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I am always gutted when I hear people in my society shouting at the top of their voices that secularism is the opposite of, or antipodal to, religion. Secularism is all too often considered as a Western product never to be accepted. It is unfortunately taken as a pre-planned conspiracy meant to destroy their own Islamic system of state.
Even though secularism originated from the West, it had deep impact on the politics of the sub-continent. Most of the Muslim scholars in India supported the idea of a democratic and secular India where every community was equal in the eyes of the law and where every community was allowed to practice its religion freely.
For instance, Maulana Husain Ahmed Madni, student of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hassan and a scholar of the Deoband school, supported the idea of a secular and democratic India. He believed that the identity of an individual or a nation is recognized by the land and not by religious beliefs or cult. He said: “All should endeavor jointly for such a democratic government in which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis are included. Such freedom is in accordance with Islam “
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is another example. There is hardly anyone in Indo Pak history that was as par excellence in wisdom, erudition and clarity of thought as Abul Kalam Azad. Any nation aspires for such leaders.
He was an esteemed literary figure, poet, religious scholar and a unique statesman. In addition to being a great religious scholar, he was also a brilliant politician and was entirely secular in his views. Maulana Azad was a member of Indian National Congress and supported its demand of secular-democratic India. Tarjuman Ul Quran is his famous exegesis.
Other than these scholars, a large body of scholars in India (Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind) supported the idea of secular-democratic India.
Coming to the main point which is the cause of constant whining that secularism is a western product and poses a threat to Islamic ideology and hence should not be followed in the Islamic world. First and foremost, let us try to remove this misunderstanding. Religions are not confined to one place and are instead spread across geographical ones attracting different communities belonging to various places and countries. Likewise, political ideologies are also not confined and have an extensive outreach. For instance, the Socialist ideology put forward by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, two German nationals, is not confined to Germans or Germany alone. In the same manner, Capitalism is not confined to a single geographical location. We can therefore arrive at the logical conclusion that secularism is not confined to the West and is found way beyond the western world. The Indian subcontinent alone has produced many secular Muslim scholars who, in spite being religious scholars, strongly believed in secularism and struggled for a united and secular India.
The subcontinent produced two main ideologues. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal’s political ideology was ” juda ho deen siyasat sey to reh jati hai changezi”. Iqbal insisted that Muslims are a separate nation because of the fact that they have a different religion and culture. On the other hand, Azad envisaged a Secular India where all the communities were equal in the eyes of the law. Maulana Azad insisted that in the modern world, nations are identified by the land and not by any religion or cult. Both the ideologies are correct according to the teachings of Islam but Azad’s ideology is closer in line with modern thinking, while Iqbal’s ideology takes us back to the phase in which Muslims perceive as a period in which mUlsim communities were strong and ‘united’. One may wonder why Azad’s ideology is in sync with Islam when Islam insists so much on the separation of religion from state.
We explain this by arguing that we make our decisions taking into consideration present-day scenarios and the dynamics at play. When Sulah e Hudaybiyya (Treaty Of Hudaybiyya) was being signed between the Muslims and non-Muslims, in which some non-Muslims were upset that Muhammad (PBUH) used the term “Prophet” before his name. Since Muslims were in a weak position and the agreement was essential for the Muslim cause, Muhammad conceded to their demands and removed the term “Prophet” before his name. This is a classic example of separating religion from politics. Later when the Muslims were in a dominant position, Prophet Muhammad established an Islamic state. It has been argued that at the time of Muhammad (PBUH) Muslims were united as one nation. There were no conflicts or issues of sectarianism. However when differences arose between Muslims in the Islamic state, The Battle of Siffin, The battle of Camel (The Battle of Jamal) and Karbala took place destroying the unity of Muslims for the times to come. Therefore, considering the present situation of Muslims when Islam is divided in many different sects, which version of Sharia would be universally accepted by all Muslims? It is natural that it would open the doors of more religious differences and conflicts among Muslims. Present day world is increasingly associating Daesh/Islamic State with Islam putting Muslims and Islam under the pressure to redefine and showcase to the world its fundamental ideologies and principles to convince the opponents that Islam is not what Islamic State represents. It is by promoting secularism, with a clear distinction between religion and state, that we can help rescue ourselves from the chaos we currently find ourselves in.
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