Historically, Islam has based its understanding of legitimate political authority on the divine nexus between God, man and the world. The Qur’Én repeatedly emphasizes sovereignty of AllÉh (SWT) and His lordship over all creation. The Qur’Én (24: 42) refers to God’s dominion over all “the heavens and the earth.” The Qur’Én, in short, is concerned to a great extent with the proper ordering of human, temporal existence and of life in the hereafter. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) migrated to Madinah to establish the spriritual and political body of the ummah which was grounded in submission to the will of AllÉh (SWT). The first four caliphs held an organic, holistic approach to life in which religion was intimately intertwined with politics, law and society. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 CE) considered politics to have been set up by AllÉh (SWT) for the benefit of humankind. Political thinker, Abu al-Hassan al-Mawardi (972-1058 CE) declared categorically that the Imamate is established to protect religion and manage the affairs of this world. To Abul A’la Mawdudi (1903-1979 CE), the IslÉmic state is set up to implement the will of AllÉh (SWT) in all sphere of life. For more than a millennium, IslÉm, a comprehensive way of life, has played a constructive role as an agent of stability to limit autocracy and arbitrary rule. Almost all the Muslim rulers apparently sought the legitimization of their power in IslÉm and they held the Qur’Én and Sunnah to be the main source of legislation and power. This comprehensive scheme for ordering human life gradually eroded, which led to the development of secular institutions and ideas. Scholars have identified several factors that contributed to secularizing the Muslim world: foreign intervention and invasions such as the Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries, the Mongol invasion of 1258 leading to the sacking of the Abbasid caliphate, the Castilian re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula and, in the modern period, colonialism, capitalism, and the rise of modern nation-states and nationalism.
Secularism claims that religion is a strictly private affair and it should not be allowed to interfere in public affairs. It leaves no place for God or His Guidance in the public affairs of men and maintains that people’s entire conduct should be guided exclusively by considerations derived from the present life itself. Secularism advocates the separation of religion and government or, in a metaphorical description used by Thomas Jafferson, erects a wall of separation between the church and the state. It also aims at replacing laws based upon religious scriptures with civil laws. It is argued that this separation of spiritual and material realms is a pre-condition for the free exercise of human rights, essential for the protection of the rights of religious minorities and thus necessary for the promotion of democracy.
IslÉm, it must be noted, is equally or more intent on the improvement of this life and for the fulfilment of all duties pertaining to the mundane world. It, however, does not look upon the present life as an end in itself but as an adjunct to the life in the hereafter. Life in this world and in the hereafter forms a continuum in which the latter sanctifies this worldly acrivity and upon which depends the right conduct of life. Religion, therefore, cannot simply be a private affair because religion is a social as well as an individual duty. Confining religion to a private affair would stifle in human that which constitutes the highest and truest motives of action, and the noblest of aspirations.
IslÉm should not be equated with secularism or Christianity. Christianity, under the doctrine of dualism – render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s – defended two authorities in the realm of human activities. Such a stand is foreign to IslÉm. The advocacy of secularism in some Muslim circles does not go with the spirit of this religion. Secularism contradicts IslÉm in every aspect. Yusuf al- Qaradawi (1977: 113-14) in a book revealingly titled Al-Hulul al Mustawradah wa Kayfa Jaat ‘ala Ummatina’ [How the Imported Solutions Disastrously Affected Our Ummah] is of the opinion that:
... the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of IslÉm. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place of Shari’ah is downright riddah. The silence of the masses in the Muslim world about this deviation has been a major transgression and a clear-cut instance of disobedience which have produced a sense of guilt, remorse, and inward resentment, all of which have generated discontent, insecurity, and hatred among committed Muslims because such deviation lacks legality.
Secularism and its teachings are the legacy of colonialism under which the three agents of “Christianity, Commerce, and Colonialism” incited the undertaking of a mission for winning the world for Christ, educating the Muslims and creating a new Westernized elite, and modernizing their countries in line with the secularist ideology prescribed in the West. Consequently, a small number of Muslims “were entrusted with the task of running the educational institutions set up in the colonies to develop a new class of westernized-educated elites. The traditional leadership was systematically destroyed. The ulamÉ who had a virtual monopoly on the legal system, were routed out in favour of those who studied Western law and education” (Moten, 1996: 11).
