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Secularism and Islamic fundamentalism: A comparative truth untold

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Founder Director Lokbandhu Rajnarayan Law College Varanasi 221302 web: Since 2004

Secularism, in any part of the world, can be understood as the separation of state from the influence and functioning of all religious institutions. In other words, it is  separation  of state  and religion  and  essentially  assures  a  freedom  for  everyone  in  the  religion  for  all communities in the society. Although the general meaning is nominally the same in all democratic setups, its application varies from region to region.

This article will elaborate the situation of secularism in some part of this global village. The projection given by western civilization and south east Asian nations on secularism, does really have a foothold in communist China, Middle East countries, Central Africa and other Islamic countries?

The state believes in total non-interference of religion but still the state is allowed to curtail the rights of citizens if the religion is causing hindrance in the functioning of the state. For example, France has imposed restrictions on women’s religious dress. France continues to enforce a national ban on full face veils in public, and local authorities also impose various restrictions that mostly affect Muslim women.

In 2017, for example, the city of Lorette banned headscarves in a public pool and Qatar laws target non-Islamic faiths by restricting public worship, the display of religious symbols and proselytization (induce someone to convert their faith). The Western concept of secularism does not believe in an open display of religion with except for places of worship. The western & Islamic state treats all religions with equal indifference. It does not aid any religious institutions through financial means or taxes them. But In India, influenced with policy of appeasement, the state gives financial aids to a religious institution and in some parts of territory taxes them as well.

Unsecularising China

China has a long and strong relationship with Pakistan. The long-standing ties between the two countries have been mutually beneficial. Even though, China since1990’s, has been able to induce Islamabad to close a market where certain Uyghur members were thought to be operating, as well as expel Uyghur students from the madrassa’s operating. Even the current reports of detention camps and internment of Uyghur Muslims haven’t generated significant criticism from the Islamic nations or their organisations.

Beijing has sentenced many other innocent Uighur people, a Turkic ethnic minority, years and even life in concentration camps and prisons. Uighur women have been subject to forced sterilization and forced marriages to Han Chinese men. Nearly half a million children have been placed in orphanages, despite their families being alive, and then subjected to political and cultural indoctrination. Authoritarian governments often emulate one another; one can find many similar practices between authoritarian countries like Myanmar and China.

These governments target and persecute ethnic minorities that do not conform to their cultural or political ideals and vehemently  deny the allegations while deploying similar strategies and forms of punishment raising the strict internal security matters and reject any sort of public criticism from democratic part of world. These governments have rightly justify their actions by claiming that the ethnic minorities are extremists legitimize counterterrorism.

In support of the preceding statement it has to be underlined that number of Uighurs have been forcibly deported from Cambodia and Tajikistan (both these countries have Muslim population in majority and are International Criminal Court member states) and returned to China to be sent to concentration camps.

Srilanka: Disengagement with Islam

Recently on March 13 2021, Sarath Weerasekara, Sri Lanka’s minister of public security, announced that the government will ban wearing of the burqa and close more than 1,000 Islamic schools in the country. The minister was quoted as saying that “the burqa” was a “sign of religious extremism” and has a “direct impact on national security”.  Further the government declared that all Islamic books imported into the country will need defence ministry approval.

This order was in the consequence of barbaric act of terrorism  after eight suicide bombers pledging allegiance to the Islamic State detonated themselves at churches, hotels and other locations across the country on Easter Sunday killing more than 270 innocent people comprising of women children and elderly people. And Islamic news channel blamed failure of available intelligence by the security establishment and negligence on the part of the political leadership.

Is this the justification of barbaric act of Islamic fundamentalism? Even though Muslims have claimed discrimination since Easter 2019 bombings it is not sufficiently serious in nature or amount to persecution or serious harm.

Central Africa: Adversary of non Islamic Values

Citing the reference of an article on Islamic State of Central African Province (ISCAP) published in online journal ‘Research Gate’, the extent of the relationship between ISIS and Islamic State of Central African Province (ISCAP) is indeed unclear. However, whether or not this relationship is strong, the danger of ISCAP is real, as its activities affect the region’s political stability and  economic development. This article highlighted that no African region today is immune to jihadist radicalization. Yesterday, jihadists groups were prominent in North Africa, Mali, and Nigeria.

Today, there seems to be an increase in the number of jihadist activities in Cameroon and Mozambique. Tomorrow, jihadists groups might expand to the Republic of Congo or Gabon, as those low-income countries, rich in natural resources, are also ravaged by political and economic problems. Boko Haram’s ideology is described as comprising two stances: opposition to democracy and rejection of Western-style education.

