Secular Concepts and Definitions

Not only among Muslims, but allover the world, there are three concepts commonly confused by public masses: secularism, liberalism and atheism. The driver of confusion is mainly the theistic murmurs of Christian as well as Muslim curates and figureheads, always depicting secularism as a synonym to atheism. Those among them, who are most hostile to modern concepts, will include liberalism in the loop, not claiming it as a synonym of idolatry itself, but as the favorable medium for it. Hereunder, we will disambiguate the three major concepts, shedding more lights on secularism as our prime focus.

Secularity / Secularism
Secularity as a noun is used to describe the fact of being temporary i.e., non-eternal. In religious terms, it usually means acts that are done away from religious influence, basically to differentiate between an entity, position, activity, or thought that is related to religion, in other terms religion-specific (Non-secular) and another that is not related to religion, or not religion specific (secular). Secularism as a wide term, expresses the reliance on secular basis in every human activity other than his own rituals. The reliance of the individual on secular basis will require several entities in his society to be secular. Accordingly, secularism in its broad meaning can be expressed as assertion that certain practices or institutions should exist separately from religion or religious belief.
Secularism is based on three major concepts, Secular State, Secular Society, and Secular Code of Ethics. A deeper look onto the three concepts will better our background and unify our understandings before we go on with the coming chapters:

State Secularism:
It refers to reducing ties between a government and a state religion, applying civil laws, and eliminating discrimination on religion. The separation essentially involves all governmental institutions and facilities. It includes the national assembly systems and procedures as well as all syndicates, unions and political parties.
State secularism is usually linked to the age of enlightenment in Europe, when based on its secular foundation, Europe was liberated from the ecclesiastic control of the Catholic Church. Accordingly, freethought concept became very popular, empowering sciences, philosophy, arts and literature to excel, and enabling the society to build its system based on the mere public benefit apart from any dogmas and taboos the church was previously imposing. However, some historic secular or more precisely semi-secular states had existed far prior to age of enlightenment. Most eminent was the Islamic model built by Umayyads and Abbasids, yet it was only semi-secular, as while they abruptly separated state governance from religious practices, the equity of non-Muslims was questioned in both, moreover Umayyads era had witnessed racial discrimination benefiting Arabic nationals over others. We can also find a more appealing example in Spain under the Arabic government. Andalusia states were more liberal, with no eminent discriminations on religious or racial basis. Moreover, Andalusian states handled its international relations based on pragmatic reasons with no abidance to any other commitments. Nowadays, secularism dominates the globe, according to United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2005 report: secularism by constitutional articles covers nearly 70% of the world.
Yet, we notice a separation between the official standard of constitution and the practices in the supposedly secular countries. Considering India for example, it cannot be addressed as a secular society, as it witnesses sensitivities between Muslim and Hindus and frequent discriminations and harassments, while it is surely a secular state by constitution. Interestingly, while the world goes toward secular constitutions, we find Egypt and Afghanistan are the only countries who shifted from a secular constitution to a religious one. As Egypt was a secular state starting from its very first constitution in 1923, passing by the amendments in 1930, 1956, 1963 and 1971, until President Sadat, and as a part of his harmonious policy with Islamic fundamentalism, moved to a religion-based constitution in 1980 amendments. In Afghanistan case, while the constitutions of 1923, 1964, 1976 and 1987 were not merely secular, we will notice the great difference between them all and the latest two constitutions codified in 1990 and 2004 under Taliban fanatics governance.

Social Secularism versus Spiritual Social Secularism (SSS)
Social Secularism is the total separation between religion and social trends and behaviors. In other words, it turns all human life pertaining events and activities into a merely civilian practices, by activities and events we mean marriage, heritage, divorce, contracts, medical practices, judicial systems …etc. Another aspect of social secularism focuses on complete freedom of religion, one may believe in one religion, many religions or none at all, with no legal or social sanction based on this.
Here, in the area of social secularism, I can say the religions and social secularism seems incoherent in many aspects, as both of them tries to guide the individual way of life and behaviors. This does not mean only religions are rejecting secularism of societies, intolerance goes both ways. The social secularization movements usually adopt religious-sensitive attitude. For instance, when we find American secularity foundations considering the act of an Alabama court judge, voiced the Ten Commandments in the courtroom as an “an attack on secularism and endangering act to the foundation of the American society”. We can say that also secular forces sometimes become too much obsessed about religions. The Ten Commandments can be visualized as humankind heritage more than A Holy Scripture today, so it is not greatly different from using a quotation of Voltaire or Espinosa.
We cannot really claim any society on the world at that moment of time is absolutely secular, we have secular states not societies. I see this normal, and I think secularity should consider religions as part of humankind culture to be respected. For instance, we teach our kids their own history in schools, then, why not to teach an elective course of religious studies? Maybe for all common religions in the society? Being elective, it will not harm or intrude neither the personal freedom nor the anti-bias bases of secularism. The big noise related to teaching religions in schools actually are battles in the wrong field if one can say, religion when taught as a science not as dogmas can enrich our children mentality with an important dimension of life.