Secularism though imposed from outside by colonial and imperial invaders was kept alive by local elites who came to power in the post-colonial period. They adopted the pattern of development which was heavily influenced by and indebted to Western secular paradigms. They relied upon foreign advisers and equated modernization with westernization and with the progressive secularization of society.
The post-colonial states turned out to be developmental failures. A set of top- down, forced modernization, secularization and westernization policies by the state generated widespread social and psychological alienation and dislocation. Rapid urbanization, changing cultural and socioeconomic relationships coupled with increasing corruption, economic mismanagement, rising poverty and income inequality undermined the legitimacy of the state. The policies and programmes of secular elites alienated social forces in the Muslim world. The failure of the postcolonial, secular state led to demands for a greater role for religion in politics. Muslim masses challenged the dogma of the prophets of modernity and discredited the secular paradigm. The data from the 2007 Gallup World Poll (Esposito and Mogahed, 2007) of more than 90% of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims view religion as an important part of their daily lives and that having a rich spiritual life is essential. They believe that attachment to their spiritual and moral values is crucial to their development. Poll data indicate that a majority of the world’s Muslims would like to see Shari’ah to be a source of legislation in the state. They were sure that the United States would not allow Muslims to shape their own political future. The United Strates lacks credibility in its campaign to promote self-determination and democracy.
Five papers included in this issue deals with IslÉm and secularism in different ways. Maszlee Malik examines the Western concept of social capital, i.e., trust- based relation within the community. It is believed that wide-spreading interactions of humanistic elements (education, health, skills, ownership and lifestyle), social factors (networking, rules of society, solidarity, welfare) and cultural aspects (social relations, customs and structures, environment, sustainable development, natural resources), will contribute to technical progress, competitiveness, sustained growth, good governance and stable democracies. Maszlee Malik presents a new set of IslÉmic jihad and argues for considering the overarching concept of iḥsān (benevolence) as an essential tool to incorporate IslÉmic values into the framework of “Social Capital” which would lead to the well-being and development of Muslim societies.
Aisha Ismail looks at secularism from its origin to its contemporary manifestations. Her discussion is well worth pondering. She argues that though many states claim to be guided by the ideology of secularism, they suffer from confusión. There is no unanimity among the scholars and practitioners on the definition of secularism. Consequently, secular states come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some states proclaim to be secular but allow religious values to determine public policies. Others do not permit religious institutions to play any role whatsoever. This situation calls for a caution in establishing relationships with secular states in the international arena.
The remaining three articles concern specific countries. Husna Fauzi explains the need for especial attention to be accorded to the elderly population that has steadily increased over the years. She analyzes the status of the elderly persons from an IslÉmic perspective by referring to the Qur’Én and Sunnah and to various regional and international human rights instruments. She has found no single international instrument deals with the needs of the elderly and observes that countries in the West have opted for laws that cater to the need of their own elderly persons. Malaysia has adopted various laws in this respect but Husna Fauzi thinks that the authorities need to rethink and take appropriate measures in order to protect the rights of the elderly people. Ramizah Wan Muhammad analyzes the struggle of Muslims in southern Thailand to lead their lives according to SharÊ’ah. They would like to change the socio-economic and political set-up in the South along IslÉmic lines. They began with the demand for SharÊ’ah Courts to be established in the region. Todate, however, Muslims are denied their right to have a SharÊ’ah court. Instead, they have been marginalized in almost every aspect. She argues for granting Muslims the right to SharÊ’ah court in Thailand. Mohammad Abul Kalam Azad’s paper deals with the threats which render it difficult for democracy to sustain itself in Bangladesh. He has found that the country is beset with poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, violence and most importantly corruption. For sustaining democracy, he argues, the leaders must strive to fight corruption at every level. He is of the opinion that introducing moral and ethical practices in politics may go a long way in solving a myriad of problems facing Bangladesh.