Recognize Sikh Community As Integral Part of Pakistani Society – Add Sikhism to the Current Headcount Form

Ramesh Singh Arora, MPA, Punjab Assembly, Lahore (Photo: Pakistan Today)

It is a scandal that Pakistan’s Sikh community does not feature in the country’s Headcount happening now after a gap of 19 years. In the section of religion, the forms offer Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Qadianiat, scheduled caste, and ‘others’. This has prompted the Sikh community to launch protests in different parts of the country, and one of the leaders who is the ‘first and only Sikh lawmaker in the Punjab Assembly since the partition,’ Ramesh Singh Arora spoke on a point of order in the Punjab Assembly on Monday, and said that he feels his community is being ‘marginalised’, and he asked that the federal and provincial governments redress this issue immediately as the country’s 6th Headcount was already underway.

According to Arora, there may be about 25,000 Sikhs in Pakistan, but the actual number can not be ascertained if the current Headcount does not provide a clear option.

This oversight on part of Pakistan government, that Arora attributes to bureaucracy, may be another reflection of the prejudice that exists against minorities within this self-entitled ‘Muslim’ government that chose to use religion as one of the coercive weapons to control the population.

Not only that Sikhism was founded in areas now in Pakistan, but the Sikh community represents the richness and continuity of Punjabi culture through literature, language, architecture and songs, and it reminds us that there once was a secular and humane Punjabi Sikh Empire in Indian Subcontinent that at its peak in the 19th century ‘extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east, and from Mithankot in the south to Kashmir in the north’, and that it was ‘the last major region of the subcontinent to be conquered by the British’. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikh_Empire)

Pakistan and Punjab governments must add Sikhism to the provided list of religions, because it’s not just about the numbers; omitting Sikhism from the list of religions from the forms for national census, also omits and makes invisible the historical and the ongoing peaceful and constructive role played by Sikh community in the development of Pakistani society.

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(Na)Pakistan: The Land of the (Im)Pure

pak

Written by Saeed Umer Abassi

The case for separation of religion and state in Pakistan has been made by atheists, agnostics and non-believers.

I argue that case, as a believer.

In Islam, God is the supreme authority. His Will creates, sustains and destroys the Universe. He is the ultimate judge of human beings based on their thoughts, words and deeds.

What need has this Almighty God for mortals to legislate in His name? What does it benefit Him whose Law is eternal and universal to have the laws of men perpetrate injustice and cruelty?

The teachings of religion on love, benevolence and justice can better politics; but why otherwise corrupt the sanctity of religion with blood, power and greed? Why further divide humanity “in creation of one essence and soul?”

Why do Pakistanis need a state to save their souls when it does not fill their bellies? What need has Islam or God for the Hudood Ordinance, the Blasphemy Law and the murder of its people in His name? What has sixty-eight years of Pakistan done in the name of Islam and God?

The Persian sage and poet Sadi remarked in the Gulistan:

Oh! Though above all human though supreme,
Above our every word or deed or dream,
Thy service closes and we quit the Mosque
Yet of Thy meaning, scarce have caught a gleam

If the mosque has failed to bring Pakistan closer to Islam or to God, then nor will all of the Islam-pasand politicians, mullahs and mujahideen of the Land of the Pure.
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Separate Religion from State. Remove Article 2 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Declare Pakistan to be a Secular Democracy
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The Separation of Religion and State in Islam

arches-islamic

Islamists and CNN proclaim alike that religion and state are one in Islam. The oneness of religion and state justifies the existence of Islamic states like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is a claim which inspires Islamist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir to petition for the re-establishment of the Caliphate in the twenty-first century.

In his Allahabad Address in 1930, Muhammad Iqbal held that “the religious ideal of Islam…is organically related to the social order which it has created.” Yet Iqbal discusses neither what that social order is nor how those ideals are embodied in a social or political organization. Indeed, the idea that religion and state are one in Islam is a recent one with little historical precedent.

First, Islam originated in a society where there was no state. The revelations of the Qur’an are moral commands on how a Muslim should live, on the Oneness of God, on the inevitability of the day of judgement and on the line of prophets before Muhammad. Whereas the revelations do speak to some matters of marriage, divorce, the payment of alimony and inheritance, they say little on how states should be formed, how governments should be run or organizations managed.

Second, the idea that religion and state are separate in Islam is not borne out by history. The Prophet of Islam did not appoint a successor for the community. Although the Caliphate was the religious and political head of the early Muslim community, its authority remained temporal, leaving matters of religious doctrine to the Ulema. After the siege of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols, the Caliphate existed essentially as a figurehead until it was abolished in 1924. As Ayubi makes clear, the early Muslim communities were concerned more with the politics of survival and succession than political theories of the state.