The clerical dominated eras in Europe, had necessarily created a State of Allergy against religions, and it is an understandable reaction, but why secularism didn't mature now after centuries? To develop into what I call Spiritual Social Secularism, a form of social secularism that does not push people to/or away from religious practices, whether in the church or in their own lives as well, only conditioned they do not intrude to any extent into others life. To make myself clear about this cornerstone concept of Spiritual Social Secularism (SSS) I will detail two examples on what is acceptable and what is not from spiritual social secularism standpoint;

Example-1: Saudi Motawa is an exceptional phenomenon; actually, Saudi
Now, imagine you are in Riyadh, standing in open-air, next to a shopping mall, as you have innocently craved a cigarette while you hate to smoke in closed place. No, ‘non-smoking’ signs are not there. In normal life, you should expect no troubles, but who said it is a normal life in Saudi? You might find a young man giving you the look he gives to a murderer, asking you to step-into a pick-up car as you are arrested! You will ask in panic, why? and you will be awkwardly replied in Arabic bedouin accent “do not you know why? You are smoking. Do not you know that smoking is Haram?” Do not try to ask him “Then why on earth your kingdom imports tobacco, tax it, and allow its sales and distribution legally? Do not you know that part of your salary comes from tobacco tax?” You better not to try discussing it logically, because I did already and it did not work, the result was losing a night in the temporary jail of The Institute for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices. Needless to mention, through this institution the Saudi authorities enforce all women, including non-Muslims to be totally covered in black veil and black bedouin coverall. This even is not a Muslim tradition according to most of scholars, but a genuine bedouin tradition imposed on everybody, oops, actually not exactly everybody; one exception is the female US troops who are allowed to wonder around cities in their shorts! This example, express how nonsense it is when a country superimposes religious practices on the nationals and even visitors. We gave this example, only to clarify, this is NOT what SSS can accept or tolerate.
might be awarded if Saudis applied to the Seven Wonders Contest with this wondrous job. Motawa is the name given to a person employed by Saudi authority to compel people behaving as good Muslims, of course in their own terms of goodness and badness according to Wahabism, the most fanatic Asharites’ stream in Islam, and the ultimate hatchery of terrorism with its intolerant understandings.

Example-2: We all remember the hassle of The French Law on Secularity and Conspicuous Religious Symbols in Schools after its issuance in September 2004, during the presidency of Jacques Chirac. That time when many Muslims believed the law represented anti-Muslim discrimination and intended harassment to French Muslims. Referring back to the law, and reading its original texts I noticed several things,
- It is a general law against all religious symbols. Means that a Christian cross necklace became as banned as the Islamic headscarf. Assuming that law was applied according to its decree without discrimination in practice, therefore, I see no room for conspiracy theory here. It was not intended against certain religion or group.
- The law is confined to public schools. This means it does not apply to private and international schools.
- Headscarf is a kind of problematic religious symbol, while some perceive it as a direct religious sign, others perceive it as a part of personal freedom to cover or uncover any part of one’s body. Both parties have a valuable perception that you cannot easily deny.

After all, I wondered in bewilderment, why hanging a piece of cloth over shoulders, as a fashion, does not represent a bother to secularism, while covering hair with the very same piece becomes provocative? Covering head can be out of religious commitment, hiding a scar, or simply a social habit. Why it was only perceived by French schools as a religious sign? I found myself favoring the theory of Anti-religious attitude. I am not contradicting myself here, I said earlier I did not find it anti-Islam, however, it is a high probability it was anti-religious allergy in general, including Islam. I see the veiling of Muslim women as tolerable religious practice, only as it lies within the boundaries of personal choices. Same applies to a necklace or a tattoo with a cross. I see the management of French government to the whole issue as exaggerated. Shall the government adopt more religious-tolerant secularism, it would have passed the whole matter without big noise.

