Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Secular Islam

There's been some discussion in the comments lately about whether Islam is capable of democratic government. I believe the pertinent question is less about democracy than it is about freedom and secularism. Democracy in an Islamic country would not ensure freedom, if the majority of the population thought that oppressing people of different beliefs or races was the right thing to do. What is necessary is secularism in government, and a commitment to respecting people's differences. I got some encouragement on that front today, from a statement released by delegates to the Secular Islam Summit, an event to be held in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 5, 2007. Here is what they have to say:

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

We call on the governments of the world to

reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostacy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;

eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;

reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;

and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.

We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.

We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;

to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;

and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must chose for themselves.

Those are great words, and I take heart in them. Now I know that there are some who will say that this Summit is happening in Florida, and not the Middle East, therefor it says nothing about the potential of that region for secular democracy or any other form of secular government, because the region/religion has a totalitarian mindset. However, I would respond that many of the signatories to the above statement are still practicing Muslims, which shows that it is possible for people to believe in Islam and also believe in freedom. It is my prayer that this understanding will spread throughout the Muslim world, and that the power of these ideas will defeat the opposing ideas of oppression and intolerance by sheer numbers and force of will. I don't know what the answer to that prayer will be, but events like the Secular Islam Summit keep me hoping.

Hat tip: Instapundit