Aggressive secularism or a new role for religion

Britain’s secular liberal establishment appears horrified by the Pope’s comments, and those of his advisor Cardinal Walter Kasper, about Britain’s secular society. The Pope said in his opening speech in the UK “Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society…In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.”

Cardinal Kasper wrote on the eve of the Pope’s visit that “an aggressive new atheism has spread through Britain. If, for example, you wear a cross on British Airways, you are discriminated against.”

This trend has emerged strongly since 9/11 and led to a magnificent double standard. A letter in the Guardian on 15th September 2010 signed by secular evangelists such as Stephen Fry, Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor AC Grayling, Lord Avebury, and Peter Tatchell amongst others denounced the invitation of a state visit for the Pope and included in their reasoning the Pope’s illiberal views. It would be hard to find a letter with the same spectrum of signatories opposing the visits and hospitality shared between British governments and dictators across the world who actively torture and repress their own people.

In Britain, Europe and the United States secular liberal states are proving ever more their intolerance of people of all faiths – frequently ridiculing and demeaning adherents of religions – but most especially Islam.

Anyone who has witnessed calls for bans on hijabs and niqabs across Europe, as well as minarets; protests against mosques by right wing groups in Britain and even a call to ban the Quran in Holland will recognise an aggressive, unpleasant, even supremacist secular liberalism.

A new role for religion

Aggressive secularism stems from ignorance, fear and dogmatism. Over two centuries after the enlightenment, secular free market liberalism dominates in just about every important nation, yet the secular agenda seems to have stalled. Cynicism has surged. The sense of a strong society is diminishing. And when people are asked about how happy they are, the negativity is electric.

Yet, despite unprecedented prosperity and mass education, it is religion that is today providing a more confident, global and ethical vision, finding traction among all peoples, irrespective of race, colour, sex, age or geography. For supporters of a movement that is supposed to have lost the battle of ideas, religionists have been proving the soothsayers wrong. Why is this?

Firstly, more religious people are now questioning why their values should be suppressed within the public arena. History has taught us that some of the greatest social advancements were made by people motivated by their religious beliefs. The provision of economic and political rights for women in Islamic countries in the seventh century, the abolition of slavery in the UK, civil rights in America: all were done by people with impeccable religious credentials.

If some secularists had had their way, the activism of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the campaigning of William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King would be whitewashed from history.

Secondly, despite historical attempts to generalise, many are now rejecting the absurd claim that religion stifles intellectual inquiry. We often hear dire warnings from western capitals about the dangers of the re-emergence of an Islamic caliphate. Yet it is almost undisputed that in its heyday, the caliphate was at the forefront of scientific advancement and community cohesion (contradicting the myth that religious-based systems oppress other faiths).

Thirdly, many are attracted to religion in the West because of what they see as an emerging social malaise and spiritual void. For them, modern society should aspire to be about more than GDP and rabid individualism. This has motivated many to articulate fresh ideas about work-life balance, racism, poverty alleviation and a more just foreign policy.

Lastly, people are rejecting the stale choice of religious fundamentalism versus intolerance. The debate is now centred on competing visions as to how best to achieve the universal ends of prosperity, security and education. But some liberal fundamentalists prefer to use secular society as an overarching ideology to marginalise any kind of religious influence.

Perhaps now is the time for everyone to formulate new paradigms, rather than to fight old culture wars.

For real answers and a real alternative, people need to look at what Islam offers.

See also:

Democracy in Crisis

The Global Financial Crisis

7 Comments

  1. H Khan says:

    “But some liberal fundamentalists prefer to use secular society as an overarching ideology to marginalise any kind of religious influence.”

    They proclaim: ‘You are Free, as long as your brand of freedom is SUBJUGATED to the secular viewpoint’.

    On the contrary, Muslims, under the Caliphate would project the Shari’ah as an ‘overarching religious influence’ on the entire land under its domain; thereby curtailing such “rabid individualism.”

    That’s not to deny the individual, right of choice, as Allah (swt) Himself declared,

    “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.” [TMQ: Surah Baqarah, 2:256].

