Society of Pakistani American Secularists

  1. Created/produced/written by Wequar Azeem
    PRESENTATION OF SOCIETY OF PAKISTANI  AMERICAN SECULARISTS

I realize that the small group sitting here represents the best Pakistan has to offer
as a typical sampling of the educated, upper middle class (from Pakistani standards), living in the west, who understand clearly what Secularism is, its pros and cons, and how it enforces equality of rights and obligations, distribution of opportunities, and rewards of hard work on a level playing field, regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender and race. The objective of our collective exercise is to get every Pakistani to have the same clarity of concept and thus pick Secularism as their preferred choice. It goes without saying that it is a tall order. Once the whole nation is at least semi-educated, the concept will get auto-corrected by evaporation of prevalent ignorance and abundance of knowledge. However that might take many more generations. As the poet said
“Kon jeeta hae teri zulf ke sar honay tak”.
All of us participating in the discussion that follows my reading of these few pages, fully understand the concept of Secularism.  But we are not a typical sample of the poor rural population of Pakistan. There, the vast majority consists of illiterate, semi-literate automatons who live in the countryside and cannot think or decide for themselves; they simply follow orders, being the lowest base of the pyramid of social hierarchy. A product of many generations ruled by feudal system. They are the great majority of Pakistan’s unquestioning and completely docile order takers. How Secularism is perceived in the developed western countries is not in the purview of this discussion. For example, in USA, secularists tend to prefer and are bound by law of the land, that their legislators and politicians make decisions for secular rather than religious reasons. In this respect, policy decisions pertaining to topics like Abortion, Contraception, Embryonic Stem Cell research, Same-Sex marriage, and Sex Education are prominently focused upon by American secularist organizations such as the Center for Inquiry. What we intend to explore is whether Pakistanis back home can be primed and persuaded to think and formulate public policies on similar lines as Secularist Americans.
The purpose of this presentation is to elicit ideas, advice and suggestions from all of you, a great sample of Pakistan’s best although a tiny minority living in the West, on how to spread the true meanings of Secularism among  Pakistanis back home and to dispel the anti Secularism propaganda spread by vested interests. Those vested interests employ doctored history, misleading text books, faulty education, to strike the fear that Secularism will  hurt Islam and so on. Those vested interests hide behind religious platforms of madaris, pulpit of mosques, Islamist media and religious political parties, simply to perpetuate their own domination.
Later in this paper I will try to present how Secularism is currently viewed in Pakistan, why it is so described, and what needs to be done to rectify the problem.
Being a madarsa alumnus, class of ’57 of Madarsa Islamia in Chittagong, I am deficient in English diction and composition and may need to lapse into Urdu to convey my thoughts whenever I fail, which I often do, to find the right word in English. I seek your indulgence. So here goes my presentation.
Secularism Is
Secularism is broadly defined as the separation between Religion and State, such that the ideologies of religious groups do not feature in, or interfere with the functions of the government.  The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was originally formed with the intention of functioning as a purely secular State.
Secularism is premised on the belief that within a democracy, all citizens are, and must be treated as equal before both the law and parliament, with the same rights and obligations as one another. No religious or political affiliation, or lack thereof, is to be afforded any advantages or disadvantages. These aims of secularism are executed through establishing laws and policies of such a state, that provide equal protection for all citizens, regardless of the particular religion or philosophical beliefs of any particular citizen.
Secularism Is Not
Secularism is not the denouncement, disavowal, or devaluing of religion, or religious ideas.  It is not atheism, nor does it challenge the tenets of any particular religion or belief, nor seeks to curtail or restrict religious freedoms.  Secularism not only recognizes the existence of (multiple) religion(s), it also hedges on the principle, that (each) religion has its own unique space, which must not overlap with the functions of government affairs.  In doing so, secularism does not endorse or promote any one religion, by refraining from assigning differing values to one over others.
The Dominant Perception of Secularism in Pakistan, among the Illiterate and Semi-literate Socioeconomic Classes (Godlessness, Atheism, Anti-Islam, pro-Indian Sentiment)
The current sociopolitical environment, educational system, and (news) media industry portrays a very grim and wholly inaccurate picture of how the majority of Pakistan (i.e. mainly the illiterate and semi-literate socioeconomic portions of the population) perceive secularism.  Secularism is often confused with Godlessness, Atheism, anti-Islamic, and even as pro-Indian sentiment.  Many view the concept of secularism as a blatant rejection of religion (specifically Islam), under the mistaken belief that discouraging Islamic-privilege in government and law, is akin to outright blasphemy.
Roots of Misperception of Secularism  in Pakistan
