and other religions
Secularism has been a controversial concept in Islamic political thought, owing in part to historical factors and in part to the ambiguity of the concept itself. In the Muslim world, the notion has acquired strong negative connotations due to its association with removal of Islamic influences from the legal and political spheres under foreign colonial domination, as well as attempts to restrict public religious expression by some secularist nation states. Thus, secularism has often been perceived as a foreign ideology imposed by invaders and perpetuated by post-colonial ruling elites, and understood as equivalent to irreligion or antireligion.
Some Islamic reformists like Ali Abdel Raziq and Mahmoud Mohammed Taha have advocated a secular state in the sense of political order that does not impose any single interpretation of sharia on the nation. A number of Islamic and academic authors have argued that there is no religious reason that would prevent Muslims from accepting secularism in the sense of state neutrality toward religion. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im has argued that a secular state built on constitutionalism, human rights and full citizenship is more consistent with Islamic history than modern visions of an Islamic state. Proponents of Islamism (political Islam) reject secularist views that would limit Islam to matters of personal belief and instead advocate for a return to Islamic law and Islamic political authority.
A number of pre-modern polities in the Islamic world demonstrated some level of separation between religious and political authority, even if they did not adhere to the modern concept of a state with no official religion or religion-based laws. Today, some Muslim-majority countries define themselves as or are regarded as secular, and many of them have a dual system in which Muslims can bring familial and financial disputes to sharia courts. The exact jurisdiction of these courts varies from country to country, but usually includes marriage, divorce, inheritance, and guardianship.
Secularism is an ambiguous concept that could be understood to refer to anticlericalism, atheism, state neutrality toward religion, the separation of religion from state, banishment of religious symbols from the public sphere, or disestablishment (separation of church and state), although the latter meaning would not be relevant in the Islamic context, since Islam has no institution corresponding to this sense of "church".
There is no word in Arabic, Persian or Turkish corresponding exactly to the English term "secularism". In Arabic, two words are commonly used as translations: ʿilmānīyah (from the Arabic word for science) and ʿalmanīyah. The latter term, which first appeared at the end of the nineteenth century in the dictionary Muhit al-Muhit written by the Christian Lebanese scholar Butrus al-Bustani, was apparently derived from the Arabic word for "world". Arab activists concerned about marginalization of religious practices and beliefs have sometimes used the term la diniyah (non-religion). In Persian, one finds the loan word sekularizm, while in Turkish laiklik comes from the French laïcité.
The concept of secularism was imported along with many of the ideas of post-enlightenment modernity from Europe into the Muslim world, namely Middle East and North Africa. Among Muslim intellectuals, the early debate on secularism centered mainly on the relationship between religion and state, and how this relationship was related to European successes in science, technology and governance. In the debate on the relationship between religion and state, (in)separability of religious and political authorities in the Islamic world, or status of the Caliph, was one of the biggest issues.
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John L. Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies, points out: "the post-independent period witnessed the emergence of modern Muslim states whose pattern of development was heavily influenced by and indebted to Western secular paradigms or models. Saudi Arabia and Turkey reflected the two polar positions. [...] The majority of Muslim states chose a middle ground in nation building, borrowing heavily from the West and relying on foreign advisers and Western-educated elites."
Esposito also argues that in many modern Muslim countries the role of Islam in state and society as a source of legitimation for rulers, state, and government institutions was greatly decreased though the separation of religion and politics was not total. However while most Muslim governments replaced Islamic law with legal systems inspired by western secular codes, Muslim family law (marriage, divorce, and inheritance) remained in force.
However, many Muslims argue that, unlike Christianity, Islam does not separate religion from the state and many Muslims around the world welcome a significant role for Islam in their countries' political life. It is apolitical Islam, not political Islam, that requires explanation and that is an historical fluke of the "shortlived heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970."
Furthermore, the resurgence of Islam, beginning with the Iranian revolution of 1978-9, defied the illusions of advocates of secularization theory. The resurgence of Islam in politics in the most modernizing of Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Algeria and Turkey, betrayed expectations of those who believed religion should be at the margins not the center of public life. Furthermore, in most cases, it was not rural but urban phenomena, and its leaders and supporters were educated professionals.
