Ms. Rime Jirari
ÈÓã Çááå ÇáÑÍãÇä ÇáÑÍíã
The topic of ‘Islam and Laicism’ is among the themes which preoccupied and continue to preoccupy many interested in the Islamic reality as well as in issues of modernity, of contemporary thinking, and of the relation with the Other. This Other is here the Occident, which is afraid of the Moslem minorities’ prosperity within it, as well as of the Islamic Renaissance in general. This concern appeared especially since the Moslems became -with their religion, history, culture, civilization and problems- suspected of extremism and terrorism. They have accordingly been accused of an association to the criminal events of September 11th, and even to those previous to them and following them. Therefore, and despite their actual weakness, they scare even the strongest.
Within the framework of this interest, the Association ‘Espace de Développement de la Coopération Culturelle Euro-Méditerranéenne’ (Space for the Development of the Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Cooperation) organized a symposium in Toulouse (France), on April 28th and 29th 2003, to debate about this topic and to exchange points of view concerning the Islamic reality, to which France gives a great importance, as it considers it among its most dominating problems and its major social concerns today.
I received an invitation from the President of this association, Mr. Mimoun Houbaine, to participate to this convention, with a study he suggested concerning ‘Islam and Laicism: Knowing Islam’. Due to unpredicted engagements that prevented me from attending in this important manifestation and presenting a summarized lecture in French, I decided to elaborate on the topic for its importance by writing this study in Arabic. It is this research paper that I publish today, with a complete translation into French and English, elaborated by my daughter Rime, as a first step into more works of translation she could carry out in the future.
‘Our success depends upon Allah’
By referring to what has been said and written on the intricate topic of ‘Islam and Laicism’, the contrast reached by the diverging points of view seems apparent. The opinions are actually divided between the opponents, who refuse to even discuss the topic because they consider laicism to be totally opposed to Islam, and those who see no contradiction to it, as long as Islam, in its quality of individual belief and religious precept, remains exclusively limited to the religious arena. In this case, the personal and public matters are supposed to be separated and dealt with separately, according to the laic perception.
In fact, this is not the first time that the Islamic thought –and I do not say Islam- is faced to such a problematic, exposing it to a test and to a divergence in standpoints. This confrontation is a consequence of the degree of openness of this thinking, and of its readiness to exchange points of view. It also results, since its creation, from the practice of the assiduous study and the deep interpretation of the Divine law, Ejtihad (ÇÌÊåÇÏ). Added to this is the fact that it has been exposed to different religious and philosophic movements, be they Chritian, Juish, Mazdeic and Gnostic.
To remain in the field of thinking, far from Moslems’ political disagreements and first sectarian conflicts, I will limit myself to mentioning the problematic of obligation and choice brought up by dogmatic theologians since the first Hegira century (seventh century) and the attempts to conciliate between religion and philosophy, or between the Divine Law Chareea (ÇáÔÑíÚÉ) and wisdom.
These two questions had no impact neither on the development of the Islamic social reality, nor on the direct confrontation of its problems, especially not political aspect. Nevertheless, they revealed the capacity of those who studies them, who dealt with the abstract and the after-life and with the question of the Divinity, limiting themselves to the indirect expression of these problems and maybe even justifying them. My aim here by tackling these two questions –as I could have mentioned many others- is to unveil the degree of apparent resemblance they bear with the topic of ‘Islam and Laicism’.
These debates demonstrate that the Islamic thought is capable of communicating with itself, despite some subjective obstacles. They also prove that it has been in constant contact with other thoughts, even those that were contradictory or opposed to it, without categorically rejecting them, hence leading to a break-up and a closure of the doors of dialogue and its possibilities. They equally demonstrate that the faith of Moslems has never undergone any deviation or any backward movement due to such discussions initiated by its thinkers.
On the contrary, Islamic faith continued strongly, thanks to its moderation, its tolerance, its pacifism, and despite the troubles caused by some extremist waves. The constant renewal it is witnessing today is actually the best evidence of this. However Moslem intellectuals, and more particularly theologians, should not fall in the precipices of the negative exacerbations, due to the present conditions. These could lead to despair, to backwardness, and to surrendering to the challenges confronting them, at a time when they are supposed to overcome them, armed with knowledge, wisdom, reason, while converging the viewpoints and the positions or at least by getting them closer, taking into account the supreme interests and the long term objectives.
I hope that this introduction will help me analyze the problematic of ‘Islam and Laicism’, starting with a definition of these two terms, in order to better understand their real meaning and to judge, in the aftermath, the elements that unify them and those that separate them.
The origin of the term laicism is ‘laicus’ in Latin and ‘laikos’ in Greek. It means the belonging to the people and to the masses, that is to the public and not to a particular class, namely the clergy and priests.
The basic foundation of the laic thought consists of separating Religion from the State that should actually remain in a neutral position as far as religion is concerned since it is considered to be incapable of managing this arena. It also consists of alienating the voice of the Church, representing Religion, from the responsibilities of the State for its supposed incapacity to doing so. This separation is not easy to achieve for the simple reason that the temporal power -which is the State- has its own perception of Religion and a wiliness to practice it. The same goes for the spiritual power- that is Religion -which has a vision of the State and an ambition to concretize it. However, each of the two sides has mutually tried to maintain its independence, far from any influence by the other. This has created numerous conflicts and confrontations, throughout long periods of history.
