Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Secularism, Islam and Bangladesh

The word secularism is very confusing at times in a country like Bangladesh. Sometimes we are called an Islamic nation or a secular nation in the media depending on the writer’s perspective. In Indian sub-continent secularism is mostly about ensuring the rights of the minority and also the separation of religion and politics. Now the part about 'separation of religion and politics' is not clear. Why is it necessary to separate this two and how does religion affect the society? In a country where most people are religious, how do you separate religion from the society and the laws that govern the society? This question applies to many religious countries in the world including Bangladesh.

I think the main problem for the application of secularism in the sub-continent is that 'secularism' (Dhormo-Niropekkhota) is a Western idea. Secularism is the state of being without religious or spiritual qualities. A Godless state is a Secular state. Even in Europe (the liberal West), secularism is partially applicable since most people don't have a religion anymore. All the laws in a secular state should be based on human rights, freedom of expression, tourism, business profits etc. but not on the basis of a religion. For example, Gay marriage have been legalised in UK ignoring the religious sensitivity of many people but the law does ensure that the rights of the minority (Gay people) are protected. Also it ensures a new line of business that caters for Gay people (TV, video, magazine, special days etc.). Still UK remains a non-secular country - the Queen is still the head of state and head of Church, the Bishop has a saying in all the matters of the state, apart from the Christian holidays no other religious holidays are given or even recognized. In the case of USA (more conservative than Europe), application of secularism is also very challenging. After all the campaign by the liberal democrats, Bush won the election second time mainly because he fought for the religious people and their ideas (Not approving gay marriage, stem cell research and so on). Therefore, even in the West where religion is not 'so strong', secularism remains a far cry.

Now the problem gets even complicated when it comes to Islam and secularism. The first conflict is ideological. Islam is a complete way of life and since most Muslims are Sunnis and to them Islam, historically, is not just spiritual but also political. But Secularism asks religious people to be only spiritual. This is always going to be a problem in Muslim countries. The second conflict is historical. Since the colonization of the Islamic world by European countries during the Industrial revolution in the West , secularism have been introduced forcefully to destroy the already existing Islamic laws and also the amiirs, imams and others who use to rule different parts of the Islamic world. The 'destruction' of Islamic identity was necessary for colonization. It also helped to establish a new set of secular rulers who will remain obedient to the 'masters' in new countries (colonies). Hence came the ideas of ‘nationalism’ and ‘secularism’. The shahs in Iran, Tito in Turkey and other secular leaders in many Islamic countries mercilessly killed thousands of Islamic clerics to establish secular nations. Some of the leaders were corrupt and others were insisting more on industrial development rather than moral development (Western approach towards life). So since then the fighting really kicked off between the Islamists and the secularists. From the ashes of dead Islamic clerics and blown rich Islamic heritage, came a new group of Muslims who only had revenge and the aspiration to get back all they had in their mind. Secularists quickly defined them as fundamentalists and decided to rage a war against them. The 'war' is still going on many parts of the world including in Bangladesh. But it has reached new heights now; this is increasingly turning into civil wars in many Muslim countries.

Like other religions, militant secularism has surfaced in many countries around the world and Bangladesh is no exception in this case. Bangladesh was born out of the principles of Bengali nationalism and strict secularism. Therefore there is a tendency among many posh people to shun any kind of religious association. Some would even go as far as hating any religious identity. This culture of hatred leaves religion as a practice for mainly the poor and uneducated mass and as a result of this, wrong interpretations of religious theologies and rise of extremism often take shelter in these impoverished communities. Therefore militant secularism only gives rise to militant religious fascism. The way out of this problem is to cultivate a culture of tolerance in our society and stop promoting and glamorizing violence in the name of Islam, secularism, patriotism or nationalism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote: Secularism is the state of being without religious or spiritual qualities. A Godless state is a Secular state...

No, no, no... A secular state is one that separates the functions of government from those of religion (give unto Ceasar and so on). You can be religious in a secular state, even in Europe. In a religious-based state you must not only be religious, but you must belong to the state sponsored religion.

