Islam and Secularization
Our learned brother, Dr. Ibrahim, has alluded in his article, as many social scientists before him has done, that modernity is a direct function of secularization. And since secularization and religion are seen to be inversely related, modernity has only one way of coming into existence: that is when the secular takes over as much space of religion as possible in the universe of politics and sociology. The divine and the secular are therefore, according to this theory, in direct conflict.
We will not be blind to deny this theory its credit. But we must hasten to say that its validity is restricted to the sphere of western social sciences and its bourgeois philosophy. This will require some clarification. I hope the dear reader will forgive me if some part of the article appears to be a repetition of a section (2) of the series. I would rather risk a repetition and be understood than be brief and incongruent.
From the historical perspective, it is true that during the dark ages in Europe, the mixture of paganism and religion has fermented into an unholy brew that was responsible for the “darkness” that covered that part of the world. Many funny superstitions about man and the world were believed and swallowed as religion. Just take hygiene for example. One cannot imagine that when Islam emphasized cleanliness and the Muslims in Cordova alone had about thousands of public baths, the clergy in Europe then believed that cleaning the body was a sin! People smelled. No wonder the Europeans regard that period as the “dark ages” of its history.
If this was the extent of ignorance about something as basic as hygiene, you can imagine what really was their thinking about natural sciences. The earth was believed to be flat, motionless and the center of the universe. No other moon except ours. Creation was done in six ordinary days and there was day and night on earth before even the sun was created. A lot of funny things, you know. A woman was considered not to be human; and when she was, no one was sure whether she has a soul or not. Humanity had no choice about a fate ordained by God. The heaven decides and there is nothing man could do about it. Stagnation was unavoidable.
No one would have bothered had the Church then did not portray these superstitions as religious and chose to defend them brutally. The advancement in technique offered scientists the opportunity to see things differently. The Church turned a blind eye on every landmark discovery. Galileo discovered Jupiter’s moons through his telescope and invited the clergy to observe them. They refused. They blatantly said that he was lying, not withstanding what the telescope was showing. The conflict between science and religion (represented by the church) reached its peak with thousands of scientists and their disciples declared heretic. And never pray to be so declared. It actually meant death!
That is why the Enlightenment became popular with the French revolution opening the gates to freedom of thought and action. The practice of distancing religion from politics returned in Europe, this time not because of a powerful Caesar but because the Church and its beliefs there had lost their credibility.
Secularization continued to gain currency. People felt and saw that they can impact on their lives, shaping their destiny and without adhering to anything ‘divine’ purported to have come from above. With the growth of imperialism, these concepts were directly implanted on every colony occupied by a European power including entirely every part of the Muslim world. It is therefore natural for people who went through western education to come across these concepts and imbibe them wholesale, except when they choose to be extra-ordinary. And very few minds do so. The majority, according to Machiavelli, is ordinary.
The theory of inverse spatial relationship between the divine and the secular is therefore true when viewed from the perspective of European history. But as we shall see next week, this may not be the true dimension of their relationship in the history of other religions, particularly Islam.
Western Social Science
Let us now turn our attention to another dimension to the problem. I have described above the relationship between modernization and secularization in the form used by Dr. Ibrahim as ‘bourgeois’. Though we cannot say directly from his article that he holds the view that modernization is desired, it is nevertheless clear that he has presented it as inevitable. Here lies the danger in his thought and another point of departure between us. We call it bourgeois because the capitalist (American in particular) world has for decades now been busy selling a ‘science’ they call theory of political development. The ultimate implication of the theory is domination of the Third World. The way Dr. Ibrahim had put his secularization views is central to the arguments of this theory.
It is important however to note that not all social scientists in the Third World believe in the scientific validity of the theory of political development. We can therefore avail ourselves with an explanation from one of them. To do so I have here before me a book written by the late Professor Claude Ake two decades ago titled Social Sciences as Imperialism: The Theory of Political Development. In the book, he has made a convincing attempt to relate the theory to imperialism. He said:
“The two criteria for (political) development – structural differentiation and cultural secularization – are abstracted from familiar political systems of the industrialized Western countries. Since these two criteria of political development are the salient features of Western political social systems, the implications of the theory are clear. Development translates to westernization and the pursuit of development becomes a matter of making the developing country more like the West. To study a Third World country in the context of the theory of political development is to explore how it can be like the West. Thus, all Third World students who are being taught to accept this theory in the guise of science are essentially being recruited into the search for building their countries after the image of the West. That is one aspect of the imperialist character of the theory of political development.”
