Secularism in the context of “Separation between the church and the state” is a critical issue the Islamic world is trying to deal with. Secularism as a concept and as a practice was developed in the west just as the modern state system. Islam as a religion has its own political dimension. The two Ideologies developed over two different time period in the history, in two very different human societies within two different geographical area of the world. So, the principals of both the ideologies have relevance in the accumulated human knowledge and the future of universal political discourse.
However, the importance of the political teachings of Islam is often misunderstood by the Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Often the intellectual criticism of the political dimension of Islam is in reality the argument in defense of secularism. It is like saying political dimension of Islam is unacceptable because it goes against the principal of secularism. On the other hand the argument for the political dimension Islam is ignored because it is perceived as a negative notion. Most of the time the media, government and academia have been walking in this line. As a result of this bias the common people did not had the opportunity to form a balanced understanding of the argument of both side. Therefore, the public perception is skewed towards secularism because of the lack of adequate knowledge of both Islam and Secularism as well as the influence of media bias.
In this paper we will try to explore the contradiction between Islam and Secularism in an in depth manner, and will try to form an educated opinion about the issue of “Contradiction between Islam and Secularism.”
Secularism is defined in the Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary as “the belief that religion should not play a role in government, education, or other public parts of society.” In thefreedictionary.com Secularism is defined as “a view that religion and religious considerations should be ignored or excluded from social and political matters.” Often abridged in the famous statement “separation between Church & State”, Secularism is the belief that religion and religious affairs should not enter into the function of the state.
“The adjective ‘secular’ was first used in English, to distinguish clergy (Christian) living and working in the wider medieval world from ‘religious’ clergy who lived in monastic seclusion.” (Keane, 2000, p-6)
Values and principles of Secularism:
In the book English Secularism George Jacob Holyoake coined the term ‘Secularism’ for the first time and elaborated the values and principles that secularism clings to. Holyoake (1896) explicate that “Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human,
Its essential principles are three:
1. The improvement of this life by material means.
2. That science is the available Providence of man.
3. That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.” (p-35)
Holyoake (1896) explains “The first principle of material means as conditions of welfare in this world.—Theology works by ‘spiritual’ means, Secularism by ‘material’ means.” (p-38) Second Principal was explained as “The word illuminating secular life is self-help. The Secularist vexes not the ear of heaven by mendicant supplications. His is the only religion that gives heaven no trouble” (p-39)
“Just as a Christian seeks to serve God, a Secularist seeks to serve man. This it is to be a Secularist. The idea of this service is what Secularism puts into his mind. The Kingdom of God has come—when comes the kingdom of man?” (Holyoake, 1896, p-59)
According to Holyoake (1896) “The Secular is that, the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life” (p-36) But Secularism is separate from atheism as “Nor is Secularism atheism. Cricket is not theological; at the same time, it is not Atheistic” (p-60) “Secularist regards them [theist and atheist theories] as belonging to the debatable ground of speculation. Secularism neither asks nor gives any opinion upon them.(p-37)
The phrase “separation between Church & State” was first on paper in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists Association in 1802 .
“Separation between Church & State” the detailed text read as “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God …. legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” (Jefferson, 1802, n.p.)
Although for Jefferson, “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God” but for Holyoake (1896) “Secularism is … intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable.” (P-35)
The point to be noted here is that both Holyoake and Jefferson were pointing out the private aspect of religion in an individual’s life. ‘Separation of church and state’ and ‘religion remaining in the private sphere only’ has had an influence on those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable was so profound that “The Normative Ideal of secularism, the growing confidence in the separation of church and state and the confinement of religious belief to the private sphere, is a positive substitute for God.” And “God’s departure from the world even promotes open-minded tolerance.” (Keane, 2000, p-5)
If the confinement of religion in the private life alone causes a decline of religion then according to Holyoake and other secular propagator “the decline of religion should be reinforced by efforts to ensure that morality is concerned with the well being of human beings in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God and the afterlife.” (Keane, 2000, p-7)
However for some secularists, secularism is a religion. For example, American Humanist Association is an organization associated with International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) a world umbrella organization. International Humanist and Ethical Union embraces humanist, atheist, rationalist, skeptic, Ethical Culture, free thought, secular and similar organizations worldwide. American Humanist Association believes Secularism is a religion. Secularists acknowledge this in their “Humanist Manifestos.”
“Religio’ is the Latin for ‘religion’. ‘Re-lig-io’ refers to something that binds together, as in ‘lig-ament’. A religio (our religion) is that which binds people and society together.