This is what is wrong with Islam it is, as it boldly proclaims, a complete way of life. Therefore, non-Muslims are by definition third class citizens(behind women, even) - And spare me the talk about how Islam protects minorities, bla bla bla. Dhimmitude is not equality, thank you very much.

Bangladesh, more than any other Muslim country, should know the evils of a state religion and defining society in religious terms - unless they have forgotten the late unpleasantness with Pakistan and think that Islam had nothing to do with the formation of India, Pakistan and Bangledesh.

Razib, you make the secularism in most Muslims countries you talk about sound like that of the old China and USSR (really Atheism). The ongoing struggle between secularists and Islamists in the Islamic world is just a power struggle between two groups to see who get to exploit the people. Don't blame the Europeans for a "destruction" of a so-called "Islamic identity" because the Europeans were not then, as now, very much interested in religion. 19th and 20th century Colonialism was mostly about economics and power politics and had very little to do with religion. As far as I remember from my readings of History, the British and French pretty much left Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists alone as long as they studied their scriptures, practiced their rites and rituals and didn't do politics. Am I wrong?

So don't blame secularism or colonialism for the hate, violence and inequities in Islamic societies today. There is a better explanation.

As to "cultuvating a culture of tolerance," well, good luck. It can be done, but not in a society defined by Islamic teachings (or any other religion for that matter). I think I can confidently say that based upon my readings of the Quran and hadiths. No thank you!

john old man kactuz

6:27 PM  
Blogger Razib Rashedin said...

"Secularity is the state of being without religious or spiritual qualities. Secularists view all activities outside private property as inherently secular." - this is a well accepted definition of secularism ( no matter how much you wish to disagree with this.

Also Secularism has two distinct meanings:

1. It asserts the freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, within a state that is neutral on matters of belief, and gives no state privileges or subsidies to religions.

2. It refers to a belief that human activities and decisions should be based on evidence and fact, and not beliefs which secularists consider superstitious, however devoutly held, and that policy should be free from religious domination. For example, a society deciding whether to promote condom use might consider the issues of disease prevention, family planning, and women's rights. A secularist would argue that such issues are relevant to public policy-making, whereas Biblical interpretation or church doctrine should not be considered and are irrelevant.

Now that the definition of secularism is clear we can move on to your next point and that is religious bases state; you mentioned - "In a religious-based state you must not only be religious, but you must belong to the state sponsored religion." This is completely baseless and utter nonsense. According to you, In USA everybody is Christian, in Iran,Pakistan and Bangladesh everybody is Muslim, in Israel everybody is Jew. Even a fool know that what you are saying is complete nonsense. YOU DONT HAVE TO BELONG TO THE STATE RELIGION IN A RELIGION BASED SOCIETY.

It seems you are not particularly fond of Islam. Therefore, as you requested, I wont bore you with Islam. If you dont like Islam, that's fine but don't look for an excuse to bash a particular religion all the time.

I see that you haven't studied your history lessons very well. Yes, colonialism was about economic exploitation and power and during the 16/17th century the world economy and power was very much controlled by the Muslim rulers and they had ruled their Islamic kingdom for nearly 1000 years by then using Islamic guidelines. Therefore the European rulers were desperate to destroy the existing structure in order to establish their own rule. Palestine-Israel, Kashmir, India-Pakistan, redrawing map of the middle east, destruction of the Kurdush state are just few of the gifts the Europeans colonizers gave to the world and the world,especially the Muslim world, are still suffering from these wounds. but you are right - the European rulers were not interested about religion - they were up in arms to destroy it !

You are intolerant of religions yourself, so I guess there's no point talking to you about culture of tolerance. Sit down, read the religious scriptures, read the history with a open mind and then comment.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Diganta said...

I don't understand your problem why you are trying to deny a fact of destruction of Eastern Civilization by the Colonialization.

