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:

http://www.plainislam.com/in-depth/gender-equality.aspx

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?

http://www.leicestersecularsociety.org.uk/calendar/month.php

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

http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/about/staff/usama-hasan/

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

Kirk out

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5 Comments

Filed under God-bothering, politics

5 responses to “Islam and Secularism

  1. Graeme Price

    The problem with Islam is that it is unreformed; and it is now too late for any serious reform to be attempted.

    There are lots of positive things about it but it’s basically a religion that demands unthinking obedience. Since unthinking obedience is not what the 21st century in the west is about, this can only lead to conflict.

    In arguing with Muslims, I find they start with an apparent willingness to discuss things but, sooner or later, the blinds come down and they rule certain topics off limits as being ‘deeply offensive’. Just listen to Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens as was) to hear what I mean.

    • Sarada Gray

      I agree with you on most points but I don’t know why you say it’s too late for Islam to be reformed. Surely it’s never too late? I always think of the Koran as being like the Old Testament without the New

  2. Graeme Price

    The imams have too much power and are too conservative: they won’t countenance reform. The time for reform was two centuries ago – but the opportunity was missed; I certainly don’t think it will come again in our lifetimes.

    There is so much about Islam that is incompatible with the west in the 21st century and I don’t think western liberals realise this. The recent Archbishop of Canterbury who suggested that Sharia law might be applied in areas with a high Muslim population scored a serious own goal.

    I recently heard a mullah state that he abhorred many aspects of British society (mostly relating to the ‘toleration’ of homosexuality and the ‘sexual freedom’ allowed to women) but would not protest about them, ‘because I have agreed to live under a non-Muslim prince’. Fair enough, I thought: if you can’t approve, you can at least (try to) tolerate.

    • Sarada Gray

      Yes, I see what you mean and largely agree. Only I guess the same could be said of the Catholic church until the current Pope arrived

  3. I mean ‘Shariah law’, of course.

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