Religion is not that privatized, sanitized, internalized foolishness which we imagine today — that we are forbidden to bring up in the public arena. The public arena is all about religion. It is never a matter of whether we have a religion, but only which one.
Every society has a religio, i.e., a religion. Any society is defined by its common moral and legal boundaries. Any legal system is always based on prior moral commitments, i.e., on ‘religio’. Without those boundaries, it will have no identity, and thus cannot survive.
Hence, there can be no such thing as separation of religion and state (in the sense we are told today). Every state has its religion, like it or not. State has, by Supreme Court edict, a secular religion. The public schools are the state Church of Secular Humanism, which our children are, for the most part, coerced to attend. There is no separation of church and state, only of Biblical church and state. Secular religion rules supreme — and at gun point. Ironically, both our Supreme Court and the Humanist Manifesto recognizes secularism as a “religion”. [The American Humanist Association, n.d.]
Friedrich Nietzsche in his Frohliche Wissenschaft tell the story of a mad man who asked “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!” “Where has God gone? I will tell you, we have killed him” “God is dead. God stays dead. And we have killed him” “Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods, in order to seem worthy of it?” (Keane, 2000, p-7)
“Nietzsche’s story of the madman’s announcement of the death of God has often been interpreted as prophetic- as a pronouncement that summarized and spells out the destiny of two thousand years of western history and that serves as an accurate prognosis of the coming of a fully secular world stripped of religious illusions” (Keane, 2000, p-8) therefore ensuring not only a secular state but also a secular state of mind.
Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists Association wrote “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” (Jefferson, 1802, n.p)
John Locke, the famous philosopher and thought to be one of the foremost thinker in the ‘secular tradition’ while arguing for a separation of government and religion wrote:
“I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the Business of Civil Government from that of Religion, and to settle the just Bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the Controversies that will always be arising, between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a Concernment for the Interest of Men’s Souls, and on the other side, a Care of the Commonwealth.” (Smita, 2000, p-40)
Locke advanced an argument couched in skepticism to suggest that it was a usurpation of God’s authority for government to meddle in faith, given the limits of human knowledge in understanding divine authority. He wrote,
The Care of Souls is not committed to the Civil Magistrate, any more than to other Men. It is not committed unto him by, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one Man over another, as to compel any one to his Religion.
Locke argued that it was beyond human understanding or authority to understand divine dictates and that it was therefore essential to separate the two.” (Smita, 2000, pp-40,41)
“For no Man can, if he would, conform his Faith to the Dictates of another. All the Life and Power of true Religion consists in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and Faith is not Faith without believing.” (Smita, 2000, p-41)
For Lock, men should not be compelled to “quit the Light of their own Reason, and oppose the Dictates of their own Consciences” by being forced to adhere to the “Religion of the Court” and nobody is bound by nature to a particular religion or inherits it as such, but joins it voluntarily. Consequently, the function of government is limited to a smaller role where “the business of Laws is not to provide for the Truth of Opinions, but for the Safety and Security of the Commonwealth, and of every particular man’s Goods and Person. And so it ought to be.”
