Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Arabs discuss secularism versus religion

The BBC Arabic had a whole debate about whether Arab countries should have secular or Islamic governments. It was a pretty great debate. They had people calling in, they had experts who have studied the topic, and they stopped people on the street to ask them, too.

First, they stopped a bunch of people in Baghdad (I think), and asked them to define secularism and state what they thought of it.

"Secularism is splitting religion from politics. I think this is right."

"Secularism is when worship is in the mosque only. We're not governed by it. I'm not in support of it..." (but I'm not sure what "it" referred to!)

"Secularism is when they ban the mosques, like they did in Turkey. That's not good."

This man pretty much said: whether the government is religious or secular is beside the point. Here, we supposedly live under Islamic governments. But if we really lived under Islamic governments, then things wouldn't be as messed up as they are.

The lady leading the discussion was BBC Arabic anchor Iman Al-Qusayr. She was interviewing this man via the screen. I didn't get his name, so I'll just call him Man in White. He is a writer and researcher about secularism.

He started off by listing Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers and political thinkers of that era who had promoted secularism. "They figured out it was the best form of government," the Man in White assures.

He said: "It's the secular countries that are the advanced ones, that are developed. Those countries used to suffer under the yoke and tyranny of the Catholic Church for centuries, and they finally threw it off. And listen, in western countries, Islam is protected. The courts protect Islam and mosques." (I'm beginning to wonder. It's not quite so simple anymore.) "It's the secular countries which are free from sectarian violence."

A caller named Salam called in to offer his view:

"No, I don't think Arabs can have a secular government. Secularism takes too much away from Islam."

Iman from the BBC asked the caller: Some people say if you can separate religion from government, then you can get the hegemony of the state out of Islam, and religion can go back to its purpose, which is to bring people closer to God.

Salam: Didn't hear what he said because his phone line got too blurry. But his main message was: secularism is a contradiction of Islam.

Man in White: It's not really a contradiction. It's a bit of a distance. Secularism gives freedom to everyone. Governance according to Islam takes rights away from those who are not Muslim.

Iman from the BBC: If the governments become secular, then they will be governing based on other values, not Arab values. The underlying values would be things like the prevailing Western interpretation of human rights.

Man in White: well, those values are recognized by the United Nations and worldwide. I don't think most Arabs understand secularism. It does not mean hating religion. It just means you have equalness between all thoughts, whether religious or not religious. And it doesn't attack Islam. In fact, secular governments are better for protecting Islam. An Islamic government would come with rules [that might not be Islamic; might not work for everyone, is I think how he was trying to say that thought].

They took a break from the callers to read people's comments on-line.

A lot of people wrote: secularism is about becoming an infidel. Others said secularism is about democracy.

"Secularism is about drinking wine and going around with women."

"Secularism is killing humanity, and drugs, and disrespecting women."

"Secularism is freedom - and freedom means drugs, and women and men."

But there were comments from the other side: Secularism is equality and freedom of speech.

Some said, Arab countries are already very secular. One man said: if it means rights and freedom, we welcome it. If it means mumble mumble missed it, then we don't want it.

Then, they went out on the streets of Cairo and got more opinions from people.

A lot of them said: we are already secular, we have many types of people here, and everyone's free to do what they want. 

"Any sheikh can say what they want during Friday sermons."

"Politics and religion shouldn't be combined."

"If religion and state are separated, that will give better rights to everyone. And that's not just true here, but all over the world."

Back at the studio, the Man in White had bidden us farewell, and we had a new expert on the screen. This man was against secularism.

"In a utopia, secularism and Islam could combine; but in reality, secularism will just keep pushing Islam farther and farther away."

Two women called in next and both said: secularism is about rights for everyone, and there's no contradiction in that against Islam.

The expert in the tie said: Well, to the two dears who just called in, I think they are not understanding it correctly. They think secularism has to do with science, with progress (in Arabic, the word for secular and science are quite similar).

So he repeated the words science and secular in English, to show there is a difference. And he finished by saying Islam and secularism can't get along.

** SIDE THOUGHT: are there many Arabs out there who think SCIENCE is FAKE NEWS???

Iman from the BBC: If what you say is true, then why is it that we always hear secularism as mixed up with science and stability? Why do we never hear that Islam is mixed up with progress and stability?

Man with the Tie: Well, that's not a fair question. Back in the day, the Arab world was very stable and developed. But then, secularism was forced upon us from the west, and it didn't lead to anything but dictators and weapons and such.

Then they went out on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, to get people's opinions. Here, almost everyone was on the secular side:

"Yes, secularism is the best." "We have so many different people here, we need secularism." "Religious rule is all corruption, everyone just wants power and thinks their religion is the best."

"If secularism helps people like each other, then why not?"

Then there were final comments on social media:

"Arab countries will never accept secularism. The conditions in Europe don't exist in us."

"Arabs don't need secularism. All good comes from Islam. So we need the application of Islam."

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