From a more historical perspective, scholar Olivier Roy argues that "a defacto separation between political power" of sultans and emirs and religious power of the caliph was "created and institutionalized ... as early as the end of the first century of the hegira" and what has been lacking in the Muslim world is "political thought regarding the autonomy of this space." No positive law was developed outside of sharia. The sovereign's religious function was to defend the Islamic community against its enemies, institute the sharia, ensure the public good (maslaha). The state was an instrument to enable Muslims to live as good Muslims and Muslims were to obey the sultan if he did so. The legitimacy of the ruler was "symbolized by the right to coin money and to have the Friday prayer (Jumu'ah khutba) said in his name."
Ira M. Lapidus, an Emeritus Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic History at The University of California at Berkeley, notes that religious and political power was united while the Prophet Muhammad was leading the ummah, resulting in a non-secular state. But Lapidus states that by the 10th century, some governments in the Muslim world had developed an effective separation of religion and politics, due to political control passing "into the hands of generals, administrators, governors, and local provincial lords; the Caliphs had lost all effective political power". These governments were still officially Islamic and committed to the religion, but religious authorities had developed their own hierarchies and bases of power separate from the political institutions governing them:
In the same period, religious communities developed independently of the states or empires that ruled them. The ulama regulated local communal and religious life by serving as judges, administrators, teachers, and religious advisers to Muslims. The religious elites were organized according to religious affiliation into Sunni schools of law, Shi'ite sects, or Sufi tariqas. [...] In the wide range of matters arising from the Shari'a - the Muslim law - the 'ulama' of the schools formed a local administrative and social elite whose authority was based upon religion.
Lapidus argues that the religious and political aspects of Muslim communal life came to be separated by Arab rebellions against the Caliphate, the emergence of religious activity independent of the actual authority of the Caliphs, and the emergence of the Hanbali school of law.
The Umayyad caliphate was seen as a secular state by many Muslims at the time, some of whom disapproved of the lack of integration of politics and religion. This perception was offset by a steady stream of wars that aimed to expand Muslim rule past the caliphate's borders.
In early Islamic philosophy, Averroes presented an argument in The Decisive Treatise providing a justification for the emancipation of science and philosophy from official Ash'ari theology. Because of this, some consider Averroism a precursor to modern secularism. Others argue that this reflects an incorrect view of his philosophy, stripped of its inherent Islamic dimensions by European philosophers.
Many of the early supporters of Secularist principles in Middle Eastern countries were Baathist and non-Muslim Arabs, seeking a solution to a multi-confessional population and an ongoing drive to modernism.
Many Islamic modernist thinkers argued against the inseparability of religious and political authorities in the Islamic world, and described the system of separation between religion and state within their ideal Islamic world.
Muhammad ʿAbduh, a prominent Muslim modernist thinker, claimed in his book "Al-Idtihad fi Al-Nasraniyya wa Al-Islam" that no one had exclusive religious authority in the Islamic world. He argued that the Caliph did not represent religious authority, because he was not infallible nor was the Caliph the person whom the revelation was given to; therefore, according to Abduh, the Caliph and other Muslims are equal. ʿAbduh argued that the Caliph should have the respect of the umma but not rule it; the unity of the umma is a moral unity which does not prevent its division into national states.
Abdel Rahman Al-Kawakibi, in his book "Taba'i' Al-Istibdad (The Characteristics of Tyranny)", discussed the relationship between religion and despotism, arguing that "while most religions tried to enslave the people to the holders of religious office who exploited them, the original Islam was built on foundations of political freedom standing between democracy and aristocracy." Al-Kawakibi suggested that people can achieve a non-religious national unity, saying:"Let us take care of our lives in this world and let the religions rule in the next world." Moreover, in his second book "Umm Al-Qura (The Mother of Villages)" his most explicit statement with regard to the question of religion and state appeared in an appendix to the book, where he presented a dialogue between the Muslim scholar from India and an amir. The amir expressed his opinion that "religion is one thing and the government is another ... The administration of religion and the administration of the government were never united in Islam."
Rashid Rida's thoughts about the separation of religion and state had some similarities with ʿAbduh and Al-Kawakibi. According to the scholar, Eliezer Tauber:
He was of the opinion that according to Islam 'the rule over the nation is in its own hands ... and its government is a sort of a republic. The caliph has no superiority in law over the lowest of the congregation; he only executes the religious law and the will of the nation.' And he added: 'For the Muslims, the caliph is not infallible (ma'sum) and not the source of revelation.' And therefore, 'the nation has the right to depose the imam-caliph, if it finds a reason for doing so'.