The misperception of secularism in the context of Pakistan, can largely be attributed to the supporters of Islamization.  The beginnings of Islamization can be seen as far back as 1971, when East Pakistan and West Pakistan parted ways.  In the same decade, elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was seen bowing before pressure imposed by Islamic parties in Pakistan, which was evidenced through the ban of alcohol, gambling, and nightclubs in the early 1970s, as well as the government’s declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims.  But the overwhelming force of Islamization was felt with the military coup of 1977, led by General Zia-Ul-Haq (“Haq”).
Islamization sought to present itself as a direct opposition of secularism, declaring it as the enemy of, rather than an alternative to the same.  In doing so, particularly during Haq’s 11 year reign, it influenced the young nation’s populace, to view secularism and any resulting separation of Church and State, as a direct attack on Islamic principles and way of life. Shariah law was brought into force and enacted in place of the common law in the arenas of family and marriage laws, evidentiary procedures, inheritance laws, banking laws, and criminal laws, amongst others.  This (d)evolved into a justice system that was heavily reliant on Islamic principles, and greatly rewarded those citizens that were proponents of the same.  Some key examples of this include establishment of a separate Shariat Court system, the Hudood Ordinance, the introduction of criminal offences of adultery, fornication, and blasphemy, and declaring interest-income to be illegal for being un-Islamic.  To further this aim, marshall law sought to control and restrict the free flow of information, opportunities, and ideas to the citizens of Pakistan, allowing only those that helped Haq to reinforce his narrowly-tailored, and utterly false definition of secularism.  School text books were altered to remove that which was perceived (by Haq’s unilateral interpretation and discretion) objectionable or repugnant to the principles of Islam, the ulama was given a boost of importance and involvement to comment and influence the matters of the State, and Islamic programming was given top priority on television airtime.
But perhaps the most influential factor was the rise in the number and attendance of madarsas during this time.  This gave Haq the opportunity to shape not only young minds from the outset, but also the overall mind of the young nation when it was most impressionable, to shape and influence such nation’s (mis)perception of and attitude towards secularism.
What was Jinnah’s perception of secularism and which elements wanted to defeat it (Jinnah’s address to constituent assembly on August 11 1947- entire text available on google)
In his landmark speech before the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, founder of Pakistan and first Governor-General, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (“Jinnah”), touched upon various goals and visions for Pakistan, on the eve of its birth. He asserted that, “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 change your past and work together in a spirit that every one 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.” At the outset, it is apparent that Jinnah is a proponent of total equality amongst the citizens of Pakistan, with no distinctions to be made on the basis of religion, colour, or creed – a fundamental tenement of secularism.
He goes on to state, “in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community … 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.” In this part of the speech it becomes abundantly clear that Jinnah has a secular vision for Pakistan, and not only insists that religious affairs, groups, and beliefs must have no involvement in the business of the State, but also vehemently believes that separation of Church and State, if established earlier, would have become India’s biggest strength, rendering it invincible towards any nation attempting to conquer and divide it.
Finally, Jinnah says, “We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State… 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.” Here, he envisages a Pakistan, which possesses a government and legal and justice system that is blind to the religious proclivities of its citizens, and keeps all who pledge their allegiance to such State on a level playing field.  The word “secularism” may not have been uttered even once throughout his speech, but its principles resonate loudly throughout, and are undeniable.
Suggestions for Changing the Perception of Secularism among Pakistanis
Changing the perception of secularism in Pakistan is a tall order that requires long-term planning and investment.  The two keys areas that will be instrumental in this, are the same areas used by Haq to spread Islamization in Pakistan, i.e. legislation and education.  Legislatures will have to take on the task of repealing those laws, which are (1) overly burdensome; (2) promote any type of inequality of rights, liabilities, opportunities, advantages and/or disadvantages amongst citizens; and (3) promote or demote the agenda of any religion over another, or lack thereof.  This starts with Constitutional amendments, that do away with any constitutional provisions that have been found to be contradicting other constitutional provisions, removing the ones which violate the principles of equality, fair play, and justice.  Justice cannot be blind, and citizens cannot be equal, unless the laws of the land are first blind.
Finally, an educational system, that allows for a free flow and exchange of information, and mandates critical thinking is crucial.  An entire generation must go through and complete the requisite education under such a system, to cleanse the polluted political palate of Pakistan. Critical thinking is particularly important because it is key for any individual or citizen to make a meaningful and informed choice, whether with respect to religion, or otherwise.  And the choice to meaningfully believe and practice is at the heart of all religions, as well as secularism