(Smita, 2000, p-41)
The Christian context:
If “Separation between church and state” is not enough to illustrate the Christian context which molded the idea of secularism for a unconvinced reader then consider that “The adjective ‘secular’ was first used in English, to distinguish clergy (Christian) living and working in the wider medieval world from ‘religious’ clergy who lived in monastic seclusion.” (Keane, 2000, p-6)
But the Christian context of secularism and the Christian influence is much more than what appears from a cursory glance to the extent that “Secularism is not the end of Christianity, nor is it a sign of the godless nature of the West. Rather, we should think of secularism as the latest expression of the Christian religion.” [Smith, n.d. p-2]
Smith (n.d.), has argued that, “Secularism in the West is a new manifestation of Christianity, but one that is not immediately obvious” [p-3] Not immediately obvious because “Christianity has always been a religion with a fluid, evolving identity – it has a history of changing shape” [p-7] “as Christianity travelled, as it crossed national borders, that it changed. The social and cultural settings into which Christianity entered affected its beliefs and practices. [P-9] And Secularism is owes its birth to “the public transformation of Christianity from a religion of doctrinal orthodoxy to a religion of ethics.” [P-14]
However, the doubtful reader may question the validity of this line of argument, so we hastily provide more evidence such as Martin Luther who had rhetorically argued that “A man who would venture to govern an entire community, or the world, with the Gospel would be like a shepherd who would place in one fold wolves, lions, eagles and sheep together and say, “Help yourselves, and be good and peaceful among yourselves; the fold is open, there is plenty of food; have no fear of dogs or clubs!” The sheep, forsooth, would keep the peace and would allow themselves to be fed and governed in peace, but they would not live long.” [Brown, 2000, P- 52] and “Christ’s name can not be invoked in calls to destroy earthly kingdoms by the sword.” Or for example according to Samuel P. Huntington “Christianity displays the unique dualism between God and Caesar, church and state, spiritual and temporal authority.” (Keane, 2000, p-8)
Or, for example, the saying of Jesus in the Bible: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21) or the saying of Jesus “My kingdom is not of this world… my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
And going back to the “separation between church and state” we find that “The early Christian church was a politically insignificant body that shunned worldly political ambition.” [Brown, 2000, P-46] And therefore, “The medieval church-state arrangement and the modern idea of a secular state that is religiously neutral were both the results of working compromises. [Brown, 2000, P-47]
‘Separation of church and state’ in Islamic context:
Brown (2000) while giving a detail account of the Muslim political thought wrote “A confrontation between Muslim “church” and Muslim state is virtually impossible, since there is no such organizationally structured Muslim body of clergy” (p-33)
“There was no Muslim church putting together a Muslim state. Rather, the new (early) Muslim community—the umma—developed from a worldview that perceived religion and politics as
a seamless web, that thought of this world and the world to come as a continuum… In political terms the early Muslim community gave religious valuation to this-worldly matters. It accepted the religious imperative of implementing God’s plan in this world.” (Brown, 2000, p-47)
“In Islam, unlike Christianity, there is no tradition of a separation of church and state, of religious organization as contrasted with political organization.” (Brown, 2000, p-31)
Secularism as “separation of church and state” is irrelevant in the Islamic context as there exist no Muslim church. Just as Christianity has a church and Islam don’t, Islam has Shari’ah (sacred law) and Christianity doesn’t.
“Islam is to be contrasted with Christianity—in the importance placed on religious law (orthopraxy) and in the relatively decentralized, nonhierarchical arrangement of their religious specialists (ulama). There is thus no Muslim “church” and nothing quite like the pattern of church-state relations that had such a formative influence on politics and political thought in the West” (Brown, 2000, p-79)
“Islam places great emphasis on the law” and as a “religious system conceive of a comprehensive religio-legal system covering all aspects of the individual’s relations to others and of the individual’s relation to God. Everything is taken into account and set out in detail—times of prayer, foods that may be eaten and manner of ritual slaughter of animals, almsgiving, inheritance, and even such minor details as the use of a toothpick. This emphasis on the religious law in Islam is to be contrasted with the Christian concept of liberation from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13) and of justification through faith alone.” [Brown, 2000, p-24]
“Islam and Judaism stress instead the virtue of consistent, constant fulfillment of God’s law. The Orthodox Jew embracing the “yoke of the law” as being in itself a liberating and fulfilling experience is matched by the Muslim regard for the Shari‘ah (the entire corpus of Muslim religious law). The Christian image of the law has an almost opposite sense.
The very concept of law in Islam differs from what is prevalent in the West and that sacred law in Christianity refers to the spiritual and moral principles enunciated by Christ, whereas the sacred law, Shari‘ah in Islam, involves not only principles but also their application to daily life in the form of legal codifications.” [Brown, 2000, p-25]
Shari`a is the body of Islamic law. The term means “way” or “path”; it is the legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Muslim principles of jurisprudence.
So, “separation of church and state” as we have uncovered to be irrelevant in the context of Muslim lands and the Separation between law and scripture is in fact the more close to the reality representation of issue at hand. Therefore we will now shift our discussion towards this matter of Separation between law and scripture.