What is unique in Rida's thought is that he provided details of his ideas about the future Arab empire in a document, which he called the "General Organic Law of the Arab Empire". Rida argued that the general administrative policy of the future empire would be managed by a president, a council of deputies to be elected from the entire empire, and a council of ministers to be chosen by the president from among the deputies. There, the caliph must recognize the 'General Organic Law' and abide by it. He would manage all the religious matters of the empire. Rida's ideal Islamic empire would be administered in practice by a president, while the caliph would administer only religious affairs and would be obliged to recognize the organic law of the empire and abide by it.
As seen above, these arguments about separability of religious and political authorities in the Islamic world were greatly connected with the presence of the Caliphate. Therefore, the abolishment of the Caliphate by Turkish government in 1924 had considerable influence on such arguments among Muslim intellectuals.
The most controversial work is that of Ali Abd al-Raziq, an Islamic Scholar and Shari’a judge who caused a sensation with his work "Islam and the Foundations of Governance (Al-Islam Wa Usul Al-Hukm)" in 1925. He argued that there were no clear evidence in the Quran and the hadith, which justify a common assumption: to accept the authority of the caliph is an obligation. Furthermore, he claimed that it was not even necessary that the ummah should be politically united and religion has nothing to do with one form of government rather than another. He argued that there is nothing in Islam which forbids Muslims to destroy their old political system and build a new one on the basis or the newest conceptions of the human spirit and the experience of nations. This publication caused a fierce debate especially as he recommended that religion can be separated from government and politics. He was later removed from his position. Rosenthall commented on him saying:
"we meet for the first time a consistent, unequivocal theoretical assertion of the purely and exclusively religious character of Islam".
Taha Hussein, an Egyptian writer, was also an advocate for the separation of religion and politics from a viewpoint of Egyptian nationalism. Hussein believed that Egypt always had been part of Western civilization and that Egypt had its renaissance in the nineteenth century and had re-Europeanized itself. For him, the distinguishing mark of the modern world is that it has brought about a virtual separation of religion and civilization, each in its own sphere. It is therefore quite possible to take the bases of civilization from Europe without its religion, Christianity. Moreover, he believed that it is easier for Muslims than for Christian, since Islam has no priesthood, and so there has grown up no vested interest in the control of religion over society.
Azza Karam (1998:13) describes secular feminists as follows: "Secular feminists firmly believe in grounding their discourse outside the realm of any religion, whether Muslim or Christian, and placing it, instead within the international human rights discourse. They do not ‘waste their time’ attempting to harmonize religious discourses with the concept and declarations pertinent to human rights. To them religion is respected as a private matter for each individual, but it is totally rejected as a basis from which to formulate any agenda on women’s emancipation. By so doing, they avoid being caught up in interminable debates on the position of women with religion." Generally, secular feminist activists call for total equality between the sexes, attempt to ground their ideas on women’s rights outside religious frameworks, perceive Islamism as an obstacle to their equality and a linkage to patriarchal values. They argue that secularism was important for protecting civil rights.
Secularism in Turkey was both dramatic and far reaching as it filled the vacuum of the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. With the country getting down Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led a political and cultural revolution. "Official Turkish modernity took shape basically through a negation of the Islamic Ottoman system and the adoption of a west-oriented mode of modernization."
Throughout the 20th century secularism was continuously challenged by Islamists. At the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, political Islamists and Islamic democrats such as the Welfare Party and Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained in influence, with the AKP in the 2002 elections acquiring government and holding on to it ever since with increasingly authoritarian methods.
Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy within the overall framework of Confessionalism, a form of consociationalism in which the highest offices are proportionately reserved for representatives from certain religious communities.
A growing number of Lebanese, however, have organized against the confessionalist system, advocating for an installation of laïcité in the national government. The most recent expression of this secularist advocacy was the Laïque Pride march held in Beirut on April 26, 2010, as a response to Hizb ut-Tahrir's growing appeal in Beirut and its call to re-establish the Islamic caliphate.
Bourguiba modified laws regarding habous (religious endowments), secularized education and unified the legal system so that all Tunisians, regardless of religion, were subject to the state courts. He restricted the influence of the religious University of Ez-Zitouna and replaced it with a faculty of theology integrated into the University of Tunis, banned the headscarf for women, made members of the religious hierarchy state employees and ordered that the expenses for the upkeep of mosques and the salaries of preachers to be regulated.
Moreover, his best known legal innovations was the ‘Code du Statut Personel’ (CSP) the laws governs issues related to the family: marriage, guardianship of children, inheritance and most importantly the abolishing of polygamy and making divorce subject to judicial review.
