Thursday, July 3, 2008

Islam and secularism

Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas in his book title Islam and Secularism give an impression in Muslim World by explain the three concepts which are secular, secularism and secularization. He explains these three concepts and relates it with the position of religion between Islam and Western perspective. Based on this book, Secular is derived from Latin word, seaculum, which bring the meaning of denoting space and time. For example, here and now. All secular activities are activities that deal with here and now, in present time. Usually, this is taken to mean activities for this world and in our life. Secularism is an ideology[1] that emphasize only this world is relevant. It also denotes that only this world is real. Any reference to the hereafter is irrelevant. Its really contradict with Islamic way of teaching whereas Islam is based on revelation and do belief the existence of hereafter and accept it as stated in pillar of iman as a fundamental teaching of Islam. Last but not least, secularization. In this text, secularization is defined as the deliverance of man “first from religious and then from metaphysical control over his reason and his language”[2]. In simples word, secularization is process that saw gradual decline of religion and its authority over life. It can be divided into three components which is Disenchantment of nature, Desacralization of politics and Deconsecration of values. In my review, I will only stress on the concept of secularization and the three components that lead to the emergence of secularization.


Moving to the three components in secularization, I want to explain what are these three aspects and how it is relevance in our Muslim world as long as Western world. Based on Syed Naquib Al- Attas, combination of these three aspect lead to the process of secularization. The first aspect that highlight by Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas is Disenchantment of nature. This term was borrowed from the German sociologist, Max Weber[3]. He said that it is freeing of nature from its religious overtones: and this involves the dispelling of animistic spirits and gods and magic from the natural world, separating it from God and distinguishing man from it. So, man may no longer regard nature as a divine entity, which allows him to act freely upon nature, to make use it according to his needs and plans, and hence create historical change allowing for emergence of historical process. Meaning to say that there are the spiritual meaning in nature that already created by God but this concept had been taken away the spiritual meaning and only left the physical view. It is also man decide what to do to the nature without guidance. For example, people who change their sex or gender. They already have their gender but then neglecting the revelation and only focusing on the salvation of soul. If I can take Cicero idea, one of western political thinkers whereas he explain the principle of nature law with said that human being are rational being to understand the law of nature, yet it is a sin to change and alter it. Meaning to say that, Cicero makes this ideology because he able to analyze the need of human being but then there still have limitation. Human being could not be free from nature because it is really there before human existence and sometimes it beyond our capability to understand the law of nature but then why should this process of secularization emerged? It is just because western people or in simplest word it is a mechanist to attack the Muslim people through idealism.

The second component caused Secularization is Desacralization of politics. It means that abolition of sacral legitimation of political power and authority which is prerequisite of political change and social change allowing the emergence to the historical process. It is simply means that political power and authority is taken away from the God or the institution of church and was given to the people or man and now on, man were become a master. Any political institution that based on religious aspect should be neglect and reject in order to change the politic, as well as society and lead to create a great history. For example, in Marsilio of Padua political thought, the primary contribution is the idea of popular sovereignty and he argue about the institution of church and the responsibility of pope that concern on spiritual matter and the king will control the mundane affairs or worldly matters. Popular sovereignty is refers to sovereignty that give to the people to choose the ruler of the state. He mention about good life is given to the people and all of his idea is based on reason just because he is Aristotelians. So, here we see the power is taken from the authority to the people and it will lead to secularization. In Islamic field, there are not separated their political institution. The power was given to the leader that had been choose with certain criteria and the leader was able to carry his duty with balancing the worldly affairs together with religious duty.
Last but not least, the third component included is Deconsecration of values. Based on this article, it refers to rendering transient and relative all cultural creations and every value system which included religion, the future is open to change and immerse I evolutionary process. This attitude toward values demand and awareness of secular man of the reality of his own belief that the rule and ethical conduct will guide his own life and will change with time and generation. It give a meaning that value will change from time to time and the changing of value with neglecting the religion matter will make the people free to change it and create a history and evolution. For instance, nowadays, if we see the institution of marriage in western country, they don’t allow married same gender, but then nowadays, there are certain western country were practice and allow married the same gender. This is because of the value that change from time to time. Therefore based on Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas, the term secularization could not be accepted by Muslim people because it really contradict with the basis teaching of islam. All values are related actually, from bad value to good, from obligatory to non obligatory, from important to be not so important but then if people is choose the value only based on desire, therefore it will reflect the behaviour of the people. This three aspect that mention by Syed Naquib Al- Attas were stress on the philosophical program where from the beginning, it only reflect the individual entity but then it will spread to the community and moreover build generation that exercise a value free way of life.


Even though theory from western differentiate between secularization and secularism, whereas secularization is refer to the three process in general we can say as a free way of life and secularism is refer to ideology that emerged from the process without denying all the value that they stick into it. Although it be like that, Al- Attas
Highlight the differences between these two is just a different in academic field and not practical especially in the matter that regard on the basis of Islamic way of life[4]. He also said that secularization is not only as a whole the expression of an utterly unislamic worldview, it is also set against Islam and islam totally rejects the expicit and implicit manifestation and significance of secularization and muslim must therefore vigorously repulse it wherever it is found among them and in their minds, for it is as deadly poison to the true faith. By looking to the ingredient of secularization, we must be realize that integral components which Christian people represent in dimension of secularization is not same as Islam even there is similarities in their style of action upon man and history. Last but not least, conclusion that made by Syed Naquib Al-Attas is there can never really be an ‘Islamic Secularism’ and secularization can never be part of Islam is a best conclusion which I can choose because in fact that I am a Muslim and as a Muslim, I don’t want the idea or the theory that had been made by Christian people being understand and practice by Muslim people soon, therefore, our next generation will not really practise the way of life as a Muslim people. So, the best way to stop the Christian people to spread their teaching is that we have to be ready to face other new concept that will emerged with fulfilled ourselves with knowledge especially the fundamental teaching of Islam itself.
[1] Harvey Cox, The Secular City, New York, 1965. p.21
[2] Ibid. p. 2
[3] The phrase ‘disenchantment of the world” was used by Freidrich Schiller and quote by Weber. Another term used is rationalization.
[4] Syed Muhammad Naquib Al- Attas, Islam and Secularism, Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 1993

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