Friday, November 06, 2015

Importance of the Separation of Religion and State

Dr Nasir Khan, November 6, 2015
“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.

[Letter objecting to the use of government land for churches, 1803]”

― James Madison (1751-1836). He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and its fourth President.
While underscoring the importance of the separation of Church and State, James Madison had in view the gory history of Europe over the course of at least 18 centuries of political strife, horrifying tortures and violence because of the unquestioned power of the church over the states and within the political systems of states. The rulers had to obey the commands of the Catholic Church. After the Reformation, the Lutheran including the Calvinist churches also had immense power over the states.

In fact, the question of the separation of Church and State in a broader sense is the question of the separation of Religion and State. After the end of the medieval times, there was a movement towards the freedom of conscience. The people had to be freed from the clutches of centuries-old ironmould of Religion.

It meant a challenge to the clerical authorities who had imposed their will and their interpretations of what God may have said or ordered. Thus, the chief custodians of the divine truth who had arrogated all powers on behalf of God to themselves for so long found themselves confronting a new situation. Their monopoly over what God said was under question. That was dangerous, very dangerous!

Now some thinkers and enlightened people said what people believed in matters of a Divine Power or Religion was a personal matter; this was secularism. It was no business of the state to impose the will of the clergy on the people. According to them, people should have the freedom of conscience.

For most people, it was a novel idea; they never had anything like this for so many centuries. Thus, a revolutionary idea was introduced that had far-reaching effects. Consequently, the process of freedom of conscience and the secularisation of state and society gained more ground in most of Europe, North America and Australia, etc.

While the western countries made such inroads into enlightenment, freedom of conscience, and gave legal protection to people to believe or practise any religion, the vast majority of Muslim countries have followed a different course.

The ruling classes and the Muslim clergy became close partners to advance their respective agendas. In fact, they found Islam as a convenient tool to gain power and influence over a people who had a strong cultural identity with Islam. This they exploited to the maximum. That opened the way for the fanatics, misguided and indoctrinated people to clamour for an Islamic polity under the rule of God.

As a result, we see the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and many Islamist groups and organisations causing havoc. One thing: They are convinced they represent the light of Islam. They are offering the salvation to worldwide Muslim people (the ummah); the golden age of ‘Islamic truth’ and ‘Islamic justice’ is near when the Sharia laws of the seventh-century Islamic Arabia will be enforced.

In fact, many ordinary Muslims think that the era of the early Caliphs of Islam of the seventh-century Arabia will solve all their worldly problems. It is logically possible that such a golden age can emerge if there was anything like this before!

However, we may pause for a second and think (not easy though): The world has moved with the times, including the Christians of Europe and their descendants in North America and Australia, etc. How will Islamists go back from the 21st century to the seventh-century Arabia? The only possibility I can see is if Aladdin with his magic carpet appears and transports us back to our golden age, back in time. If he does that I’m sure he will give me some space on his magic carpet; I promise to report back to all of you my story from there!

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