Home Menara English Opinion Secularism Was Never Meant for Malaysia

Secularism Was Never Meant for Malaysia


Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos in an article published by The Malay Mail Online, mentioned about the problems of both, secular and Islamic theocratic states. Jahaberdeen writes based on the pretext that Islamic administration is a form of theocracy, this is a viewpoint that exhibits lack of knowledge in Islamic jurisprudence and is biased towards Orientalist opinions.

It was perhaps a very simplistic view of what the administration of Malaysia should or should not be. Some elements of secularism were highlighted, that did not exactly sketch the whole truth about the said mechanism. On the contrary, as a reply to Jahaberdeen, everything has to take into account the state of society and the composition thereof. History has proven many times, that a secular government in a Muslim majority state is bound for failure.

One of the contentions about an Islamic State according to the article is perhaps the loss of free will. This according to the writer (Jahaberdeen) is the greatest fear of the secularists. The idea of free will in this case is questionable. What is meant by free will? The ability to do whatever a person wants, whenever she wants to do it? Or is it the free will to express her thoughts?

For one thing, there is no country that grants absolute freedom, there are always rules and regulations that have to be observed. Each legal system for that matter is unique to its own borders. The Malaysian legal system cannot be applied in Singapore and the vice versa is also true. This is to protect the interests of every citizen in the country and maintain harmony. So the idea that Islam will take away these rights is unfounded, because even in secular nations such free will does not exist.

Secondly, the ability to express oneself too is bound by the law. No one can go out in the public and spread lies, though that might be a part of freedom of expression but it is legally bounded. What secularists want in terms of free will, is not even granted to them in secular countries. For example, creating chaos and disharmony through speech, spreading hatred and fear are components limited by the law in almost every country.

And accusing Islam as being solely responsible for these limitations is very much a confirmation bias fallacy on realities that exist. Jahaberdeen added that, opposition to the government will be construed as an opposition to God’s will.

This statement is at best, Jahaberdeen’s personal view and has nothing to do with Islam. Muslims have previously challenged rulings even since the times of Umar al-Khattab, and it was not viewed as treason to God’s will. Maybe Jahaberdeen was referring to modern day Saudi Arabia and not Islam per se.

If anyone believes in God, she would know that you cannot possibly delay God’s will, let alone oppose it. To what outcome can a mere mortal oppose God’s will? The idea itself does not make much sense.

Secularism according to Jahaberdeen can guarantee the freedom of religion for everyone. We have a different take on the issue altogether.

In a simple case study of nations with majority Muslim populations, a secular leadership, almost always crumbles from the inside or the outside. Perhaps due to the lack of necessary values.

Iraq was governed by a socialist government, and one of the first things Saddam Hussein did was, declare war on Iran. Whatever the reason might be it definitely was not Islamic nor secular in nature.

Then we have Tunisia, the birthplace of Arab Spring, not much needs to be said about them apart from the atrocities committed by its government against the adherents of Islam. Turkey too was an icon of secularism and its economy was in blunders to say the least. Human rights in Turkey, were as good as concentration camps in World War II.

We have our neighbour, Indonesia, their economic and social development is very obvious. The list goes on and on, and one can’t just assume secularism guarantees religious freedom in an absolute manner.

If we take the case of countries that are at least constitutionally Islamic, i.e. that one way or another place Islam as the religion of the state, things are quite different.

There was once a time when there was one country named Sudan. The Christian population down south wanted a separate state altogether. They strived for many decades in the effort and ultimately got their independence. Ostensibly dreaming about a land of opportunities where the grass is greener. Destiny however had a different plan, the moment ‘liberation’ was achieved, civil war ensued.

A supposedly secular nation went into a crisis almost infinitesimally after gaining freedom. Isolated incident maybe, but nevertheless it occurred and those involved are still busy fighting with no end in sight.

Secularism in this case, definitely did not live up to its name. Another example would be India, a nation so populous that it has become the epitome of secularism. Presumably, the legal system protects everyone, regardless of their race, religion or caste. These values are best observed in The Land of Utopia and not India. The controversial anti cow slaughtering bill has caused widespread oppression for the Muslim minority and other low caste Hindus who consume beef. How is banning beef or any other type of animal meat a secular act in the first place?