What's about minorities if a religion guides the state?

For example (I'll give two examples so you don't misunderstand me)
1) Suppose India is a Hindu nation which is guided by Hinduism. Now if the govt is guided by the Hinduism it should also promote castes and caste-based divisions. What'll happen to the Dalits?
2) Saudi is an Islamic nation. In Islam 'idolatry' is prohibited and idols are regarded as 'creation of satan'. To implement Islamic theological belief, they've ordered to ban construction of all temples. How do you view it? Isn't it comes in the path of Hindus/Jews living in Saudi?

12:40 PM  
Blogger Razib Rashedin said...

I am not an expert on Hinduism and therefore cannot and should not answer your query on caste system. May be a Hindu scholar can help you in this case.

Yes, you are right but it's not only in Islam but also in Judaism and Christianity idol worshipping is prohibited. Muslim scholars have unanimously agreed on the prohibition of making statues with the purpose of worshipping or revering them. The Qur'an distinguishes between the monotheistic People of the Book (Jews, Christians and Sabians), and polytheists or idolaters on the other hand. Regarding how people other than people of the book would be treated in the Islamic state; this depends, very much, on the "social contract" and the bond of citizenship. In the past, many disagreements and disputes were settled within the Islamic society in which the minority was part and parcel. There were no ghettos. Community leaders from both sides sorted out many disputes, which were subject to customary law, derived from shari’a (Islamic Law).

Various laws in a country can contradict the opinions or practices of different communities. In modern times, if the majority or the ruling authority has decided that something is not acceptable culturally or religiously, then it should be obeyed. For example, giving Azaan (prayer to call) is forbidden in all the Western countries. Also wearing hizab and recently wearing veil is banned in many countries. Muslims have accepted the prohibitions and living their life.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Secularity is the state of being without religious or spiritual qualities." -- yes but that only applies to government decisions when you are talking about a secular state. You stretch the meaning of secularism when you imply that secularism prohibits private and public spirituality.

Your example on gay marriage and stem cells are ill described. Of course it is a divisive issue in US and much of the west, but is quite separate from the issue of secularism. The stem cell issue is about government funding of stem cell research, very very different from a religious morality imposed on private research by private citizens. The issue of Gayness is similar, its not about the right to be openly gay, its about whether or not a particular type of governmental contract (marraige) will be endowed upon Gays.

These issues are deep, divisive and have religious connotations and by no means should be trivialized, but are far cry from total subjugation of individual life to a particular religion as happens in a theocracy.

2:19 AM  
Blogger Razib Rashedin said...

I have never implied that secularism prohibits private and public spirituality. It must be your imagination. Secularism asks religion to be only spiritual - that's what I said.

Many argue that secularism itself is a religion (i.e. philosophy) and can therefore feel 'total subjugation of individual life to a particular religion - secularism'.

2:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you're now using "religion" as "what we do". Once you do that, all discussion is unnecessary and you might as well not write the blog entry. Clearly that's what not what you initially meant.

Nevertheless, your point can be analyzed in many ways. One is minimalism. The Secularist "religion" emphasizes (maybe imperfectly) that as little as possible should be predetermined or prescribed in a government. As religion is highly (in fact, in some cases completely) prescriptive (all can be found in *chose your Holy scripture*), secularism prohibits its use in government. Now saying that a prescription to prevent prescribing is self-contradictory sounds good in a logic class full of freshmen, but anyone with more than a passing knowledge with such matters knows that a certain amount of bootstrapping is necessary for any system.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Razib Rashedin said...

"Now saying that a prescription to prevent prescribing is self-contradictory sounds good in a logic class full of freshmen, but anyone with more than a passing knowledge with such matters knows that a certain amount of bootstrapping is necessary for any system."

Thanks for that. Well said ! Sufi mystic turned to Chengis Kahn !!

2:40 PM  
Anonymous BANGALI PATRIOT said...


6:19 PM  
Anonymous Farzand Ali said...

