By H. Muhammad.
In this era where religion and politics are complexly intertwined, political parties produce discourses to legitimise their strategies and goals. Religion is exploited as a pawn that underpins political logic and camouflage political objectives. For example the brand name ‘Islamic State’ is coined into various versions respectively to the political party in order to garner support for their political objectives. And the label ‘secular’ (tabooed by scholars), exhilarate this political game of branding names. But what is it about secularism that the majority of Muslim scholars are frown upon the idea?
Muslims over the time has soundly developed the constituents of the Syaria law. The law in turn has formed the structure of the ‘institutionalized’ religion of Islam. Historically, these intellectual trends in scriptural hermeneutics (interpretations) of Islam were opinionated by Muslim jurists and scholars of the medieval period. These ideas have been repeated until today and over the time have become so sacred that they have been accepted as divine in origin. The concept of ‘exclusivism’ had been dogmatised into the religion and any creative interpretation (unaligned with the set discipline) in view of change or reform would be marginalized and resisted by the authorized jurists (ulama).
It is explicable that conservative religionists would decry the propensity towards secularism in the modern world. Reason being, conservative religionists naturally associate secularism with atheism. These rigid interpretations of both Islam and secularism are conceived as standing in opposition towards each other with antagonistic contradiction. But one would agree to the fact that the Quran stress the importance of knowledge and also promotes action and reasoning. Thus an intellectual synthesis between reason and faith is absolutely necessary. Rationally, faith has to be in present values and should not mean blind imitation of past traditions. Blind faith could lead to blind submission to religious ideology that lead to extreme exploitative practices. Thus, it is very important that one employ ones rational faculty to safeguard against such possibility.
It is important to note that the way Islam was interpreted and understood by past (medieval period) Muslim scholars conformed to their own socio-cultural situation at that time. But human socio-culture is never static. Its state of affairs constantly evolves and changes through time. If the intellectual trend in interpretation of the religion is confined to conservative traditions of Muslim scholars of the past, it may create rigid hurdles to go along with the ever changing, demanding and complex human socio-culture of today and of the future. Thus rationally, the conventional interpretation of the religion should not be binding on subsequent generations, as it may not conform to the changed socio-cultural situations.
Secularism generally argues for reasons, rational, knowledge and action that is independent of religious belief. There is a need to adapt for a more liberal interpretation of secularism. In essence secularism argues for pure science. It shouldn’t be interpreted too rigidly as to equate it with atheism as many conservative religionists do. Secularism should be taken in a political sense rather than philosophical sense, in which it will then create social and political space for all religious communities.
The human socio-culture of today demand more liberal disposition, tolerance and promotion of pluralism. This in fact is in line with the message of the Quran, with the provision that the interpretation and understanding of the Quran is approached in a holistic (meaningful and realistic) manner. In which one can find that Islam upholds pluralism, freedom of conscience and embrace diversity in its truest form. It does not clash with the concept of secularism in a political sense and would assemble well in this complex human socio-culture of the modern world. In other words Islam itself is liberal in the form of non-atheistic secularism.
It can be argued that the concept of secularism originally developed within a historical context of Islam. Islam in its early stage sparked the idea of religious tolerance, understanding and appreciation of pluralism and diversity in human socio-culture 1400 years ago. This idea has ignited positive social order, ethical culture, intellectual discipline and spiritual concept in their community. It brought forth torch of wisdom and rays of light and has transformed a once backward community to one of the world super power. Undeniably, they’d progressed into an empire with advance knowledge of science at their time. They had produced great names in mathematics, medicines, astronomy, chemistry, physics and anatomy etc. whose breakthrough ideas had contributed immensely to the advancement of human civilization and whose names were still admired until this day. Noteworthy, these very same ideas had paved the direction that had brought Europe out of the dark ages.
It would be a just call for conservative religionists to break ranks and promote diverse ideas and multi-disciplinary intellectual trend in the interpretation of the religion. And also de-monopolize knowledge in the sense of advocating the free flow of diverse ideas in understanding Islam. Decreeing others who interpret the religion in an unconventional conservative manner ‘deviationist’ would reflect intolerance towards others of different viewpoint hence tarnish the image and beauty of Islam itself.
It is important to note that it is all right for one to choose conservative understanding of Islam for oneself. One should be free to be conservative Muslim, non-conservative Muslim, liberal Muslim or non-Muslim as long as they don’t impose their views to others of different viewpoint.
Let the nation be for all and religion for God.