The Secularists Say…

Since the revolution and the subsequent re-emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the self-proclaimed Salafists as political forces in public rather than underground, they’ve been facing a lot of accusations that their goal is to turn Egypt into a theocracy. One of the main chants during the revolution has been “madaneya” (civil) – a chant denouncing the ideas of a military regime or that of a theocracy. Often the Salafists and MB have responded by saying that there is actually no such thing as a theocracy in Islam. In that they’re right – except that this is the response they only give when they’re talking to intellectuals or other political or cultural forces. When they’re talking to the masses they tend to forget their earlier stance and talk about establishing an Islamic state.

When they say that Islam doesn’t actually accept “theocracy” as a legitimate mode of government, they’re right. In a lecture by Dr.Mahmoud Azab, professor of Islamic Civilization at the Sorbonne, he explained that looking at history we can almost see the first seed of corruption being planted in the Islamic civilization during the reign of the Caliph AlMamoun during the Abbasid era. Prior to his rule,  religious scholars (ulama) were usually given free rein to debate and opine as they please, without fear of repercussions if their opinions did not match those of the Caliph. Of course AlMamoun was not the first Caliph to adopt a particular school of thought or theology, as we all have our own personal beliefs, but he was the first use his political position to impose his views by force. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The Mihna was an attempt by Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun in 218 AH/833 CE to impose his theological views on his subjects. It involved testing particular individuals concerning their view of whether the Qur’an is created or not. All parties agreed that the Qur’an is the unadulterated Speech of God. The issue was whether the Qur’an is the created (al-Ma’mun’s position) or the uncreated speech of God. The response of the interrogees was not without consequences. Measures were taken against those who rejected the doctrine of the createdness of the Qur’an, including dismissal from public office, imprisonment, and even flogging.

Secularism has gained such a bad reputation because of the antics of secular fundamentalists who interpret it (and often seek to impose it) as the complete removal of any religious phenomena from the public sphere, or in other words, “freeing” society from religion. And although it’s true that some Egyptian secularists also understand it that way, many believe in secularism because of the sacredness of religion which shouldn’t be dragged into dirty politics. Unfortunately, the MB, the Salafists, and other similar groups are doing all they can to the further destroy the reputation of secularism, and liberal political groups aren’t doing enough to connect with the masses.

That’s part of the reason why I can’t feel comfortable with the rhetoric of most Egyptian Islamist groups (with the exception maybe of Al-Wasat Party) when they twist every political debate into one about religion. The referendum on the constitutional amendments held in Egypt last March 19th was no exception. People from both the ‘yes’ camp and the ‘no’ camp starting waging their campaigns weeks in advance; by the time the 19th came around it was common to hear things like “those secularists want you to say no to the amendments so they can destroy mosques and force women to take off the hijab”.

Prior to Egypt’s “second Friday of rage” last May 27th – which the MB announced it wouldn’t join – flyers were passed around signed by them urging people not to join either. The flyer had two columns, the one on the right stating “The Secularists Say” and listing some of the reasons why people were calling for the 2nd day of rage, and the one on the left saying “the people say” and listing all the reasons why the MB decided not the join. Thus implying that the masses and the MB are one, and everyone else fall under the category of the evil secularists.

This type of rhetoric not only upsets me because of the negative effect it has on the country’s political health and future, but it also infuriates me because they’re using Islam as a tool for their own political advantage; they’re using my religion to spread lies. They are using the most sacred names, the name of Allah, His Prophet (peace be upon him), and the sacred words of the Quran to push forth an agenda that may or may not actually be good for the country. Politics are subjective and religion is absolute, so how can they use one to advance the other? This to me is entirely different from saying that you’ve drawn your party’s vision from the Islamic paradigm and values, like, for example, Turkey’s AKP. I believe there is great value in seeing and understanding the world through the Islamic paradigm, and using that perception to formulate your own (or your party’s) vision, as long as you don’t start claiming that you have all the answers and can do no wrong.

In addition to their misleading rhetoric, it’s not like the MB even has a platform to speak of. What does their slogan “Islam is the solution” actually mean for a party? For example, Islam (and by this I refer mainly to the Quran and the Sunnah) is firm in its promotion of justice in all its forms, including economic justice. But what does the MB tell me about how the party aims to achieve that? That doesn’t tell me whether they will promote a socialist, social democratic, or neoliberal economic system. That doesn’t tell me how they plan to fix the ailing education system. It doesn’t tell me how they plan to improve living conditions in Egypt’s slums. Really, it only tells me what their goal is, but doesn’t give me any indication of their means.

I’m not one of those people who was terrified that after the revolution the Islamists would take over and turn Egypt into Iran or Afghanistan. Even though I don’t agree with their religious views I had high hopes for the MB that they would be happy to evolve from an underground banned group and join Egypt’s political sphere as one of many parties working together for the good of the country. Was I naive? Perhaps. And perhaps I’m still being naive when I place great hope on the MB youth who defied the General Leader’s injunction not to join the May 27th protest and joined anyway. Just as they defied the MB’s official statement that they would not join the January 25th protest, nor the 26th, nor the 27th, nor the 28th. The MB as a group only only joined the 28th at night, only when state security was pulled off the streets after the protesters had been battling them for four days. But the MB youth were there from the beginning, and for that and other similar acts of defiance they deserve great respect for proving that contrary to their leaders they are willing to place Egypt before the MB. The MB’s new party, the Justice and Freedom Party, seems to be following the same approach as the group. But I place my hope in MB youth that they will steer the new party in the right direction by forcing it to give up these ugly tactics that we’ve had our fair share of over the past 30 years, and by realizing that Islam is far beyond being used as a tool to play a dirty game.

~ by youngmuslimworld on May 29, 2011.

One Response to “The Secularists Say…”

  1. I stumbled upon your blog today and I wanted to drop in to say hello. From the mainstream media in the U.S., all we hear is there are two entities (the secularists and the MB) and, from the leftists particularly, the secularists are essentially hip young liberals seeking an Obama style “hope and change” campaign in a Muslim country. In other words, it is hard to get a read on what the respective positions are of the two camps (let alone camps within those camps).

    From a cursory look at your writings, it seems like we share a lot in common. I, too, as a Catholic desire a truly secular government. I wish for the Church to stay out of the functions of the state primarily because the Church becomes subject to the political process, a subjective process as you put it. My criticism is, and the MB seems to be echoing this position but offering no true alternative, that true secular government allows for the freedom of people to organize their personal lives as they see fit within the narrow parameters set up by the government (i.e. at minimum the common defense from internal and external threats and the upholding of contracts among the people).

    The secular leftists will pervert this position to their own advantage. They will say that all people, gay or straight, shall be able to adopt children. Implicitly this means that Catholic Charities will no longer be able to prevent gay people from adopting children through Catholic Charities without being sued (as we have seen happen in Illinois). Secular leftists will craft language making secularism necessarily synonymous with secular leftism.

    You play a dangerous game, albeit a dangerous game that must be played, when you start down the road to secularist government. I am not sure how much Plato figures into Muslim intellectual tradition but Plato’s Republic identifies democratic movements as the last stop before dictatorship. If the religiously oriented secularists are unable to restrain the liberal/leftists elements, then they will become ruled by those leftists and be subjugated by them. Alternatively, if you cannot wall of the MB, then you will be ruled by a force that will eventually be a distorted version of Islam. Either way the movement ends with a tyrant.

    I will wrap up with that warning. I cannot pretend there are not profound differences between us, but we share so much in common at this juncture in human history that I feel like Muslims are like brothers and sisters. My prayers go to you.

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