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<<  Understandably, while there are problems within the respective trajectories such as Westernized modernity and politicized Islam, there is urgency for promoting a reconstructive debate, which could steer Muslim peoples towards a better understanding, peace and  progress. 

......some of the Iraqi and even Iranian ulema have begun to suggest a rethink on separation
of religion from state. They are not suggesting a complete banishment of religion from political discourse but are being increasingly critical of its routine exploitation by political authorities for  persona list or dynastic gains.

They are even using the terms such as Muslim secularism more boldly though such a discourse   is ironically happening only after the Anglo-American decimation of a Muslim region and which also remains occupied. ...Coming from the ulema in Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad or even Qum,  such a quest is certainly nascent yet amazingly positive.

In an interview in Baghdad, Sayyid Iyad Jamaleddine, an eminent Shia leader ...candidly observed: "We want a secular constitution. That is the most important point. If we write a  secular constitution and separate religion from state, that would be the end of despotism and it would liberate religion as well as the human being. The Islamic religion has been hijacked for 14 centuries by the hands of the state"...

."  ..One may add that it is not just the political authority that has misused and abused Islam as    a legitimiser, the religious authority has been equally responsible for mayhem after mayhem of ordinary believers. Millions of innocent Muslims have laid their lives in all  these centuries thanks to obscurantist fatwas and uncalled-for exhortation to Jihad, of which many have been against
fellow Muslims.

...The humanist reinterpretation of Islam and likewise of secularism can surely deliver Muslims from this continued monopolist exploitation by the political and religious authoritarianism, and  also augur an overdue Islamic renaissance.

...It may also offer a unique alternative to an abrasive modernity in the West itself locked in collective violence perpetrated through institutional racism and unilateralist militarism....

...Very few people may know that the Muslim metropolitan centres such as Constantinople, Delhi, Lahore and Baghdad stayed Muslim minority cities even under the Muslim rule, which reveals an amazing level of tolerance and co-existence at a time when most of the world   suffered from inquisitions and pogroms.... the practice of a humanist secularism as an exploitation-free, egalitarian and forward looking system-both in politics and education-falls in line with the Islamic heritage spreading over centuries.

...A hasty rejection of secularism, despite its various pitfalls as a western construct or a  modernist edifice, may not be a fair way to judge its merits. Muslim secularism is a possibility in the near future, as it has been a historic Muslim experience in the past and is not an alien proposition. It may prove a death knoll to the vast disempowerment and continued exploitation of Muslim masses both by the sultans and scholars.

That is where intellectuals such as Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad
Iqbal, Fazlur Rahman, Ali Shariati, Abdul Karim Surush, Asghar Ali Engineer and some Shia clerics in Iraq become more persuasive. >> --- the Author

Islam and secularism: odd couple or partners?
By Dr Iftikhar H. Malik
(Article writen in 2003)
courtesy: Kalim Irfani  


Europeanization of the world since the 15th century is a mixed but significantly painful human experience and that is why there has been so much skepticism of the whole idea of progress. Interpreting contemporary conflicts simply as clash of cultures or contestation between  modernity and tradition is already simplistic. For instance, as suggested by Edward Said and more recently by John Gray, Political Islam - or whatever one may call it - is, to a large extent, rooted in modernity and is not an entirely traditional assertion.

Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Oriana Fallaci, Ann Coulter and several proponents of  westernized modernity, along with the other neo-conservatives, are not being correct in presenting Islam as a traditional monolith, arraigned against a modernist, value-based West. To Bush-Blair duo and their ideological cohorts Islam may have to be retrieved from its medieval time warp through an altruist crusade. In the same manner, several Islamicists seek West and   the Rest lost in jahliya (ignorance) waiting to be retrieved by the turbaned and bearded Mujahideen.

Within the context of this heated controversy, interestingly, some Muslim ulema, instead of an outright dismissal of secularism, have quietly begun to debate the possible interface between Islam and secularism rather than viewing them as eternal foes. However, the quest is still in infancy and like several mundane scholars the effort is in its embryonic stage understandably due to statist and societal rejectionism of secularism and of any reconstructive
discourse on Islam.

