls last month has now been owned by Boko Haram, with its chief threatening ‘by Allah’ to sell those girls in slave markets. In a chilling demonstration of his intentions, in the name of Islam, Boko Haram chief Abubakr Shekau released an hour-long video that showed his hooded acolytes raising rifles and shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ as Shekau flaunted his criminality to the Nigerian people by declaring, “I abducted your girls”.

Describing the girls as “slaves”, he had no qualms about saying he would repeat his actions. Over 50 of the girls have managed to flee, two have died of snakebite, many have been forced to marry and some have been forcibly converted — all in the name of Islam, mine and your Islam.

Last week, two explosions killed or injured more than 100 people, and police believe Boko Haram wanted to demonstrate its destructive power as Nigeria prepared to host the World Economic Forum.

So far acts of terror by the Boko Haram militants and security crackdowns have led to over 1,500 deaths this year alone.

But there is no indication yet that the Nigerian government has the political will to purposefully take on the extremists who have chosen murder and abduction as a strategy to advance their political aims for which they claim religious sanction.

The Nigerian government has come under intense criticism at home for focusing all security measures on the WEF delegates and for ignoring the urgent task of recovering the girls.

But, the issue doesn’t concern Nigeria alone.

Seen against the background of religious militancy that has rocked Muslim (as well as the wider world) countries from Indonesia to Morocco, Boko Haram’s latest act of crime against humanity poses a question or two to the entire Muslim world, especially its intellectuals and ulema.

Will the Muslim world stay quiet over this insult of their religion and look away from the Nigerian people’s trauma?

Girls are abducted from schools because Boko Haram says it opposes ‘Western’ education. That an education can be ‘Western or Eastern’ is a debatable issue, but even if ‘Western education’ is all that devilish, was the mass kidnapping of the girls the best way to register protest?

The Muslim world now must speak up.

Those who accuse the Western media of tarring all Muslims with the same brush now have an excellent chance of correcting this erroneous perception by denouncing Boko Haram’s evil deed in unequivocal terms and by dissociating the international Islamic community from such fiendish crimes.

Its time that Islamic seats of learning – Deoband, Qom and Al Azhar unite in expressing their abhorrence of the atrocity in Nigeria.

Silence is no option. 

Dr Mohammad Naseem passes away aged 90

Dr Mohammed Naseem

This morning, Dr Mohammed Naseem founder and chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, passed away aged 90 at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Today, the City of Birmingham lost one of her most dedicated citizens. Inspired by his faith as Muslim, as a British citizen and resident of Birmingham, Dr Naseem took his civil responsibilities to heart, devoting his life to the well being of everyone.

Dr Naseem was a familiar face with Muslims in the West Midlands, and the wider society. He was one of the most outspoken, and at times controversial leaders of the British Muslim community.

Born in India in 1924, Dr Naseem was educated mainly in Pakistan, completing his training in the United kingdom as a GP. In which role he served the people of Birmingham for many years.

Please keep Dr Naseem in your prayers (dua), may he rest in Peace and be granted a place in Heaven (Jannah).

Funeral prayers (Salah al-Janaza) will be held on Thursday 24th April, 2.30pm (after Zuhr Namaz) at Birmingham Central Mosque, 180, Belgrave Middleway, Highgate B12 0XS

The burial will take place shortly after at 4.00pm, Handsworth Cemetry, Oxhill Road, Birmingham B21 8JT

The business of religion


It is rather simple; when man is hushed into servitude, silenced from laughter, pleasure and inspiration, he will have nowhere to go but the worship house, the seminary of suppression.