The great Islamic empires of the medieval ages – the Ottomans in Turkey, the Safavids in Iran and the Mughals in India – saw powerful rulers run their empires through bureaucracies, economic systems and armies all of which had little if anything to do with religion. The Ulema meanwhile monopolized matters of religion, the preaching and administering personal law. Religion and state co-existed, but separately.

Third, the Qur’an does distinguish between the temporal world (dunya) and an eternal, spiritual world (akhira). The temporal world can be further separated into matters relating to the “secular” world (dunya) and to religion (din). This distinction is similar to the Christian idea of the “secular” as the temporal world of human activity and the “eternal” world of God or the spiritual.

Ironically, the father of secularism in the West is the Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) or Averroes. Ibn Rushd distinguished between religious knowledge (ilm al-kalam) and philosophical knowledge (ilm al-falsafa) and between the human soul into the divine (eternal) and the individual (non-eternal), distinctions again important for distinguishing between the “temporal” or secular world and the “eternal” or spiritual world.

Fourth, and as a modern-day ideology, the characteristics of Islamism are shaped by the times and societies in which it originated. As Ayubi points out, Islamism emerged in post-colonial Arab societies amongst groups who felt excluded from power, who were distrustful of state authority, were also disdainful of modernity and sought to resurrect the “authenticity” of their culture which they presented as Islam. It was up to the Islamists to reassert the supremacy of that culture and to root out social, political and cultural corruption by seizing the instruments of power.

Like Islam however, Islamism has no specific theory of the state. What is “Islamic” for an Islamist is typically identified in opposition to what is “un-Islamic” (modernity, non-Muslims, foreign powers). There are little if any positive political theorizing or policy solutions in Islamism. The tendency of Islamists is to escape upwards to the Heavens by seeking absolute submission to God.  For them, Ayubi points out, “Islam is the solution” (al-islam huwa al-hall), with the implication that if Islamists took power, and declared the full sovereignty of God, social, economic and cultural problems will somehow solve themselves.

Written by Randeep Singh

Further Reading:

Nazih N. Ayubi, Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World (Routledge, London: 1991).

William Cleveland and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East (Westview Press, Boulder, CO: 2009).

Charles Taylor, “Modes of Secularism” in Secularism and Its Critics, ed. Rajeev Bhargava (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1998).

The Quebec Charter (and other secularisms)

quebec veil

The controversy over the Charter of Quebec Values got me interested in where Quebec stands as a secular society in comparison to other societies, including the rest of Canada.

STRICT SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

REPUBLICAN/LAÏCITÉ MODEL

France

  • Historical: The Wars of Religion (1648) prompted European states to recognize the need for a public domain regulated by non-clerical rules. The French Revolution (1789) saw the creation of the First Republic with all individuals as equal citizens under the law. The Civic Code of 1805 established the supremacy of the republic and state law; and the 1905 Law on the Separation of Church and State institutionalized the policy of state secularism in France.
  • French Constitution (1958): “France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic”: religion is a private matter; the public domain is governed by the idea of republic citizenship and by an active state implementing the separation of religion from public citizenship
  • Law: law banning headscarves and conspicuous religious symbols  (2004).

France (flag)

Turkey

  • Historical: the Turkish defeat in World War I and the break-up of the empire (plus the cooperation between the Caliph and the allied powers) saw the Turkish political establishment reject the caliphate and a religious state; Kemal Ataturk westernized Turkish political and legal system (including the French model of secularism)
  • Turkish Republic and Nation: indivisible, secular with “active neutrality” of state (the Islamic religion is regulated by the state)
  • Law: in June 2008, Turkey’s Constitutional Court annulled the Parliament’s proposed amendment to lift the ban on headscarves, ruling that such an amendment violated the founding principles of the Turkish Constitution.

Quebec

  • Historical: Traditional Roman-Catholic society became increasingly secularized during the Quiet Revolution of 1960s onwards; ongoing movement to preserve distinctiveness of Quebec culture in Canada;
  • Law/Politics: 1977, Charter of the French Language (French as only official language of province);1982, Quebec only province not to assent to patriation of Canadian Constitution; National Assembly (Quebec) vote that people of Quebec form a nation (2003); 2013, Quebec Charter = bid for “distinctive” society and society?

ANGLO-AMERICAN MODEL

The “democratic” (rather than ‘republican’) model of secularism prevails in European protestant countries. Protestantism itself began as a dissident movement, giving rise to other dissident sects. The resulting dissidence among different groups in these countries forced the state to eventually tolerate those differences, rather than in France where the struggle between an all-powerful church and the state resulted in the state victorious and an ensuing tradition of anti-clericalism.