Bourguiba clearly wanted to undercut the religious establishment’s ability to prevent his secularization program, and although he was careful to locate these changes within the framework of a modernist reading of Islam and presented them as the product of ijtihad (independent interpretation) and not a break with Islam, he became well known for his secularism. John Esposito says that "For Bourguiba, Islam represented the past; the west was Tunisia's only hope for a modern future, but he was mistaken, Islam is modernization"
Following increasing economic problems, Islamist movements came about in 1970 with the revival of religious teaching in Ez-Zitouna University and the influence which came from Arab religious leaders like Syrian and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhoods. There is also influence by Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose members issue a magazine in Tunis named Azeytouna. In the aftermath, the struggle between Bourguiba and Islamists became uncontrolled and in order to repress the opposition the Islamist leaderships were exiled, arrested and interrogated.
Ennahda Movement, also known as Renaissance Party or simply Ennahda, is a moderate Islamist political party in Tunisia. On 1 March 2011, after the secularist dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali collapsed in the wake of the 2011 Tunisian revolution, Tunisia's interim government granted the group permission to form a political party. Since then it has become the biggest and most well-organized party in Tunisia, so far outdistancing its more secular competitors. In the Tunisian Constituent Assembly election, 2011, the first honest election in the country's history with a turn out of 51.1% of all eligible voters, the party won 37.04% of the popular vote and 89 (41%) of the 217 assembly seats, far more than any other party.
Secularism in Egypt has had a very important role to play in both the history of Egypt and that of the Middle East. Egypt’s first experience of secularism started with the British Occupation (1882–1952), the atmosphere which allowed propagation of western ideas. In this environment, pro-secularist intellectuals like Ya'qub Sarruf, Faris Nimr, Nicola Haddad who sought political asylum from Ottoman Rule were able to publish their work. This debate had then become a burning issue with the work of Egyptian Shaykh Ali abd al-Raziq (1888–1966), "The most momentous document in the crucial intellectual and religious debate of modern Islamic history"
By 1919 Egypt had its first political secular entity called the Hizb 'Almani (Secular Party) this name was later changed to the Wafd party. It combined secular policies with a nationalist agenda and had the majority support in the following years against both the rule of the king and the British influence. The Wafd party supported the allies during World War II and then proceeded to win the 1952 parliamentary elections, following these elections the prime minister was overthrown by the King leading to riots. These riots precipitated a military coup after which all political parties were banned including the Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Secular legacy of Nasser's dictatorship influenced dictatorial periods of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak and secularists ruled Egypt until 2011 Egyptian revolution. Nevertheless, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has become one of the most influential movements in the Islamic world, particularly in the Arab world. For many years it was described as "semi-legal" and was the only opposition group in Egypt able to field candidates during elections. In the Egyptian parliamentary election, 2011–2012, the political parties identified as "Islamist" (the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Salafi Al-Nour Party and liberal Islamist Al-Wasat Party) won 75% of the total seats. Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist democrat of Muslim Brotherhood was the first democratically elected president of Egypt. Nowadays, most Egyptian proponents of secularism emphasize the link between secularism and ‘national unity’ between Coptic Christians and Muslims.
The process of secularization in Syria began under the French mandate in the 1920s and went on continuously under different governments since the independence. Syria has been governed by the Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party since 1963. The Ba'ath government combined Arab socialism with secular ideology and an authoritarian political system. The constitution guarantees religious freedom for every recognized religious communities, including many Christian denominations. All schools are government-run and non-sectarian, although there is mandatory religious instruction, provided in Islam and/or Christianity. Political forms of Islam are not tolerated by the government. The Syrian legal system is primarily based on civil law, and was heavily influenced by the period of French rule. It is also drawn in part from Egyptian law of Abdel Nasser, quite from the Ottoman Millet system and very little from Sharia. Syria has separate secular and religious courts. Civil and criminal cases are heard in secular courts, while the Sharia courts handle personal, family, and religious matters in cases between Muslims or between Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslim communities have their own religious courts using their own religious law.
Following the military coup of 21 February 1921, Reza Khan had established himself as the dominant political personality in the country. Fearing that their influence might be diminished, the clergy of Iran proposed their support and persuaded him to assume the role of the Shah.
1925–1941: Reza Shah began to make some dramatic changes to Iranian society with the specific intention of westernization and removing religion from public sphere. He changed religious schools to secular schools, built Iran’s first secular university and banned the hijab in public. Nevertheless, the regime became totally undemocratic and authoritarian with the removal of Majles power (the first parliament in 1906) and the clampdown on free speech.