What does this theory signify? Ake went on to say: “The theory inculcates a sense of inferiority in Third World peoples. That is so for the following reasons: The theory of political development hinges on the popular distinction between ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ countries. The developed countries have achieved the desired state of being. All sorts of positive characteristics are associated with the achievement of the state being. They are more democratic, more responsive to the needs of their citizens, more stable, more able to command the loyalty of their people, more resilient, etc. The underdeveloped political systems for whom the desired state of being, development, is still only a possibility, have all sorts of liabilities – their solidarity is mechanical, they lack resiliency, they lack the conditions for democracy, they are unstable, they have very limited ability to respond to the needs of their citizens, to regulate behavior and to elicit loyalty.”
“In sociology as in political science the distinctions between traditional and Western societies are invariably made to the disadvantage of the former. Traditional societies are backward; people in traditional societies are superstitious; they lack ambition; they are fatalistic; they do not act rationally; they do not understand end-means relationships. Traditional societies do not have the rule of law; they do not have equality; there is not much freedom, not much social mobility; people are not rewarded according to their merit. The social structures of traditional society lack resiliency.”
Modern society, according to this theory is a complete opposite of all the above. They represent the point to which all traditional societies should aspire to reach. “The basic deficiencies which are used as explanations turn out to be lack of capitalist values and orientations. So we are being told that these societies owe their problems to their not being sufficiently capitalist.”
It is interesting to note that the above statements did not come from a “religious activist” but rather from a renowned political scientist. Therefore Muslims are not the only ones that are standing against bourgeois political ideas. Marxists before us have done it. The basis of our disagreement with the capitalist ideas is not just economic but something more fundamental. That is because Marxism has derived its political values from the secular domain and within the context of materialism that they share with capitalism. It has thus failed to raise itself above the plane of materialism. The difference between the two systems is therefore only that of position. Thus Marx himself believed in the historical development of societies: first the pre-capitalist, then capitalist, and lastly socialist.
Why Marxism has failed in our view has nothing to do with the weakness of the countries that adopted its doctrine, nor with the conspiracy of the capitalist forces. The bottom line to the Muslim for its failure, despite its good intention, was that it failed to look for values and laws outside the secular province. How could Marxism find values in religion when it has already declared it as the opium of the people?
We consequently saw the ascendancy of a theory that attempted to redefine human economic relationship in terms of labor and wealth. It institutionalized the leadership of the proletariat and attempted to make people equal by attacking the ‘selfishness’ of ‘the baker’ rather than exploit it, as Adam Smith would expound.
But its fine dialectics proved to be more of theory than reality. In all countries that adopted Marxism as a state ideology, none was able to hold on to power without the highest degree of coercion ever experienced in recent history. Humanity could not tolerate it, and the capitalists were able to use the dissatisfaction of the population in communist countries to finally topple the ideology in one of the most sensationalized ‘revolutions’ Europe has ever witnessed. In most such countries, the same members of the communist parties were able to maintain their power by becoming prophets of market economy today.
The fall of communism has convincingly proved that hardly would capitalism be defeated on its home ground of materialism. Also, the ability of man to find such solutions on his own without resort to divine laws would definitely be as futile as the failed experiment of communism. The reasons for such failure have been elaborated upon in the previous two articles.
Islam has in the past six decades been proffering solutions to the situation, as it repeatedly did. What we require to do next in this series is to explain how different are such solutions from the materialistic theories of secularism or fatalistic doctrines of the Church. The question revolves around whether Islam is able to strike at a balance between the secular and the divine, between reason and revelation and between the here-and now and the Hereafter.
If it cannot guarantee the function of reason it will be difficult for it to make any durable contribution in a world that has accumulated enormous “structural differentiation” over the past four hundred years. If on the other hand, it can offer reason a befitting space in the universe of human endeavor, then combined with its tested universal values, it will truly be embraced by humanity. Once we can forward such an explanation, and before we go to the third part of Dr. Ibrahim’s article – Nigeria, secularism and Shariah – we will have cause to genuinely pray that God save us from secular laws.