Monday, November 21, 2011



1. The Positive Results

From the various good results of secularism in the Western countries we shall enumerate just a few. Because of secularistic ideology no Galileos had been victimised for scientific inventions and discoveries, and no Savanarolas had been burned at the stake for going against the religious dogma. Another fallout of secularistic ideology was the tolerance of religious pluralism which we notice in most of the Western countries though the Marxist brand of secularism was totally intolerant not only of religions but also of non-Marxist, secular ideologies. A third good result of the triumph of secularism was the release of an enormous amount of church-property for the use of the impoverished masses.

Certainly secular ideology helped people to take earthly life seriously, feeling responsible for its development and progress. In other words people were saved from escapistic, other-worldly religious doctrines which gave little importance to earthly concerns and values. Here we are in the good company of Max Weber and Karl Marx. And finally the secular ideals are responsible for the success of Western Democracies in freedom, scientific invention, industrial progress and economic growth. In the secular democracies of the West the Christian Religion, by and large, does not interfere with your eating habits, dressing styles or artistic expressions. Today, however, by the advent of religions like Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism these freedoms are partly curtailed for the members of these religions. Remember the recent prohibition of building minarets in Switzerland

2. The Negative Consequences of Secularism

One of the basic drawbacks of secularism was that it caused people to be satisfied with the letter rather than the spirit of the law, with external conformism rather than inner acceptance of the moral code. Thus a person may be a good citizen before the state but a perpetrator of evil before his fellow citizens. You are  a good citizen before the state provided that you commit your crimes in such a way that you are not caught. In such a situation the state will not get the hearts and souls of its citizens and hypocracy and duplicity would become the accepted norm in human relations, as is so obvious in today’s real politik and in the politicians.

The law of the jungle ‘might is right’, still reigns supreme in secular states without any saintly Bishop Ambrose to inflict humiliating punishment  on an Emperor Theodosius for shedding the blood of innocents, or a Pope Gregory VII., to make the all powerful emperor Henry IV stand barefooted in the snow to do penance for his crimes. Obviously we are not advocating such medievalism, but are searching for a system which moves the hearts and souls of people and promotes truth and love without which true humanization is not possible.

Sociologists would say that for true humanization, a society needs a Central Value System. Now, in any society, even in the secular societies of the West, consciously or unconsciously, officially or unofficially, it is the given religious systems that are the vehicles of these values. Religions, especially theocentric ones, tend to bind people in conscience, so to say, and demand acceptance of certain socio-economic and religious values. One of the reasons for the rampant real-politik both in the West and also in the East is the absence of commitment to a central value system that binds absolutely one and all.

Secular politics in the West had made the Church look more and more irrelevant. As we have seen above, the vital sectors of human life like economics, education, social welfare, etc. became the exclusive domains of the state. Religion became a private affair relegated to the sacristy. Today the Church has become a marginalized, peripheral reality causing more amusement and diversion than love and commitment. As Harvey Cox points out, “for some religion provides a hobby, for others a mark of national or ethnic identification, for still others an aesthetic delight”[1]. To make matters worse, this Church-state dualism based on secularism, is partly responsible for the artificial division between the natural and the supernatural, worship and work, this-worldly values and other-worldly values, and the like, an artificial division which frustrated the very purpose of the Church, namely the Christification of the world.

According to a political analyst like Rashmee Z. Ahmed a Western Secularist should not be committed to his Church[2]. Commenting on Tony Blair’s religiosity he says: “Blair is a social democrat in political terms with notoriously church-going, happy-clappy Christian instincts”[3]. What is interesting to not is that this author considers true Christianess is opposed to true politics. He seems to think that both G. W. Bush and Tony Blair are not good politicians because they are good Christians. This is, of course, the point of view of a Muslim author who would not speak about a Muslim politician in  ‘secular Muslim’ countries like Malaysia or Turkey. In this context we can understand the annoyance of many Hindus to be called “communalists” just because they are committed to their religion.

