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The Characteristics Of Islam And Secularism

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Secularism is a belief system that rejects religion, or the belief that religion should not be part of the affairs of the state or part of public education.. Secularism, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the ‘indifference to, or rejection or exclusion of, religion and religious considerations.’ Another form of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs or practices

In political terms

In political terms, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institution and religious dignitaries (the attainment of such is termed secularity).

Purpose of secularism

One form of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people.

Types of secularism

There are three main types or manifestations of secularism: political secularism. philosophical secularism. socio-cultural secularism.

Early Concept

The concept of secularism was imported along with many of the ideas of post-enlightenment modernity from Europe into the Muslim world, namely Middle East and North Africa. Among Muslim intellectuals, the early debate on secularism centered mainly on the relationship between religion and state.

John L. Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies, points out : ‘the post-independent period witnessed the emergence of modern Muslim states whose pattern of development was heavily influenced by and indebted to Western secular paradigms or models. Esposito also argues that in many modern Muslim countries the role of Islam in state and society as a source of legitimation for rulers, state, and government institutions was greatly decreased though the separation of religion and politics was not total. However while most Muslim governments replaced Islamic law with legal systems inspired by western secular codes, Muslim family law (marriage, divorce, and inheritance) remained in force.

In early Islamic philosophy, Averroes presented an argument in The Decisive Treatise providing a justification for the emancipation of science and philosophy from official Ash’ari theology. Because of this, some consider Averroism a precursor to modern secularism. Others argue that this reflects an incorrect view of his philosophy, stripped of its inherent Islamic dimensions by European philosophers

Modern concept

Many Islamic modernist thinkers argued against the inseparability of religious and political authorities in the Islamic world, and described the system of separation between religion and state within their ideal Islamic world.

Abdel Rahman Al-Kawakibi, in his book ‘Taba’i’ Al-Istibdad (The Characteristics of Tyranny)’, discussed the relationship between religion and despotism, arguing that ‘while most religions tried to enslave the people to the holders of religious office who exploited them, the original Islam was built on foundations of political freedom standing between democracy and aristocracy.’Al-Kawakibi suggested that people can achieve a non-religious national unity, saying:’Let us take care of our lives in this world and let the religions rule in the next world.’

Secularism and religion

Islamists believe that Islam fuses religion and politics, with normative political values determined by the divine texts. It is argued that this has historically been the case and the secularist/modernist efforts at secularizing politics are little more than jahiliyyah (ignorance), kafir (unbelief/infidelity), Irtidad (apostasy) and atheism. ‘Those who participated in secular politics were raising the flag of revolt against Allah and his messenger.’

Saudi scholars denounce secularism as strictly prohibited in Islamic tradition. The Saudi Arabian Directorate of Ifta’, Preaching and Guidance, has issued a directive decreeing that whoever believes that there is a guidance (huda) more perfect than that of the Prophet, or that someone else’s rule is better than his is a kafir.

It lists a number of specific tenets which would be regarded as a serious departure from the precepts of Islam, punishable according to Islamic law. For example:

  • The belief that human made laws and constitutions are superior to the Shari’a.
  • The opinion that Islam is limited to one’s relation with God, and has nothing to do with the daily affairs of life.
  • To disapprove of the application of the hudud (legal punishments decreed by God) that they are incompatible in the modern age.
  • And whoever allows what God has prohibited is a kafir.

In the view of Tariq al-Bishri, ‘secularism and Islam cannot agree except by means of talfiq [combining the doctrines of more than one school, i.e., falsification], or by each turning away from its true meaning.’

Secularism and Islam

Secularism has been a controversial concept in Islamic political thought, owing in part to historical factors and in part to the ambiguity of the concept itself. In the Muslim world, the notion has acquired strong negative connotations due to its association with removal of Islamic influences from the legal and political spheres under foreign colonial domination, as well as attempts to restrict public religious expression by some secularist nation states.

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Thus, secularism has often been perceived as a foreign ideology imposed by invaders and perpetuated by post-colonial ruling elites, and understood as equivalent to irreligion or antireligion.

Some Islamic reformists like Ali Abdel Raziq and Mahmoud Mohammed Taha have advocated a secular state in the sense of political order that does not impose any single interpretation of sharia on the nation. A number of Islamic and academic authors have argued that there is no religious reason that would prevent Muslims from accepting secularism in the sense of state neutrality toward religion. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im has argued that a secular state built on constitutionalism, human rights and full citizenship is more consistent with Islamic history than modern visions of an Islamic state.Proponents of Islamism (political Islam) reject secularist views that would limit Islam to matters of personal belief and instead advocate for a return to Islamic law and Islamic political authority.