 

  • No religion should be taught as fact and no religion described as superior to another.
  • Secularists support the protection of individual believers, but not the protection of their beliefs. Individuals have rights…Beliefs don’t.
  • Secularists believe that the law should not restrict reasonable and vigorous criticism of religion.
  • Secularists believe that the law should not prevent criticism that hurts religious feelings.
  • Secularists also believe that the law should not permit incitement to religious hatred.
  • Secularists support:

  • The ending of religious oaths as a condition of holding public sector jobs.

 

This Article May Save Sanity Of Many TFUSA Affiliates

Brief Thought by F. Sheikh on Article. Sometime in anger, frustration or irritation we may say or write things that we regret later on. It is especially true on social media and websites like Thinkers Forum USA (TFUSA) where we sometime write such a hurtful and insulting stuff that we will never find the courage to say to someone’ face. We do not know what effect it may have on targeted individual or individuals, but it surely has ill effect on writer’s mental and physical health because no mind at ease and peace can pour out insulting and hurtful thoughts. Massimo Pigliucci has written a great article on this subject and some worth heeding advice on how to avoid an anger talk trap, which in reality is a temporary insanity. Article is below.

People get angry for all sorts of reasons, from the trivial ones (someone cut me off on the highway) to the really serious ones (people keep dying in Syria and nobody is doing anything about it). But, mostly, anger arises for trivial reasons. That’s why the American Psychological Association has a section of its website devoted to anger management. Interestingly, it reads very much like one of the oldest treatises on the subject, On Anger, written by the Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca back in the first century CE.

Seneca thought that anger is a temporary madness, and that even when justified, we should never act on the basis of it because, though ‘other vices affect our judgment, anger affects our sanity: others come in mild attacks and grow unnoticed, but men’s minds plunge abruptly into anger. … Its intensity is in no way regulated by its origin: for it rises to the greatest heights from the most trivial beginnings.’
The perfect modern milieu for anger management is the internet. If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, or write, read or comment on a blog, you know what I mean. Heck, Twitter anger has been brought up to new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view) by the current president of the United States, Donald Trump.

I too write quite a bit on online forums. It’s part of my job as an educator, as well as, I think, my duty as a member of the human polis. The conversations I have with people from all over the world tend to be cordial and mutually instructive, but occasionally it gets nasty. A prominent author who recently disagreed with me on a technical matter quickly labelled me as belonging to a ‘department of bullshit’. Ouch! How is it possible not to get offended by this sort of thing, especially when it’s coming not from an anonymous troll, but from a famous guy with more than 200,000 followers? By implementing the advice of another Stoic philosopher, the second-century slave-turned-teacher Epictetus, who admonished his students in this way: ‘Remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves – that is, our opinions do. What, for instance, does it mean to be insulted? Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished? If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?’

Indeed. Of course, to develop the attitude of a rock toward insults takes time and practice, but I’m getting better at it. So what did I do in response to the above-mentioned rant? I behaved like a rock. I simply ignored it, focusing my energy instead on answering genuine questions from others, doing my best to engage them in constructive conversations. As a result, said prominent author, I’m told, is livid with rage, while I retained my serenity.

Now, some people say that anger is the right response to certain circumstances, in reaction to injustice, for instance, and that – in moderation – it can be a motivating force for action. But Seneca would respond that to talk of moderate anger is to talk of flying pigs: there simply isn’t such a thing in the Universe. As for motivation, the Stoic take is that we are moved to action by positive emotions, such as a sense of indignation at having witnessed an injustice, or a desire to make the world a better place for everyone. Anger just isn’t necessary, and in fact it usually gets in the way.

The philosopher Martha Nussbaum gave a famous modern example of this in her Aeon essay on Nelson Mandela. As she tells the story, when Mandela was sent to prison – for 27 years – by the Apartheid government of South Africa, he was very, very angry. And for good reasons: not only was a grave injustice being perpetrated against him personally, but against his people more generally. Yet, at some point Mandela realised that nurturing his anger, and insisting in thinking of his political opponents as sub-human monsters, would lead nowhere. He needed to overcome that destructive emotion, to reach out to the other side, to build trust, if not friendship. He befriended his own guard, and eventually his gamble paid off: he was able to oversee one of those peaceful transitions to a better society that are unfortunately very rare in history.