There is a distinct rawness to today’s modish brand of Islamic radicalism one just cannot reconcile with the antiquity and supposed perfection of the faith-based cosmos mankind has demonstrated its devotion towards for centuries. Man has not been made for the moment and neither has his history on earth been a rehearsal for some macabre epilogue written in authoritarian blood. This newfangled approach to institutionalised religion, where subjects are straitjacketed into submission to the wiles of man instead of the ways of God have led the clergy to believe that man’s order must be rejected to make way for the first estate, a second coming of their power. The Muslim clergy of today have diminished man’s reason and intellect, trivialising it into a faded caricature of what it once was, bending it out of shape, sanitising it of all hope and glory. 
Muslims in many parts of the world have become just that: Muslims. Period. They have pinned their progression to a crassly interpreted form of Islam, one doctored to single out virtue and douse it in error, in the garb of celestial convention. It seems the first step in making anyone a true Muslim these days is to dehumanise them first, alienate them from the love and hold of this world, to make them fully reckon with their afterlife. Individual inclinations are the true abominations, human desires and urges the wilful transgressors. In this conversion to ‘true belief’, the creation of God becomes the wind-up toy for despot dogmas. The Islam we see today is not the first wisp of a cool breeze across a dry desert landscape from some 14 centuries ago; it is a return to brutality, of the kind early Muslims liberated themselves from. Unfortunately, we have slipstreamed behind our cause célèbre who are no more than two-bit revolutionaries, promising to bring forth a rebellion against man, disguised as an act of valour for him. 

Muslims are now ruled by empty vessels, left locked in a power vacuum. The clergy, neatly defined by their vitriol, have done away with debate and altercation, confining man to a narrow corridor of non-existent power. Such are these second-rate artists of the faith, these forgers who have posed as the deciphers of God’s abstract brushstrokes that they have belittled, reducing us to objectifying ourselves for the sake of global humour. We are laughed at when a bearded mentor of our mythology lambasts women drivers of cars or two-wheeled automotives for the effects this posturing of their pelvis can have on their ovaries, turning them into sex-crazed nymphomaniacs — read independent women. We are guffawed at when earthquakes strike and floods smite, and our puritans of the pulpit blame immodesty and female emancipation as the reasons behind the fatalities. God’s curse on earth, they say.

It is a shame we have left the greatest and most noble task of interpreting the poetry — God spoke through song, not venom — of our Creator to these men and women with the stiff upper lips. They have outlawed everything occasioned to bring man, woman and child joy. Do not laugh too loud, they say, do not drink from the chalice of intoxication, they forbid, do not flower your ears to the sweet melodies of the notes carried in all the tunes upon this earth, they ferment, deny the human need to see one another and talk to each other without the million and one coverings we have ordained for you, they caution, do not cohabite the same space lest it lead to the bastardisation of your soul, they scream, forever separating the sexes. Why do they do this, stripping threadbare the natural persuasions of man, demonising the harmless and entrapping man in a constant lunge towards petty perfection? It is rather simple; when man is hushed into servitude, silenced from laughter, pleasure and inspiration, he will have nowhere to go but the worship house, the seminary of suppression. Man will need the counterfeit solace provided by the mosque and the men who run it. He will need a community to which he belongs, a stage for his outpourings of falsely contrived conditioning. That is when the mosque will run and the minarets will call to the faithful; there will be a throng at the gates and an inundation of the coffers. It is only when man is denied all that enables him to rejoice will it be good for business. 

And that is where this retro radicalism comes from: this need to rule man and be funded by the very souls it is destroying. Islamic fundamentalists, from the drawing room ‘scholars’ with their neat goatees and penchant to enunciate their edicts in accented English prose to the paan-spitting, orange bearded illiterates who rock to and fro to memorise words they heed little practice of, to the armed jihadists who call the shots and the suicide bombers, there is one common thread that binds them all: understanding the business of religion. 

And we have handed them this power, on a silver tray with an apple stuffed in the gaping hole where our integrity used to be. The blueprint to this new theology has succeeded in choking man of all the attributes vested in him by God. It is a patented product now, endorsed by the intelligentsia of institutionalised religion and sponsored by totalitarian regimes, which have perverted faith into exploitation. The ferocity with which our desolation has come about has surprised many, and those who are unwilling to bow to this herding of the cattle are still fighting the good fight. Yes, they are being swatted like flies, space for moderate voices is shrinking and the spluttering smoking wreckage is absolute, but as long as there is a militia, a global hybrid of renegade Islamism fuelled by capital acquisition, there will always be a force standing on the other side of the line, refusing to fund these false prophets. They may be armed with nothing more than their frilly ideals but their very presence signifies that the war is not won. Bullets will continue to fly until every penny we have lands in their fountains of lost hope and negotiations will sidestep logic to ensure that, first we have a go at it civilly and, if not, they regroup and strike with surgical precision. After all, when it comes to ‘earning’ money, nothing comes cheap, especially faith.


