Secularism in The Muslim World

Secularism in The Muslim World

Secularism by definition is ‘the indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations (Meriem Webster). Secularism is the respect of freedom, individual and collective practices based on the autonomy of politic and civil society against religious norms, specific philosophical beliefs and the direct or indirect non-discrimination toward the members of society.The separation of church and state has existed in three countries before France and its law of 1905. It’s Canada that has never had any union between church and state. Then there is Mexico since 1861 which also had a completely open anticlerical regime from 1917 to 1992. Regarding The United States of America, prayers are not allowed in schools since 1791. But those countries did not dig in this concept as France did.France is considered the concept creator because they have started using it by law not by accident. The first separation of was performed after the French revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte has ended the revolution by strengthening the country with its conquests. He has confirmed changes and stabilized a first threshold of secularization, the concordat between Napoleon and pope included that the church should respect the secular state with other religious cults. It was in force until 1905. Meanwhile human rights have become more important. Article X of theDeclaration of Human Rights:
"No person shall be molested for his opinions, even religious."

But the question is whether secularism is good or bad as a political system. It is very hard to find an answer to this question since we cannot retrieve any perfect answer, being from a Muslim country, we see that secularism has both bad and good sides. So throughout This paper we will try to bring both arguments and examples to clarify this question, and other questions such as: Would secularism be appropriate for the Muslim world?

Secularism is a doctrine with which religion should not gave anything to do with the political and legislative power. This doctrine advocates the separation of church and state and therefore affirms that political power must not intervenein some matters that are specific to religious institutions. Secularism design a desecration of all human activities, for example if one day morocco becomes secular, law related to Islamic traditions would not be working anymore, like for example in Ramadan if you break the fast in Ramadan especially in public you are breaking the law and you can be arrested for that, but if you were in a secular country nothing will happen, and there will be no ministry of Islamic affairs and so on.

When the French revolution occurred, one of the main objective of the revolutionaries was to separate the prospective government from the influence of the Church. Indeed, the French has suffered an overwhelming presence of religion in the State matters throughout the History and therefore, emphasized on the creation of a Secular state. This initiative has been pursued in the later on. Indeed, in 1888, Jules Ferry, head of the government by the time, undertakes the legislations of laws that will forbid religion to be taught in schools as well as establishing a free, secular education in France (Ferry laws). This initiative has been reinforced in 1905, by the laws who proclaimed that public education would be free and secular, thus preventing religious teachings within the schools and colleges. They went even further by cutting all state subventions to Church, and by that totally separating the State and Church. Yet, citizens could access religious teachings in catholic private schools if they request so. These initiatives aimed at establishing a unified France freed from religious hold. Education was a main target by these policies since it stands as a prevailing socialization instance and therefore, ought to spread the norms of the society. In this regard, religious classes were replaced by civic education classes which in order to educate the pupils on the set and norms of France as well as provide them with ethics and moral values. Instead of creating a good Christian, the schools were responsible of producing a good citizen. It is worth mentioning that citizenship prevails on religious education because France was actually in a phase of welcoming immigrants on their soil and thus, had to establish an equality basis for all the French regardless of their ethnicities or religious background. Secularism is indeed a mean to ensure the cultural integration of all. As a result, this policy was successful in putting aside cultural differences and emphasizing on the equal citizenship of all people on the French soil. Through this, people could actually feel free of choosing any religion of their choice without suffering the pressure of the State. Indeed, France fulfilled its dream of establishing a free, fraternal, equal France. They manage to create an identity based on moral principles and ethics rather than religious teachings.