The laic movement appeared for the first time in France, right after the Wars of Religion, via negotiations and discussions leaning towards a society where pluralism and brotherhood prevailed, together with an inclination towards liberalism, which harmonizes the spiritual and the temporal, based on the belief that any action in life, no matter how far it is from the religious feature, is necessarily influenced by conscience that intervenes in its concretization. The State’s respect of a society’s culture where pluralism prevails compels the regard of its faith and beliefs, which are, both in their individual and social aspects, part of this culture and one of its major constituents. This respect imposes a sort of coexistence based on accepting the Other with tolerance. It is upon these elements that the European and international conventions on Human Rights are based, confirmed by the pontifical declarations recognizing and accepting them.
Close to the word ‘laïcité’, which was used in
Regardless of this rapprochement that led to mixing the two terms in the minds of many, laicism started as a political movement that aims at rejecting the hegemony the church had on power and politics throughout the Middle-Ages. The Church’s purpose was to strongly consolidate its strength and to impose its authority and its control, as this is a human motivation. This movement appeared towards the middle of the seventeenth century, as a result of the Wars of Religion, and the call for the State Nation. It was strengthened in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, after having been influenced by what some leaders and philosophers had called for.
Despite some clear differences, as I has just explained, the two movements -the laic and the secular- were about to merge into one, so much so that it was not possible to make a distinction between the two1. Laicism is characterized by the separation between State and Religion because the latter is supposed to remain a personal element that has nothing to do with the management of society. It is also distinguished by uncovering a vision of life based on the human experience and the values resulting from it, with no spiritual consideration what so ever, and regardless of the degree of its existence in this society.
As opposed to this, secularism is associated to the apparition of a new conscience of life, which does not seem far from what laicism has called for. Laicism actually crystallizes a new perception which created an innovative spirit of change developed into economical, social, cultural, scientific and creative aspects based on reason, concreteness, while taking some distance from anything abstract -if not sacred- or even negating it, while clinging to free knowledge from the hold of absolute concepts.
At the time, this ‘innovative’ and ‘modern’ spirit had an important outcome concerning issues relative to life, even if it has been to the expense of the interest given to religious questions. These could only diminish and disappear so as to liberate this orientation of life which freed itself from the Church’s constrains; hence becoming the frame of reference and the active element in life.
this purely materialistic perspective that prevailed in
This movement insists on the rationalization and the person’s freedom, eliminating from its life, its thinking, and its behavior any influence by religion or its organs, Yet, it aspires to the separation between two worlds: The world of God, and that of life; considering that a person cannot follow both at the same time. Thereby, this leads to depriving her from her religious meaning, and making her capable of eliminating this element from her life. However, societies’ history demonstrated, since the creation, that this behavior is impossible because it is against human nature, against the emotions perceived by the internal sense, and the instinctive feelings towards the universe with obscure phenomena2.
Given this, even if this movement does not categorically refuse religion, it calls for creating a civil society with different beliefs, where religion becomes a personal choice. Nonetheless, when it develops into a sect, which imposes that life in a given society adheres to it, it is transformed into a faith very close to religion, by the feeling of obedience, by the practice, and by the total belief that can be neither denied nor rejected. It could even make use of despotism, oppression and tyranny to reach its objectives.
In this light, secularity is close to atheism if not its synonym. This is not the case for laicism, due to the nature of these two streams. In fact, atheism calls for a total denial of the Divinity, for a divination of creatures, or a rejection of God’s Unity by associating it to other divinities.
Even if atheism took different forms since the beginning of human life, it has known an apparent development following the conflict of some European scientists and philosophers with the Church, since the eighteenth century; while laicism has as an objective the separation of Church and Religion in life, as mentioned above. This may be deriving from the Judaism and the Christianity. This is particularly the case for the latter, because Jesus Christ has mentioned the separation between the spiritual and the temporal arenas, through the famous citation attributed to him; ‘Give to Caesar what is to Caesar, and give to God what is to God’.
By its neglect of this aspect, and alongside the excessive harshness it exercised, the hegemony of the Church is probably among the reasons leading to the rouse and revolt against it. Together with the development concretized through politics, law and philosophy, came the positive values associated to both movements, such as rationalism, freedom, democracy and human rights.
This is how laicism and secularism
appeared and developed in
As to Islam, no one ignore that it is the religion for which God has sent its Prophet Sedna Mohamed- prayers and peace be on him- making it the last religion and His last words to show humanity the Way to Salvation. Islam is actually a belief that calls for absolute monotheism, faith and the accomplishment of religious cults and obligations. Islam also includes a divine law defining the system to be followed by the individual and society, in the different political, economical, social, educative, and scientific fields. This law is based on values that forbid sins, transgressions, sacrileges, and anything leading to inequity, vice, injustice, and perversion; while urging for goodness, virtue, and all that leads to freedom, justice, equality and dignity.
