Is Islam the source of our problems, or their long-lost solution?
To go secular or not to go secular? North Africans fight for the soul of their revolutions. “Western” Muslims are struggling to forge an identity. Turkey continues its decades old constitutional struggles. In all of these and more, the question of secularism vs. Islam-“ism” (defined here) is central. To be or not to be, Shakespeare wrote…
Secularism, if only for this discussion, is the ideological, legal, political and social abandonment of religion as a basis for legal, political and social action. Its totality varies as does the rapidity of its adoption. A secularist defines it as a “… new value system [that] also regarded religion and faith as one’s personal matter… It also advocated that matters of this world be handled rationally in accordance with the spirit of the times.”
Its most famous test case was and is western Europe, which it awakened from a millenium of human darkness. Many other countries have followed suit in an effort to “modernize” and catch up to the “West”.
Many Muslims, whether they are in Muslim majority countries, the diasporas thereof, or reverts, are routing their degrees towards this effort, and not without reason. Muslim-majority nations have been dominated for centuries, and still are, and many suffer from a variety of sub-standard conditions.
Secularism is the answer many Muslims turn to because of these and similar questions:
Why do we, who invented hospitals in Baghdad, suffer from high infant mortality and diseases that have been eradicated in the “West”?
Why are we so disorganized after implementing bureaucracy to unprecedented detail and precision in the Uthmani Khilafah (Ottoman Caliphate)?
Why, with all the ayat and ahadith stressing cleanliness and hygiene, are our lands so filthy?
How can we, when we innovated weapon-making for centuries, be so easily dominated?
Why, when we are united by a book, and the first revelation was the command to read, do many of us suffer from illiteracy?
How can Muslim-majority countries trail the world in math in our lands when one of us founded algebra?
Why are we unable to implement solutions to our social problems when one of us founded the social sciences?
Why do we leave so many of our women to suffer after all the rights and protections accorded to them in the Qur’an and ahadith?
Why, when moderation, collaboration, negotiation and communication are integral to our deen and its history, are we unable to unite and counter the assaults against us?
Brother, Sister, Shaykh, ‘Alima, do you know the answer?
For many, secularism seems to be it. The problems we face were largely tackled ages ago by secularism in other countries, so by logic, the same will work for us. An even more encouraging sign is that countries we used to dominate in turn came to dominate us after secularizing. There’s no need for an opinion here, there’s not a historian who’ll dispute secularism as a factor, as a cause for the shift in global paradigms.
Why shouldn’t it work for Muslims if it worked for non-Muslims? The pre-secular non-Islamic world was rife with superstition. Unfounded, irrational and counter-scientific beliefs were the foundation for political, legal and social interaction. Science, what little of it there was, and medicine were also subjugated and contradicted by these foul-conceived notions. Royal/political scandals continued to emerge and chip away at the concept of the divine basis and status of rule. Scientific recoveries of ancient knowledge in western Europe, threw long-held beliefs and practices into mockery, from which they could never emerge. This and other factors turned people away from religion, and, predictably, especially considering the circumstances, it worked.
Why shouldn’t it have? Science is better in direction and potential than fairytale. A person, or people, will walk more successfully towards the future by seeing with their own eyes, rather than blindly, with misconceived notions of what surrounds them.
Islam- my Sisters, Brothers and Elders- is not like the religions other nations have left behind. Islam is not based on superstition. Science is consistent with it and we use scientific principles to learn and apply it. Anyone with a Qur-an can read over the scientific signs that it points to and explains, and afterwards go personally and objectively observe them. If they are not filled with faith, they’ll at least be impressed or amazed. The social and legal code of Islam, not to mention it’s hygienic and dietary stipulations, upgrade the way of life of yesterday and today. Through its code, people are enabled to update their cultures and avoid their pitfalls, while keeping their identity and pride intact. The diplomacy, international and inter-religious code of conduct has the potential to soothe the world’s growing rage. In Islam is provided a framework of inquiry, deduction, and conclusion that enables- and encourages- Muslims to benefit from the world, while safeguarding themselves from its evils.
Reason, logic and science and human advancement are integral to Islam. At the same time, it is not bound by them. It surpasses them by incorporating them into a holistic worldview and lifestyle. Science, logic and reason are made use of in the Qur-an to appeal to people’s higher instincts, and the message is just as real and relevant now, over a thousand years after its revelation. Secularism freed many parts of the world to their senses, but it also bound them to their senses. Without the anchor of guidance, we can reason ourselves in and out of anything. If you look around, you will see how secular societies and governments are using rational arguments, logic and science to lead ourselves into social, economic and environmental destruction.
