In Pakistan, secularism is thought to be the same as "atheism", principally due to an error made by an Urdu writer (who defined secularism as "without religion"). So most of my relatives and friends are astounded when I tell them I'm secular.

A secular person is not concerned with the religion of his associates. When he wants to employ someone, he is not influenced by that person's religious beliefs. He doesn't care if his doctor is a Hindu or a Christian. Yet I'm often told not to get treated by a medico who doesn't belong to the same sect that I do. They are particularly astonished to find that I went to a Shia specialist to get treated for sinusitis. In fact, forty years back, a fellow industrialist told me that I should persuade an uncle to discard his Ismaili (Aga Khani) surgeon and find someone with similar beliefs to his own. My uncle (since deceased) was a secular person (like me) and it didn't bother him that his physician surgeon didn't pray five times a day and didn't fast. But I couldn't tell this to the industrialist associate of mine.

As kids and young men, we had friends who were Hindus, Christians, Parsees and even Jews. We didn't know what Shias believed, except that they behaved differently from us in the month of Moharram. Yet we didn't hate them or thought they were different from other Muslims. Nowadays you come across many who insist on calling them infidels. 

Personally I admire the Iranians (most of whom are Shias) because they have taken a stand against the Americans and have survived heroically despite the tough sanctions imposed on them. I don't worry that they will win the ongoing proxy war against the Arabs and impose their beliefs on Sunnis. I won't be around when that happens. In fact, I hope a hybrid sect emerges from the conflict and die-hard Sunnis finally consider Shias as Muslims.

I was talking about secularism. Even though the Arabs proclaim that they are staunch Muslims, in real life they are secular. There was a time when the Palestinians and the Kashmiris were supported by the Arab world, but not any more. The Arabs fear the Iranians so much that they have turned to Israel for help in defending themselves. Strange that what happened fourteen centuries ago should cause so much bitterness today. If only the Arabs were sensible, they would make friends with Iran and wouldn't have to those billions for useless weapons and aircraft (which they'll never use).

Islamic countries should adopt secular constitutions, as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia have done.