1951–1953: During the early 1950s, Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was again forming a secular government with a socialist agenda with the specific aim of reducing the power held by the clergy. However his plan to nationalize the colonial oil interests held by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, (later British Petroleum), attracted the ire of the United Kingdom. In response, the United Kingdom with the help of the CIA, supported a coup which removed Mossadeq from power and reinstated Mohammad Reza Shah.
Early in the history of the state of Pakistan (12 March 1949), a parliamentary resolution (the Objectives Resolution) was adopted, just a year after the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in accordance with the vision of other founding fathers of Pakistan (Muhammad Iqbal, Liaquat Ali Khan). proclaiming:
- The State shall exercise its powers and authority through the elected representatives of the people.
- The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed.
- Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Quran and Sunnah.
- Provision shall be made for the religious minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.
According to Pakistani secularists, this resolution differed from the Muhammad Ali Jinnah's 11th August Speech that he made in the Constitutive Assembly, but however, this resolution was passed by the rest of members in the assembly after Muhammad Ali Jinnah's death in 1948. This resolution later became key source of inspiration for writers of Constitution of Pakistan and is included in constitution as preamble. However, Pakistan is an Islamic republic, with Islam as the state religion; it has aspects of secularism inherited from its colonial past. Islamists and Islamic democratic parties in Pakistan are relatively less influential than democratic Islamists of other Muslim democracies however they do enjoy considerable street power.
The Council of Islamic Ideology is a body that is supposed to advise the Parliament of Pakistan on bringing laws and legislation in alignment with the principles of the Quran and Sunnah, though it has no enforcement powers. The Federal Shariat Court can strike down any law deemed un-Islamic, though its decisions can be overturned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Islamists believe that Islam fuses religion and politics, with normative political values determined by the divine texts. It is argued that this has historically been the case and the secularist/modernist efforts at secularizing politics are little more than jahiliyyah (ignorance), kafir (unbelief/infidelity), irtidad (apostasy) and atheism. "Those who participated in secular politics were raising the flag of revolt against Allah and his messenger."
Saudi scholars denounce secularism as strictly prohibited in Islamic tradition. The Saudi Arabian Directorate of Ifta', Preaching and Guidance, has issued a directive decreeing that whoever believes that there is a guidance (huda) more perfect than that of the Prophet, or that someone else's rule is better than his is a kafir.
It lists a number of specific tenets which would be regarded as a serious departure from the precepts of Islam, punishable according to Islamic law. For example:
In the view of Tariq al-Bishri, "secularism and Islam cannot agree except by means of talfiq [combining the doctrines of more than one school, i.e., falsification], or by each turning away from its true meaning."
A number of scholars believe that secular governments in Muslim countries have become more repressive and authoritarian to combat the spread of Islamism, but this increased repression may have made many Muslim societies more opposed to secularism and increased the popularity of Islamism the Middle East.
Authoritarianism has left in many countries the mosque as the only place to voice political opposition. Scholars like Vali Nasr argue that the secular elites in the Muslim world were imposed by colonial powers to maintain hegemony.
Secularism is also associated with military regimes, such as those in Turkey and Algeria. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) succeeded in December 1991 elections in Algeria and the Welfare Party succeeded in the Turkish 1995 elections. However, both of these parties were eliminated through military coups in order to protect secularism. While Welfare Party government in Turkey was forced to resign from the office by Turkish military in February 1997 with a military intervention which is called as "post modern coup", FIS in Algeria lived an austere military coup which carried the country in to a civil war in 1992. Military forces in those countries could use their power in undemocratic ways in order to ‘protect secularism’.
In some countries, the fear of Islamist takeover via democratic processes has led to authoritarian measures against Islamist political parties. "The Syrian regime was able to capitalize on the fear of Islamist coming to power to justify the massive clampdown on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood." When American diplomats asked Hosni Mubarak to give more rights to the press and stop arresting the intellectuals, Mubarak rejected it and said, "If I do what you ask, the fundamentalists will take over the government in Egypt. Do you want that?" Or when President Bill Clinton asked Yasser Arafat to establish democracy in Palestine in 2001, Yasser Arafat also replied similarly. "He said that in a democratic system Islamist Hamas will surely take control of the government in Palestine". Most secularist autocrats in the Middle East drew upon the risk of Islamism in order to justify their autocratic rule of government in the international arena.