U.S.A

  • Historical: The United States established a secular state with no hostility toward religion; there has been a history of good relationships between church and the state;
  • First Amendment: no official religion and no prohibition of free exercise of religion;
  • Symbolic and ceremonial use of Christianity (in God we Trust); religious customs (use of bible) in courts and oath of President (not law).

U.K.

  • Historical: Official religion remains the Church of England use of Christian symbolism associated with the Monarchy; otherwise, a highly and increasingly secular society since World War II;
  • Multi-religious with an ongoing controversy regarding multiculturalism as policy (teaching of religions in school, recognition of Sikh kirpans in public places, establishment of Shariah Courts).

turban bus stop

Canada

  • Historical: Canada’s official recognition for two languages and “founding” nations has been accompanied by an increasing recognition of rights of Aboriginals and minority groups since the 1970s.
  • Law: Official policy of multiculturalism in Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988) including minorities’ rights to enjoy own cultures; religious freedoms and (equality) rights are subject to the limits justified in “free and democratic society.”

OFFICIALLY NEUTRAL STATE + ACCEPTANCE OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM

INDIAN MODEL

  • Historical: India is a multi-religious society where all religions continue to be practiced in their traditional form. The Partition of 1947 helped encourage the rise of a secular state which sought to protect the rights of the minorities while proclaiming no official religion
  • State maintains a “principled distance” from religion (Bhargava): the Indian Constitution allows freedom of religion subject to health (harmful religious practices), law and order; religious pluralism and equality of all religions.
  • Law: recognition of separate personal laws for religious groups; no uniform civil code (1985 Shah Bano case);

Further Reading:

Rajeev Bhargava (ed.), Secularism and Its Critics (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1998).

Charles Taylor, “Modes of Secularism,” in Secularism and its Critics, 31-53.

Jean Bauberot, “The Two Thresholds of Laicization,” in Secularism and its Critics, 94-136.

D.E. Smith, “India as a Secular State,” in Secularism and its Critics, 177-233.

Rajeev Bhargava, “What is Secularism For?” in Secularism and its Critics, 486-542.

Written by Randeep Singh

M. F. Husain (1915 – 2011)

From SAHMAT Ashok Kumari
9.6.2011

Easily the most iconic artist of modern India, Maqbool Fida Husain passed away in London on 9 June 2011. M. F. Husain was born in 1915 in Pandharpur, the famous temple town in Maharashtra. Bereft of his mother’s presence since childhood, Husain grew up in the multi-cultural milieu of Indore where his father migrated around 1919.

Indian civilization, in all its diversity, had been Husain’s basic inspirational project. Since the year of Independence, through the Nehruvian decades and thereon, cognizant of all the challenges involved in nation-building, Husain had been steadfast in maintaining a most affirmative relationship with the Indian peoples’ consciousness of their national identity. Through him, we have learned to address a whole gamut of issues pertaining to the interactive dynamic of modernity with the country’s many-layered art and culture.

He had made a signal contribution in reworking the aesthetic traditions of India including especially the tradition of iconographic innovation. He is among those few modern artists who had focused on mythological and epic narratives, and, for over half a century, he had painted themes from the epics in literally thousands of paintings and drawings. This alone speaks of his passion for these narratives and, further, of his understanding that their literary, performing and visual form has changed through the centuries, and therefore carries the mandate for new articulations within the contemporary.

Equally important, these series of Husain paintings have been shown in urban and rural sites through unique modes of public dissemination. And it speaks of the generous comprehension of this project by viewers all over India, viewers who cut across barriers of class and culture, that they have been received with the affectionate regard and playful participation they require.

Posterity will certainly name Husain as one of the most prominent post-Indpendence artists to shape the contemporary art in the spirit of a living and changing tradition. More than any other modern artist in India, he has understood how a syncretic civilization and the dynamics of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation have together prompted these interpretations and empowered the community of artists to evolve a uniquely modern language consistent with the complexity of these civilizational narratives.

Indeed, Husain was such an iconic figure that we could use the very iconography of Maqbool Fida Husain, of the person himself, to forward ideas about Indian visual culture in the framework of a dynamic public sphere. Already, his life and work are beginning to serve as an allegory for the changing modalities of the secular in modern India — and the challenges that the narrative of the nation holds for us.