Example-3: Animal sacrifices is such a deep-rooted ritual in all Abrahamic religions, Islam being one, wherein sacrificing is encouraged by apostolic teaching (not mandated) after prayer of Sacrificing Feast. Commemorating Abraham intention to sacrifice his beloved son in subordination to God, a son who is defined as Isaac in Old Testament and not nominated in Quran, however believed to be Ishmael based on verbal traditions. Today, this ritual in its current practice represents a public threat, in many Muslim countries you will find families keeping the animal intended for sacrifice (usually a sheep) tied next to apartments doors or over the roofs of buildings. By the Feasting day, everybody hires a butcher man to slaughter his sacrifice. Usually, butchering takes place in the streets resulting in a flood of blood allover.
Shall social secularism treat this matter? It might ban the practice due to its deleterious risk on public through zoonosis, as well as the intrusion it shows on public facilities. Contrarily, a theocracy will never allow any change to the habit, out of literary abidance to verbal traditions. Unlikely to both, spiritual social secularism will condition the practice of the ritual, so that to avoid its hazardous aspects. Conditions can be;
- Distribution and stocking of live animals to go through organized channels, and under veterinarian supervision.
- Limiting animal slaughter to registered and supervised slaughterhouses.
- Processing and packaging of the meat and other products in a healthy appropriate packs for distribution to needy families

To conclude, if we all agree, the first example is entirely anti-secular, the second is somehow anti-religious. Both are extremes, obliging a woman to cover her head is as invasive enactment to her dignity and liberal realization as obliging her to uncover it. Why we do not simply let people to choose as far as they do not invade boundaries of others? From SSS standpoint, every religion on earth today can be manifested in accordance with the foundation of social secularism, only with a margin of tolerance from the secular state to people beliefs and manifestations.

Ethical Secularism
George Holyoake, the sociologist who coined the term secularism in the nineteenth century, defined secularism as, "A code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable”. According to him, its essential principles are;

- Improvement of this life is only attainable by material means. Which is not conflicting with religions as we perceive it. In religious beliefs of Islam at least, a strong faith can never replace acts to materialize success and development.
- Science is the available providence of man. This represents an area of contradiction with some religions and streams.
- It is good to do good deeds, whether there is afterlife or not. Good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good. This is also not conflicting with religions, even if it undermines with doubt the possibility of afterlife. By the end of the day, it calls followers to do good as much as religions do, so it is enforcement.

Therefore, we find only the second role of secularism in its ethical aspect to be in contention with some religions, as from religious perspective, providence is a divine quality that cannot be linked to science. Maybe if we replace this role, to give a harmonizing inspiration with religious beliefs we can say; science offers the human-manageable alternatives to improve one’s life as well as society as a whole.

Secular Humanism
A humanist philosophy upholds reason, ethics, and justice, and rejects spiritual values as warrants of moral commitment of believers. This divisional secular philosophy unflatteringly challenges the capacity of religious faiths to control behavior of followers. The basic thrust is the failure of religious beliefs to build the Moral Man model in its large perception, although it has been always claimed by these beliefs that the super-moral man is developable only if one followed this faith or the other.
We find this thrust a misleading one, as we compare religions here to the indefinite and unlimited. It is true religions did not create the moral superman, but did secularity create any? Surely it created non as well. Simply because perfection can be only divine or theoretical, but can never be human. Humanity is not intended to be perfect, with its natural four conflicting powers. A man will be entirely moral only if his mind and superego controlled his behavior by a hundred percent and defeated his ego by a hundred percent forever. Such a man with a defeated ego, if he ever existed, will be a man without talents or innovation after exhausting his egoist fuel. Therefore, religions were intended only to support man’s superego and- to some extent- guide his mind to be powerful opponents of his ego, but no knockouts were planned. The fact that evils are the side effects of the ego element in humankind structure, and the waste products of development, explains why God the Omnipotent allowed these evils in his world, because without waste, there is no engine productivity, this is the matter as we see it.