In 2004, France undertakes a new policy on religious signs in public schools. The law prevailed that any ostentatious sign of religious belonging should be forbidden inside public schools. In the name of secularism that is considered as the backbone of French constitution the government banned any sign of religious belongingness. This law, few years later, raised a debate on the wear of veil. These debates raised a lot of reactions in the sense that it goes in contradiction with the Republican principle of freedom. Indeed, these laws have been regarded by most of the Muslims of France as a repression to their freedom of cult. They argued that they have the right to worship any God and are free to show their faith. Their claim is based upon the fact that the veil is not just a sign of religious pride but is a requirement in Muslim faith; therefore, they are obliged to wear it all the times regardless of country they live in. Their arguments were attacked by Frenchpolitics who try to find religious back up claiming that the veil is not a requirement. Yet, Republicans, who put the principles of the Revolution above everything, recognize the right to all to choose their religion and thus, wear veil if they believe they should. It is clear that putting religion criterionbefore the individual can be disastrous as it has been shown in the past. Yet, it is also unwholesome to erase the identity of the individual. These recent debates have succeeded in creating huge gaps between the different ethnicities in France and have helped the rise of extremist parties such as the Front National. This discrimination has been induced by the government’s will to discriminate cultural and religious differences on the soil and thus has prevailed dissimilarities over similarities. Throughout the last decade, France has worked very hard in building a unified France where French citizenship stands for equality, fraternity and liberty. However, recently, it is destroying this basis and distinction is made among the French regarding their cultures and religions. France has shown that it is not a soil of tolerance after all.

Regarding the Islamic world, there are many Muslim countries that are hostile to the idea of becoming secular countries in which religion would become exclusively a private matter that would not have any impact on the political decisions,and in which the daily life activities in many different fields, such as education, will be accomplished with no interference with religion. According to many of these countries, secularism contradicts Islam in all its aspects.Two important figures of Islam, late Commander of Faithful King Hassan II and the respected Egyptian Islamic theologian Yusuf Al-Qaradawi claimed that Islam and secularism are incompatible and that any Muslim country that accepts secularism also accepts to apostatize. In fact, the late king Hassan II clearly said in one of his speeches that as long as a country is a Muslim country, it cannot become secular, and he added that according to him, any head of state that claims that he want his country to become secular is not Muslim anymore. The reason late King Hassan II provided to justify this statement is that religion for Muslims is omnipresent and regulates their whole lives. As regards to Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, he shares the same opinion. According to him, “Secularism can never enjoy a general acceptance in an Islamic society”. Since Islam is a system of worship and legislation, the acceptance of a Muslim country to adopt secularism would mean that this same country accepts to reject Islam and the rules of God. According to him, the “Sharia” has been, is, and will always be appropriate, regardless of the period of time because 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?” (Quran). Moreover, in order to support his claim, Al-Qaradawi adds that the Muslim concept of God has nothing to do with the Western concept of God which affirms that God only created the world and left it to function by itself. In fact, in Islam, Allah is not only the creator of the world; he also “…takes account of every single thing.” (Qur’an, 72:28);“He is All-Powerful and All-Knowing, and His Mercy and Bounties encompass everyone and suffice for all.”

Therefore, in order to avoid becoming nonbelievers and walking into “Kufr”, it is a necessary condition for Muslims to reject secularism since it puts rules that have been established by people and that contradict the “Sharia” above the rules established by Allah, the all-powerful.
However, even though many Muslim countries reject secularism, some of them were not completely against adopting it and some even are secular countries nowadays. It is the case of Turkey where secularism that dates from the origins of the Republic founded by a Turkish army officer, Mustafa Kemal. In fact, it is in 1923 that Mustafa Kemal has been proclaimed the first president of the new modern Turkish State. And, in 1937, secularism became part of the Turkish constitution and several reforms have been made including the banning of polygamy which is normally allowed by the religion of Islam which is the main religion in Turkey. However, does this reform really go against the Sharia law? It is true that in the Sharia, a man is allowed to marry up until four wives but there are conditions to it. In fact, the man should have a good reason such as a problem of infertility and also, he must be able to be just and to make sure that he treats each one of his wives equally and that he gives the same attention to each one of them. All these conditions are hard to respect, and it is probably this way in order to avoid that all men marry several women. The sharia is very strict about this matter and since it is almost impossible to respect the conditions stated above, it is justifiable that some Muslim countries decided to abolish polygamy. The important thing here is that, since people do not always really understand Islam and take from it and respect only what suits them, sometimes, an intervention of the state in religious affairs, by modifying some laws for instance, is necessary.

