Islam and Secular Society


Progressive Islam removes barriers of race, gender, religion, political ideology, geographic locale and societal mores by separating faith from the state.

Over the past six decades, reflecting upon the variety of experiences of life, I came to understand myself as a world citizen; a person who sees things from a global perspective. Therefore, inculcating the variations of life among diverse cultures, peoples, geographic locales, and religions, I came to believe in and accepted the benefits of a secular and multifaith global society. Why?

A global multifaith society encourages its citizens to live religious lives that inspire them to avoid the limitations that racial and religious intolerance festers. A secular, multifaith society appreciates diversity and inclusivity too. Living in a secular, multifaith society ultimately accomplishes much more, increasing opportunities for larger improvements for human life, which is foundational to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the gold standard for global humanitarianism today.

Countries that have adopted UNDHR standards as the foundation of their secular government, we find that issues of race, religion, political ideology, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical and age disabilities become markers or identifiers of their diversity – not a precursor that separates by difference – which allows legislators to focus on ideals that improve the living conditions, educational opportunities, and employment of its citizens. Those societies have shown, thus far, less tensions on an ongoing basis between the diversity of its citizenry.

A review of human history reveals different forms of governance, as societies evolved from empires to nation-states, respect for individual rights have become the gold standard for governance today. Yet, countries leaders and rulers do lag significantly behind the world standard to improve human life.

Humankind is on the verge to take technological steps that will move us far into the unknown universe of space, and our standards for equality of life and liberty cannot remain focused on a “us-versus-them” ideal favoring dominance and unbridled control over the masses. Our ability to make great leaps forward in not only our intellectual development, but also in building a more cohesive global society, is inspirational and possible due to the scientific knowledge many societies have access today.

My point, a global, secular, multifaith-based society would respect difference and would not disparage our overall development as world citizens. What appears, at times, is a feeling that real progress takes two steps forward and one step back. Such a perception must be weighed against the facts – humankind must strategically utilize our ever growing technological advantages towards improving human life. We cannot afford to adapt our technologies for human destruction through excessive militarization. The adage that “might equals right” that must remain in our past and not a part of our collective futures.

One place where we find this philosophy work for the better in today’s world has been in reassessing our environment, whether locally, regionally, or globally. The past 60 years of scientific warning of demise has shown that the basics of life such as clean air, water, unadulterated foods, and unpolluted lands are necessary in improving human lives. What it also means is that people must come first. Governmental and business projects have to consider the long-term effects on people, both their benefits and harms, and have a positive influence for the people concerned.

For example, providing electricity via dam-based power systems have become obsolete as solar and wind power generated sources are more efficient and can be used in places where water is not available. Rather than reshaping the land to fit this need, solar and wind power sources can quickly replace an water-generated dam system. A benefit that is far less intrusive on indigenous lands and disruption of human lives. This is when the importance of a secular, multifaith global society helps us. The traditional barriers of race superiority, gender disenfranchisement, religious hegemony, despotic political ideology, insertion of alien cultural and social mores, and geographic locale are not used to restrict individual and collective development.

Living in a secular, multifaith society such as the USA, as a Black person born during the pre-civil rights era, I am quite aware of US history of over 500 years of colonialism, a long list of decimated native peoples, black enslavement under Christian religious beliefs that promoted “race superiority” and “economic impoverishment.” This history not only revealed the atrocities of the past, but also how it has influenced the quality of life in the present. Though there has been some improvement, the majority of POCs in the US are living life on the edge of economic collapse.

Living in the Far East, as a student and expatriate, at a time when China’s government pushed for economic inclusion, Taiwan under Marshall law, and traveling the Pacific “dragon”, I experienced xenophobia in combination with restrictive political systems. A secular society based upon such race superiority were no different than race superiority in the West. As we can see today, with a movement for more freedom of thought and action, China’s secularization and openness to change helped it become a dominant economic power globally, a far distant reality of strict Communism of the last century.

Living in North Africa and the Middle East, also as a student and expatriate, I was exposed to a theocratic governance. As a Muslim, I could openly practice my faith, but non-Muslim faiths were restricted from public spaces. Furthermore, the three-tiered economic system reveals an elite class, an impoverishment working class, and foreign indigent workers suffering from poverty. Most lacked access to governmental services, and both citizens and foreign workers suffered from harsh punishments for legal infractions. Sadly, in most Muslim states this continues to exist today.

Even worse, Gulf state theocratic governance has exported its Wahabist/ Salafist/Jihadist ideologies to other Muslim-dominate societies, globally. This exclusionary theology have has taken root in Southeast Asia, Muslim have adopted what is clearly Gulf State cultural practices, and doing so to their detriment, causing religious tensions that have resulted in innocent people imprisoned and murdered by radicalized groups or the government itself.

Therefore, theocracies that are easily manipulated by despotic “religious” rulers and the rich, highlights the need for a secular, multifaith governance so that people lives can be fulfilled without adhering to “cultural” interpretation posing as Quranic “ethics”.

Finally, another aspect of experiencing my “otherness”, as a Black, LGBT-Muslim, senior citizen, my gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, age and disability are always present, thus living in secular, multifaith society provides equality where all citizens are generally treated equal. As anti-black, anti-gay, and anti-Muslim prejudice continues to “color” (pun intended) American “discrimination”, currently my “Muslim-ness” supersedes other aspects when I travel, my LGBT is scrutinized when I seek governmental services, and my Black maleness is always suspect via the police who are to serve and protect its citizens. Although there is some comfort in living in this secular, multifaith society, some situations leave you in doubt whether you are interacting with non-Muslims or Muslims, non-LGBT and LGBT people, or generational encounters. Though it is not all “sugar and crème”, living in a secular, multifaith society is not all bad.

In conclusion, it is important that we recognize that there is no utopia under any form of governance. Therefore, countries that have adopted significant parts of the UNDHR as their foundational structure for their law, have brought greater equality across a wide and diverse set of “identifiers”. Thereby, each citizen can expect equal treatment under the law. Of course, as with any “system” there are instances when a delicate balance must be maintained in favor of a secular governance. Thus, “equality” in a secular and multifaith society is a standard, and factors of race, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability does at times influence outcomes; however, most often the higher goal of maintaining a citizen’s human life and dignity are rarely violated as they can so easily done in non-secular, non-multifaith societies.

Daayiee Abdullah is the Executive Director of  MECCA Institute, a progressive Islamic institute with a think tank and a school.




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