Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Secularism and Islam

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Tuesday 31st March 2009
Amanullah De Sondy

Yesterday, Turkey held local elections which were seen as a test for the ruling Justice and Development Party, better known as AKP, to show the world that their Islamist roots can co-exist with Turkey’s secular system. The AKP party was placed on trial for threatening the country’s secular values last year, and the outcome was in their favour as were the results of the local elections - albeit with a reduced majority.

These elections have made me think about whether secularism and Islam can co-exist. As a Scottish Muslim with Pakistani roots I feel this tension is a part of my religious heritage, as I reflect on the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, especially in light of the latest critical developments in the region. The British trained barrister, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan was a supporter of a democratic, liberal society but most often branded as a secular Muslim, as opposed to the political Islamists at the time who yearned for all things Islamic. Kemal Ataturk, the founder of secular Turkey, is also dismissed by political Islamists for the same reasons. Both Turkey and Pakistan are examples of Islamic nations grappling with secularism and Islam.

Placing this mixture in my life has been a hard battle too as my progressive attitude to Islam mixed with ample amounts of Scottish culture and traditions is sometimes understood as a 'secular' form of Islam - by that I mean I'm seen to be 'not religious'. I do - of course - reject that. For me this has always been - in some ways - an artificial division. Because, if the secular West, for example, is seen as liberal and free - such values are complimentary to Islam too – a religion rooted in peace and justice.

I believe that secularism and religion have much to learn from each other and can be interconnected through core values such as love and compassion. Maybe it's time for us to reflect on the happy mix within us all.

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