Liberalism today became a multi-dimensional concept, to an extent making it hard to express over few lines or even few pages. However, we will consider here a couple of definitions for liberalism as a social ethic and as a political concept, being the most important aspects in our judgment.
Coady in his book Distributive Justice defines liberalism as “a social ethic that advocates liberty and equality in general”. In its political aspects, encyclopedia defines it as “a broad array of related ideas and theories of government that consider individual liberty and equality of opportunity to be the most important political goal”. From both definitions, we can understand that liberty is centered about the freedom of individuals, to be the ultimate goal, other than socialism for instance that makes the welfare of society its ultimate goal. Also against totalitarianism, wherein the state erodes individuals’ intimate margins, declaring roles even for how people should dress, like the case of Saudi totalitarianism.

Knowing secularism is centered about the human logical approach to political and social matters and issues other than divine sacred approach, we can clearly find them fairly distinctive. Nevertheless, commonly confused not only in non-secular societies, but also in some of the liberal and secular societies, where the roots of confusion originated from some commonalities, probably the kinship in origin and role models created the popular confusion between both concepts, commonalities can be briefed as follows;
- Both started as raw ideologies in the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and USA, at some point around 17th and 18th centuries.
- Both started with a challenge to the classical clergy authority of the Catholic Church. Liberalists focused on resisting the oppressive practices of Church over individual freedom, while secularists resisted the divine claims of Church to interfere in political as well as social practices.
- Leading enlightened figures on science, philosophy, legal and humanitarian sciences were common advocates of both secularity and liberty. We find gigantic names like John Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau among the list of the enlightened figures.
- Individual liberty inevitably interferes with theological control and regulations. As well, clerical dictation under the name of God represents an overt deprivation to individual from one of his genuine rights. This is why from day one liberalism and secularism were bilaterally supporting and enriching each other. Each achievement for one concept represented a step forward to the other.

Non- Religious Beliefs and Ideologies
Surely, the five categories of beliefs we listed here are all against Abrahaman religions. Yet, we are defining them individually as we do not find a common definition to harbor all; moreover, we find it of value to standardize the meaning of each term whenever we use it in the upcoming chapters,

Being the direct opposite of theism that denotes a belief in sort of supreme deity or deities, atheism is hypothetically centered on the logical viewpoint that rejects the existence of supreme deity or deities. Simply, rejecting the idea of existence of God or any other supreme existence, as in their viewpoint they do not materialize enough evidence to prove the existence of any supreme deity. Atheist philosophers also includes newborns and children before exposure to their parents’ faith as atheist, a claim that had typically opposed the base of Innatism in all religions, as almost every religion believed children to be innately related to God since the first moment of embryonic life.
The common depiction of an atheist as a man who wants to live uninhibitedly, away from the religious tenets, is a highly criticized idea. As the majority of atheist philosophers, did not argue the value of good and bad. They all admitted the common commandments as a proper way of life and good deeds to be done for its own sake. They only rejected the idea of abiding by good deeds as an aftereffect of fearing torments of hell or wishing the luxury of heaven. Finally, it is worthy to say that non-theism is too closed to atheism to be considered as a different concept.

If atheism is the direct opposite of theism, antitheism is its direct antagonist. It refers to the ideology encouraging individuals to adopt an active opposition against theism. Not as a personal belief, but as an ongoing effort of attacking different theisms or at least one religion, that is usually the commonest in the society, or the previous theism of the antitheist himself. One of its forms being the New Activism founded by the British theologist Richard Dawkins calling for an active movement to promote the scientific non-religious understanding of the universe. He diagnosed the reason behind commonality of theism to be the dedication of clergy. While antitheism, have no dedicated promoters and public defenders. It was one of the basis on which the Bright Movement was founded.

The Latin term gnosis means knowledge. The literal translation of agnosticism accordingly will be absence of knowledge. Agnosticism describes a philosophical view as simple as believing the ultimate truth to be unattainable and unknowable in theology related matters. The ultimate truth we talk about here is all the metaphysical beliefs of supreme deity, heavens, hell, afterlife, eternity…etc., and unlike the atheism and anti-theism, agnosticism does not reject the existence of God and metaphysics, but does not confirm it or support it. We can simply perceive it as a sort of religious abstention.

A philosophy respects and upholds ethics, reason & justice as moral values, and find it must be adopted by humans out of their superego drive to good deeds, apart from their religious beliefs. Because these values entitles man to realize a happy, secured and honored life. From the umbrella of humanism, different branches came out including secular humanism, scientific humanism and religious humanism.

It is the belief that all the natural phenomena and existences including humanity can only be explained through nature itself and natural sciences. Claiming the Big Bang to be the start of our universe, and after it, life evolved and developed itself over time.

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