Why do many Muslims mistrust secularism?

Linked with Samir Kassir – Liban (May 5, 1960 – June 2, 2005), with A time to rethink, and with The Democratic Left Movement DLM.

By Jorgen S. Nielsen, Daily Star, 2007.

2 excerpts: … Why is it that Muslims appear to find it so difficult to see anything positive in Western secularism? Are we so different after all?

There are some Islamic movements that are serious in their call for the complete integration of religion and state, with religion predominating in public life as in private. Additionally, in the languages of some Muslim populations, the discussion is made almost impossible by the fact that the word used for secularism translates into English as “no religion” or “without religion.” This is the case, for example, in Urdu, whereas the original meaning of the word was simply “that which has to do with this world, as opposed to the next.”

Once one gets underneath the surface of the topic, though, things become more complicated. And they differ from country to country. Saudi Arabia is not Egypt is not Iran is not Pakistan is not Syria, and so on.

Certainly, Muslims do not like a lot of what they view as being Western: the loneliness of the individual, the breakdown of the family, the destruction wrought by drug addiction, random violence, recreational sex. Of course, they are not alone in feeling these concerns, and it is natural to conclude that they are the result of the decline of religion. But this interpretation has also been popularized by Western media, especially by American films which everyone can now see on satellite television.

But there are other perspectives. In the mid-1920s, the Egyptian scholar Ali Abd al-Raziq, a professor at Al-Azhar, published a book entitled “Islam and the Roots of Government.” In it he argued that the Prophet Mohammad had founded a religion, not a state, so religion should not determine state structures today. The book was immediately condemned and, we are told by most Islamic scholars, is no longer of interest. But it has remained continuously in print since then and can still be bought in Cairo bookshops. So someone must be reading it (dailystar) …

… Today, the only effective challenge to this inheritance, many Muslims believe, comes from Islamist movements, and people arguing for a secular perspective run the constant danger of being accused of collaboration with the West. It is this that makes it more likely that many will tilt away from modern, pluralistic secularism toward a religious political system.

Jorgen S. Nielsen is director of the Danish Institute of Damascus and a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. This article is part of a series on secularism and Muslim-Western dialogue distributed by the Common Ground News Service. (full text).

Comments are closed.