Islam and the Separation between law and scripture
“…….and those who did not judge by what ALLAH revealed, those are they that are the unbelievers” [Sura Maidah 5: Ayat 44]
“Do they seek after a judgment of the times of ignorance? But who gives a better judgment than ALLAH for a people whose faith is assured?” [Sura Maidah 5: Ayat: 50]
”Have you not seen those who declare that they believe in what has been revealed to you
and what was revealed before you? How they would go for judgment to Taghut when they have been ordered to deny them? But Satan’s wish is to lead them astray far away ”. [Sura Nisa:04.- ayat 60]
“But no, by your Lord, they can have no faith, until they make you judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept (them) with full submission’’ [Sura Nisa 4: ayat 65]
“judge between them in the light of what has been revealed by Allah, and don’t follow their whims, and beware of them lest they lead you away from the guidance sent down to you by Allah.” (Sura al-Maa’idah 5 , ayah 49 )
They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides ALLAH, and (they also took as their Lord) the Messiah, son of Maryam, while they were commanded to worship none but ALLAH, none has the right to be worshipped but He. Praise and deified (/blessed/hallowed) be HE above what they associate (with Him). (Sura At-Taubah- 9:31)
Tafsir of the ayat: (tafsir ibn kathir): Imam Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Jarir At-Tabari recorded a Hadith via several chains of narration, from `Adi bin Hatim, may Allah be pleased with him, who became Christian during the time of Jahiliyyah. When the call of the Messenger of Allah reached his area, `Adi ran away to Ash-Sham, and his sister and several of his people were captured. The Messenger of Allah freed his sister and gave her gifts. So she went to her brother and encouraged him to become Muslim and to go to the Messenger of Allah . `Adi, who was one of the chiefs of his people (the tribe of Tai’) and whose father, Hatim At-Ta’i, was known for his generosity, went to Al-Madinah. When the people announced his arrival, `Adi went to the Messenger of Allah wearing a silver cross around his neck. The Messenger of Allah recited this Ayah;
They took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah………
`Adi commented, “I said, `They did not worship them.”’ The Prophet (pbuh) said, “”Yes they did. They (rabbis and monks) prohibited the allowed for them (Christians and Jews) and allowed the prohibited, and they obeyed them. This is how they worshipped them.”
“And when it is said to them: Come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger, you will see the hypocrites turning away from you with (utter) disgust.” [Sura Nisa 04: Ayat 61]
Tafsir of the ayat: (tafsir ibn kathir): It was reported that the reason behind revealing this Ayah was that a man from the Ansar and a Jew had a dispute, and the Jew said, “Let us refer to Muhammad to judge between us.” However, the Muslim man said, “Let us refer to Ka`b bin Al-Ashraf (a Jew) to judge between us.” It was also reported that the Ayah was revealed about some hypocrites who pretended to be Muslims, yet they sought to refer to the judgment of Jahiliyyah. Other reasons were also reported behind the revelation of the Ayah. However, the Ayah has a general meaning, as it rebuke all those who refrain from referring to the Qur’an and Sunnah for judgment and prefer the judgment of whatever they chose of falsehood, which befits the description of Taghut here.
Muslim Critics of Secularism:
Muhammad ‘Abduh argued against the division of public and private dimensions of religion was a false separation “sought to achieve impossible task of isolating faith and moral foundations from reason, which created alienation, not only in society, but within the individual himself, by requiring a false separation that could not be sustained.” (Smita, 2000, p-43)
‘Abduh wrote “the danger of a division of society into two spheres without a real link—a sphere, always diminishing, in which the laws and moral principles of Islam ruled, and another, always growing, in which principles derived by human reason from considerations of worldly utility held sway. In other words, the danger came from an increasing secularization of a society, which by its essence could never be wholly secularized; the result was a chasm which revealed itself in every aspect of life.” (Smita, 2000, p-43)
Qutb characterized secularism as jahiliya and adopting secularism is “as being in a state of jahiliyya. Qutb’s use of the term is compelling as it is a renewal of the term from its classical Islamic use for modern critique. In classical Islam, the term jahiliyya was used to describe all those conditions and phenomena that were antithetical to the spirit of Islam. In early Islam, the pagan world, or the world of the idolaters, was the jahil world. It was a term widely used to denote humanity’s state of ignorance before the revelation of Islam.” (Smita, 2000, p-46)
Qutb wrote: “if we look at the sources and foundations of modern ways of living, it becomes clear that the whole world is steeped in Jahiliyyah…This Jahiliyyah is based on rebellion against God’s sovereignty on earth. It transfers to man one of the greatest attributes of God, namely sovereignty, and makes some men lords over others. It… takes the form of claiming the right to create values, to legislate rules of collective behavior, and to choose any way of life rests with men, without regard to what God has prescribed.” (Smita, 2000, p-47)
