Atheists and Secularists argue that mixing religion with politics opens up the door (or pandora’s box) to the possibility of fanatics with insane interpretations of religion, taking power and oppressing and killing millions domestically or via foreign policy. For that reason, they argue, we should keep religion and politics separate.
If that is their argument, they would also have to separate Atheism and Secularism from politics TOO, since historically, ‘insane’ interpretations of materialism (and Atheism) took power, with Communists and social-darwinists having killed tens of millions of people and oppressed countless others. And ‘insane’ interpretations of Secularism have taken power, with fascists, imperialists, colonialists, zionists, nationalists, neo-conservatives and liberals having killed tens of millions of people and oppressed countless others.
Of course, the Atheist and the Secularist would argue that ‘balanced’ interpretations of their beliefs wouldn’t lead to mass killing and oppression. But then why do they reject religion from politics when it could ALSO be argued that a balanced interpretation of religion would not lead to mass killing or oppression either? It seems Atheists and Secularists use one justification for themselves, and deny the same justification to others.
However, when we look at so-called ‘balanced’ secular states throughout world history, we witness that every time they possess military advantage over other states, they continuously invade, oppress and exploit them – which has led to the deaths and oppression of millions, not to mention discrimination and oppression of minorities living in those secular states when times get hard.
What history teaches us, is not to worry just about the ‘insane’ interpretations of Atheism or Secularism getting into power, but the ‘balanced’ ones too…
Categories: ARTICLES, Atheism, Secularism, WRITINGS
of course religion can be abused like any other ideology, and can be used to fool and utilise people like any other ideology. indeed in terms of making a theoretical argument for its incompatibility with politics this (alone at least) is not a sufficient basis for one.
but out of curiosity Abdullah – because i’ve been thinking about this recently – in terms of approaching this from another viewpoint, i.e. not from a ‘secular’ perspective but rather actually from a ‘religious’ one, does the abuse of religion not reduce from the spirituality, sanctity and in turn arguably appeal of religion? because of course when we hear religious creeds and slogans being abused for certain purposes, it can be very off-putting (although I suppose not to people of strong faith/knowledge).
but nevertheless, again putting secular arguments to one side, as Muslims is it not very worrisome when certain parties abuse religion for their own purposes, and drag people along in that deception? the problem here would appear that the power of religion (Islam especially perhaps) is so potent that people who appear ‘pious’, and indeed can posses large knowledge, can abuse this (and not necessarily in an identifiably malicious or ‘evil’ sense either, this abuse can be at a deeper not-so-obvious level, while on a basic level the person can be a ‘good’ one). an ‘ordinary’ person can go along with such a leader for a long period of time because at some level they simply cannot accept that this pious person is not quite so in his/her actions. and it can take a long while for the person to realise thus (if he/she ever does). therefore is this not a very worrisome issue, especially if such a trend occurs quite often? we can see what happened with the experience of Christianity in Europe, whose corruption (in large part in the political sphere, as well of course as its own theological problems) eventually put people (arguably irreversibly) against it. Is this not a danger with Islam as well? I’d be very interested to hear your views.
Salam alaikum brother Omar Sabbour
You ask a good question, that gives us an opportunity to explore the Islamic system more.
Firstly, your question is basically one of the arguments used by enlightenment philosopher (and founder of Secularism) Thomas Hobbes, who basically said that priests can bring a bad reputation to religion, and basing a state on religion (or priests) would cause instability as people become disillusioned with the priests hypocrisy (as well as heresies and splinter factions). Hobbes said the religion changes, but the state stays the same, and so for the interest of stability the state should not be founded on religion, but on civil authority established upon the human state of nature.
Here’s why Hobbes was mistaken in universalising his conclusions:
1) The state changes too, rulers change, culture changes and people may split off into differing political factions and fight eachother in civil wars for purely non-religious motives. Hobbes was surrounded by religious wars so this really affected his thinking. Kind of like if a man has a bad experience with a woman, he might be foolish to think that all women are bad.
2) Religion is an idea, priests are people. If people become disillusioned due to priests, it is because they made the foolish connection that a learned man of religion = a perfect manifestation of that religion’s ideal. This is false. The reason for priests affecting people’s view of catholicism, was because of Catholicism made priests intercessors between man and God, and established their authority based upon their actions being always guided by God. This peculiar querk led to people becoming disillusioned by their ‘intercessors’ hypocrisy. If they can be corrupted, what authority does the Catholic church really have to be obeyed, over reading the Bible for yourself? Thus was born protestantism.
Unfortunately, the Muslim world, in its degraded intellectual state, suffers from an over reverence of scholars, accepting their words and actions based upon their religious authority. This is basically a ignorant belief that just because someone appears to have knowledge, he will always do the right thing, or possess a better understanding of reality than the layman. Of course, this is simply not true. A proclaimed ‘scholar’ these days can be anyone who merely rote learned a larger amount of verses and hadiths than the layman. In essence they are no different to ‘sheikh google’, or as one narration describes ‘a donkey carrying books’.
Muslims need to know the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Many have knowledge, but few are wise in this day and age. Secondly, Muslims used to accept teachings from scholars based upon argument and evidence, not merely authority. Unfortunately now, many Muslims accept authority over argument and evidence. This is dangerous, and will lead to eventual disillusionment by the Muslims of their scholars, and eventually, normative Islam.
3) Hobbes’ conclusions really don’t apply outside of Christianity (which he admitted). In (Sunni) Islam, the Caliphs are FALLIBLE humans, and no one ever connected a Caliph to a manifestation of Islam, except where the Caliphs actions were in accordance with Islam. The Caliph is not an intercessor between man and God, nor is he divinely guided or sinless. This meant that the Ummah always looked towards scholars who were not on the government payroll, as being the most trusted ones to protect the intellectual continuation of Islam. Scholars who were on the government payroll were never trusted as much as independents. The saving grace of Islam, is that it does not give authority to one group of scholars or Imams over another to dictate and enforce doctrine (like Catholicism does). This means that no one can ‘own’ Islam, for Islam is (to use a computer programming term) ‘open-source’.
When Islamic thought and jurisprudence is separated from control by government, and the government is not under obligation to follow one particular school of thought over another – you get a government that focuses of implementation of Islam, not enforcement of doctrine (which leads to religious wars). Of course, the three Mutazila Caliphs tried to force their doctrines on people – but they were the exception (well, they were influenced by european-Greek thinking!).
In conclusion, no one can harm Islam (the Quran says that those who turn away cannot harm God in the slightest), but people can only harm themselves by failing to live up to Islamic ideals – this is the nature of Islam which renders Hobbes contentions void.
Thanks for the question brother
“When Islamic thought and jurisprudence is separated from control by government, and the government is not under obligation to follow one particular school of thought over another – you get a government that focuses of implementation of Islam, not enforcement of doctrine (which leads to religious wars).”
So does this mean secularism is the way to go then? Also, how is “Implementation of Islam” different from “enforcement of doctrine”?
Your concern is a genuine one and it is a very serious issue,
because the majority of people today are of weaker intellect who
take authority as truth
instead of Truth (Haqq) as authority.
“It is customary with weaker intellects thus
to take the men as criterion of the truth
and not the truth as criterion of the men.
The intelligent man follows `Ali (may God be pleased with him) when he said,
`Do not know the truth by the men,
but know the truth,
and then you will know who are truthful’.”
This is thought-provoking. Religions are one group of ideals.