How Does Islam Differ from Secularism?


Islam And Secularism - Dr. Zakir Naik

Question: Assalamu Alaikum! How does Islam differ from secularism? Please explain. Thank you

Answer: Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The English word 'secularism' originated from the Latin secularis, meaning worldly, temporal (opposed to eternal).

Secularism can be defined as "the view according to which there exist no gods or purely spiritual entities. Sometimes the sense of the word is less strong, connoting something close to humanism, that is, that affairs of this world should be the most important concerns for ethics and human life.

Thus, while atheism is a form of secularism, not every secularist is an atheist. In popular usage, secularism often has the same connotations of immoralism that are imputed more strongly to atheism." (The Free On-Line Dictionary of Philosophy, Last accessed April 14, 2008)

As the original meaning of the word 'secular' is "of this world", it is often used as the opposite of 'religious': An American academic once stated: "I am a very secular American: I don't believe in God". Thus for instance people can distinguish between 'religious education' and 'secular education'.

For all practical purposes, secularism affords no place for God or His Guidance in the affairs of men. A person may be hailed as a secularist, if he confines his religion to his very personal life.

Because secularism demands that all affairs of this world outside the bounds of one's private life should be managed from the this-worldly point of view. In such affairs, no importance is to be given to the commandments of God or to the teachings of prophets.

Indeed secularism originated in Europe as a reaction to the Christian theology, which had forged shackles for the freely enquiring minds of thinking humans. As science and technology developed, the opposition to religion grew and took on several philosophical forms which were secularist in spirit.

And it is also noteworthy that in Christian circles, there developed the belief that one could be a secularist, while being a Christian. This is based on the interpretation of what Jesus is reported to have said:

[Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.] (Matthew 22:15)

It is interesting to note that many secularist Muslims quote this verse for authority. Therefore, we need to consider the context of this utterance, to get a good understanding of its meaning in the right perspective:

[Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him (i.e. Jesus) in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.] (Matthew 22:15-22)

By asking about the payment of taxes to the Romans, the Pharisees meant to trap him. Note that they came with Herodians, i.e. the agents of Herod the Roman governor.

If Jesus said, 'Yes, it is right to pay taxes to Caesar', he would not be the Messiah — who according to the Jews was the expected Liberator who would come with the mission of freeing the Children of Israel from the Roman rulers — and they would stone him to death.

If he said, 'No, you should not pay taxes to Caesar', he would be arrested by the Herodians.

Though Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, he was not prepared for a battle; and so he could not openly tell the people to stop paying the taxes imposed by Caesar. The evil intent of the Pharisees was to get him arrested by the Herodians.

But Jesus did not fall into that trap: he gave a deliberately vague answer to them: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

The Christian interpretation is that Jesus through this statement was preaching secularism — that is, a separation of religion and politics — as the right policy for his followers. If this was what Jesus meant, Christians who follow religion cannot have any share in the governance or administration of a country.

Rather they should leave the affairs of the state to the whims and fancies of any brutal dictator or unscrupulous politician who assumes power.

In the matter of secularism, Islam's stance is clear: Islam rejects the theory that religion is concerned only with the individual life of man, and that it has nothing to do with his social or political life.

Islam teaches that God is not only the Creator, Sustainer and Owner of everything in the universe; but He is also the Law-Giver and Sovereign Ruler. Therefore, any suggestion that the Divine jurisdiction is restricted and confines to the private life of an individual is absurd and blasphemous.

Man's ignorant self-sufficiency and arrogance that prompt him to reject Divine authority in his collective life constitutes an open rebellion against God Who is his Creator, Master, and Sovereign.

The secularist claim would mean that each person is individually the servant of God, while collectively as these individuals form a society, they cease to be servants of God, as they go after man-made laws.

The renowned Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi writes:

"Secularism is compatible with the Western concept of God which maintains that after God had created the world, He left it to look after itself. There is no wonder that such a God leaves people to look after their own affairs. How can He legislate for them when He is ignorant of their affairs? This concept is totally different from that of Muslims.

We Muslims believe that Allah is the sole Creator and Sustainer of the Worlds. One Who {…takes account of every single thing} (Al-Jinn 72:28); that He is omnipotent and omniscient; that His mercy and bounties encompass everyone and suffice for all.

In that capacity, Allah revealed His divine guidance to humanity, made certain things permissible and others prohibited, commanded people to observe His injunctions and to judge according to them. If they do not do so, then they commit disbelief, aggression, and transgression.

There is no doubt that secularism contradicts Islam in every aspect. They are two different paths that never meet; choosing one means rejecting the other. Hence, whoever chooses Islam has to reject secularism." (Al-Qaradawi, How Islam Views Secularism)

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