Pakistan: Where Do You Want To Be In 25 Years Time?

A nation going nowhere

They burn public property and hurl stones at cars if there is reportedly blasphemous content on YouTube. They undertake processions, chant slogans and choke traffic, causing inconvenience to the public.

Another injustice has been dispensed, this time to Sawan Masih. This is an addition to the history of Pakistan, which is already pregnant with such incidents where the weak and meek have been ground fine in the mill of so-called justice. Pakistan is a country where more than 70 percent of the people have been mentally debilitated, exploited by religious scholars and politicians. They can be steered in any direction for they are under-schooled and can easily be blackmailed in the name of Islam since they have no proper religious schooling either.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Injustice dispensed so hastily is justice denied too. In the case of Sawan Masih, Muslims themselves have committed blasphemy by disregarding the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and setting the homes of thousands of human beings and copies of the Bible ablaze. These people are as free as the day they were born and have not been subjected to ‘justice’. Flipping the coin, the judge who delivered the death sentence for Sawan seems to be the one eager to earn a place in the good books of the radicals and, according to their thinking, the heaven of God.

It is ironic that the prayer leaders who occupy the pulpit are usually school dropouts. Having failed to continue school, they are deposited inside madrassas — the institutions imparting religious education — where they turn out to be men who stand as ‘authorities’ on religion. The pulpit, which demands great mental calibre, tact and acumen, remains occupied by such dropouts and society gets sown with the seeds of sectarianism.

Ramsha Masih, almost a year back, met the same fate. No ardent Muslim bothered to probe why the imam (prayer leader) of that area allegedly placed pages of the holy book on a heap of trash. It could be because people did not want to get registered themselves in the bad books of God by probing against a ‘Muslim’ and a prayer leader. People may think that they will meet nothing but wrath if they bring a prayer leader to the crucible of justice. What a pity and double standard!

What about the practice of making small shopping wrappers and bags out of newspaper pages and the pages of other books, which most of the time carry a Quranic verse, a hadith or the holy names of the prophets? Eatables are sold and served in such small paper trays by vendors and the people, having eaten in them, dump the paper on the roads. This is blasphemy as well but society and the judiciary are ignoring it.

Muslims, having believed an allegation that a Christian spoke ill about the Prophet (PBUH), vented their indignation by burning Joseph Colony to the ground, rendering thousands homeless and desecrating several copies of the Bible. They burn public property and hurl stones at cars if there is reportedly blasphemous content on YouTube. They undertake processions, chant slogans and choke traffic, causing inconvenience to the public when it is Eid-e-Milad un Nabi. On the very eve, they exhibit love for the Prophet (PBUH) by hanging garlands of paper-flags in the streets, which fall to the ground after a day or two, continuously ‘desecrated’ as people walk by — is this not ‘blasphemy’ indeed? Churches are bombed, hundreds of people die; is this not ‘blasphemy’? The worship places of the Ahmedi community are attacked and, sometimes, a hundred of them are killed. Why does the judiciary not take to task people who orchestrate such acts? Why is there no hue and cry over such shameful, un-Islamic and hence blasphemous shenanigans? Why does the state not convict such people under the blasphemy law?


Minorities are considered easy prey in Pakistan. Maintaining beards does not give anyone the license to interpret and extrapolate religion. Such mullahs need discouragement. The nation badly needs many qualified imams; we will remain far from the elusive milestone of nationhood otherwise.


