In Search of a Universal Value System?
THOUGHT BY MUHAMMAD ASIM
Terrorism, sectarianism, violence against women and abuse of religious minorities amongst other things are blamed upon the influence of Islam upon the state in Muslim countries such as Pakistan. As a result there are some in society who see the only way of dealing with these problems is to confine Islam to the private lives of individuals and to leave the State free to govern, away from the influence of religion. Essentially, this is a call to secularism. The question needs to be asked: is secularism suitable for the people of Pakistan?
Secularism was established in Europe due to the specific historical experience that Europeans went through with the rule of the Church in Western society. The Church, led by the Pope, was instrumental in establishing the authority and writ of oppressive monarchies. Unlike in Islam where no such concept exists, clergy would claim to have a unique connection with God and would in turn use this to justify the rule of kings as being divinely decreed. During this period, the Western world was in darkness as Europe, split up in to various fiefdoms, and fought each other based upon political and religious sectarian grounds.
Martin Luther, a German priest, began to challenge the authority of the Pope with the publication of his famous treatise The Ninety Five Thesis in 1517. This lead to the Protestant revolution, which was a period of religious wars between European kingdoms which lasted 131 years, being concluded with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The major outcomes of this treaty were two. A new political order was established Europe based upon the concept of sovereign states, ruled by a sovereign. Secondly, the many hundreds of princes across Europe were granted the right to determine their own sect of Christianity to be implemented. This had the effect of weakening the control of the Catholic Papacy over Europe.
Shortly after, the Age of Enlightenment and the promotion of reason began in Europe. As Christianity struggled to cope with reason, its fate was sealed with the emergence of the scientific method and empirical thinking, something religious dogma could not match. As Christianity became more irrelevant in the face of scientific progress, society began to adopt new values such as freedom and democracy to live by. This eventually led to the emergence of Capitalism, an entirely new ideology which placed legislation of laws in the hands of man and the promoted the idea of private ownership of both property and means of production. Once Capitalism was adopted, the Western world set itself upon a trajectory that would see it rise out of its dark slumber in to technological advancement, economic progress and political domination of the world.
The West embarked upon the course of secularism in response to both the oppression and the inability of Christianity to unite and lead society. It is important to note that secularism emerged due to the particular common experience of European states with Christianity. At the same time in the Muslim world, though there were political conflicts that would at times break out in to military strife there were no wars based upon religious sectarianism. The Muslim world for the majority of its history has been led by a Caliphate, first established in Medina after the Hijrah. No Muslim centre of power disputed the necessity of having a Caliph, nor desired to rule other than by Islam. The Muslim world did not have the same experience of Islam as the Europeans did with Christianity.
Whilst Europe was engulfed in religious strife, Islam in the form of the Caliphate facilitated progress on all fronts. Countless inventions and discoveries in the fields of engineering, chemistry, physics, astronomy and medicine to name a few are well documented. The Muslim world with the total application of Islam in all areas of life had no problems with science or reason. Islam was able to facilitate material progress whilst providing detailed solutions for life which Christianity was simply incapable of providing.
The Islamic world was also home to people of other faiths such as Jews and Christians, with the descendants of such communities existing to this day in places like the Middle East and Turkey. Muslims who differed in their understanding of Islam were considered a source of strength, not weakness, as flourishing schools of thought such as Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Maliki, Jafri and others proved. It was due to the inability of Christianity to provide anything more than simple moral guidelines that the West had to turn to secularism and ideas of freedom and democracy to run society, something which the Muslim world never had a need for.
During history though Muslim power peaked and waned, it was never extinguished as Islam was implemented not as a ‘state religion’ but an ideology. This meant that Islam was the exclusive source of laws for all areas of life such as economy, judiciary, societal relations, ruling, governance structure, trade, company structures and so on. This was the case until the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in Turkey by Mustafa Kemal and was succeeded by secular nation states.
Today these secular states may implement aspects of Islam, such as parts of the penal code or family law, but place legislation in the hands of man either via dictatorships or parliaments. These secular states do not provide the mechanism which Islam provides, namely the authority of the Imam or Caliph, to resolve all disputes be they temporal or spiritual.
It would be incorrect to view any state in the world today as being Islamic due to snippets of Islamic law being applied in a sea of man made law and thus declare Islam’s ‘interference’ in the state to be the problem facing Muslims. The solution would rather be to return to the classical method of living by Islam, which is to implement it in the form of an ideological Caliphate which would be able to legitimately deal with both temporal and spiritual disputes.
(Muhammad Asim is a freelance analyst and columnist. Feedback at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Thu, 12 Aug 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 12 Aug 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 13 Aug 2010 00:00:00 IST
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