This self-questioning exhibits a growing disgust with the hijacking of both religion and political authority by nefarious elements at the expense of societal prerogatives. While Islamicists may seek Muslim predicament, among other factors, in the absence of Islamic law in the Muslim states, the fact remains that even the confessional states with professed Islamic order such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan or Taleban's Afghanistan have consistently failed to improve upon
participatory and accountable systems.

Islam, in many of these states, simply came to be used as a legitimize for sheer authoritarian, anachronistic systems and discretionary policies. Retrospectively, it will be safe to suggest
that the selective and penal use of Islam by these states not only exacerbated the public anguish but also worsened human rights in those societies. The contradictions - thanks to this partisan
intermingling of religion and politics- are more obvious if one looks at the state of minorities in these states along with a clear deterioration in the status of women.

The so-called westernized elite in the post-independence decades have only kow-towed to the external backers while concurrently denying basic rights to their own people. The religio-political elements within the governments and outside have equally repressed civic rights and their bombastic rhetoric has only exacerbated sectarian and inter-ethnic violence. Interestingly, both of them have often used the West, neighbors and even modernity as convenient foes, not
out of some genuine conviction but simply for selective expediency.

Understandably, while there are problems within the respective trajectories such as Westernised modernity and politicised Islam, there is urgency for promoting a reconstructive debate, which could steer Muslim peoples towards a better understanding, peace and progress. Lately, unlike their other counterparts, some of the Iraqi and even Iranian ulema have begun to suggest a rethink on separation of religion from state. They are not suggesting a complete banishment
of religion from political discourse but are being increasingly critical of its routine exploitation by political authorities for persona list or dynastic gains.

They are even using the terms such as Muslim secularism more boldly though such a discourse   is ironically happening only after the Anglo-American decimation of a Muslim region and which also remains occupied. A similar debate is still not openly possible in any other Muslim state. Coming from the ulema in Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad or even Qum, such a quest is certainly nascent yet amazingly positive.

In an interview in Baghdad, Sayyid Iyad Jamaleddine, an eminent Shia leader and the mentor of Sayyid Hussein Khomeini, the grandson of the late Imam Khomeini, candidly observed: "We want a secular constitution. That is the most important point. If we write a secular constitution and separate religion from state, that would be the end of despotism and it would liberate  religion as well as the human being. The Islamic religion has been hijacked for 14 centuries by  the hands of the state". (International Herald Tribune, 11 August 2003)

One may add that it is not just the political authority that has misused and abused Islam as a legitimiser, the religious authority has been equally responsible for mayhem after mayhem of ordinary believers. Millions of innocent Muslims have laid their lives in all these centuries thanks to obscurantist fatwas and uncalled-for exhortation to Jihad, of which many have been against fellow Muslims.

The more recent examples are of General Zia's Pakistan where Muslim minorities paid a huge price to a growing Sunni majoritarianism. According to the common parlance in Pakistan, the Mullah + Military axis is the bane of most of the sectarian and anti-women violence.
The promotion of Jihadist elements in the 1980s and a nod from Washington and elsewhere has resulted into a whole plethora of outfits pursuing several hazy ideas across the region.

In the neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia, Islam remains a tool both for regimes and the Mullahs to extract maximum blood from their marooned population. Denial of democracy and other human rights is a consensus point for otherwise these often hostile rival religious and political authorities.

Algeria, where France created a mess in league with the army, is another sad reminder of both religion and politics being hijacked by respective rent-seeking interests. Saudi and the Gulf regimes while kow-towing to the western elite blatantly discriminate against foreign workers from poor countries. They have altogether different policies and touchstones for the western convicts while dozens of poor Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Afghans are routinely executed by Muttaa (religious police) outside Friday mosques.

The Westerners, even after their conviction, are habitually pardoned for similar crimes by the Muslim kings and emirs. Not a single alim from the so-called Muslim heartland has ever raised his voice over this sheer discrimination that smacks of a rabidly racist ideology.
No end to double standards! Though the status quo or external hegemony are not acceptable yet concurrently leading innocent and vulnerable Muslim citizens into kamikaze attacks is equally
reprehensible.