Secularism above all was a betrayal of Christ and his ideals. The central message of Christ concerned the establishment and spread of God’s Kingdom which is not primarily a promise for the pie up in heaven. It is rather a socio-economic, politico-religious system, built on truth and love, which is partly realizable here on earth though its full realization would be in the beyond. ‘Truth’ in the Kingdom ideal would be radical opposition to externalism, a commitment to the spirit rather than to the letter of the law, and a thorough condemnation of hypocrisy and duplicity, something so rampant in today’s real-politik. According to this ideal, the chief law of social organization would be love, expressed in economic sharing, in equality of status and opportunities, in checking offenders through fraternal correction and forgiveness, and above all in showing special consideration for the poor and the oppressed. In such a society the power and authority of the leader would be primarily for empowering the powerless rather than for inflating the egos of the leaders.

Christ came to establish and spread God’s Kingdom, God’s reign, not merely in the sacristies and sanctuaries but in the whole world. God’s law should reign supreme in all spheres of human life not merely in matters of liturgical rules. In a Christo-centric world Christ is the alpha and omega (Rev. 22:12; 1;17; 2:8; Jn. 1:1-3; Eph. 1:10; et psssim)[4].  Vat. II proclaims loudly the truth of a Christo-centric world taught emphatically by John and Paul:

“The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longing of history and civilization, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings… Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which full accords with the counsel of God’s love: ‘To re-establish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth’ (Eph. 1:10). The Lord Himself speaks: ‘Behold I come quickly: And my reward is with me, to render to each one according to his works, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’” (Apoc. 22:12-13, G.S. No.45. Cfr. also N.A. no.1).

On the basis of the Johanine and Pauline Christo-centric world Teilhard de Chardin could speak of the Christification, and indeed the Eucharistization of the world: “I your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world”[5]. Elsewhere in the same prayer, changing the metaphor slightly he prays: “Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day”[6].

The Indian ideal of a universal family (vasudhaiva kutumbakam) is homomorphically similar to the Kingdom Ideal. If a few rays of the Kingdom-ideal had been present in the secular states of the West, there would not have been such ruthless colonial oppression and exploitation, nor would have grown unchallenged such satanic political powers as Hitler and Mussolini. If the Indian leaders, after the independence, had accepted a balanced view of secularism rather than blindly following its western interpretation, perhaps there would not have been a Hindutva movement calling the Nehruvian interpretation of this ideal called by the Sangh ParivarPseudo Secularism’.


A. The Immediate Context

The vivisection of Mother India and the communal carnage that followed was a traumatic experience for our Founding Fathers. Though most of them were educated in the secularistic West and were familiar with the various anti-religious rationalistic groups in Europe especially in England[7], hardly anyone of them was anti-religious, and most of them including Gandhiji, Sardar, Ambedkar, Rajan Babu, Rajaji were deeply religious. Yet their religiosity was such that they appreciated and respected other religions while remaining faithful to their own. To express this attitude to different religions in the Indian situation of religious pluralism, Gandhiji and Sardarji used the term ‘sarva-dharma-samabhav’ which means respect and love for all religions from the stand-points of respective religions. The models they had in mind were the Gandhi Ashrams where people from different religions lived, prayed and worked together, and from where they could launch some of the most astute political movements like the Dandi Yatra. But Jawaharlalji was very much of an exception and he tried to implement the Western concept of secularism with its negativity towards religions.

Today in India, one group of people is trying to transplant the fully-grown up tree of Western secularism into the totally different soil of the Indian situation. There is, however another group in India which interpreting the Indian ethos in terms of Hindu ethos, tries to impose on India a Hindu theocracy without bothering about the sensitivities of other religious communities. It seems to me that neither of these two groups takes into account the spirit of the Founding Fathers of our nation or that of Indian ethos taken as a whole.

