Why Muslims Mistrust Secularism

Many years ago, the Tunisian Islamic leader, Rashid Ghannoushi, pointed out there were historical reasons why Europe had separated religion and state. He believed the church had misused its power, had stood in the way of scientific progress, and the state regarded religion as a tool of oppression. He argued the Islamic world had a different history and therefore there was no need to adopt European thinking.

According to Jorgen Nielsen, writing in the Lebanon Daily Star, secularism is among a long list of Western ideas, which include materialism, Zionism, promiscuity, and imperialism. “Why is it that Muslims appear to find it so difficult to see anything positive in Western secularism? Are we so different after all?”

“Certainly, Muslims do not like a lot of what they view as being Western: the loneliness of the individual, the breakdown of the family, the destruction wrought by drug addiction, random violence, recreational sex. Of course, they are not alone in feeling these concerns and it is natural to conclude that they are the result of the decline of religion.” He argues similar themes about what is wrong with the West are presented in film and other forms of media.

Nielsen notes that in the mid-1920s, the Egyptian scholar Ali Abd al-Raziq, a professor at Al-Azhar (a leading Muslim university), wrote a book entitled “Islam and the Roots of Government” in which he argued that Mohammad had founded a religion, not a state, so religion should not determine state structures in modern time. The book was immediately condemned by many Muslim scholars.

Nielsen recounts a recent conversation he had with members of a conservative Islamic movement who argued to be Islamic, a state had to have a system which propogated social justice, a reliable legal system, personal liberty, equality, popular participation in government and the like. One of the participants in the dialogue went so far as to argue that northern European welfare states were arguably a good deal more “Islamic” than any state in the Muslim world.

Nielsen notes that on the streets of most cities in the Muslim world, secularism is viewed as a foreign import that was brought in by colonial powers to limit the power of Muslim religious institutions which frequently played a leading role in the struggle to overcome foreign rule. “Today, the only effective challenge to this inheritance (secularism) many Muslims believe comes from Islamic movements and people arguing for a secular perspective run the constant danger of being accused of collaboration with the West. It is this that makes it more likely that many will tilt away from modern, pluralistic secularism toward a religious political system.”
Information from the Lebanon Daily Star

A tragedy of Bushism is failure to grasp forces being unleashed by the invasion of Iraq. Failure to protect the Iraq heritage, failure to ensure safety and security in the days and weeks following the invasion, failure to incorporate moderate Muslim clerical leaders in organization of government, and failure to move slowly toward creation of a viable government played into the hands of Islamic fanatics. What would have happened if American forces remained on the outskirts of Baghdad until a Muslim armed force drawn from Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran marched into the city and restored pride to the people of Iraq that Muslims had overthrown a hated tyrant? Of course, such a scenario would not have played well in the political games of Karl Rove who wanted to use the overthrow of Saddam as a ploy in winning elections.