Secularism in the Middle East: An Ethical Imperative

The main dilemma which resulted in most Middle Eastern entities’ delay in keeping pace with the world, is the dogmatic adherence to purely theoretical religious approaches, which are far from having pragmatic and tangible benefits. These political entities have considered their religious beliefs the only salvation, although, they have not given any substantial upshot, as they’ve not exceeded the metaphysical boundary of being sterile ideologies that have nothing to offer.

But what I want to discuss here is an analysis of the rejection of secularism from a different perspective: How this rejection exemplifies a gap in ethics, rather than in politics, in view of the fact that it reflects a narcissistic tendency based on the illusion of religious supremacy, which pushes them to refuse to be equated with the followers of other religions.

Repairing this moral gap should be the main instigator that will activate the process of secularizing Middle Eastern political systems; especially that secularism is a vital pre-requisite for getting these nations out of that theological illusion. But the biggest dilemma here is embodied in that inability — among most Middle Easters — to comprehend the meaning of secularism, and their complete dissociation from its genealogy: the non-return to the historical reasons that led to the crystallization of this term, and the upshot of its emergence. They only adopted the prevailing hypothesis that secularism is a barrier which, in any way, wants to stand between people and their belief system.

Although secularism seeks to withhold religion from politics; it does not withhold religion from the people; it does not go beyond being a call for equality and freedom of religion. When a country adopts a specific religion, it automatically places other sects within minorities; which lead us to say every system that does not adopt secularism, is segregational at the core.

The reality compels us to differentiate between what is political and what is theological: in that virtue in the world of politics is not the same as in religion, in view of the fact that politics does not suffice with what religions think of as “good intentions” as an absolute necessity. This is because politics is directed, not at a self-sufficient deity, but at an audience that is constantly in need; an audience that does not care about intentions as much as they seek the outcome. And if this contradiction continued between what these religions see as true and the actual reality we see here, we will continue to witness discriminatory, biased policies and a reality full of segregation.

When I talked about the practical output of secularism, I meant like the Age of Enlightenment, which would not have existed without the intellectual revival that secularism was one of its remnants. Although it is easy to go deeper in history in order to trace intellectual revolutions whose gears were secular, we find it difficult to encounter an example of a true intellectual one made by theocracy. This may be related to the not-entrenched concept of secularization in the Middle East, because it has not witnessed, until the moment, a firm intellectual revolution that enables it to move towards a real progress.

Although there are some eastern countries around us that practice secularism, it still isn’t based on a solid groundwork. It continues to find opposition from a large number of people, which limits its complete application.

If we assume these nations are fully aware of the content of secularization in its correct form, and with that, rejection occurs, this will lead us to a more serious moral problem, which is the refusal of (us) to be equated with (them); within the framework of religious transcendence and the illusion of distinction that Islam has entrenched in its followers, despite the fact that the intellectual revival was based on the principle of deleting the part (a specific religion) for the benefit of all (humanity), and the ensuing consequence that these people — with all their different ideological parties — establish a unified society.

We conclude that if the aforementioned hypothesis is of accuracy, the problem of the Middle East’s rejection of secularism is no longer a political issue, that can be solved with an Arab Spring or a legislative order, but, we will be facing a serious moral setback that reflects a value gap that is difficult to repair in the short term. And our only hope remains for solving the crisis in the Middle East is to see, even once in history, a firm intellectual revolution that enables it to remedy the fact that secularism is not political as much as it is an ethical imperative.

I’m a writer and the director of “Save Lives” program at the National Association for the Defense of Rights and Freedoms.