B. The Indian Ethos and Secularism

When we speak of the Indian ethos we mean not only the Hindu but also the Buddhist, Jain, Islamic, Christian, Parsi, tribal, etc. ethos. Here, however, no such classified study is intended. Pointing out certain areas and instances by way of random sampling would serve our purpose. Since the Hindu ethos in its broad sense could be called the ‘mother ethos of India’, there will be a greater emphasis on the Hindu ethos in this sketchy and patchy view of Indian ethos.

Muslims constitute more than 12% of India’s population. It is by far the largest minority community. The problem of secularism arose during the pre-independent and post-independent years of India, in the context of Islam especially in the context of Hindu- Muslim conflicts. Though the ethos mothered by Hinduism is very different from Islamic ethos no one can deny the mutual influence on each other to create a composite ethos. Here the consideration of Islamic ethos is specially important because of its radical opposition to Western Secularism.

C. Secularism from the Point of view of Indic Religions

(i) Religion not a Superstructure but a Basic structure

The term for religion used in most of the North Indian languages is dharma which etymologically taken, (dharayati iti dharma) means that which holds things in unity and harmony. Sri Aurobindo writes: “Dharma in the Indian conception is not merely the good, the right, morality and justice; it is the whole government of all the relations of man with other beings, with Nature, with God, considered from the point of view of a divine principle working itself out in forms and laws of action, of the inner and the outer life, ordering of relations of every kind in the world”[8]. The following verse from the Hitopadesa shows clearly the place of dharma in human life:

“Aharanidara bhaya maithunam casamanya etad pasubhir-naranam
Dharmo hi tesamadhiko viseso dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah.”
(In the matter of food, sleep, security concerns and sexual intercourse man and animals are the same; but it is dharma which makes the difference, without it man is equal to animals[9]).

According to this view of dharma, it is religion that distinguishes man from animals, and the term is as extensive as the term human values. According to this understanding of religion, separating religion from the state would be like letting the state follow the law of the jungle, and it would be a centre of power for dehumanization.

In the West, after the artificial separation of Church from the state, and after the increasing marginalization of religion, Marx could easily show how religion is a superstructure. Another German philosopher Feurbach had paved the way for this conclusion of Marx’s. For the Hindus, “Dharma is the foundation of the whole universe” (Tait. Ar. 10:79). Hence Manu would say: “Dharma being violated, destroys; dharma being preserved, preserves: therefore dharma must not be violated, lest violated dharma would destroy us’ (Manu Smruti, 8:15). In India, one might say, everything has a sacral and religious atmosphere, as everything forms part of the Cosmic form of the Lord (Gita 11). Scientific writings on medicine (ayurveda) on grammer (Panini) on architecture, etc. (consider the seven Vedangas) have a sacral aura.

(ii) Tolerance and Inclusivism of the Indian Ethos

            As we have stated elsewhere in the paper, the tolerance and inclusivism we see in Indian ethos are very much the products of the Indian mindset itself. From the Rigvedic times there existed this inclusivistic attitude in India. Let us take the following two mantras: “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti (=Truth is one but sages interpret diversely (Rg. 1:164:46) and Ekam santam bahudha kalpayanti (=Though truth is one, it is diversely imagined (Rg. 10:1l4:5). This inclusivistic mindset is equally visible in the Bhagavad Gita. As typical examples we shall cite just two verses:

yo yo yam yam tanum bhaktah sraddhaya rcitum icchati
tasya tasyacalam sraddham tam eva vidadhamy aham
[=Whatever form (whatever god), a devotee with faith desires to honour, that very faith do I confirm in him (making it) answering-and-secure]. (7:21) (Cfr. 7:22 & 25).

Ye ’py anya-devata-bhakta yajante sraddhaya nvitah
te ’pi mam eva, Kaunteya, yajanty avidhi-purvakam
(=Yet even those who lovingly devote themselves to other gods and sacrifice to them, full filled with faith, do really worship Me though the rite may differ from the norm). (9:23) (Cfr. also 9: 25).