Islam is an integrated and global religion characterized by tolerance, easiness and flexibility. It is accordingly a message to the entire humanity, valid for all times and good for all places. It actually accepts coexistence and mutual understanding, in order to concretize the contentment of human beings on Earth and to prepare them for eternal happiness in the Next World.
This dimension of flexibility can only be conceived with change that God made as a law in its universe. In this regard, God allowed Man to modify everything that is not firm and constant, encouraging it in a perpetually innovative future perspective, and refusing the blind following of the ancient and the stubborn persistence to remain exclusively limited to what the ancestors used to do. This aspect is only accomplished with the engagement to what is convenient to the human being, to his surroundings and to his area.
However, it should be pointed out that Islam distinguishes in this change between what is a reform to reinforce and continue, and what is a corruption to oppose and remove. The distinction between the two is made through the thoughtful mind, scientific capability, good will, sound conscience and the possibility to honestly and sincerely take responsibilities.
The Saint Koran, the first binding reference in Islam, clearly indicated the way to all this, consolidated by the Sunna (ÇáÓäÉ). The latter consists of the set of sayings, actions and decisions of the Prophet Sedna Mohamed, through the divine revelation or his own jurisprudence in new situations related to life. This was the model followed by the Orthodox Caliphs Koolafa (ÇáÎáÝÇÁ) and the theologians Oulamas (ÇáÚáãÇÁ) of Islam’s first centuries, before the stagnation of the Islamic thought in general and the fekh(ÇáÝÞå) in particular.
If I insist on attracting attention to this stagnant aspect of the Islamic marsh, it is because of my deep conviction that many of the sorrows and troubles from which Moslems suffer today, be they in their relationships between themselves or with others, are due to the negation of this element or to its misunderstanding. This denial pushes to accusing Islam of being incapable of responding to changing needs in life, with the required innovation. It equally conducts to researching what facilitates the renewal in doctrines and theories that often wish to substitute Islam, hiding behind attempts for adaptation.
Far from any particular movement, and in order to point out the essential similarities and differences between Islam and laicism, I won’t offer in this study a comparison between the Divine Religion and a human sect because I consider this impossible and unacceptable. I will rather limit myself to attracting attention to certain dimensions touching the subject, namely those calling for self- revision, for regaining self-confidence and conviction of all the constituents of one’s identity in general and more particularly in religion, which indubitably leads to tranquility.
I would like in this context to clarify that I do not mean the looking for a concordance between Islam and laicism, in any given situation, for the sake of concretizing an alignment of Moslems and Laics, through artificial balances because Islam, with its constant principals, its strong foundations, its solid values and its global approach rejects this type of eclectic actions, especially on things it specified and regulated by the Saint Koran. In fact, a Moslem believer cannot have faith in parts of the Koran while rejecting others, because this will be punished by malediction in life and by the eternal infliction in the aftermath in the Next World.
It goes without saying that Islam, due to the nature of its principles and precepts, is not against any movement of development, reform, modernization and illumination, while using its right to having its particular perception which is not disturbed by the existence of other points of view it shares or doesn’t agree with.
In any case, I wouldn’t like this first approach to be interpreted as an incitation to ‘islamize’ laicism by making Islam gain access to it, or as an inspiration for Moslems to adopt laicism by infiltrating it to them. I would take into consideration what I have just mentioned above concerning laicism and Islam, which is intimately related to the natural, sane and commonsensical life even in its imperative and prohibitive orders. Besides, Islam honors the human person by giving her a place that goes beyond the simple guidance or the obtaining of her rights.
I will now shed light on questions that necessitate the thorough examination and the deep reflection for all they can set going, especially when they are perceived from the point of view of other movements like laicism. I actually suggest restricting myself, in this study, to two of these questions, namely: the relation of religion with life, and its position on arbitrating reason and science.
I will start with the question of religion in relation to life, and especially with politics.
Laicism is based on the separation between the two because it does not categorically reject religion but considers it more of a personal choice that exclusively involves the person and does not go beyond her. In this laic perspective, religion should not overstep the individual to embrace society.
This is contrary to the point of view of Islam, which refuses this form of separation as it perfectly harmonizes the individual with society and the reality of life with the idealism of values. Given this, Islam is interested in the issues of life, associating them to the religious ones. Among other things, Islam considers that while the religious ones are directed by religious commandments, the earthy ones remain related to the human decisions and knowledge, as long as they do not contradict the principles of the religious source.
Islam tolerates the plurality of religions in its society. It even goes as far as allowing the freedom
of worship to believers in other religions, not imposing any constrains, as
long as each one has its own religion and respects that of the other. In fact,
faith and impiety are left to the will of the person. Islam protects this
pluralistic aspect with principles and rules that consider that the non-Moslems
or the People of the Book Ahloo Demma (Ãåá ÇáÐãÉ),
that is those who enjoy protection, to be under the responsibility of the
Islamic State, which offers to them the advantages of a particular situation. I
will come back at the end of this study to the situation of the Moslem
minorities in Occidental countries, taking as an example
When the matters linked to life are interrelated with politics, Islam considers that their relationship with religion is based on pillars to which the Saint Koran and the Sunna (ÇáÓäÉ) have called, and trough which justice and equality are realized, avoiding despotism and tyranny. Among these precepts comes that of the Baea(ÇáÈíÚÉ), which is a legal acknowledgement and a mutual obliging pact between the governing and the Oomma(ÇáÃãÉ), that is the nation. It is the same for the Choora(ÇáÔæÑì), which means consulting and asking for advice, through which Moslems can – or actually should- constantly look for new methods convenient to the developments of life. The Choora(ÇáÔæÑì) goes hand in glove with democracy, taking into account diverse aspects and different forms of this latter.