Although Turkey is a secular country, it is quite different from the French model since the state keeps a pernickety control about Islam. In fact, according to NiyaziBerkes, “state control over religion is inevitable in Turkey because a real separation of state and religion is not possible in a Muslim society.” In fact, according the court, “Turkish secularism should be more rigid than secularism in Western countries” and the reason is that Islam is not only a religion but also a political ideology and a way of life that embraces the lives of Muslims totally, and therefore, Muslims will always try to hold out against it.

It is true that it has been a while since Turkey has become a secular state; however, it still faces some problems nowadays. Indeed, originally, secularism has been imposed on Turkish people, which means that it did not come from the society. On the contrary, the majority of Turkish people were not prepared to become citizens of a secular country which makes many of them still reject the concept and the reforms that came with it such as the headscarf ban in public spaces.
It seems like Turkey adopted secularism which is, according to a leading AK party politician “an unchangeable principle of the Turkish constitution that will stay as such forever.” However, in order to clear the obstacles that came up with the adoption of secularism, the leaders of Muslim states should probably start thinking about making some changes in the concept, so that they adapt it to the characteristics of their societies and benefit from its advantages without facing its drawbacks.

Secularism can definitely be applicable in the Muslim World. It will be hard to apply, but it will bring many benefits to our Arab and Muslim World. According to Taner Edis” Among Muslims themselves, "what is to be done?" is a perennial question. Around them they notice poverty, corruption, and humiliation in the face of Western military and commercial power. To solve these problems, some call for adopting Western ways in the most important practical aspects of life, reducing Islam to a personal belief.” This clearly show that some changes need to be applied in the Muslim World, the best way to make Muslims accept the idea of secularism is to try to find the best combination between development without scarifying the Muslim religion which is totally possible. Taner Edis adds that” After all, we usually notice Islam as a problem. Islam always seems to be associated with terrorism, political instability, dictatorial regimes, oppression of women, or immigrant communities with extreme ways of life.” Secularism is our saving buoy; it will allow us to change the idea that the whole world has on Muslims and will makes us save most of the problems that most of the Muslim countries face from centuries. Secularism occasionally produced some enduring modern institutions and sustained ruling elites excited to join the modern world. Nowadays, the Muslim world is standing against the authorities demanding for a democratic state and equal rights, there are standing to abolish poverty and corruption but they won’t be able to do all that without first adopting secularism, the Coalition cautions that “imposing democracy on the Middle East without first promoting secularism and destroying terrorism may lead to the creation of Islamic extremist states that will ultimately reject the democracy that brings them to power.”

Secularism needs to be achieved in a correct way. Unfortunately, many Muslims in the Middle East equate secularism with failure. The 20th century saw the creation of “secular” Muslim states from Morocco to Iran. As we can witness by looking at the development statistics of the region, most of these states did not bring peace and prosperity to their citizens. Most of these “modern” Arab states brought their citizens repressive rule, war and poverty. These states differed in their official orientation: some were based on capitalism; others were driven by socialism or communism. However, regardless of their official orientation they shared the commonality of being centrally run and in failing to provide their citizens with peace and prosperity, and that is why secularism is clearly related to democracy. Concerning the history of secularism in the Muslim World, they have already been a kind of secularism in the 10th century, according to Taha Kehar “Secularism – which implies a separation of religion from civil matters – has been dominant in the Muslim World since the 10th century. According to the scholar, Ira M Lapidus, governments in the Islamic world were largely secular in the sense that they were “authorized by the Caliph, but actually legitimized by the need for public order”. Hence, the “ruling regimes” did not possess an inherent religious character. However, they were expected to remain loyal to Islam and defend it at all costs.” Secularism is only a matter of freedom, it doesn’t stop you from having your own beliefs, but it just regulates the right and the freedom of everyone. Your freedom stops when the freedom of another one begins.

To sum up, over the years the meaning of the word Secularism has become confused and misunderstood. As well as changing its meaning, and being open to interpretation in different ways, the word has also been misrepresented by some religious interests who fear the influence of secularism on privileges that they have enjoyed for centuries and taken for granted as what is the case in Turkey, Irak, or Albanie. The Western Europe is an example that we need to follow in order to reach a successful secularism which will allow the Muslim World to solve in problems regarding poverty, corruption, and the system of governance. As it was said before, Secularism is simply the belief that the government and other entities should be separated from religion making a state with equal rights, freedom, and tolerance between people.