Not forgetting America, the leader of the free world that has bombed Japan, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other poor nations back to the stone age. Donald Trump, the latest edition of American hegemony is no different than his predecessors. First thing Trump did was to ban the entry of citizens from seven Muslim majority countries, later reduced to six.

Adding to the chaos is France, a nation built on the pretext of secularism. Having their own version of secularism, dubbed as Laïcité the French are masters of the subject. They banned the use of the face veil in 2010, tried to ban the burqini in 2016 and many others.

The directory of failures does not stop there, time and time again secularism has essentially failed to live up to its ideals. Either secular principles were forced on the citizens, or religious values were embraced, albeit partially. The truth is that no state can be neutral regarding religion, like humans, the state(s) will impose its own belief system upon the masses, this can be observed in India, America, the United Kingdom and other secular nations.

A simple example would be religious holidays all around the world. In a truly secular nation these holidays should not persist if indeed there is a dichotomy between the state and religion. However in reality the opposite is true, there are Christmas holidays all over the world, even in countries that are ostensibly free from religious influence.

The commitment to secularism might have its roots in the historical struggle experienced by Europeans. It was Europe’s intimate relationship with Christianity that lead them to their darkest hours. As time passed on, the Europeans realised it was their intimacy that held them from progress. This realisation lead to the Renaissance Era and eventually a secularly administered continent. Haply this lead to a loss in human values as can be seen in the massacres committed by the Europeans en masse, some in the name of religion, while others in the name of freedom and/or slavery.

The gist of his (Jahaberdeen Yunos) article is to find a middle ground between the two extreme viewpoints, though the intent is noble, but you cannot find any middle ground between Islam and secularism. Only one of them can dominate, and Islam that we abide by is the middle ground between the liberals and secularists who oppose religious control and the radicals who use religion to oppress the others.

Islam has been the fuel that fired the development of previous nations. The upsurge of knowledge and technology in the ancient world occurred when Europe was going through the “Dark Ages”. Many of these achievements happened during the period of Umayyad and early Abbasid Caliphates, often was the case that these findings set precedents for many of today’s technologies and achievements. Islam was the state religion in every case. Not limited to the state, the general populace was very well versed with the Islamic way of life. This further catalysed development in many fields of knowledge that included science, technology, mathematics, medicine etc.

Later on, when the Islamic principles and virtues were abandoned, then the decline and disintegration began. It was not until Islam was left that prosperity left the Muslims. In order to attain that former glory, there is no choice but to develop Islamic virtues to the levels of the past through proper education. All of that begins with the process of instilling the love of God and the need to adhere by His rules. Only then can the glory be restored.

As the saying goes, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and truthfully so. Change that comes from the sword is only as good as the usable life of that sword, the pen however can be timeless in nature. For one thing, the sayings of the Prophet live on, but those who oppressed the Prophet and his followers with the sword, rot together with their weapons.

In a country where the Muslims prevail in numbers, Islam is the only route to affluence be it economic or social. Secularism is apt for places where religion is not suitable for the administration of a state. Islam on the other hand, due to its holistic worldview and well-grounded epistemic framework, has been proven time and time over as the vessel of progress.

The shortcomings seen in Muslim countries have often nothing to do with Islam, but rather the lack of understanding about Islamic values and principles. It all starts with education, and infusion of Islamic values, especially that of Tawhid or Islamic Theology. The very essence of societal development starts with the citizens and transformation(s) therein. What better way than to start with the Islamic creed.

If every citizen was armed with knowledge as was the population of Medina at the time of the Prophet ﷻ and later on continued within the Muslim empires, the Umayyads and Abbasids were perhaps the benchmark of intellectual, spiritual and physical development of their times, conceivably we can restore the glory that we once had.

*Written by Rehan Ahmad Bin Jamaluddin Ahmad, this article would not have come to fruition without the advice and guidance from Associate Professor Dr. Khalif Muammar, Director of Centre of Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (CASIS), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). Views are of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position of Menara.my in a particular issue.