I feel that Islamic fascism exists. Bangladesh under the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (a war-criminal infested defeated pseudo-Islamic party that had opposed Bangladesh's Independence in 1971) is a clear example of perverted Islamic fascism. BNP in fact is more religious right oriented than being truly nationalists. Jamaat-e-Islami too are pseudo-Islamists. The combo is perfect for breeding of medieval era fanaticism blended with fascism
in Bangladesh under state-sponsorship. What is happening in Bangladesh today under a BNP president cum self imposed caretaker chief Iajuddin is a glaring example of Islamic fascism. Everything from administration to judiciary to the police have been turned into a state controlled fascist apparatus. Extrajudicial killings and rise of Islamic fascist terrorists under their direct patronization and killing of opposition MPs have been in the rise under Khaleda Zia and Motior Rahman Nizami alliance government. This alliance was the most corrupt and fascist in nature in Bangladesh's 35 year old history. Islamic fascists are acting according to their evil blueprint designed mainly by the Jamaat lawyers and BNP's Moudud Ahmed, a shameless lawyer who had switched allegiance several times in the past. The blueprint is moving according to plan.
The National Security Intelligence (NSI), Defence Forces Intelligence (DFI) and many secretive government organisations are headed by Jamaat-e-Islami militant cadres subtly promoted into the key posts over the last five years. It seems that the Islamic Fascist Gestapo has spread its tentacles in Bangladeshi politics. Even the Dean of faculty of law at the Dhaka University has been appointed by Moudud Ahmed of BNP and Abdur Razzak of Jamaat-e-Islami. This guy is hardly 40 but claims to be constitutional expert!
The Islamic fascist government under the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance got a free ride under the Bush administration. I sincerely hope and pray as a true muslim that the Democratic Congress of the United States under the Honorable Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately take measures to bludgeon the rise of Islamic Fascism in a secular and democratic Bangladesh that is guaranteed in our constitution. I am sure the US is keenly watching developments in Bangladesh. I hope the new House of Representatives and the Senate will immediately address the Bangladesh case. The Democrats must act fast or else Bangladesh will soon become a fascist islamic state like once Algeria or Afghanistan. Iajuddin and Khaleda Zia got a blank check under the Republicans and George Bush to do whatever they wanted. Ultimately, its on the brink of becoming a failed state. Iajuddin is using BNP and Jamaat party loyalist cadres within law enforcing agencies recruited during 2001-2006 to brutalize street agitators. He also has further evil fascist designs up his sleeves to murder opponents. He is acting on instructions from the Khaleda Zia coterie of conspirators. They are following what Goebbels had practiced. Lies and damned lies will ultimately be accepted by the public as truth.
The world community under the UN charter is obliged to ensure a free, fair and impartial election under a new non-fascist neutral clean caretaker government by extending the election period by another 90 days ASAP.

For anyone interested in doing research on Islamic fascism should keenly follow the developments in Bangladesh under the puppet caretaker government directed and manipulated by the Islamic fascist Khaleda-Nizami-Tareq-Babar coterie of conspirators.
Fascism in whatever form cannot last. It dies a violent death. Politicians all over the world should take note of it.
Fascism must not be allowed to take root anywhere in the world. It must be hunted down and uprooted en masse for the greater benefit of mankind. Major powers must not exploit it for their selfish geopolitical interests.

11:41 AM  
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6:44 PM  
Anonymous elmer said...

it's very easy for you to feel comfortable within a religious theocracy. We'll see how your views change as soon as you become 'persona non grata' for whatever reason the king and his cronies fancy. When they can hurt you and everything gets justified by some obfuscated law, divine intervention or whatever.
Fundamentally a secular state is for the people and by the people, in contrast to a state ruled by divine "grace' by a selected few. Go and read about how the british parliament came to existence. I would argue that secularism, rationalism and enlightenment in general has kicked europe out of the dark ages.

