It was the dark period in European history when church was supreme in power triangle that comprised church, feudal lords and the king. The church introduced the confession ritual and those who were found guilty were excommunicated and were barred from entering the church thereupon. The inquisition saw tens of thousands of immolations on the basis of a mere suspicion that they held ideas disapproved by the church. Many scientists — Muslims and Jews — fell prey to this inhumane law. Intra-religious wars among the Catholics, the Protestants and other factions of Christianity along with crusades against other religions kept the whole Europe in darkness for almost a thousand years. The ban on and screening of books is another chapter of dogmatic attitudes of the papacy due to which many noble ideas became the victims of censorship.
In Europe, the corrupt clergy in its treatment to the people virtually removed all differences between humans and animals. The dictum ‘It is hard to sit in Rome and strive against the Pope’, was the result of all this menace. The callous attitude of kings and the lieges was further aggravating the situation and the whole society presented a picture of insanity and absurdity. Nevertheless, science was also making its way in the society and soon became an overwhelming force that finally ended the power of church as well as the Dark Ages. Scientists came up with ideas and inventions which revolutionized the society. Science got huge popularity against Christianity that had failed to provide appropriate guidelines for politics, economics and other fields of the day. Christianity lost its importance and for masses it was just a code of ethics rather than a religion. Scientists simply told, “Church is irrelevant today”. This was the beginning of the ideology that today we call ‘secularism’.
Secularism can be defined as: “the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state”.
Democracy as a system started in Athens in ancient Greece. Athenian democracy was very much different from liberal, secular or more rightly western democracy. And both these forms were, in turn, far different from Islamic concept of democracy. But, secularism and the secular ideas were approved by the world powers and they so vigorously advocated this concept that today the world is divided on secular and religious lines.
Many world powers and numerous intellectuals claim that secularism is the key to garnering peace, ensuring co-existence, allowing freedom of speech and protecting democratic norms. This ideology professes that religion has no place in the affairs of the people. It is, avowedly, one’s private matter and the state must not interfere in religious matters. Moreover, parliaments should formulate laws that are based on the will of the people under the majority-is-authority rule.
Secular norms have thrived during the last eight centuries to such an extent that they rapidly spread in nook and cranny of the world. But now the very existence of secularism is being challenged by religious elements and secularism is fast losing ground in this battle of ideas.
Secularism has left some significant imprints globally. It had made people, nations and states selfish and materialistic in their approach to life and to achieving their goals. Firstly, they claim to achieve peace in the world but the two World Wars challenge the veracity of this assertion. The nation states developed in Europe and this concept spread under the sun. Each nation is now in a cutthroat competition. The system of alliances and rivalries, militarism and nationalism led to the First World War (1914-18) that left 16.5 million people dead. Second World War (1939-45) was also fought along economic, political, military and ideological lines and it also exterminated 60-70 million people. Cold war started between the two superpowers of that time and the whole world was ‘divided into alliances’.
Presently, the state of affairs in Ukraine, the Middle East and South Asia is also telling the same old story of world powers. The United States is supporting the rebels in Syria but is opposing those in Iraq. The result is the virtually unstoppable rise of the group known as ‘Islamic State’. This monster militant group is led by the people belonging mostly to the Sunni sect as they were not only ruthlessly killed during the Iraq invasion, but were also denied their due share in country’s political system. And, remember, deprivation begets rebellion which the West calls terrorism. Superpowers have been invading countries to pursue their vested interests and this has marred and defaced the global peace. More than 50,000 people have lost their lives only in Pakistan — a major non-Nato ally of the US. Interestingly, almost all these world powers are secular as per their respective constitutions.
In these countries, religion has become only a set of rituals and has nothing to do with the practical life and people cannot find guidance in it on their problems. It is because of this irreligiousness that people are highly frustrated; the fact which can be verified by the suicide rate that is more in secular states than the non-secular or religious ones. Globally, in every second 40 people commit suicide which, if counted in annual terms, is far more than the annual killings in wars. This shows the despairing social and individual effects of abandoning religion.
Secondly, the idea of co-existence is voided also by the thoughts of ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘Clash of Interests’. In today’s world, religious tolerance is waning while the surge of extremism has become uncontrollable. The intellectual terrorism spread by secular minds on the pretext of freedom of speech has created many rifts among peoples of the world. The secular states also endorse this type of activity claiming it as a fundamental right of an individual. How ironic is it that hurting others’ emotions and sentiments is considered the basic right of a person in civilized world. In this so-called civilized, cultured world, it’s a crime to comment on holocaust but it’s the freedom of speech when magazines like Charlie Hebdo publish blasphemous caricatures which hurt Muslims’ sentiments.
Thirdly, Western powers preach democracy at every platform but, in reality, they are non-democratic in dealings. They want to get anything they wished to, by hook or by crook. They apparently spurn the dictatorships but they openly support it in many countries, especially the Muslim States. They have been patronizing dictators in the Middle East but now the realities are totally different. The United Nations was established with an aim to restore peace and democracy in the world but its principal organ, the Security Council, is utterly non-democratic as five permanent members are vested with the powers to veto everything they dislike. The issues of Kashmir and Palestine are still on agenda but issues of East Timor and Sudan are settled within no time. In fact, the dubious policies of the mighty states have resurrected the old dictum ‘might is right’.
Fourthly, the family system in secular states is nearing collapse. The unbridled liberty has left the society in a state of paralysis. These states established institutions like day care centres and old homes but today an urge to come back to family system is rising, though it’s not easy now. Moreover, rape incidences too are rampant in secular states. By any ranking, the US, India, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Russia etc., would be on top of this ignoble list. The freedom to establish illicit male-female relationship and the faltering of marriage institution gave birth to some killer diseases like AIDS. Even then the modern world is banning Islamic veil system that is a key to stopping profanity in the society.
Fifthly, America’s ‘war on terror’ has turned into ‘war of terror’. In this unending war, those Muslim countries have been hit hard which have some strategic, economic or political importance in world affairs. The ‘oil curse’ for Middle Eastern countries and ‘location curse’ for Pakistan have made these areas dangerous even for the natives. The impression of the Crusades is gaining ground with the passage of time.
Sixthly, feudalism, colonialism and slave-trading were not eliminated on some ethical grounds. Feudalism waned in Europe after Industrial Revolution and slave-trading stopped as it was burden for the capitalism to feed the army of slaves. The effects of capitalism and interest-based banking are also evident where the difference between ‘haves and have-nots’ is still increasing.
Seventhly, in the case of Pakistan, Islam is the state religion while democracy forms the basis of the political system. But this dichotomy has proved counterproductive. One fact that verifies this claim is that the idea of interest-free banking has not still materialized. We find clearly in Holy Quran and Sunnah that interest (riba) is forbidden.
Democracy, ethics and moral values are luxuries of the rich peoples but for the downtrodden ones it’s like a dream unfulfilled as they are dealt in undemocratic, barbaric and uncivilized manner. The claims that secularism will bear peace, coexistence, freedom of speech and democratic norms are just false notions. The systems built up on secular basis are losing their vigour and people are feeling the effects thereon. Secular philosophers abandoned the religion to achieve peace and freedom but what actually happened is that they lost the both. If democracy is cured with better democracy then why it is impossible to solve the problems in a religious society with better religious jurisdiction especially in Islam where the door of ijtihad is always open?