Rediscovering the real ‘ideology’ of Pakistan


More than six decades since its creation, Pakistan is still searching for its lost soul, the soul that went missing when Jinnah passed away. How many of the youth of today have had the chance to go through Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947? A reading of this masterpiece is a must for all Pakistanis. The Quaid said: “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…We should begin to work in that spirit and in the 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, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. 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. 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.”

Following his words, Jinnah unfolded cabinet appointments and sprang no surprise. In the country’s first cabinet, foreign affairs rested with Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, law, justice and labour with Jogendra Nath Mandal, finance and statistics with Sir Victor Turner and minorities and women with Ms Sheila Irene Pant. No one dared to say at the time that Zafrullah Khan was an Ahmedi. 

To the eyes and ears of the present generation who have been fed propaganda for many decades, Jinnah’s words and deeds may seem alien. Had Jinnah lived to see the constitution of the new state drafted, we would have had the most progressive of states and the most dynamic of people united in equality. Unfortunately, Jinnah’s untimely death let loose the forces of darkness that dared not confront him in his lifetime. 

The Quaid had the right that his public funeral prayers be led by a Shia like himself but forces that had designs on Pakistan’s identity succeeded in denying him this right and made Shabbir Ahmad Usmani lead his funeral prayer. Syed Anisul Husnain, a Shia scholar, deposed that he had arranged the ghusl (bathing of the body) of the Quaid on the instructions of Miss Fatimah Jinnah and then led his private funeral prayer in a room of the Governor General’s House. After the Shia ritual, the body was handed over to the state. This was a very clever move that signalled the ascendancy of the hardliners. The vast majority of clerics who were at the forefront of the opposition to Pakistan took full benefit of the leadership crisis after Jinnah’s death. They avenged the shameful defeat of their lot at Jinnah’s hand by selling their ware to the first prime minister of Pakistan and prompted the tabling and subsequent passage of the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly. This resolution was to mark the future of today’s Pakistan. A number of members of the Constituent Assembly opposed the resolution on the grounds that it would make the state a theocracy. Sris Chandra Chattopadhyaya said: “What I hear in this Resolution is not the voice of the great creator of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam, nor even that of the prime minister of Pakistan, the honourable Mr Liaquat Ali Khan, but of the ulema (clerics) of the land.” Birat Chandra Mandal declared that Jinnah had “unequivocally said that Pakistan will be a secular state”. Bhupendra Kumar Datta went a step further and said, “Were this resolution to come before this house within the lifetime of the great creator of Pakistan, it would not have come in its present shape.”

However, the majority of secular-minded leaders in the Muslim League got carried away by the craftsmanship and guile of the clerics and did not foresee the inherent dangers in this resolution that should have been obvious. They fell into their trap and failed to see that it was a battle for power that the clerics had lost in Jinnah’s life and now wanted to win discreetly. The only way they could retain any political power in a democratic Pakistan was through making religion a bogey, and in this they succeeded. The leadership beyond Jinnah was less visionary and even Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, an Ahmedi, supported the resolution, which meant that laws in Pakistan were subject to human interpretations of divine law and allowed the state interference in spiritual matters. That such interference would later make him lose his proclaimed religion eluded him. The fact that politically motivated interpretations had divided the human race and had caused immense misery to countless people throughout the centuries was foolishly overlooked. It can be safely said that the majority of the lot forgot that the state had a social contract with all its subjects and not just Muslims.

It should be noted that, till as late as May 1945, Shabbir Ahmad Usmani remained a member of the working committee of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind, which vehemently opposed the creation of Pakistan. Nothing is on record to suggest that he ever tried to change its policy. Apparently, he was wise enough to see that the masses were in favour of Pakistan and political expediency made him change course to become the first president of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, formed in Calcutta in October 1945. This brought him to later favour the Muslim League near the 1946 elections. His clever politics served his Deobandi school extremely well as they managed to take religious leadership from the Barelvis although the latter enjoy a majority. This lead has since multiplied as these elements later started receiving finances from Saudi Arabia to which they were ideologically nearer. Their disproportionate influence in politics has provided Saudi Arabia with a foothold here, allowing it to meddle in our politics. In hindsight, Saudi influence in Pakistan can be attributed to this man. Remaining silent in Jinnah’s lifetime, Usmani famously demanded jiziya (tax) from non-Muslims in the Constituent Assembly and told Pakistan’s first minister for law and labour, Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Hindu, that non-Muslims should not hold such key posts. Mandal ultimately resigned from the cabinet in disgust in 1950. The extremely dangerous term “key posts” in the dictionary of the politico-religious dictionary of Pakistan is Mr Usmani’s gift.