The following verse which was chanted continuously in the Sanskrit film on Shankaracharya and which is recited in the daily prayers of some devote Hindus, is also a typical scriptural verse for inclusivism:

akashat patitam toyam yatha gachhati sagaram
sarvadeva namaskarah keshavam pratigachhatti
(=Just as the rainwater falling from the sky reaches the ocean so too the prayer addressed to different gods reaches Keshava the Ultimate Reality).

            The above pre-Christian verses from the sacred Hindu scriptures express the tolerant and inclusivistic ethos of Hinduism. If the stone edict of Emperor Ashoka, given below, shows his magnanimity and inclusivism, it is because he had inherited it from the Hindu ethos of his ancestors:

The Beloved of the God… honors members of all sects, whether ascetic or householders, by gifts and various honors. But they do not consider gifts and honors as important as the furtherance of the essential message of all sects. This essential message varies from sect to sect, but it has one common basis, that one should so control one’s tongue as not to honor one’s own sect or disparage another’s on the wrong occasions; for on certain occasions one should do so only mildly, and indeed on other occasions one should honor other men’s sects. By doing this one strengthens one’s own sect and helps the others, while by doing otherwise one harms one’s own sect and does a disservice to the others. Whoever honors his own sect and disparages another man’s… does his own sect the greatest harm[10].

            Like Ashoka a number of Indian Kings like Harshvardhana, Cheraman Perumal and Shivaji Maharaj kept up this tolerance during their reign. If the great Muslim Emperor Akbar was tolerant towards other religions and if he founded the religion Din-I-Ilahi with openness to all the religions, it must have been due to the influence of his Hindu wives and friends.

(iii) The Islamic Ethos

            According to Donald Smith there is nothing in Islam which could advocate secularism. He says:

“The Muslims and the Sikhs have little in their respective traditions which lends positive support to the concept of secularism, yet they will strengthen Indian – Secularism chiefly by guarding the rights of their respective communities… Both the Muslims and the Sikhs have strongly theocentric elements in their traditions, and secularism does not have much inherent appeal, apart from their minority status”[11].

            Sheikh Salman b. Fahd al-Oadah, General Supervisor of Islam Today, says in his Website:

“The struggle between Islam and secularism is nothing new. It is just the old age struggle between Islam and Jahiliyyah (The word Jahiliyyah refers to the times of ignorance before Islam) in a new guise. Jahiliyyah, the way of ignorance, comes in many forms, has many names, and adopts various symbols, but it always has the same common denominator – polytheism. The conflict between Islam and secularism is none other than the conflict between Islam and polytheism. It is the struggle against the enemies of the Prophets that began in antiquity when Allah sent the very first Prophet to humanity and it will continue until Allah puts an end to the Earth and everything on it”[12].

            Commenting on the biblical verse “Give unto Caesan what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s (Mt. 22: 15-22 and Mk. 12: 13-17, Lk. 20: 20-26) the same author says that this division for God and for Caesar was existing in Mecca when Mohammad was sent there by Allah. The division for Allah and for others including the rulers is totally against Quran. He quotes Surah al-An am, 136 and Surah al-Nahl, 62: “They assign unto Allah, of the crops and cattle which He created, a portion, and they say: ‘This is for Allah – in their make-believe – and this is for His partners with respect to us’”. “And they assign unto Allah what which they themselves dislike, and their tongues pronounce the lie that the better portion will be theirs. Assuredly their will be the Fire, and they will be hastened to it and abandoned”.

            We can easily understand why Sheikh Salman says that such a division between for God and for others means the acceptance of polytheism. He says: “How can we reconcile secularism with the meaning of the declaration of faith ‘There is no God but Allah’ which means that no aspect of worship or devotion must be offered to anything or anyone besides Allah? All worship directed elsewhere is polytheism, false and rejected. Therefore, secularism is polytheism. It states that the mosque is for Allah and everything else is for other than Allah, or as the Christian’s say: ‘for Caesar’”.