What do Muslims really stand to benefit from that?
If you think and read deeply, you will recognize that it isn’t Islam that Muslims are seeking to abandon. Many Muslims wake up every day to a stagnant, backward, shackled reality. Culture, superstition, and tyranny have taken root and grown dominant in the Muslim-world. People have ignorantly or cunningly instituted practices and agendas that contradict or even negate Islam. For all the lofty ideals implied by our title- Muslim- we are living with too few of Islam’s benefits.
Secularism is the abandonment of ignorance, unquestioned tradition, and thoughtless action. It is the effort to replace them with information, rational principles, and science-verified processes. Islam goes even further than that by adding knowledge and wisdom, exceptional morals and values, and a complete, coherent lifestyle.
The “West” revived their societies through Renaissance, or ‘rebirth’ of old knowledge and sciences (much of which was transmitted to them by Muslims, by the way). Muslim populations did that a long time ago, but have admittedly come full circle. So we don’t need to try something different that we already see not working in societies around us. We need to repeat the process of self-purification and dedication to revelation that is a proven success.
If you’re still not ready to consider the Islam side of the coin, take a look at what secularism has already “achieved”:
Consider the monstrosities of depleted uranium and other chemical warfare, weapons of mass destruction, pollution, and global warming, all examples of the imbalance of pure science that lacks a stable moral basis.
Look at and ponder the suicide, rape, murder and drug addiction figures of the “First World”
As the seat of the Khilafah (“Caliphate”/“Ottoman Empire), Turkey once brought Europe to its knees. Now secular Turkey is on its knees begging to join the European Union.
The huge secular Arab regimes surrounding Israel all failed in their attempts to protect the rights and lands of their Christian and Muslim brethren.
What prosperity and upliftment have the secular governments of North Africa brought to their people? They are actually in worse condition than they were during the Khilafah. In the Khilafah, Syria had gold in its treasury. Now it has paper currency.
Now ask yourself, are you comparing Muslim-majority Senegal to secular France, for example, or are you comparing West Africa to Western Europe? If you look at the world by region, you will find that Muslim-majority nations are basically at the same standard as the countries that they are around. The issues are not Islamic, they are regional. To take the West Africa example again, Muslim-majority Senegal is not much better or worse off than its non-Muslim neighbors. The same goes wherever you look. No Asian or African country can be compared to the “West” regardless of the religion of its inhabitants, with very few exceptions. Different parts of the world are at different standards of living. Islam is not to blame. It isn’t even a factor.
Well there is one exception. Muslims living in “Western” countries often enjoy higher rates of income and education. It would seem then, that Islam is an advantage.
The calculus behind the call for secularism goes like this:
Given: We are Muslims.
Given: We are facing problems.
Conclusion: We are facing problems because we are Muslims.
This line of thinking- and I admit to have oversimplified it- is an affront to the same logic that we claim to want to implement. We are not only Muslims. We are a lot of things. We are also Africans, Americans, Australians, and Eurasians. How come we don’t look to that as a cause? How come we don’t look at our traditions and culture and see if the cause is there? Why are our own personal and collective shortcomings held beyond suspicion?
Speaking of suspicion, don’t you find it suspicious that with all the identities we carry, we only isolate Islam as the cause of our problems? On the one hand, many of use admit to ourselves that we are Muslim in name only, but on the other hand, we blame the same Islam we admit is absent from our lives as the cause of the problems in our lives? Where does this come from?
Final thought: secularists within Muslim-majority countries often have the same agenda as kaafir colonialists. Russia banned the Arabic-based script in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, etc.) and forced them to use their Cyrillic script. England banned the Arabic-based script used in East Africa (Swahili), Malaysia, and Indonesia (along with the Dutch) at least. What did Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” do? Ban the Arabic-based Ottoman script in favor of the Roman alphabet. Coincidence? England, via Lawrence of Arabia, stoked feelings of Arab ethnocentrism and Arab nationalism to weaken the Ottoman Empire which united much of the Muslim world. Later, what was the sentiment common to the countries that were carved out of the Ottoman Empire? Secular nationalism. Coincidence? And to this day, liberal secular regimes get anything they want, from weapons to NATO invasions to media cover, from the same countries that used to colonize them. Coincidence?
Let’s re-evaluate, re-educate and re-dedicate ourselves to living by guidance. Let us define ourselves, and look at ourselves through our own eyes (See this year’s State of the Ummah address here.) Despite the challenges we face, one indisputable, indubitable truth remains: we have established Allaah’s word as uppermost in every sphere of life. We ARE the best nation.