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 posted by f.sheikh

Mirza I Ashraf on Religions & Intellectuals

This is because the modernists, annoy, taunt, ridicule and degrade them. It is a reaction to the mishandling of religions by the intellectuals. I have attempted to explain that the European Renaissance and Enlightenment did not succeed by declaring that Jesus was an illegitimate child of Johan and Marry–a common Jewish belief. They never bothered about many religious factions which were fighting amongst themselves. RELIGIONS and IDEOLOGIES–such as Marxism, are self-destructive and they die when they are left alone without any INTELLECTUAL-OPPRESSION. The more an intellectual attempts to tear apart the fabric of a social system or a religion, the more its life is enhanced.

Mirza Ashraf

What is Thinkers Forum USA

EOM, and Noor Sahib, my remark about the Thinkers Forum made on the Forum’s Facebook is here to refresh your memory:

Mirza Ashraf reviewed Thinkers Forum USA — 5 star

It is an enlightening free thinkers’ forum.

The TF Board needs to sit down and find out, whether the members of this Forum thinking freely or do they know what is “Enlightenment.” In Europe, Enlightenment started from Bacon (1561-1626) to, Galileo, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Lock, Malebranche, Newton, Leibniz, Bayle, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Diderot, Kant (1724-1804) and many more. As you know, I have gone through all these thinkers and many more and have found none of them was a hair splitter of Christianity or Judaism. There have been many others throwing cheap comments, and bad remarks, but the classified great thinkers who made their impact on Enlightenment have remained focused on the subject of “What is Enlightenment.”

The Age of Enlightenment

Between the years 1751 and 1772, the first volume of theencyclopedia, a general encyclopedia edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, was published in France, which offered a comprehensive reference to new sciences, philosophical, sociopolitical and Enlightenment ideas. This helped develop the process of liberty and scientific learning, bringing a sensible change in the opinions of the people. Above all the blending of “natural sciences and philosophy” resulted in Enlightenment ideals. It placed the highest value on reason, scientific inquiry, human natural rights, liberty, equality, freedom of thought and expression, and on diverse cosmopolitan worldviews that the Scottish philosopher David Hume and after him many other recognize as a “science of man.” The scientific attitude of rational enquiry replaced the previous intellectualism of thought and action. It shaped the idea that the methods and concepts of science should be applied in all domains of enquiry. This change became the key to Enlightenment, which put man more firmly than before at the center of the universe. It laid the foundation of the rise of a new civilization, which is known today the Western Civilization.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) to close his work Optics (1704) argued with the words, “If natural philosophy in all its parts, by pursuing this Method [i.e. scientific method], shall at length be perfected, the bounds of ‘moral philosophy’ will be enlarged.” By “moral philosophy” Newton meant all of ethics, psychology, economics, politics, and history.Enlightenment, thus, sought to reconstruct morality on a rational basis. Newton, thus came to be viewed as the first and greatest of the modern age of scientists, and rationalists. He professed to think on the lines of cold and untinctured reason. People of Europe saw a new order of men and women, when on July 14, 1789, the fall of Bastille in Paris, sparked the French Revolution, and the Enlightenment ideas of “liberty and equality” resulted in a secular, democratic, and republican era.

Emanuel Kant (1724-1804) published in 1748 a short essay putting forward an “Idea for a Universal History from Cosmopolitan Point of View” for the emancipation of man through man.Answering to the question of What is Enlightenment he described the Enlightenment as a precise modality of the exercise of reason, which was animated by a strong “spirit of freedom” and intimately connected with mankind’s natural need for knowledge—the progress of mankind toward improvement through the freedom to make public use of one’s reason at every point. In his concise depiction, the Enlightenment was nothing other than a great act of courage, a passionate invitation never to be afraid of emancipation.

(above paragraphs are from my essay: History of Knowledge-Explosion — Part V The Second Explosion 1300-1800)

It is important, we need to think and see and analyze the issue of Enlightenment and Free thinking. Most of the time discussion is derailed and atheism in itself becomes a degraded issue by making insulting remarks on religious precepts and injunctions. I believe, if I am not wrong, only six to seven members take part in our discussion in the Forum, while the majority remains silent or even do not care to read the comments. Noor Sahib as a Chairman of this Forum, it is time to discuss in detail why members are opting out and why a majority is disinterested? Editors can also post this message on TF web blog, if it is considered useful and reasonable.

Mirza