“Boko Haram” is a Hausa language nickname given by outsiders, meaning, “Western education is forbidden by Islam.” Boko Haram theology and politics encompass more than hatred for Western influence. Its view fuses two broader ideas.

First, there is a religious revelation that opposes all other value systems, including adversary interpretations of Islam. This revelation demands that Muslims choose between Islam and a set of allegedly anti Islamic practices: secularism (alliances with non-Muslims), democracy, constitutionalism  and Western-style education.

Second, there is a politics of victimhood. Boko Haram claims that its violence responds to what it has seen as a decades-long history of persecution against Muslims in Nigeria. Abduction of 276 female students mostly Christians aged from 16-18 reveals the tragic story of humanity dying a painful death. For what was this done of?

Preaching Islam! Recent case of an affiliate of al-Qaeda, al-Shabab (an Islamist insurgent group) has engaged in a long-running conflict with the federal government Somalia. This Islamist group controls much of southern and central Somalia and has been able to extend its influence into areas controlled by the government based in Mogadishu. So the crux is secularism cannot breathe.

Middle East Countries Including Islamic Organisations: Equal indifference with religions other than Islam

The contemporary Middle East is a region driven by basic conflicts of political identity, religion and is frequently a focal point for these tensions. The conflict is not solely between those who seek to marginalize Islam’s role in politics and those who seek to place it in front and center; the conflict is just as heated between Islamists and Salafi-Jihadis in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Tunisia as it is between secularists and nationally-oriented Islamists.

A strong religious authority indeed exists in every Muslim country, and it is represented by men specializing in religious matters. This religious authority has a tight relation with the politics for Muslims in this part of the world, “secular” is a complicated word. Those who reject secularism do so because they believe we must all live as the Prophet Muhammad did. Many countries who support Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and secular character viz Saudi Arabia and Iran, are resolutely without it themselves.

The Syria government continued to systematically target opponents, the majority of whom were Sunni Muslims. In Egypt, it is illegal to say anything against religion, and doing so can land one in prison for up to five years; leading Egyptian politicians have lately been pushing to outlaw atheism outright, declaring it a criminal offense. In the Palestinian territories, secularists face imprisonment and torture. In Tunisia, atheism is a taboo topic.

Pakistan: A Restless State

After 24 years of independence of Pakistan the religious minorities constituted 10% of total population. As per population census of 1998, the total population of Pakistan was 137 million. The  Muslims are about 96%, while religious minorities have been reduced to 4% of the total population. According to the 2017 Census, Muslims make up 96.2 percent of Pakistan’s population, Hindus 1.6 percent, Christians 1.59 percent, Scheduled Castes 0.25 percent, Ahmadis 0.22 percent, and other minorities 0.07 percent. The statistics itself reveals the plight of minorities.

In Islamic state of Pakistan whose constitution has thus stated that every religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practice their religion, minorities face major issues in all walks of life. An ideal example of paradox. These minorities face tough issues to get a job, in educational institutions and face social constraints. non-Muslims in Pakistan face structural obstacles and socio-political issues while seeking job. Religious minorities in Pakistan are mostly employed in the hazardous or downstream industries like; brick, glass, fishing, carpet industries and agriculture.

In Pakistan, the status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. The abduction of minor girls of minorities (Hindus & Christians especially) and then marrying it to the abductor himself has become a heinous way of forced conversion to Islam. Further to add salt on wound, these deeds against humanity are corroborated by Pakistani judiciary.

Mostly, minority women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instill a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse.

The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. Ahmadi community leaders in Pakistan reported that 11 individuals were charged for practicing their faith and that six of them were arrested on blasphemy charges. Pakistani government agencies also used a 2018 judicial decision to deny Ahmadis national identity cards.

Out of the 300 Hindu temples that Pakistan inherited in 1947 at the time of partition, hardly three dozen have managed to survive, many of whom are in ruins and set to disappear with the passage of time if due attention is not paid to their maintenance. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practice their religion.

A report published in new York times on 4th August 2020 claimed that the Hindus of Pakistan are often systemically discriminated against in every walk of life — housing, jobs, access to government welfare and are treated as second-class citizens. The  minorities have long been drawn to convert in order to join the majority and escape discrimination and sectarian violence. The report reinstated that at independence in 1947, Hindus composed 20.5 percent of the population of the areas that now form Pakistan. In the following decades, the percentage shrank rapidly, and by 1998 — the last government census to classify people by religion — Hindus were just 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population.