A number of pre-modern polities in the Islamic world demonstrated some level of separation between religious and political authority, even if they did not adhere to the modern concept of a state with no official religion or religion-based laws. Today, some Muslim-majority countries define themselves as or are regarded as secular, and many of them have a dual system in which Muslims can bring familial and financial disputes to sharia courts. The exact jurisdiction of these courts varies from country to country, but usually includes marriage, divorce, inheritance, and guardianship.

Islam, being Allah’s final message to humanity, is a comprehensive system dealing with all spheres of life; it is a state and a religion, or government and a nation; it is a morality and power, or mercy and justice; it is a culture and a law or knowledge and jurisprudence; it is material and wealth, or gain and prosperity; it is Jihadand a call, or army and a cause and finally, it is true belief and worship.

Regarding the point of secularism and how Islam views it, the prominent Muslim scholarSheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, in his bookHow the Imported Solutions Disastrously Affected Our Muslim Nation, states the following:

Secularism may be accepted in a Christian society but it can never enjoy a general acceptance in an Islamic society. The New Testament itself divides life into two parts: one for God, or religion, the other for Caesar, or the state: “Render unto Caesar things which belong to Caesar, and render unto God things which belong to God” (Matthew 22:21). As such, a Christian could accept secularism without any qualms of conscience. Furthermore, Westerners, especially Christians, have good reasons to prefer a secular regime to a religious one. Their experience with “religious regimes” – as they knew them – meant the rule of the clergy, the despotic authority of the Church, and the resulting decrees of excommunication and the deeds of forgiveness, i.e. letters of indulgence.

For Muslim societies, the acceptance of secularism means something totally different. Since Islam is a comprehensive system of`Ibadah(worship) andShari`ah(legislation), the acceptance of secularism means abandonment ofShari`ah, a denial of the Divine guidance and a rejection of Allah’s injunctions. It is a total falsification to claim thatShari`ahis not proper to the requirements of the present age. The acceptance of a legislation formulated by humans means a preference of the humans’ limited knowledge to the Divine guidance:[Say! Do you know better than Allah?](Al-Baqarah2: 140).

For this reason, the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place ofShari`ahis a downright apostasy. The silence of the masses in the Muslim world about this deviation has been a major transgression and a clear-cut instance of disobedience that has led to a sense of guilt, remorse, and inward resentment, all of which have generated discontent, insecurity, and hatred among committed Muslims because such deviation lacks legality.

Secularism is compatible with the Western concept of God which maintains that after God had created the world, He left it to look after itself. In this sense, God’s relationship with the world is like that of a watchmaker with a watch: he makes it then leaves it to function without any need for him. This concept is inherited from Greek philosophy, especially that of Aristotle who argued that God neither controls nor knows anything about this world. This is a helpless God as described by Will Durant. There is no wonder that such a God leaves people to look after their own affairs. How can He legislate for them when He is ignorant of their affairs? This concept is totally different from that of Muslims.

We Muslims believe that Allah, Glory be to Him, is the sole Creator and Sustainer of the Worlds. He isOmnipotentand Omniscient; that His mercy and bounties encompass everyone and suffice for all. In that capacity, Almighty Allah revealed His divine guidance to humanity, made certain things permissible and others prohibited, commanded people observe His injunctions and to judge according to them. If they reject this guidance and follow their own whims and man-made laws, then they commit transgression against Allah’s laws.

By Islam , (the Holy Quran) and the Sunnah (the speeches and conduct of Prophet Muhammad, although some Shiites such as the Twelvers also consider the Sunnah of their 12 Imams as well). Although Islam has firm positions regarding justice and oppression, it does not have any model for an “Islamic State.” It is left to Muslims to run their societies based on their collective wisdom and consultation.

A secular Muslim is thus someone who not only believes in the separation of religion from the state, but also believes that such a separation is compatible with Islam. “A secular Muslim is thus someone who not only believes in the separation of religion from the state, but also believes that such a separation is compatible with Islam.”

Based on the Quran, the Sunnah, and religious texts, my argument is that a union between Islam and secularism is possible and justifiable. Fundamentalist interpretations of the Quranic teachings and the Sunnah in order to justify their “Islamic State” are not credible if one actually examines these texts.

Verse (ayah) 256 of Al-Baqara is a well-known verse in the Islamic scripture, the Qur’an. The verse includes the phrase that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’. Immediately after making this statement, the Qur’an offers a rationale for it: Since the revelation has, through explanation, clarification, and repetition, clearly distinguished the path of guidance from the path of misguidance, it is now up to people to choose the one or the other path. This verse comes right after the Throne Verse.

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