Islam and Secularism

Last night the moon was shining bright – it’s a full moon tomorrow – as was the light of intellect at last night’s Secular Society gig.  I had bookmarked this one as it looked very interesting; and as I arrived the hall was full to bursting to hear Dr Usama Hasan, an imam from London, talk about Islam and Secularism and whether there is common ground between them.

Dr Hasan appears to have been a jihadi in his youth: however he now campaigns against extremism and violence in religion and has even received death threats himself for his pains.  In support of his arguments, he declared that many Muslims are in favour of the separation of religion and state, as is he.  He made various other points linking Islam to secularism, including the fact that the Islamic marriage ceremony is a contractual rather than a religious ceremony; that there is a tradition of rationality in Islamic history and that Caliphs – Muslim heads of state – often leave religious matters to the clerics, leaving them free to concentrate on politics.  He quoted the Prophet’s saying ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ and gave some exemplars of Muslim states, such as Turkey and Kosovo, where human rights and gender equality are enshrined in the constitution.

So far so good; though he didn’t mention the glaringly obvious counter-examples such as Saudi Arabia and Iran; however he did demonstrate, both in his person and through his examples, that there are other strands of Islam than the ones we so often hear about in the media.  He personally is against the ritual slaughter of animals and no longer performs it; and on the question of gender equality (which I raised) he said that before the Prophet’s ruling (that women’s testimony was half that of men’s and that daughters could inherit half the property that a son could) women had no rights at all.  So in that context it could be seen as a great leap forward.

But there are some stickier points which it’s harder to get round.  He didn’t deal with the part of my question that was about polygamy; and there is the assertion that the Prophet married a nine-year-old girl when he was in his fifties and consummated the marriage.  Even in the context of the times, to marry and have sex with a girl who has not yet reached puberty cannot be explained away.  People were queuing up to speak to Dr Hasan as I left, and I strongly suspect at least one of them was about to tackle him on this point.  It would be interesting to know what he said.  Here’s his article on the subject of gender equality:

I have to say it reminds me of Christians trying to justify St Paul and the Old Testament…

On the other hand, one of the most vocal attendees was a woman in full burqa, a teacher and campaigner for dialogue within Islam.  She was articulate and interesting, but I do find it hard to talk to someone when I can’t see their face.  It’s her right to wear the veil and I would support that, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Anyway, the Secular Society has an interesting programme of talks, so why not go along one evening?

and here’s a link to the organisation Dr Hasan belongs to, which exists to counter extremism in Islam:

I note that today is Groundhog Day: hopefully if I’m destined to repeat it, the day will be a good one…

Kirk out