Forced conversions of Hindu girls and women to Islam through kidnapping and coerced marriages occur throughout Pakistan. The  Hindu rights groups are more distressed by the seemingly voluntary conversions, saying they take place under such economic duress that tantamount to a forced conversion.

Is Fundamentalist Islam Posing A Threat To Progresive World

Fundamentalism means, a return to the origin.  These fundamentalists believe that their religion is beyond any form of criticism, and should therefore also be forced upon others. Logical explanations and scientific evidences have no place in these belief systems if they work against their religious fundamentalism. For fundamentalists, religion dictates every sphere of their daily lives, and they also attempt to involve the entire society into their own belief system, often by the use of force.

Muslim fundamentalist, who see Islam as a religion and want to practice politics and manage the walks of life of people according to Sharia, are based on two primary sources, namely the Quran and Sunna. No human law can violate or contradicts what is stated in the Quran and Sunna. In their view, the right Islamic community should establish itself, in public and private life, on the basis of the Quran, which must be its guide to all matters of great or minor affairs of its life. It is believed that followers of Islam are been instructed not only how to perform religious rituals (including prayer, fasting, and penance) but also how to tax and distribute plundered wealth. Taxation became a religious ritual for the followers of early Islam & Muslims.

It was no surprise, in this context, that religion became central to political identity. The first thing to realize about the relationship between religion and political identity was that the population was taxed along religious lines. Muslims had an obligations to serve in the military while non-Muslims pay a tax, known as the jajiya, which absolves them from the responsibility to serve. The levying of this tax along religious lines reflected a broader division of society. The barbaric Islamic ideologies reflect the way of thinking of a nation or a social group which develops in veil of being rejected a social position which otherwise would have been its due place in the society poses as a challenge to the prevailing social set up.

These ideologies are propagated as a systematic programme of logical ideas, which convincingly explain the human destinies. These ideologies are highly integrated around one or few pre-eminent values, such as salvation, equality, or ethnic purity. They lay emphasis on their form, distinctiveness and never intend to follow outlooks, creeds and other ideologies existing in the same society. These ideologies are fuelled by some unwanted crisis and social stress. They originate and get support among those sections of society who have rejected the prevailing conditions. Thomas Hobbes stated “a man is a wolf to man” in the Leviathan[1] as he describes that the natural state of men is the desire to harm and will continue to cause harm.

And in the context of this topic, Islam is wolf to Islam. In each of the terrorist activities, in any part of the world, one thing is in common that is Islam. In many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years. The politics of Islamist radicalism is bred on a mentality, “I fight, therefore I exist”. Islamic leaders are in constant need of popular jihads to boost their leadership status. Nothing succeeds like success. Muslims are the fastest-growing religion in the world.

The growth and regional migration of Muslims, combined with the ongoing impact of extremist groups  like, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), Boko Haram, Al Quaida, Taliban etc  and other that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries. According to one research, Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, but Pew Research Center[2] projects that India will have that distinction by the year 2050 (while remaining a majority-Hindu country), with more than 30 crore Muslims.


The development of modern states and societies require secularisation. Religion should become restricted to private life. Maintaining a firm grip on politically threatening religious group movements is indispensible and prerequisite of healthy democracy. Many of us are having trouble explaining to our fellow Muslims that it’s possible to be vigilant and humane but still believe in a separation of religion and the state. 

The problem is that the battle over secular values can often become a bloody one, even without war. It is the matter of debate whether secularism should focus to separate the idea of  religion from  public influence  and considers it  as a  matter of private life of every individual or whether the believers of religion should be permitted to follow it in public domain. Even the moderate Islamic scholars who condemn acts of terrorism, there is no agreement on why they should be condemned. The defence mechanism adopted by any State against Islamic barbarism cannot be held demonizing Islam.

It is fellow followers of Islam who are unable to prevent Islamic fundamentalism are promoting Islamophobia among other religion. None of the research has been made on findings the reason of Islamophobia.

[1] Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, commonly referred to as Leviathan, is a book written by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and published in 1651 (revised Latin edition 1668).

[2] The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan American think tank based in Washington, D.C. founded by Andrew Kohut in 2004 It provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the United States and the world.

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Founder Director Lokbandhu Rajnarayan Law College Varanasi 221302 web: Since 2004
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