However, the impact of Jinnah’s legacy was to stay for a while and the constitution of the state remained secular in substance with the Objectives Resolution remaining a part of the preamble and not of its main operative body. Even when the present constitution was drafted in 1973, the resolution remained a part of the preamble and required a push by the extremist General Ziaul Haq to find its way into the main body. There has been no going back since then. 

This year, from Minto Park where the Pakistan resolution was passed, the right wing started its ‘ideology of Pakistan march’. Propaganda was chanted and no mention of Jinnah’s vision made. Since the post caliphate period, clerics almost everywhere have divided the people and the faith they claimed to be serving has suffered. Their role in the affairs of Pakistan has done the same. They have succeeded in dividing its people, taking away the rights of the vulnerable, rituals have taken over substance and humanity has been the net loser.

Giving his view on theocracy, Thomas Jefferson once said: “The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and in-grafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” He stands proved right in our land too. Can the youth see beyond propaganda? In the answer lies the future of the Pakistan Jinnah created and the clerics have made hostage.

By Mohammad Ahmad

Can a Pakistani Muslim be secular?


Islam is tolerant of difference and promotes diversity, reasoning and knowledge is it not? Just like secularism? – but in Pakistan anything that threatens the positions and status of those narrow-minded self-styled holy-ones and their hangers on who have abused and exploited Islam, Muslims and non-Muslims alike to gain social, economic and political benefits for themselves are suspect.

These political thugs dressed in religious clothing have a history of demonizing anyone that threatens their hold on gullible folk who cannot differentiate the words of Mullah to those pure words of Allah – The Lord of The Worlds.

Islamic Scholars Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Dr.Fazalur Rehman Ahmed, Ghulam Parvez and GM Syed are a few examples of the reformers who were demonized by these ‘Mullahs’. Latest is Javed Ahmed Ghamdi. This stranglehold on what goes for Islam in Pakistan needs to end as its making a mockery of Islam and the teachings of our last Prophet Muhammad PBUH.



Many people get sick at the mere mention of secularism because they don’t really understand what it means.

Like any other ideology, secularism too has produced a number of variants that were moulded and informed by the cultural, economic and social dynamics of the regions that they emerged in.

The central plank of secularism that remains constant across all variants is the separation of church and state and/or the parting of religion and politics.

In Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan however, secularism has largely been denounced (by religious ideologues and sometimes even by the state), as a doctrinal construct that is anti-religion and negates the existence of God.

The advocates of this claim do not differ between secularism that began emerging as an idea in Europe (from the 17th and 18th centuries), and that variant of secularism that was influenced by the writings of Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Tse Tung.

Though it began as an entirely intellectual pursuit and was a gradual mutation of the Protestant rebellion against Catholicism, modern European secularism first exploded into prominence during the French Revolution (1789) as an aggressive ideology. It saw the Church and Christian priesthood to be historical tools and avenues of oppression used by exploitative monarchs and feudal lords against the people.

However, by the 19th century, European secularism evolved and balanced itself as an important component of democracy that merely wanted to keep religion within the confines of the church and around an individual’s personal space.

A scientific understanding of history, economics, society and human behaviour was to drive political and judicial legislation and religion was to only furnish an individual’s personal spiritual make-up (or lack thereof).

This secularism does not repress religious belief. In fact it accepts and protects an individual’s right to practice his/her religion as long as they are doing so in designated places of worship, in their private space, and as long as their religious beliefs and rituals are not offending other people’s beliefs, or encouraging violence, or creating any other social, domestic or political commotion.

