12th December 2012: Dr Usama Hasan was a guest speaker on a panel alongside Prof. Abdullah an-Naim, author of “Islam and the Secular State”, Prof. Ziauddin Sardar and others at a discussion meeting on “Towards A Secular Islamic State” hosted by the Muslim Institute, London.
The ‘conversation’ sought to re-examine the notion of what the term ‘secular’ means to Arabs and the connotations it carries, but more importantly how Muslim Scholars and the legal practitioners of Fiqh (Islamic Law), interpret secularism in its current form, and the future of the notion, in light of events post Arab-Spring.
Does the word itself need to be re-contextualised, in order for it to be an ‘acceptable-equivalent’ for Muslims? Thus, I have called such a play on words a ‘semantic-synonym’. Furthermore, what are the psychological and sociological forces at work, with such framing dynamics? Finally, do Arab Muslims need to overcome the ‘Western-colonial-cultural-baggage’, which is often associated with the word ‘secularism’ to mean anti-religion, in order for them to attain some form of ‘cognitive-consonance’ to be able to find their particular identity rather than imitating the western application of the word?
As ‘Secularism’ a post-enlightenment movement, is viewed by non-Arabs and Arabs alike, as a period of time characterized by breakthroughs in thinking which steered the world away from religion and more and more toward secularism, humanism, individualism, rationalism, and nationalism. The Arab Spring has seen both ‘ideological secularism’ and ‘procedural secularism’ being practiced at different levels within Tunisia and Egypt respectively. Is a western form of Islam more in tune with Islam, as the highest purpose (maqasid) of the Sharia is to secure the interests of the people (maslahah)? Furthermore, if Arabs are seeking secular political governance rather than religious political governance, is the notion of an ‘Islamic state’ a redundant idea, a historical misnomer even, especially considering that Arab Muslims are demanding what Western Muslims have been enjoying for a number of decades?