Say, “O ALLAH, Owner of Sovereignty, You give sovereignty to whom You will and You take sovereignty away from whom You will. You honor whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is [all] good. Indeed, You are over all things competent. [Sura Al Imran, 3: Ayat 26]
Man had not only taken God’s place as the center of authority, but he had proceeded to legislate and govern with no acknowledgement of the moral foundations that God had decreed. (Smita, 2000, p-47)
Contemporary Islamic scholar Oadah (n.d.) describes secularism as polytheism, the gravest and only unforgivable sin. He writes:
“The differences between Islam and secularism are substantial. The issue at hand is none other than the difference between monotheism and polytheism. The phrase “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto Allah what is Allah’s” is exactly what the pagans in Mecca were saying when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was sent to them. Allah informs us in the Qur’ân that they used to say:
“They assign unto Allah, of the crops and cattle which He created, a portion, and they
say: ‘This is for Allah – in their make-believe – ‘and this is for His partners with respect
to us’.” [Surah al-An`âm: 136]
“Yet they attribute to some of His servants a share with Him.” [Sûrah al-Zukhruf: 15]
“And they assign unto Allah that which they themselves dislike, and their tongues
pronounce the lie that the better portion will be theirs. Assuredly theirs will be the Fire,
and they will be hastened to it and abandoned.” [Sûrah al-Nahl: 62]
This Jâhiliyyah of today is exactly like the Jâhiliyyah of old. They say that the mosque is for Allah and everything else is for “Caesar”. The schools are for Caesar. The media is for other than Allah. They restrict Islam to the mosque and the prayer room. Everything else is to be governed without resort to Islamic Law. This is outright polytheism. How can we possibly reconcile between the position of secularism and Allah’s command:
“Say: verily my prayer, my sacrifice, my life, and my death are for Allah, the Lord of All
the Worlds. He has no partner. This is how I have been commanded and I am the first of
those who submit.” [Sûrah al-An`âm: 162-163]
How can we reconcile secularism with the meaning of the declaration of faith “There is no God but Allah” which means that no aspect of worship or devotion must be offered to anything or anyone besides Allah? All worship directed elsewhere is polytheism, false and rejected. Therefore, secularism is polytheism. It states that the mosque is for Allah and everything else is for other than Allah, or as the Christian’s say: for Caesar.” (Oadah, n.d., pp. 4-5)
According to Oadah (n.d.) “Secularism has no place in the lands of Islam for two reasons: The first of these is that Islam is the religion that Allah sent down to replace the previous manifestations of the faith and to govern all aspects of life. The simplest Muslim can see how Islam explains all matters in detail. It is impossible for a Muslim to feel that the religion that regulates his marital affairs, his business, his eating habits, his manner of sleeping, and even how he goes to the bathroom could ever leave managing the political and economic affairs of society to other than Allah. For Allah says:
We have neglected nothing in the Book. [Sûrah al-An`âm: 38]
We have sent down to you the Book explaining all things [Sûrah al-Nahl: 89]
This issue is not open for debate. Islam, as the final religion, has supremacy over all faiths and over every aspect of life. There is no place for secularism in the lands of Islam or among the Muslims.
The second reason is that throughout the history of Islam, it never experienced the troubles that were faced by Europe on account of its corrupted faith. Among the most important of these was the horrific breach that took place between religion and science. Religion fought against science so fiercely that the church burned some scientists to death The Muslim world never in its long history encountered the persecution and restriction of its scientists. There were no inquisitions like there were in Europe.
Islam never experienced the abuses of a Church that took from the people great sums of money, restricted their intellectual lives, and burned their scientists and thinkers, all in the name of religion. Quite the contrary, Muslim history is one of amicability between science and the religion whose first revelation was “Read in the name of your Lord who created.” Science is one of the fruits of proper adherence to Islam. It is a result of obeying Allah’s command to learn, teach, read, and study.” (Oadah, n.d., p-6)
One of the foremost Islamic scholars of the current world is Yusuf Qaradawi. According to Qaradawi ”Islam is a comprehensive system of worship (`ibadah) and legislation (Shari`ah), the acceptance of secularism means abandonment of Shari`ah, a denial of the divine guidance and a rejection of Allah’s injunctions; It is indeed a false claim that Shariah is 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 and experiences to the divine guidance: “Say! Do you know better than Allah?” (2:140).
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 of Shari`ah is downright riddah. The silence of the masses in the Muslim world about this deviation has been a major transgression and a clear-cut instance of disobedience which have produces 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.” (Qaradawi, n.d. para. 2-3)
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‘Al-Hulul al Mustawradah wa Kayfa Jaat `alaa Ummatina’, pp 113-4