Indeed your handle is 'faylasuf'. it's ironic 'cause great islamic philosophers like avicenna have kicked some new thinking in europe! You could take pride in the fact that great islamic philosophers have kicked us out of our dark ages.

Don't do them a disservice, maybe the islamic rationalists of a old were right and the islamic fundamelatists that silenced them are wrong. Judging from the state of islamic societies around the world today i'd say that's thrue… but i'd like you to prove me wrong. Oh and about saudi, they are fundies to the core you brush their intollerance as if it's nothing… I had practising christian friends living there a long time ago and it was hell for them, they couldn't even meet privately on sundays for mass!
To put you in the shoes of another culture: how would you react if you as a muslim, cannot divorce your wife in a fundie catholic country? would you accept that? or would you kidnap your children and go back to your home country? caus that's what we see here…
Now that fundie thinking is not part of the Quran, which is remarkably egalitarian. It came afterwards to enforce the will of the few on the many…

8:04 PM  
Blogger Faylasuf said...


I have nothing against secularism as a philosophy but I have reservations about the version of secularism that we use in the sub-continent. Also the idea that Europe has come out of 'dark ages' and Europe is all 'civilised' shows arrogance which the non-western people face constantly - I have a problem with that !

I have heard your allegations before in many forums. For Christians, Saudi is hell ! But millions of them still work there and I don't know why. Probably because of the money they get. What most people forget to mention is - Saudis offer Western people atleast double the wages compared to non-Western people. Now that's hell indeed !! If I go there with my brown face and show my passport they probably won't recruit me and even if they recruit me, they will offer the minimum salary to their Muslim brother. Everybody knows the fact but forgets to mention this little detail.

Would I feel comfortable in a non-Muslim religious society ? - probably not but I don't feel comfortable in the secular society either. I am constantly harassed and discriminated based on my nationality. How would you feel if you are harassed regularly at the airport ? How would you feel if you are not allowed to move freely ? How would you feel if your working hours are restricted if you are foreigner ? How would you feel if you have to take permission from the state when you want to get married ? How would you feel if yo have to pay ten times more tuition fee than the local student because you are a foreigner ? I can go on....

Oh ! I feel so free in this enlightened society !!

Bless you !

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moreoever, secularism is not an entirely western concept. Infact its quite different here in Asia and even in some parts of the Middle East.

The problem here is that secularism was never defined properly by its propogators. And this lead others to mislead people by emphasising the western definition of secularism.

Bangladesh dosent neet that. Our secularism is to ensure the rights of all minorities, and that is compatible with Islam.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Rashid said...

"Moreoever, secularism is not an entirely western concept."

yes it is, it was founded by a european (holyoke) and it was perfected in most european countries without much opposition. while most muslim countries have seldom applied secularism (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia)
or applied it to an extent as to restrict islam and impose it in a dictatorial way (Turkey, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, Syria)

"The problem here is that secularism was never defined properly by its propogators. And this lead others to mislead people by emphasising the western definition of secularism."

it was defined by western (european/N. American) philosophers hence there is no misleading, secularism by definition is based on western concepts.

"Our secularism is to ensure the rights of all minorities, and that is compatible with Islam."

No its not compatible with islam. as Razib mentioned - 'islam is a complete way of life' which means it itsn't limited to the spiritual aspects, it also goes into the realms of dietary laws, finances/economics, and YES even political governance (hence the terms 'sharia' and 'islamic state').

you could go as far as saying that islam is the MOST secular religion on earth because it gets involved into the daily lives of people. for example it tells you what to say when you enter a room, which foot to use to enter, what to say when making love to your wife, how to wipe your ass after passing shit.

So in conclusion, no secularism is not compatible with islam, in fact its the antithesis of islam. This is one of the reasons why those who are secularists are not islamists and islam practicitioners.

as for ensuring the rights of all minorities - islam also has that covered. Its called 'dhimmitude' and involves the kaffirs (non-muslims) paying jizya (taxes) to the islamic state for their protection and freedom to practice their religion.

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