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Secularism stands for religious freedom

Published: 21/08/2011 05:25:00 PM GMT
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Islam promotes and propagates peace. It values religious tolerance and harmony much more than other religions. Michael H. Hart in his book “The 100: A Ranking of the most Influential Persons in History” ranks the prophet of Islam at number one. Hart asserts that Muhammad (SAW) was supremely successful in both the religious and secular realms.

However, the term secularism has been criticized within the various Muslim countries by conflating it as an anti-religious and colonial intervention. It has acquired many negative connotations but Islam has always stood for religious tolerance and harmony. It was Muhammad (SAW) who forgave his persecutors in Mecca and wished them to live a life of dignity and religious freewill. The prophet had faced a lot of sufferings from these persecutors. When he with his strong army of 10,000 soldiers conquered Mecca; he could have tortured them and forced them into convert, but he didn’t do that. He always stood for equal rights for all faiths. The oriental Islamic scholars refer to the dictionary meaning of secularism but have never thought about the ideals of secularism. It is not true that your secular credentials undermine your religious faith; it only helps you respect other faiths and promote yours, as a religion of peace. Secularism stands for religious freedom and ability of individuals to practice their faith in the modern nation states without any hindrance. Secularism and Islam, go hand in hand. In fact Islamic literature defines the core structure of secularism.

The Holy Quran states "But if the people turn away (then do not be sad because) we did send you to be a guardian over them. It is for you only to deliver the message." (42:43).” This verse clearly states that religion cannot be forced upon people and it is up to the individuals to embrace the religion of their choice. Islam clearly states that nation states cannot force any religion upon its subjects. In Medina, Muhammad (PBUH) never forced the Jews to accept his teachings but instead, called them Ahli-Kitab – the followers of the religious Scriptures (the revelations). Also the physical safety and security of Jewish community was guaranteed by the prophet. This is indeed one of the best examples of religious tolerance. The letters that the prophet wrote to his neighbors around Arabia, also validate his tolerant thought. One of his letters to the Christian King of Abyssinia ends in these words: “I have conveyed the message from my lord to you. Now, it’s your discretion to accept or reject it.” Thus, the concept that Islam was propagated with the force of sword is absolutely absurd.

There is huge amount of literature available that falsifies the claim that Islam is an intolerant and communal religion. Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam brought out an important document entitled as Risalat ul Haq (The character of Rights). The last part of this document details the rights of non–Muslims in Islamic societies. He stated that there should be a law that guarantees justice and protection to all non believers. Furthermore, the holy prophet has said that whosoever denies justice to a protected non-Muslim, will be my enemy on the day of judgement. In Nahju 'l-Balagha - letter 53, Imam Ali advised the governor of Egypt to treat his non–Muslim subjects with love and affection, and not rule them like greedy beasts.

The oriental history clearly distinguishes between, “the expansions of Muslim empire” and “the spread of Islamic thought”, e.g. Muslims ruled India for many centuries but majority of their subjects remained non–Muslims. There is no denying the fact that Muslims came to India by mere expansionism but Islam penetrated among Indians by peaceful propagation. This fact has been clearly validated by famous Indian writer, Khuswant Singh in his book, “The History of Sikhs”. Roderic H- Davidson is a prominent historian of the Ottoman Empire and on the issue of tolerance towards minorities, he states, “It is a fact that Turks were less oppressive towards their subjects than were English towards Irish and the Americans towards Negroes. There is clear evidence that a large number of Greeks migrated into Ottoman Empire from independent Greece because of better governance and higher degree of freedom in the 19th century Ottoman Empire. These historical facts are testimony to the fact that true Muslim societies were more tolerant and peaceful than the contemporary idealistic secular societies.”

There is nothing like radical Islam. In fact religious tolerance has been a basic tenant of Islam. Unfortunately, Islam is being judged on what its followers do. Islam is not what the modern day Muslims propagate or practice. Islam resides in its original scriptures that date back to 6th century AD. If you go through the original scriptures of Islam, they can help you in defining an ideal Muslim. No one can claim to be a mascot of peace better than the prophet of Islam – Muhammad (PBUH). No society can claim to be more peaceful than the Islamic society in times of Abbasid caliphate. This was a golden era in Islamic history and the birthplace of true secular essentials.

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