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Secularism in Muslim States - Causes of Failure, Possibilities of Success

Secularism in Muslim States - Causes of Failure, Possibilities of Success

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Published by Munir Pervaiz
Secularism in Muslim States
Causes of Failure, Possibilities of Success

Munir Pervaiz (Saami) read this article at a FOTH event on September 11, 2011
Secularism in Muslim States
Causes of Failure, Possibilities of Success

Munir Pervaiz (Saami) read this article at a FOTH event on September 11, 2011

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Munir Pervaiz on Sep 25, 2011
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01/17/2013

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Secularism in Muslim States Causes of Failure, Possibilities of Success
 
Page 1
Secularism in Muslim StatesCauses of Failure, Possibilities of Success
In presenting my thoughts on the subject of Secularism and Muslim societies, I intend to elaborate the ideaand definition of secularism, its development and acceptance in the West, the challenges it faces in the Islamicworld, and the possibility of its successful implementation and adoption in the Muslim states.Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor proposes that we live in a secular age. He also suggests that his view of secularism only covers the West or the North Atlantic adding that this West encompasses what was the LatinChristendom in the past. His proposition of the secular age does not cover the phenomenon of secularizationelsewhere.According to Bryan Wilson, Secularization is a concept as well as a descriptive term. It relates to thediminution of the social significance of religion. It covers, “the sequestration by political powers of propertyand facility of religious agencies, and the shift from religious to secular control of various erstwhile functionsof the religion.” It is a long term process and varies according to human cultures and groups.Holyoake defined Secularism, “as that which seeks the development of the physical, moral, and intellectualnature of man to the highest possible point, as the immediate duty of life — which inculcates the practicalsufficiency of natural morality apart from Atheism, Theism or the Bible — which selects as its methods of procedure the promotion of human improvement by material means, and proposes these positive agreementsas the common bond of union, to all who would regulate life by reason and ennoble it by service."In this discussion we would focus only on secularism as a system of governance and are not concerned withatheism, communism, socialism, pluralism, secular humanism, feminism, or any such terms. It is possible thatmany of these concepts may have developed under the umbrella of secularism or secularism may have createdthe environment under which these ideas could flourishBy ‘Secularism’, we mean a political system in which the functions of state or governance have been strictlyseparated from functions of religion or religious belief.According to Oliver Roy, “Contemporary Western societies, however, are, in fact secularized, either becausethe separation of church and state is a constitutional principle (the United States), because civil society nolonger defines itself through faith and religious practice (the United Kingdom, Germany, the Scandinaviancountries), or because these two forms of secularism converge and reinforce each other, thus giving birth towhat the French call
laicite
.”It was in the United States where the separation of religion and state was enshrined in the constitution longbefore the concept was constitutionally adopted in Europe. It was even before Holyoake proposed hisdefinition of secularism.
 
Secularism in Muslim States Causes of Failure, Possibilities of Success
 
Page 2
Separation of religion and state was included in the US constitution over a period of time through the firstamendment that went through various revisions, and was adopted in 1789 with the following wordings:“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and topetition the government for a redress of grievances.” It is considered to be the most important part of the USconstitution.The amendment was the joint effort of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the 3
rd
and the 4
th
presidents of the United States. Jefferson in a letter, to some Baptists who were requesting that he declare a national day of fasting, wrote, “I contemplate with solemn reverence, that act of the whole American people which declaredthat their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the freeexercise thereof,' thus
building a wall of separation between Church and State
."Secularism in the United States allows the propagation of religions and religious belief and the state does notcoerce the citizen in adopting or foregoing a religious conviction or practice. Whereas in France where thestate and the Catholic Church struggled bitterly over control of religion in public domain, the concept of 
laicite
allows the state to control religious symbols and practices.Bryan Wilson finds that, “a variation occurs with respect to institutional associations in the Western world. InSweden where the church is virtually a department of state, and where it is supported by taxation, the churchremains financially strong, even though the attendance at services is phenomenally low. In Britain , where theassociation with the state persists in somewhat more attenuated form, and where the church receives no publicfunding, attendances are not so low, but voluntary donation are very small. In the United States, where churchand state are firmly separated, attendances are high, and giving is generous.The secularization and secularism have developed and evolved over a long period of time as a result of Enlightenment, Reformation of Religion, Scientific Thinking, Darwinian Evolution, Industrial Revolution,Historic Materialism, ideas of Freudian psychology, and Universal Education.It has resulted in secular societies that are prosperous, more equitable, and free of sectarian anxieties andbloodshed, and where citizens enjoy higher quality of life and higher self expression values.As opposed to evolution of secularism in the West over a period of time, Muslim societies have historicallyintegrated the functions of state and religion. The requirement of religion’s importance and necessity ingovernance and matters of state has been theorized by Ibn e Khaldoun in his Introduction to History. He alsosuggests the importance of tribalism or group feeling as an important factor and requirement of stronggovernment.He writes, “Religious propaganda gives a dynasty at its beginning, another power in addition to that of thetribalism it possessed as the result of the number of supporters.”
 
Secularism in Muslim States Causes of Failure, Possibilities of Success
 
Page 3
He suggests that it was the righteous Islamic belief of Muslim rulers and armies that obtained victory invarious important wars and it was the superiority of the Islamic religion that defeated the people with falsebelief.He further writes that “religious propaganda cannot materialize without tribalism”. Ibne Khaldoun quotessome sayings of the Muslim prophet but does not provide any evidence from the scripture to strengthen hisproposition.These are the ideas that have been indoctrinated into Muslim minds and create great resistance and anxietyagainst any separation of religion and state.A brief review of the constitution of 46 contemporary Muslim states tells us that there are 6 Muslim states thatare termed as Islamic states, where Islamic Sharia is used as form of legislation. These include Saudi Arabia,Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. 19 Muslim countries declare Islam as the religion of state,and where Sharia may be used as the source of law. 16 Muslim countries profess secularism; these includeTurkey and Bangla Desh among other. 6 Muslim countries do not adopt any religion, and Indonesia thelargest Muslim country is one of those.It must be noted that Afghanistan became an Islamic state after the recent wars, and similarly Iraq moved frombeing a secular state to a state adopting a state religion after the US invasion.Various actual and perceived factors that hinder the establishment of secularism in Muslim states are listedhere and we will attempt to briefly elaborate these:
 
Belief in Islam as a transcendent ideology that governs both private and public spheres of Muslimsociety
 
Conflicting and misleading definitions of secularism
 
Secularism as an alien Christian concept
 
Colonialism
 
Elitist top down imposition
 
Problems of scholarship
 
Opportunistic collusion of US and western states with Islamic revivalists and fundamentalist inMuslim states as a strategic need
 
US support of authoritarian Muslim regimes
 
Fear of loss of Muslim identity
 
Ideas of Clash of Civilizations, propagated by Huntington and other intellectuals
 
Saudization of religion and Muslim culture
 
Control of mass media and opinion making institutions
 
Rising Fundamentalisms
 
and absence of Secular Muslim organizations

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