It is unfortunate that this very aspect of his persona led to a relentless campaign of villification and calumny against him by bigotted Hindu fundamentalist groups since 1996. After a decade of standing up to threats to his person and vandalising of his art works in public spaces, M.F.Husain went into a self-imposed exile in 2006. Four years later he was offered and accepted the citizenship of Qatar. The artistic community, secular and democratic opinion in the country however stood steadfastly with him and had been urging the government to bring him back.

We believe that India will be the poorer if a proper monument to Husain and his paintings is not created in the country for posterity.

SAHMAT
29, Feroze Shah Road, New Delhi-110001
Telephone- 23381276/ 23070787
e-mail-sahmat8@yahoo.com
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‘Remembering the bloody side of Vaisakhi’ by Gurpreet Singh

From Georgia Straight, Vancouver, April 17, 2011

Whereas the Vaisakhi festival is marked with prayers and celebrations in the Lower Mainland every year, Indo-Canadians often overlook a bloody side of the carnival that changed the course of Indian history.

Around this time of year, the harvest festival of Vaisakhi is the focus of parades, which are mainly organized by Sikh temples in Vancouver and Surrey. These events coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa, a force of devout and armed Sikhs created by the tenth master of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh.

But a gory historical aspect also needs to be remembered.

It was during Vaisakhi in 1919 when British troops opened fire on supporters of the passive-resistance movement. They had assembled at the Jallianwala Bagh (garden) in Amritsar to oppose the arrests of national leaders seeking the independence of India.

According to the official figures, close to 400 people died as a result of the shootings.

The incident that came to be known as Bloody Vaisakhi influenced revolutionaries, who fought against the British occupation of India.

Rabindranath Tagore, a prominent Bengali scholar and poet, renounced his British knighthood.

Many years later in London, Udham Singh, a Sikh rebel, assassinated Michael O’Dwyer, who was British lieutenant-governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre.

The assassin described himself as Mohammad Singh Azad, an unusual alias that symbolized secularism. The massacre of innocent Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs united nearly all Indians, irrespective of their castes, cultures, and ideologies.

The incident jolted the Sikh peasantry in particular. Back then, Sikhs were considered to be the backbone of the British army, and Punjab remained a garrison state. So much so that the pro-British Sikh clergy was unmoved by the bloodshed.

Arur Singh, a custodian of the Akal Takht, highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, actually honoured Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, who led the firing squad.

It is pertinent to mention that Singh was the grandfather of Simranjeet Singh Mann, a prominent Sikh separatist leader in India.

When Queen Elizabeth visited Amritsar in 1997, leftists campaigned for a formal apology, whereas the Sikh leadership did not insist on one. She went to the Jallianwala Bagh, laid a wreath at the memorial, signed the visitor book, and returned without making any apology.

I remember how I once caught Mann off-guard when he was complaining at a news conference that Sikhs who made many sacrifices for the independence of India were being treated as second-class citizens in the country. I shot him a question about whether his grandfather did the right thing by honouring Dyer.

Mann became thoughtful for a moment and then said, “What he did was wrong.”

Both moderate and fundamentalist groups within the Lower Mainland Sikh community continue to ignore the incident, which sent a message about the importance of unity and secularism.

Supporters of Khalistan, a theocratic Sikh homeland, wish to separate from India. They organize the Vaisakhi parade in Surrey and cannot to be expected to hold a memorial service for the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

However, the so-called pro-India and secular moderates, who organized the Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver, have also overlooked this part of history.

This year, only two progressive groups—the Indo-Canadian Workers’ Association and the Fraser Valley Peace Council—came forward to hold a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Surrey’s Holland Park.

Despite rain showers, people of both Indian and Pakistani origin gathered there on Friday evening.

After all, the two nations were one before independence and the religious division of India in 1947. Many Muslim families who migrated to Pakistan lost relatives in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It was a common tragedy before the partition of the country.

Ironically, the creation of Pakistan divided communities that were together when British troops fired indiscriminately at the Jallianwala Bagh gathering.

A moment of silence was held in the memory of the victims. A prominent satirist and political activist from Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, was the guest speaker. He insisted that the struggle for true independence must go on as the poor in India have no access to basic requirements.

He differentiated between the poor and the rich in India in this way: “While India is for the rich, Bharat (Hindi name of India) is still poor.”

Others who spoke on the occasion also insisted that secular forces should join hands, make it an annual event, and hold such memorials on a grand scale. Some of them demanded a formal apology from the British government. Politicians from both the Liberal party and the NDP also showed up.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre carries a message not only for Indians, but for everyone who is opposed to imperialist wars and illegal occupations. Apart from unity and harmony, people can to learn the lesson of social justice from the sacrifices made at the Vaisakhi of 1919.

Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Canada’s 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

From Georgia Straight, April 17, 2011
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