The divorce of religion and politics —by Dr Manzur Ejaz

Sufis were witnessing the misuse of religion by qazis and other ‘pillars’ of religious institutions. They were aware of the corruption, nepotism and injustice being practiced in the name of Islam. Therefore, to save the spirituality of religion, they preached the separation of religion from the state and other worldly affairs.

Once again Muslims are celebrating Eid on two different days, some on Tuesday and others on Wednesday. I wonder if most of the countries with Muslim majority populations were secular, they may have fixed one day for everyone. This raises the question — is a secular state necessary to keep the spirituality of religion unpolluted?

Usually, Pakistanis and many other Muslims take the word secular as being equivalent to atheism and an anti-religious system of governance. On the contrary, the founders of the US constitution argued that religious purity can only be maintained if it is kept away from the business of the state. US politicians, from the president downwards, go to their places of worship regularly but they do not bring their personal faith to the affairs of the state. They enjoy the spirituality of their faith without encumbering the state.

When George Washington and his colleagues were debating the foundations of the US constitution, they were quite aware that statecraft required strategies of reconciliation that may not be justified through religious ideology. Therefore, if the constitution is based on religious ideology, matters of faith will be polluted by the state’s own specific needs. To address this question, George Washington wrote, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

The founders of the US constitution had witnessed widespread persecution on the basis of religion and sectarianism. They were aware of the role that the Catholic clergy had played in corrupting Christianity. Early US history was no different than that of Europe, where witch-hunt trials were burning/drowning hundreds of women on allegations of witchcraft. Therefore, they were clear that to save the spirituality of religion, it had to be separated from the business of the state.

Contrary to this, Muslim rulers in the subcontinent used religion as the basis of their system of justice and other institutions created to rule society. A whole system comprised of hundreds of thousands of qazis was put in place. These qazis were educated at religious monasteries before taking over state jobs. Sometimes, the ruler persecuted the people who belonged to a different sect. Aurangzeb’s onslaught against Shia Muslims is a known fact of history. Consequently, the spiritual aspect of Islam may have been polluted and compromised.

This is the main reason that Sufis in the subcontinent kept emphasising the spiritual essence of religion. They were witnessing the misuse of religion by qazis and other ‘pillars’ of religious institutions. They were aware of the corruption, nepotism and injustice being practiced in the name of Islam. Therefore, to save the spirituality of religion, they preached the separation of religion from the state and other worldly affairs. In practice, this meant that religion should be practiced on an individual level leaving the state to be run by the worldly rulers. This was the reason that Muslim Sufis had a following of people from every religion. It is known that the majority of Shah Hussain’s followers were Hindus.

From Baba Farid to Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah, everyone emphasised the separation of individual spirituality from the state-sanctioned formal religion. Recurrence of the concept of embracing shoh (the beloved) was meant to induce spiritual purification on an individual level. Baba Farid’s lifestyle was such that the qazi and ruler of Pakpattan ganged up against him and his family.

Guru Nanak was much more open and critical of the alliance between the state and clergy of every kind. For example, when Babar was ruining the Indian landscape, Baba Nanak taunted the Muslim religious leaders for their useless prayers to stop the invasion. Similarly, he laughed at the Hindu clergy who had assured the Indian ruler that their mantras would destroy Babar. And, Nanak jeers at them because Babar made no differentiation between mosques and temples or between Turk (Muslim) and Hindu women. Baba Nanak ridiculed both Muslim and Hindu ritualistic practices and projected spirituality devoid of any state manipulation or ritualistic routine.

Shah Hussain rejected the role of the qazi and mullah when he said, “Mullan qazi mattin dainde…Ishq keeh lagge rah de nal” (The mullah and qazis tell us about the right path but love has nothing to do with it). He reiterates spiritualistic integrity as separated from state and other worldly affairs.

“Badshahan nu badshahian, shahan nu ugrahian

Mahar nu pind graon di aasaan, Talab sain de naam di.”

(Kings are busy in their kingdoms, the moneylenders are collecting their debts and the tiller is concerned about his village. We only seek the pleasure of our sain (lord, beloved)).

Sultan Bahu also rejected a religious establishment that sells religious knowledge. For him the mullah’s service to the ruling class in every shape and form pollutes the religion, where scholars become bargaining commodities.

“O dohin janin muthay Bahu jinhan khahdi waich kmai hoo.”

(The ones who sold their scholarship are dejected in both worlds.)

Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah were much more openly critical of the state’s use of religion. For example, when Bulleh Shah says, “Bulhia rab kaho na kaho, aai soorton sacha raho” (Oh Bulla, it is immaterial if you openly profess God or not. However, the important thing is that you should be truthful in a given situation).

Waris Shah’s entire creation of Heer was meant to show and denounce the unholy alliance between the rulers and the religious establishment. He maintains, throughout his creation, that qazis are the thoroughly corrupt and illegitimate partners of the ruling elite. He repeats the theme of “Qazi rishwatan mar ke koor keete” (Qazis have been blinded by bribery). His implicit argument is that to save the spiritual aspect of religion, it has to be kept away from the state and its institutions.

Unfortunately, the Sufi tradition has been grossly neglected in Pakistan. This has led to social decay as well as the pollution of religious spirituality. Allama Iqbal’s one line has been quoted to shut down the discussion on secularism:

“Judah u deen siasat se tu reh jati he Changaizi” (Separation of religion and politics leads to barbarianism).

The fact of the matter is that, “Milae jab deen siasat se tu ban jati he Changaizi” (when religion is mixed with politics, it leads to barbarianism).

Source: Daily Times