By Yasser Latif Hamdani
July 6, 2020
A religious debate is ensuing in the country as to whether or not a Hindu temple can be built in an “Islamic state”. As I wrote in my previous article, this is precisely the kind of debate that arises in a theocracy and which retards the progress of a modern nation state. However the facts are that Pakistan is a theocracy under the present constitutional dispensation and there is no escaping this fact. The question then is whether or not new Non-Muslim places of worship can be built in an Islamic land and whether or not the government can fund it?
Last week, the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, approved a grant of 100 million Rupees to build the first Hindu temple in Islamabad
We have historical precedents in Islamic history in the subcontinent where Muslim rulers not only allowed the building of Hindu places of worship but gave them land grants for the purpose. There was no greater Islamic puritan in Mughal History than Emperor Aurangzeb. Rutgers historian Audrey Truschke in her classic “Aurangzeb, the man and the myth” lists in detail the instances of Aurangzeb granting land to temples and ensuring their upkeep. In 1687 Aurangzeb granted land to Brahmins and Hindu holy men in Benaras to build a complex of residences and worship right next to a mosque. In 1691 he gave eight villages and land for Balaji Temple of Chitrakoot, on the banks of River Mandakini Ganga, which was built on official funds provided by the Mughal Empire. The land so given was free of lagan requirements i.e. tax-free land for the temple. There are numerous such examples from Emperor Aurangzeb where he bequeathed land grants and funds to Hindu and Jain communities for temples and other community welfare related projects.
Built-in the 9th century, the Prambanan Temple, located between Sleman, Yogyakarta, and Klaten, Central Java in Indonesia is the largest temple compound dedicated to the Trimurti.
Same is true of the other “iconoclast” – the destroyer of Somnath- Mahmud of Ghazni, who had in his employ numerous Hindu soldiers, Pandits, holy men and Sanskrit scholars. He is said to have made a temple in Ghazni for their worship. Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, contributed to the upkeep of no less than 150 Hindu temples in his kingdom. One could cite Akbar but Akbar is notoriously considered Kafir by the pious amongst Muslims. However, Aurangzeb, Tipu Sultan and Mahmud of Ghazni were all considered pious Muslim rulers who ruled under the sanction of Islamic law. Their actions therefore are persuasive precedents. Therefore, to argue that Islamic law does not permit building of Non-Muslim places of worship especially where idolatry is practised flies in the face of historical example. This is unless we are to argue that Aurangzeb, Mahmud of Ghazni and Tipu Sultan were also bad Muslims.
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The real question however is the debate itself, which is occasioned by Pakistan’s status as a theocratic state. First of all let us be clear that in the Islamic doctrine the only place where a Non-Muslim place of worship cannot be built is the land of Hijaz. Outside of the land of Hijaz there is no such bar. Quite the contrary the Islamic precedent shows autonomous religious communities not only being tolerated by accepted in Muslim history. The part of the problem is the rhetoric with respect to Medina that the current Prime Minister is fond of using. Riyasat-e-Medina cannot be replicated because it was subject to prophetic guidance. It is an aspiration that is cumbersome for a worldly nation state devoid of any divine guidance. The best we can do as mere mortals is create a just and fair nation state and that in turn means giving equal rights to all citizens.
There are two approaches that can be adopted in this regard. The first one is the US approach under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which bars the US Federal funding for purposes of worship. This means that the US Federal Government cannot build a Church, a Mosque or a Temple. The rule is consistent and does not privilege any one community over another. Pakistan on the other hand funds mosques and their upkeep. By the same token – reading Articles 4, 20 and 25 of the Pakistani Constitution together- Pakistan is bound to similarly fund religious places of all communities listed in Article 260 of the Constitution and not just Muslims. As things stand, it is heads I win, tails you lose. No consistent rule exists in our Islamic Republic except that Muslims are privileged over Non-Muslims in every possible way. At the very least we should stop claiming that Pakistan treats its minorities well and that they are equal citizens. Pakistan’s minorities are from equal. They are at best third class citizens and that too only a piddling subsection. Sikhs are pampered for other reasons, which one does not want to get into, which is why no hue and cry was raised when Kartarpur was built on public funds. One does not begrudge their special status in our Islamic Republic but one wishes that such status was accorded to all minorities and better still we just had one rule for all citizens of Pakistan, as was so eloquently promised by the now defunct 11 August speech.
Coming back to the temple debate though, the reason why the present government wanted to make a temple in Islamabad was not necessarily out of any love for the Hindu citizens of Pakistan but to make a symbolic point vis a vis India. It was to be Pakistan’s answer to the Babri Masjid demolition and judgment in India. Imran Khan is obsessed with showing Modi that Pakistan is a more egalitarian and tolerant society. The truth is that both Pakistan and India are priest ridden religious societies, which are by design intolerant. There is however one difference between the two countries. The priests who have the final say in Pakistan through the theocratic constitution, which is what the 1973 Constitution is, always hold Imran Khan, no matter how tolerant he tries to present himself, hostage. Meanwhile Hindu bigot Modi is kept in check by the secular constitution of India.
Thus, gimmickry such as building a temple in Islamabad means nothing at all. If you really want to one-up Modi, implement Jinnah’s 11 August speech in letter and spirit. Pakistan must cease to be a theocracy. Only then can Muslim majority Pakistan claim moral superiority over Hindu majority India.
Original Headline: The Temple Debate continued
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan
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