Secularism Debate with Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secularist Society (NSS)

I would like to present a video featuring a debate between me and Terry Sanderson, President of the oldest and largest Secularist campaigning organisation in the UK, the National Secular Society (NSS).

The topic was to what degree should religion (or Secularism) influence the State?

It was an exciting debate, which touched upon the issue of Gay Marriage, the failure of Secularism to bring peace and stability in MOST countries where it has been tried, the false claim of Secular State neutrality, and the oppression of religious conscience both in the West, and around the world – and the superiority of the Islamic alternative that respects true pluralism, and diversity of religious conscience.

Shockingly, please notice in the debate how I get the Secularist to admit that you cannot have people being free to live according to their conscience!!

The only point he could say to back up his statement was, ‘what if a racist acted on his conscience and refused to act as a civil servant and marry mixed race couples? It was clearly a weak argument, considering that in the Secular state, there is imposed uniformity. In Islamic history, Jewish rabbis were allowed to refuse marrying a jewish woman to a Christian man. The couple would just go to the Christian area, and easily found a priest to get it done, with no problems, and no social strife. But in Secularism everyone must conform. Now racism is an extreme example he used, but I could counter against Secularists (and did during the debate) the REAL LIFE example of the Christian Registrar who was fired for their job in the UK, for refusing to be FORCED to marry a same-gender couple.

Anyways, I leave the rest of the arguments for you to see in the video. Inshallah please share with as many people as you can, this video contains some good textbook refutations of Secularism, and should be useful for intellectual refutations of the common irrational Secularist arguments.

Categories: DEBATES, Secularism, Secularism Debates, The Muslim Debate Initiative

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3 replies

  1. I though the Muslim point of view lacked modern examples of successful states/nations having Islamic law at least to some extend even if not perfect. Perhaps, Brunei might be one.

    The advantage the secularists have is that the Western countries have better economic and materialistic development, and so the people quickly compare Islamic state to such and the problems due to that they see as a problem of Islamic state and law itself. Imagine America was a poor society and all that makes news about America was some death penalties and high profile criminal cases. One could quickly blame all that upon secularism then. Or lets instead take some tribal societies that are basically atheist in a pagan way, and then compare that with some developed Muslim country, say Emirates or Malaysia. Such comparison are clearly unbalanced.

    Any comparison, whether in terms of society or even Muslim women (in case of debating feminism), should also be done with equal status in terms of their wealth and so forth.

    • There is no real comparison, until a modern Caliphate can be presented as a successful example.

      There are much more Secular countries than the western states, like Burma, Syria, Congo etc, of which we can see the true effect of secularism when applied on a non-imperialist country, that doesn’t have enough wealth to placate their masses (e.g. just look what happens when it doesn’t, like Greece).

  2. They are several problems with your arguments:

    1. Several times you treat secularism as a totalizing ideology in comparison to Islam. Hence the theme of many of your debates being “Islam vs. Secularism”. This is a category error, secularism as a policy is meant with the very specific issue of religion in politics and nothing else. Secularism can indeed be part of an ideology or worldview but this is distinct from secularism as a part of government policy.George Jacob Holyoake makes this distinction in the opening pages of English secularism (a book you quoted in another debate)

    2. From there you ask the silly question of why we should implement secularism if it doesn’t solve ethnic/political conflicts. The obvious answer would be that it’s not supposed to, secularism is only meant to deal with religion conflict in the public sphere. There are other policies/initiatives/statues that are meant to deal with ethnic conflicts. So the statement that in “Burma, Syria, Congo etc, of which we can see the true effect of secularism” is baseless although in Syria the Assad regime is not secular. Asking why we need secularism is like asking why penicillin should be used if it doesn’t cure cancer.

    3. You talk about the supposed cases of religious persecution. In the case of Ms Ladele, the marriage resistrar, its very clear that she worked for a government organization: the Islington council. Where it should be understood that as a civil servant you would have to implement the government’s decision of same-sex marriage. If she was part of a private religious institution then she wouldn’t not have this obligation. In fact the UK’s same-sex marriage bill includes a special clause protecting priests and other clerics from being forced to carry out same-sex weddings against their beliefs. As for the catholic adoption agencies, well it is clear that they receive public funding for their organizations. They were not forced to close but closed on their own will on the basis of refusing the state’s definition definition of marriage. The so called persecution argument is debunked here: (
    As for the case of hotel owners in the UK, the supreme court decision was not allow exception to religious based discrimination. Like Sanderson explained, you are allowed to practice your religion as long as you do not discriminate or harm people. This something you don’t seemed to have acknowledged or have responded to.

    4. Another silly argument is that religious people should be allowed to discriminate in public office because they pay taxes to the government. In parliamentary democracies it simple doesn’t work like that. Not all of the constituency can decide what the government can do with taxes all of the time, this is simple unworkable and impracticable. If you think you taxes are mishandled then its your responsibility to reach out to your elected official and have this concern addressed in parliament or run for office yourself.

    5. You talked a lot about how identity politics were invented in the twentieth century by “western societies”. Identity politics describe a state of affairs where groups of people form an identity according to an ideology or sexual orientation in the example of the LGBT, to get their concerns heard by the wider society. You make some paradoxical statements about identity politics like how @44:53 “you guys are now a special group and now we have have make your interest equal to everyone else’s”. They wouldn’t be special if their interests are equal to others. Then you go on to say that you see everyone as humans not as groups formed by identity. In that case you should have no problems with anti-discrimination laws. Yet you are alright with discriminatory practices because of religious conscience. This a huge amount of sophistry,

    6. You often compare modern jurisprudence as “one-law above all” with shariah as “pluralism”. Modern law has layers of jurisdictions that legislate to a given area although the supreme court would have the highest legal authority in a given country, so its not as simple as one “one-law above all”. This is why in certain jurisdictions within the United States, abortion and gay marriage would be illegal. As for Shariah being pluralistic, this is a symptom of pre-modern feudal based legal systems. In a feudal or tributary system, different feudal communities paying taxes or tributes to a higher authority would have ability to live according to their own laws. In modern nation-states this would be complicated. In classical Islamic jurisprudence, there are clear limits to this “pluralism”. Only people on certain religions can be accepted as protected dhimmis, first the Jews and Christians and later included Zoroastrians and Hindus. And these people had to pay a head tax, jizya, “with humiliation” according to the Qur’an. Not to mention that historically a land, kharaj, tax was added along with the jizya. The dhimmis can live under their own laws, although there were a number of restriction they had to abide by. They could not proselytize their religion, could not bear witness against a Muslim in court, could not bear arms or hide or travel horseback among other restrictions. So at best, religious minorities in classical Islamic jurisprudence and history were second class citizens. UK Muslim citizens do not face any such discriminations. (See: Friedmann, Yohanan (2003). Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition and Khadduri, Majid (2010). War and Peace in the Law of Islam)

    So your criticism of secularism is superficial at best. There are other erroneous arguments you made here but I’ll end it here.

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