Other than those two basic principles, the remaining is changeable, according to what will lead to the objectives mentioned above. It is actually within this spirit that Islam refuses the existence of the clergy representing the intermediary between the believer and his or her Creator. Islam equally refuses that the governance obtains a divine aspect in such a way that it leads to regime of a divine law with sacred aspects and the immunity of the leader who is to be blindly respected in all conditions, even if he is a despot, for the simple reason that he represents God. It is worth clarifying here that this point is not in contradiction with the obligation to govern with what God has revealed.
This ‘theocratic’ signification is contrary to Islam, even if some Moslem leaders have practiced it. However, the conviction of the validity of the idea that politics, in their different fields, can be based on the Divine Law undoubtedly requires starting by criticizing the reality of politics in different Islamic societies. This criticism is valid since the first conflicts known by the Moslems concerning the succession to the Prophet Kelafa (ÇáÎáÇÝÉ) which torn their unity and transmitted a notion making of religion a tool in the hands of the State and not the contrary. This is what brought about numerous problems to the Moslems and allowed their enemies to accuse Islam. This analysis necessitates the consolidation of the historical context and the causes influencing it, in order to be able to understand the march of Moslems in its reality, the reasons of their anterior prosperity and of their present decline. It turns out that these key elements are purely political even if they apparently seem to have a religious dimension.
The observer of this reality doesn’t take long to conclude that the same political motives are still plausible today. They are maybe more sharply so, motivated by the interests, the instantaneous objectives, the political movements, the nature of the relations and the logic imposing itself in the decision-taking process, without taking into account it coherence or not with Islam. This is how it becomes visible that its seemingly apparent respect of the Islam’s precepts hides another contradictory face, which, in most cases, has nothing to do with these precepts and with the distinctive conditions necessary to a sane Islamic system.
It is also worth clarifying that the side of life in Islam is attached to rules and precepts related themselves to the reality lived by Moslems in a given historical period, influenced by its politics, with all its deviations and drawbacks. These rules and precepts are not stagnant or rigid. It is possible to develop them, within the limits of their flexibility, and within the framework of the religious principles, so as to follow the actual reality, which is, as no one can denies it, neither stagnant nor rigid. However, the feasibility of this development necessitates the perfect understanding of the deep objectives that the texts used as references ask us to reach. Consequently, this application necessitates an innovative spirit and means for Ejtehad(ÇáÇÌÊåÇÏ).
However, it is unfortunate to notice that the close-mindedness and the harshness suffered by Moslems during the last centuries didn’t allow the practice of this process which should have taken place continuously, according to the gradual change of reality.
The value of reason, always linked to the heart in Islam, is not ignored by anybody. It is actually with reason that the human being becomes responsible and can be judged, as long as it allows him or her to distinguish between the useful and the harmful, the good and the bad, the allowed and the forbidden. Based on this, all the behaviors, as well as the choice of conviction and faith come as that of conduct’ values. The last judgment and the reward come afterwards, even if certain non-religious theories relate all these values to one’s conscience exclusively.
Choice is only made with freedom; otherwise it becomes an obligation. This freedom means the freedom of will and of thinking first, and that of action and behavior, that is taking responsibilities in this action or behavior, because without freedom there is no responsibility. Freedom is, in fact, a pillar for faith in Islam, because this religion came in order to free human beings from enslavement, in its different forms, ancient and modern, except for the enslavement to the One and Only Almighty God.
It should be pointed out here that, just as Islam gave a particular value to the spirit, it did the same for science, which is, from the Islamic perspective changeable, in constant growth and development, due to its exposition to omissions and additions of discoveries of reason and of the conclusions reached by other sources of knowledge.
From this juncture, Islam encouraged science, as it incited for its instruction without strictly limiting it to the religious side. It actually opened science to all fields touching the interests of the individual or those of life. This is what pushed the first Moslems, during the prosperity of the Islamic culture and civilization, to devote themselves, via translation, to the different scientific fields.
To cite but a few of them, let me mention philosophy, medicine, pharmacology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics and geography, together with other literary and artistic fields, namely music, despite some voices which proclaimed to forbid this art, and continue trying de prohibit it until today. Moslem philosophers, as I have mentioned in the beginning of this study, even invested themselves in Greek philosophy, trying to conciliate between its theories and religion in order to ‘islamize’ this kind of knowledge.