    There is no compulsion for man to accept the TRUTH. But it is certainly a shame upon the exponents of the secular societies’ human intellect when man is not even interested in finding out as to what the TRUTH really is.

    Islam teaches that Allah (swt) has given man the faculty of reason and therefore expects man to reason things out objectively and systematically for himself; to reflect – question – and to reflect again. No-one should coerce any individual to make a hasty decision to accept any of the tenets of Islam, for Islam teaches that man should be given the ‘freedom to choose’.

    Even when man is faced with the TRUTH, there is no compulsion on him to embrace it. Yet, despite witnessing “…calls for bans on hijabs and niqabs across Europe, as well as minarets; protests against mosques by right wing groups in Britain and even a call to ban the Quran in Holland..,” it is [Islamic] religion that is today providing a more confident, global and ethical vision, finding traction among all peoples, irrespective of race, colour, sex, age or geography.”

    Reply
  2. salman says:

    Mashallah excellent piece! Indeed it is only Islam that is characterised by a comprehensive Shariah that encompasses all areas of human life and which can bring the guidance of Allah back into the lives of his servants.

    Reply
  3. Abu Maryam says:

    Don’t all Secularists share the same goals – the only difference being that some wish to impose their secular views by force whereas others wish to gently coerce the masses into adopting a secular viewpoint in the long run?

    I think the Catholic Church will very soon be faced by a dilemma. Either it will have to compromise on its values or it will find itself clashing against secular societies whether they are agressive or not.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous says:

    It amazes me how bad is percieved as good today and good as bad. Does nobody see the bad of secular dictatorship?

    Reply
  5. Shawn Davis says:

    I don’t intend to be rude, but do you not see an irony that you are living in one of these secular states and having the freedom to express your Islamic views, but also enjoying the freedom to proselytize? What would happen to someone who is not Muslim doing the exact same thing that you are doing in one of the Shariah states? Death most likely.

    I would argue that secularism offers everyone to do as they wish as long as they do not harm their neighbor. From what I’ve read of the Koran, wouldn’t this be a more Islamic state than one in which choice is removed and orthodoxy made law?

    I happen to enjoy having Muslims in my community, although I would never tell any of them that they must accept my religion over theirs. I wouldn’t expect them to do the same to me. Let me read your words, and decide for myself.

    Reply
  6. Imran says:

    Secularism at its core means that religion is something private and kept out of life’s affairs. It is the whole basis for the western society and a lot more than people being free to follow their own religions privately, i.e. live and let live.
    Under secularism (capitalism) Muslims are given some lattitude to practice Islam but simulataneously find our culture demeaned, attacked and challenged. Sometimes it is overt and also it can be covert, such as only portraying negative imagery and fringe individuals as standard bearers. Also the constant fear mongering about terrorism, when everyone you meet hasn’t got any more information about this ‘threat’ than the media keeps highlighting.
    Secularism to be judged needs to be examined holistically and not just in a microcosm. What about slavery, economic exploitation, racism, hatred, violence, social breakdown, drug abuse, war, colonialism. All the problems we see are due to ‘Man’ playing God and following his desires. That is the…

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  7. Imran says:

    cont’d. When ‘Man’ tries to legislate then we see the outcome. A glance at the news is enough to demonstrate the complete mess in society, economy, political system, international relations. The problems are always blamed on an individual, a ‘Tony Blair/George Bush’, a greedy banker, a corrupt dictator, a bad policy etc. But this is only scratching on the surface. The capitalist/secular system is always trying to shift blame away from itself and channel the people’s anger towards anything or anyone else.
    Hence why the media plays its role of distracting people with celebrity gossip/scandal, over hyped sports events, movies,television and other distractions. With people pre-occupied with bills, drinking/drug taking and entertainment its no wonder the capitalists are freely exploiting people domestically and internationally (where they are miles away from their victims and can act more aggressively).
    Man is a bigger failure than the old church, so NO to secularism in the…

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