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Libyan writer Khaled Ali el-Wershefani

Saturday, 2 October, 2004

Secularism And Democracy

By: Khaled Ali el-Wershefani

This article is aimed to dealing with two concepts, secularism and democracy taking into account the modern Islamic view concerning these two concepts.

  • The concept of secularism:
    In order to judge any matter one has to have a very clear perception about it. It is said that judging any matter is a branch of its perception. According to the Longman dictionary of contemporary English, secularism is defined as "a system of social organization that keeps out all forms of religion".

    The main principles on which the concept of secularism is established:

    1. It is an anti-religion movement which means it doesn't accept any religion in any form to be part of it.

    2. It is based on the belief that religion or church has got nothing to do with the political matters of any state in the world.

    3. It is a social system which is based on considering modern life changes and necessities with out paying attention to any religious reservations or rules.

    4. The concept of secularism does fundamentally contradict with Islam. In Islam, Allah or God has the absolute right for legislation whereas in the secular system ordinary human beings are presenting themselves as legislators.

    5. Secularism means isolating Allah or God from ruling his own creatures which he has created by his own hands.

    Why secularism is justified in the Christian west but it is not in the Islamic east?
    1. Secularism was a very natural product of the long conflict between the western elite and the church during the middle ages. Distorted Christianity in the west was the main cause of backwardness and decline whereas in the Islamic east, the backwardness and decline were results of keeping Islam away from all aspects of Muslim lifes including the state or the political aspects.

    2. The west has been for centuries following the philosophy of Arioso which claims that the creator of the universe has got nothing to do with his creatures and he doesn't know any thing about them. According to him the creator is a poor god and pretty much like the King of England; he owns but doesn't rule. In Islam, Allah is the creator and he is the ruler and legislator.

    3. The Christian religion accepts the principle of dividing man into two parts:

      1. The first part is to be dealt with by god which is the spiritual side.

      2. The second part is to be dealt with by the state and the state only which means dealing with different life aspects rather than the spiritual side.

    4. Christianity does not have a legislation system. It is generally dealing with spirituality and ethics. That is why it is not a universal religion. Islam considers any human being to be created from three dimensions:

      1. The intellectual dimension.

      2. The physical dimension.

      3. The spiritual dimension

      The legislation system in Islam is basically dealing with the physical side of human beings.
    5. One has to accept the fact that there are many major cultural differences between the West and the East which will make it extremely hard for anyone to try to copy and impose the Western style secular system on the Islamic East. The partial success of the secular system in the west dose not give anyone the right to force other nations to follow the same example. So far we have been able to see the good side of the Secular system and recently we started to discover some serious problems with this system. As a matter of fact people began to see and witness the failure of the secular Concept in delivering justice and equality for people living in the same society. The case of France, the mother of Secularism, is a very good example of that. France secular government issued a legislation that dose not allow Muslim girls to practice their religious rights and put on scarves to cover their heads.

    6. It is very important to remember that all Muslim countries have been ruled by secular governments until this very moment and yet there has been no sign of advancing or progression in the Muslim world. This with out a doubt proves the claim that the secular system is not going to work for the Middle Eastern nations.

  • The concept of democracy:
    According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, democracy is defined as "a system of government in which everyone in the country can vote to elect its members".

    It is important to state that Islam is not democracy and democracy is not Islam. Islam is an entire independent system in its objectives, methods and means. However, Muslims could benefit from the democratic system by trying to adapt to the same mechanism in achieving the basic principles of the political system in Islam such as: consultation, delivering advice to the governors, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, refusing to obey the ruler if he orders something that is regarded a sin, resisting revealed disbelief, changing evil by force in case of necessity and so on and so forth.

    Democracy for Muslims is not an alternative for Islam. It is amazing that in Islam only the political principles have been specified by both Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). As far as the means for achieving those principles are concerned, Islam did not detail how to practically achieve those political principles. In fact, Islam left it to Muslims to think about that and use whatever mechanism they feel suitable for establishing the specified political principles. In other words, Islam explained the general framework for its political system and the details are left for Muslims to follow whatever practice that lead them to establish those political principles.

    In the democratic system any issue can be discussed and legalised based on the intellect and on the pure interest of the public or the individuals no matter what. However, In Islam there are certain matters which can not be discussed or changed because they represent the unchangeable or the disputable side of Islam such as: the fundamentals of beliefs, the acts of worship, the forbidden matters, the fundamentals of ethics.

    It is important to realize that the democratic system was a result of a long series of social and political changes and painful experiences in Europe. In Islam we have the choice of choosing whatever suits us from this tried system. In other words what we need to do as Muslims is to try to islamize the democratic system. The only challenge we would be facing as Muslims is that Islam is kept away from leading Muslims thereby it is not easy to try to establish the basic political principles in Islam by adapting to the same mechanism that is used to establish the democratic principles.

    Finally, the concept of democracy is being used in a very unfair way. For instance, some western democratic countries do not support democracy if it brings some Islamists to the power. Democracy to them is a great gift but it belongs to the western countries and should not be given to the third world countries because this would mean the end of their domination.

Khaled A al-wershffani
Islamic Researcher,
Markfield Institute of Higher Education,
United Kingdom

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