This objective is still recurrent nowadays, but with a wrong understanding leading to a withdrawal from science itself, ‘to protect from its evil, and to avoid to be burned by its fire’. This is what was pretended by some extremists, who ignore that science helps the human being better master his perception of the universe in addition to deepen his understanding of the phenomena and the rules materially controlling it with the meditation and understanding for which religion has called. The reason of this false idea is the bad scientific perception, the rigidity which limited the horizons of the Islamic sciences and their stagnation which has led to restrict these sciences to repetition, narrow-mindedness and to limit it to explications and commentaries, far from any positive and constructive criticism. This self-limitation didn’t allow for a follow-up in the creation of a new Islamic thought, nor the participation into the universal scientific development, or even to its accompanying.
The ‘Islamisation’ of science actually requires its knowledge, its absorption, its assimilation, and the understanding of its realities to conclude what can be utilized and introduced from it in the field of scientific production. In any case, this does not mean that there is a science that should be exclusive to Islam. This is wrong. This kind of attachment leads to limitation. It rather means that science should be seen in its constant development thought a perspective conciliating the spiritual and religious tendencies of Moslems and the values to which they cling, while maintaining the possibility to take a position, even if it is with a complete or partial rejection, taking as a case in point the deviations of cloning and genetic engineering. By all means, this is certainly a right that to which no one should be opposed, especially that it is not specific to Moslems, since other religions and different precepts expressed it a similar standpoint.
The incitation and the encouragement to learning science, no matter what its source is, in order to take advantage of it with reason and distinction requires finding an interactive link between one’s self and the other. This connection should be based on the exploration and the knowledge of its constituents so as to deduce their realities, their particular specificities, and to be able afterwards to form a new product characterized, or supposed to be characterized, by novelty and creativity, in its sense and its structure, without ever abandoning the link allowing this communication.
While valuing reason and science, Islam also perceives human tendencies and individual requirements to which it responses when science or reason fail to do so because these needs are linked to the spirit, to conscience, to feelings, to the instinct and to other faculties. This makes reason permanently related to the heart, as I have just explained, that is in the general meaning of the heart and with a middle-ground position. The moderation of Islam is not only perceived in the cults and behaviors, but in its conciliating position vis-à-vis what is considered from an Islamic point of view, to be opposed or contrasted. This is the case, for example, for the realistic in relation to the idealistic or the miraculous, the concrete or the material in opposition to the abstract and the Next World. All these represent an analogy between a human thinking coming from earth, in comparison to a religious belief emerging from the sky.
The manifestation of these tendencies appears in the responses given by Islam concerning abstract and marvelous aspects in the universe, and whose topics remains complicated, thorny and leading to no final and convincing answer. This is the case even if the latter is requested by the means of the mind and the mechanisms of objectivity, scientific theories and philosophical perceptions. Yet, this confusion doesn’t take long to be clarified and to calm down in the heart of the believers by easy explanations substituting it with a feeling of ecstasy and happiness. Laicism, which recognizes religion in its individual aspect, will end up opting for this same solution, and will harmoniously be tuned up to religion in this sense.
Religion, which is here, Islam is generally considered to be a principal feature among the composing elements of identity, for the individual and society, just like the environment, language and culture, if it is not the most influent and adaptor factor. Given the development undergone by these constituents throughout history, which is witnessing a particular new development today that religion does not seem to follow, let alone be conductive to it. The reason for this is the stagnation suffered by the contemporary religious thinking, as a result of its isolation, or more accurately of its drawing aside, during the decadence and the decline periods, since the doors of Ejtihad (ÇÌÊåÇÏ) were closed.
The ready fekh (ÝÞå) became an unavoidable reference that can only be accepted as such, instead of being -besides its referential aspect- a topic for meditation, research, and new perceptions to enrich and renew. The fekh(ÝÞå) has been copied and repeated, far from the fekh (ÝÞå) of reality valuing the interests according to the objectives of the Divine Law, and consequently becoming incapable of answering many vital questions of the period. Its stagnant literality does not facilitate the answer to the Islamic societies’ expectations and ambitions to development. It acts neither in concordance to the movement of these societies nor that of the mechanisms influencing it either.
This is a major obstacle which could never be overcome without the return to the Texts for a new reading and for an interpretation allowing –without oppression- their harmonization with the necessities of reality. This reading will also help find appropriate solutions to problems of the political, economical, social and cultural reality. This is what makes those responsible for this reading capable to confront all the pressures and the detractors who wish, out of ignorance and with fanaticism and extremism, to maintain the situation of weakness and stagnation. This leads to the impossibility of a good application of religion and to the non-investment of the religious precepts and values in life generally.
Among these issues, if it is not the most important of them, comes the possibility to perfectly integrate the political and economical sectors full of ideas, theories and movements not denying their hate for religion, not as a faith but as factor which must have a role to play both in the public and in the private arenas, with a possibility for integration in the ‘modernization’ action. In fact, each society has a share in this action, which is an almost irreversible temporal aspect, in its general terminological meaning, not withstanding its level, and no matter what its chances for development are.