Western secularism recognises the psychological need and role religions play in certain swaths of a society, but it does not allow this role to take the shape of politics because such a tendency encourages persecution and repulsion against modern scientific, economic and intellectual ideas because they threaten the existence of politico-religious entities.

Such has been the secularism practiced in the West for almost a century now.

On the other hand, the secularism that emerged in countries that witnessed communist revolutions and regimes inspired by the writings of Karl Marx (and later Lenin and Mao), reverted to the radical (Jacobin) secularism of the French Revolution. They attempted to completely squash religious belief and practice, viewing religion to be a counter-revolutionary and intransigent force that encouraged economic and social exploitation and stunted and retarded the evolution of societies.

Western secularism experienced a boost when European nations began to rise as vast economic and military powers. After the gradual decline of monarchism and feudalism in Europe and the advent of democracy there, modernism began to mean economic and political progress based on democracy, science and secularism.

Non-European regions where religion was still deeply embedded in the social dynamics and milieu faced a dilemma when they came into contact with the domineering arrival of Western imperialism and its early secular ideals.

A number of intellectuals and political activists of these regions after observing how resisting these ideals were isolating their people from the economic benefits that these ideals now offered, began to concentrate on how to adopt these ideals without completely discarding those aspects of their cultures and beliefs that were tightly tied to their national, ethnic and religious identities.

In South Asia for example (in the 19th and early 20th centuries), certain Muslim and Hindu reformers and scholars began to develop revisionist scholarly narratives that presented their respective religions to have been inherently modern, progressive and in tune with science.

Some Hindu reformists suggested that Hinduism was inherently pluralistic, whereas the Muslim reformists suggested that Islam was inherently secular because there was no concept of priesthood in it.

Thus began the attempt of many Muslim and Hindu scholars and thinkers to mould their own, indigenous concepts of secularism that ironically derived their variants of secularism from their respective religions.

Thus, when a cleric or a conservative Muslim or a hard-line Hindu describes secularism as an ‘anti-God/anti-religion’ idea, he is almost entirely wrong — at least on two counts.

First, western secularism is simply about the separation of faith and the state (for reasons discussed above). Secondly, secular in both India and Pakistan has largely involved thinkers and advocates who justify the separation of religion and the state by suggesting that their respective faiths encourage such a separation.

In Pakistan secular thought is largely tied to the musings of 19th century Muslim scholar, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who painstakingly demonstrated how ‘scientific reasoning’ and rationality can be used to interpret Islamic scriptures.

He also tried to demonstrate that such an interpretation was closer to the true (rational) spirit of Islam and that faith needed to be a personal matter.

He insisted it was material progress (through the sciences) that furnished spiritual progress.

Sindhi scholars like GM Syed and Ibrahim Joyo went a step further by suggesting that societies where Sufism had played a strong historical role in shaping the people’s religious make-up are inherently secular because the Sufi saints that they follow were highly tolerant and against the orthodox clergy and ulema (who were allied to economic and political forces who were using faith as a cynical and opportunistic tool of exploitation).

In the 1960s thinkers like Hanif Ramay and his group of intellectuals who published a highly influential Urdu monthly, Nusrat, tried to counter the ‘Political Islam’ of Abul Ala Maududi and the Utopian pan-Islamism of Iqbal, by concocting a concept called ‘Islamic Socialism’.

The concept suggested a socialist philosophy that fused modern socialist economics and democracy with the pluralistic manoeuvres of the Prophet (PBUH).

Islamic Socialism claimed that the socialism and secularism that it was advocating was inspired by the ‘Madina Charter’ authored by the Prophet in which he granted widespread rights to non-Muslims and the downtrodden.

But no amount of innovation in this regard has changed the conservative ulema’s views about secularism. The reasons for this seem to be quite apparent. Even the more spiritually-tinged variations of secularism are seen as a threat by these ulema and clerics most of whom were pushed into the mainstream by the gradual politicisation of faith in Pakistan from the mid-1970s onwards.