            Here an important point has to be noted. According to Sheikh Salman’s view of polytheism even the Gandhian interpretation of secularism in terms of sarva-dharma-samabhav too leads to polytheism. From the Islamic point of view the Ultimate Reality has to be Allah in its vachyarth and bhavarth. That is why, the Muslims do not like to translate the Ultimate Reality with any other word except the Arabic word namely Allah. For the Muslims the other terms like Yahweh, Ishwar, Brahma, Vishnu, Tao, Ahurmazada and the like are not acceptable. In fact, the well-known Rigvedic mantra cited above “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti” insists on the necessity of sticking to the bhavarth or laxnarth rather than the vachyarth of the terms used for Ultimate Reality. This will partly explain the recent halla-bulla in Malasiya when the Christians began to use the term Allah for the Ultimate Reality.

            According to this author, secularism has no place in Muslim countries and he assigns the two reasons given below:

“The first of these is that Islam is the religion that Allah sent down to replace the previous manifestations of the faith and to govern all aspects of life. The simplest Muslim can see how Islam explains all matters in detail. It is impossible for a Muslim to feel that the religion that regulates his marital affairs, his business, his eating habits, his manner of sleeping, and even how he goes to the bathroom could ever leave managing the political and economic affairs of society to other than Allah. For Allah says: ‘We have neglected nothing in the Book’ (Surat al-An am: 38). ‘We have sent down to you the Book explaining all things’ (Surat al-Nahl: 89). This issue is not open for debate. Islam, as the final religion, has supremacy over all faiths and over every aspect of life. There is no place for secularism in the lands of Islam or among the Muslims.

“The second reason is that throughout the history of Islam, it never experienced the troubles that were faced by Europe on account of its corrupted faith. Among the most important of these was the horrific breach that took place between religion and science. Religion fought against science so fiercely that the church burned some scientists to death on the grounds that those scientists went against the word of Allah. Islamic history contains nothing of the sort. Islam opened the doors to scientific enquiry and encouraged intellectual activity. Scientists were frequent guests at the courts and assemblies of various caliphs and received a fair share of royal gifts and patronage”[13].

            This author, giving the example of Turkey, says that secularism in Muslim countries is a betrayal of Islam:

“One of the first countries to fall into the hands of the secularists was Turkey, which at one time was the center of political power for the Islamic world. It fell as a result of what some Christians like to call ‘the struggle between the Cross and the Crescent’”[14].

            According to Sheikh Salman the secularists, chiefly the Christians and the Jews, made a hero out of Kemal Attaturk in order to use him to spread the anti-Muslim ideology of secularism. He then points out how through Kemal Attaturk the secularists managed to separate Turkey from the Muslim world (Umma). He considers the imposition of dressing code, Latin alphabet, etc. as something very much opposed to Islam.

             Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, on Secularism vs Islam, follows the line of thought propagated by Sheikh Salman:

“Secularism may be accepted in a Christian society but it can never enjoy a general acceptance in an Islamic society. Christianity is devoid of a shariah or a comprehensive system of life to which its adherents should be committed. The New Testament itself divides life into two parts: one for God, or religion, the other for Caesar, or the state; ‘Render unto Caesar things which belong to Caesar, and render unto God things which belong to God’ (Matthew 22:21). As such, a Christian could accept secularism without any qualms of conscience. For this reason, the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place of shariah is downright riddah[15].

            Do these assertions mean that Islam cannot enter into dialogue with other religions with openness? In fact, during the pre-Vatican era, the Christian churches including the Roman Catholic Church held a similar theory of Salvation. But, inspired by the Vat.II, as the Christian dialogists began to re-read the Bible, and saw a number of inclusivistic texts in it, so too, from situations of Religious Pluralism, the non-Christians too, including the Muslims, are beginning to re-read their scriptures.

Part  V will be in the next post.  
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