It is not with this meaning that I want to deal, I rather mean modernization in an enlightening dimension giving to the person an honorary and distinguished place in the universe, because of her reason, her knowledge, her capacity to choose what leads to her own good and that of the universe, just as preached by occidental modernism. It is a pity that this modernization, to which Moslems and all third word peoples aspire, is not understood in its essence and within this context where it appeared and developed. It is also regrettable that it reached them while accompanying imperialism and colonialism, besides its link to crises associated to the disadvantages of globalization and those of technological deviations. Even Occidentals expressed themselves on these crises, and the savage materialism of its morals, insisting –far from values- on individualism, which threatens the entire humankind.
is a situation that manifested itself through the devastating war of the
But what kind of democracy are we talking about, here? It goes without saying that democracy, just like modernization, is not a merchandise to export and import; let alone if it is imposed by invading armies! It is rather realized through popular choice based on conviction and feasibility. In other words, it has to come from a society desiring it and capable of implementing it. It has to respond to its aspiration and go hand in glove with its intellectual, mental and psychological readiness.
is regrettable that this action was undertaken by the
This finally makes the problem of modernization deeper than the simple invitation to integrate this modernization and what comes with it. It requires the knowledge of its conditions and its causes, through study and criticism, so as to distinguish between what is suitable or inappropriate and to adapt this conceivable to individual data, without opposition, contradiction or confrontation. Nonetheless, it appears clearly that the Occident does not seem to be willing to help the thirsty for modernization, so as for them to remain mere consumers and not productive actors in this movement. It is even possible that the deep rationale behind this unwillingness to help is the cultural and more particularly the religious difference.
I do not know what stops modernization in any given society, -including its conditions, the means to access it, from the development accompanying it, and the civilizing and human values associated to it- from coexisting with cultural or religious particularities to which this society clings, as it is deeply linked to them and extremely proud of them. These distinctions could actually be stimulating to achieve the progress to which this society aspires.
The more such a coexistence relays on homogeneity, the easier become the conditions for a change to the better, for more development, criticism and correction. Before this, it is crucial to make possible the acceptation of these conditions possible, with their modalities, their means and their mechanisms. This is only conceivable with a mentality accepting them, or ready to do so, and with the wiliness, the flexibility and the open-mindedness accompanying or resulting from this mindset. This is with the aim to achieve a precise harmony, not faked or bended, and in a wish to communicate and to exchange points of view, far from any close-mindedness, harshness, fanaticism or rejection, which could take place in either side.
The Reality of the Arab and Islamic Regimes
The actual reality of some present Arab and Islamic regimes, in the political or economical fields shows that a big number of these regimes unveils their laic tendency or a leaning towards a mixing of this trend with religion. A few limited numbers of exceptions is to be noted. This is the case for Morocco, which maintains, for thirteen centuries now, the institution of the Commander of the believers Emarat El Moomeneen (ÅãÇÑÉ ÇáãÄãäíä), which has as a major condition the Beya (ÇáÈíÚÉ), reinforced by the constitution,
This combination does not hinder us from noting the coexistence or contrasting phenomena emerging from the theoretical thinking followed by these regimes, or the one behind which they hide and which is often associated to religion. This situation confirms a conciliating inclination to the laic movement, if it is not a carrying away by it, regardless of its clarity or opacity, and notwithstanding its acceptance or rejection.
It seems that searching for the cause of this reality is extremely arduous and complex, because of its association to historical, cultural and social facts, be they local, or imported, infiltrated sometimes or imposed some other times. This requires the different concerned parties to a lot of analysis and reflection in order to become convinced of it or to reject it while looking for a substitute to it. In addition, there is also all that this last position requires, not only in managing the internal affairs within the framework of an organized and modern State, in its traditional and contemporary aspects, but also to make use of it in dealing with the other who follows a different mode and wishes to impose it.
laicism has its justifications in a society where different confessions
coexist, the situation is different for the society of a country like
As much as it is necessary for making a choice to relay on study and analysis, especially in an unbalanced reality full of contradictions and weird paradoxes, it is unacceptable to appoint, from the outset, this so called choice, even if it is in the name of a doctrine or a movement seeing itself as the strongest or as the best. This is particularly the case when they assigner aspires to control the others subjecting them as a despot, relaying on preconceived ideas and taking full advantage of a period of weakness undergone by the other, as it is the case for Islamic countries today.
Nevertheless, and despite the fact that these countries are facing numerous challenges, from whose disadvantages they suffer internally and externally, and in the ultimate goal to face them, they have to make every effort to overcome these difficulties. This is provided that the activation of the religion’s mechanisms in public life, starting by … the neglect of the Islamic sensibilization, the marginalization of the theologians (ÇáÚáãÇÁ) (Oulemas), the underdevelopment of the institutions and the incapacity to develop the Islamic thought, especially in political and economical questions.
In order to confront these shortcoming s, it is true that one has to meditate on the historical recurrences which make the Moslems’ burden heavier, discouraging them. Hence, these inefficiencies leave them suffering an internal existential conflict which is aggravated by the conflict with the Other, without forgetting their disagreements tearing them apart and the fact that they are accused of terrorism and extremism.