The humanist reinterpretation of Islam and likewise of secularism can surely deliver Muslims from this continued monopolist exploitation by the political and religious authoritarianism, and also augur an overdue Islamic renaissance. It may also offer a unique alternative to an abrasive modernity in the West itself locked in collective violence perpetrated through institutional racism and unilateralist militarism. The reconstruction of long overdue Ijtiha'ad is the only way-out of gnawing societal and statist oppression; can offer a respite from suffocating conformity while halting the foreign denigration of a human heritage like Islam.

India's secularism, despite its severe strains and some contradictions due to a rather erstwhile dismissive elitism, is the best modus operandi for similar plural societies and could offer a
useful parallel for a rethink among the Muslim re constructionists. Its Gandhian portents appear similar to Islamic sensitivities on religion, as here religion is accepted as a part of collective and
individual life without being totally divorced from the public domain.

However, while Muslims in India have felt comparatively safer under a secular system and are certainly apprehensive of a majoritarian Hindutva, their own localism, dependence upon some clerics for political articulation and other socio-economic handicaps have not allowed them to fully benefit from the systemic dynamics in the country. But compared to any other Muslim state, India's democracy still offers the best hope for coexistence and its secular system the viable safety valve for minorities. It is a different thing that the clerical versions of Islam abound Muslim India, yet secularist polity is the best guarantee for collective survival and welfare of Indian
Muslims and other such minorities.

This is not to deny the fact that, to a great extent, India's own future and of its plural communities depends upon the policies of its majority population groups. If the Hindus, as egged on by Kar Sevaks and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, are intent upon turning the country into a Hinduist mould the minorities may have fewer options at their disposal boding a major disaster for the most plural and equally populous country on earth.

It is only the time and the Indian political and intellectual leadership who hold the key to this grave challenge. It is still difficult for practicing and reconstructing Indian intellectuals like Asghar Ali Engineer or Mushirul Hasan to be able to hoist the banner of a tolerant, accommodative and all-encompassing Muslim secularism and the opposition to them mainly comes from Muslim clergy as well as well from Hindu fanatics.

Empirically, secularism as seen in the West, despite a paucity of self-professing states, emerged through a gradual separation of church and state but in its original form secularism stood for the
primacy of mundane knowledge away from the monopoly of ecclesiastics. Secularism is not culture- or region-specific.

Thus, it is uniquely akin to Political Islam in its struggle against colonialism. The development of the Ummayyid literature and philosophy in Muslim Spain, promotion of learning and debate in
Mughal India, pre-Safwid Persia, Central Asian and Turkish kingdoms -on several extended occasions- reflected a model where worldly knowledge and religious interaction coexisted without vetoing each other out. The diffusion of Greek, Hindu and Chinese learning and a
conscious synthesis with the African and European mores and customs energised Islamic civilisation at all times.

Very few people may know that the Muslim metropolitan centers such as Constantinople, Delhi, Lahore and Baghdad stayed Muslim minority cities even under the Muslim rule, which reveals an amazing level of tolerance and co-existence at a time when most of the world suffered from inquisitions and pogroms. Thus, irrespective of the heuristics of the term itself, the practice of a humanist secularism as an exploitation-free, egalitarian and forward looking system-both in
politics and education-falls in line with the Islamic heritage spreading over centuries.

A hasty rejection of secularism, despite its various pitfalls as a western construct or a modernist edifice, may not be a fair way to judge its merits. Muslim secularism is a possibility in the near
future, as it has been a historic Muslim experience in the past and is not an alien proposition. It may prove a death knoll to the vast disempowerment and continued exploitation of Muslim masses both by the sultans and scholars. That is where intellectuals such as Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Iqbal, Fazlur Rahman, Ali Shariati, Abdul Karim Surush, Asghar Ali Engineer and some Shia clerics in Iraq become more persuasive.

 

 

 

 

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