This sad reality closes the horizons, makes the potentials disappear, and leads to a situation hindering the grasp of the religion’s essence and the achievement of a better understanding of its purposes, without stagnation on the literality of the Texts. As a result, it holds back finding a real moderate, careful, open and renewable discourse. If this latter comes true, and becomes possible to communicate, it will then be feasible to remove the extremism and terrorism language haunting the Occident and its mass-media. And before that, it will permit the creation of an Islamic model able, with its common sense and its capacity to convince, to stop the infiltration of any movement believing that these difficult conditions will allow it to extend its influence or will facilitate its adaptation.
pressure of this reality, with its successive challenges, and despite all its
accompanying disturbing factors, will push to the creation of a new conscience.
This new conscience will undoubtedly be enriched by the multiplied efforts
undertaken by Moslem Minorities living attached to their religion in developed
countries, such as
leads us to bring up an important equivalent topic, probably among Moslems’ top
priorities, which is that of their situation when they are a minority in a laic
society, as it is the case for those living in
I would like to recall here what I have already mentioned in this study as for the flexibility of the rules of the Islamic fekh’s rules (ÇáÝÞå), as they are, within the limits of their suppleness, able to adapt to the time, the place, and the changing social reality. I also would like to recall what I have already elaborated concerning the tolerance of Islam and its coexistence with what is different from it. This element is manifested by different phenomena, the most prominents of which are the freedom of worship and the plurality of religions in Islamic societies, where non-Moslems represent a minority.
In the light of these recollections, it is possible to conceive of an opposed situation where Moslems are a minority in a non-Islamic society, such as France, whose constitution clarifies in its first article that France is a ‘laic, democratic and socialist’ republic that ‘respects all faiths’ and that ensures equality in front of the law for all citizens‘with no distinction for origin, race, or religion’.
From the outset, I can note that just as it is allowed for this minority to practice the precepts of its religion in this country, the road is already paved for overcoming all the obstacles and resolving all problems of practice linked to organization or means.
The first misunderstanding is that of the term given by theologians (ÇáÚáãÇÁ) (Oulemas) to non-Islamic countries, by designating them with the expression ‘Dar Al Harb’(ÏÇÑ ÇáÍÑÈ) (Place/House of War), as apposed to the term ‘Dar al Islam’ (ÏÇÑ ÇáÅÓáÇã)(Place/House of Islam) by which they refer to Islamic countries, even if the notion of the ‘House of War’ has become inverted in the actual conjuncture.
Despite the fact that the occasion does not allow me to elaborate on this question, whose historical origin is not ignored by anybody, I can still confirm that it is out of question to use the term ‘Dar Al Harb’ (ÏÇÑ ÇáÍÑÈ) (Place/House of War) today for various reasons. I will limit myself to state three of them. The first one is that the principal of the Moslems’ relation with others is based on peace. The second is that Islam is not engaged in a war against this ‘House’ despite the Moslems’ apparent sufferings. The third argument is that it is allowed for Moslems, be they citizens or simple migrants, to publicly practice their religion within the host country. Within certain limits, all the conditions for this practice are offered to them, despite the country’s laic choice allowing a coexistence with both the religion of the majority and that of other religious minorities.
I can even say that when the laic system is dominant in the adoptive country, it is supposed to open quite a tolerant space for cohabitation and mutual understanding within this system of numerous faiths, by the separation of Religion from State, and by considering religion as a personal choice. This takes place without fanaticism or rejections, especially for Moslems who suffer nowadays from the conflict facing them to parties hostile to them and to their religion and hiding behind sectary theories or other religious beliefs.
consider that the coexisting thinking in this field is capable to reinforce
itself, especially when the countries of adoption constitute a symbol for
civilizing and cultural development and a center of enlightening dissemination,
as it is the case for
The fact that Moslems solemnly practice their religion in such a situation implicates that they are not victim, in principle,- as citizens or as migrants- of any hostile state of affairs preventing them from practicing their religious cults, or breaches their rights. This is the case despite the present international situation, which pushed some extremist movements to accuse Islam and Moslems of terrorist crimes perpetrated in different regions of the world.
Within the framework of this manifestation and in exchange for it, Moslems should cling to all aspects of easiness and tolerance to which Islam has called, be they in the exercise of the obligations, even by relying on the permissions of the Fekh (ÇáÝÞå)and all that necessarily comes with it, or within their coexistence with those practicing other religions. This mode of conduct should particularly be followed with Ahl El Keetab (Ãåá ÇáßÊÇÈ)(the people of the Book, be they Jewish or Christians), since it is allowed to eat their food, to marry their women, and to make all kinds of transactions with them, as long as they are not in a glaring and crystal-clear contradiction with the spirit of Islam or its sources.
This is one aspect of the social integrity that should take place while insisting on the adoption of Islam’s moderation and middle ground, far from isolated oppinions, and avoiding extreme and controversial positions. This attitude will allow taking advantage of the freedom allowing the openness to a permanent dialogue with the other, in a search for more understanding, while overcoming the differences and getting rid of the negative recurrences.
This behavior will undoubtedly lead them to taking into account the local systems with their liberalism, their democracy, their political pluralism, while trying to find common grounds and understanding elements with them and with their laws in order to concretize community life, despite the differences in faiths. Let me add to this the pressing need for adaptation with the facts of the civilization within which they fruitfully enjoy life, without forgetting the role played by the strong links between the European and the Arabo-Islamic civilizations, in the creation of the Mediterranean civilization. The latter actually has a pressing and urgent need to save humanity from the causes of destruction threatening it.
Following the efforts undertaken by the Moslems who have tried throughout their long history in an attempt to coordinate – successfully sometimes and in vain some other times- between religion and the successive intellectual and material new things, it is a duty for the members of the Moslem community in France and elsewhere to try achieving this coordination. Their chances to succeed, for all that has been stated above, seem stronger and bigger than those of their ancestors. They have to undertake this task while keeping away from any tendencies attempting to give rise to the emergence of a ‘New Islam’ because Islam remains the same. It is not old or new. It is rather the thought associated to it that is so. In other words, It is the thinking produced by Moslems that is in question and not Islam itself. By all means, their need to renew this though is critical indeed.
It is unquestionable that this attitude will lead to pushing away any idea or temptation o to create an independent Islamic entity that is a State within the State. The conviction of Moslems should be that their goal is to integrate the State and not to dissociate themselves from it. The condition for this integration to happen is that this task should be undertaken with affection and tolerance between the various components of this society, within the framework of the preservation of one’s own identity, and while giving importance to religion, which constitutes the major and most active constituent of this identity.
To reach this goal without deviation, there
will be a pressing need for the Moslem minorities to obtain the necessary tools
and mechanisms, such as making pilgrimage easy, resolving the problems linked
to the Personal Status, building Mosques, reserving graveyards, slaughterhouses
to immolate according to the Halal rites, places to for meetings and
education allowing to learning the language of the Saint Koran, which is
Arabic, together with the Islamic precepts, and communicating with each other
and with others. It is equally important to create libraries where books and
other modern methods will be at the disposal of the public. The same goes for
authorizing gatherings and organizations of religious, scientific and artistic
activities. Let me also add to this the integration into public schools, which
is the one and only way to realize their citizenship and preserve their
interests. It is worth pointing out that this integration is not in
contradiction with reaching a conciliating administrative version concerning
the Personal Status, according to the Islamic precepts, and the necessities of
the civil condition and its local laws. In this regard, it is worth mentioning
The realization of these objectives requires the education of managers and their preparation for holding and running these places and activities, while making fundraising efforts. This fund-raising should be ensured by the community, by the host country actually holding an organizational responsibility, or by the native country which should not in any case give up its responsibilities in all this. It is a fact that the interest of the latter should not be limited to the financial transfers of its natioanls, to a particular period like that of their return to spend their vacations, or to send predicators and preachers during the sacred month of Ramadan.
It is well known that any neglect in this field paves the ground for other foreign parties who do not take long to help with the condition to have their ideas and principles adapted and circulated. These beliefs often push to agitations, if not to taking unhealthy positions.
All this is globally up to the type of system followed by the country of adaptation in dealing with the Moslem community, be it with a direct patronage or else. This depends, just like many other problems, on the nature of the relations and the agreements between the host and the native country of the members of this community. The task is obviously made easier when the members of this community are capable of organizing themselves. Yet, such objectives cannot be realized before they free themselves from internal conflicts. They actually have to overcome the sectary and political conflicts lived by Moslems in their countries of origin. In this case, they will stop any foreign intervention, or will at least minimize the damages it could cause.
Such an organization will also keep them busy not only with the questions of religion but also with topics related to society and integration, such as the political participation, membership in productive institutions, to the media, and all that is leading them to fully dispose of their rights and to carry out their obligations.
It is sure that reality and the putting into practice creats numerous difficulties that pushed the French government, through its Ministry of Interior, to work on finding a central system for religion in France, and to create, a French Council for the Islamic Cult (Conseil Français du Culte Musulman), which is elected, together with its regional branches, in coordination with the important Islamic Centers working in this field. This institution will succeed if it reaches a convenient framework of good coordination between the religious requirements and the necessities of the State’s nature. The latter, from the standpoint of its constitutional laicism, should not involve in religion, as long as no change is made in the Constitution regarding this, and which give Moslems a different situation.
Nevertheless, what should be recalled in this context is that the difficulty increases when it comes to members of the third generation who are citizens of the host country and aspire to a complete integration in its society, although they cling to their cultural identity and insist on having it recognized for them. It seems to me that I do not need to mention that the Moroccans who enjoy the French citizenship – or any second citizenship- do not loose their Moroccan one. This incites them to respect it, with all its components, among which religion is the most important. This reinforces their strong links with the supreme religious authority represented by the institution of the Commander of the Believers (Emaral El-MoomeneenÅãÇÑÉ ÇáãÄãäíä )
conclusion, I think that it is not difficult for a laic country which is
friends with the Islamic counterparts, such as
1 It is worth noting thatsome English dictionaries translate the term áÇÆßíÉ, laïcité in French, by secularism, while others, especially the more elaborated ones, translate it with Laicism and mentioning secularism
2 See the study of the author ‘the Sacred in the Contemporary Culture’, published by the ISESCO in Arabic, French and English (1414H-2003)
3 The author has dedicated a whole chapter to this phenomenon in his manuscripted study on ‘The Islamic Reality in Morocco’