Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Finding middle ground between secularists and theocrats?

MAY 29 — It is not only in Malaysia but in many parts of the world where there is a contest between the secularist and the religionists with regards to shaping the nature of society. There are many academic discussions on secularism and theocracy.
Essentially, secularism does not want any one scripture to be the sole determinant or source of laws in the nation. On the other hand, theocrats believe that scriptures or religious sources should be the primary source of laws and conduct in society because they believe it is divine.
Putting aside the opportunists on both side of the divide, I try to understand with compassion, giving the benefit of the doubt and emphatically as possible their respective objectives and positions. One thing becomes clear: Both mean well and believe that their respective positions will serve humanity well.
If we are willing to move away, at least for the sake of deliberation, from our dogmatic or fixed positions, we might be able to see the picture and debate more clearly.
I believe the secularists’ greatest fear with a theocratic government is the loss of human being’s free will in the general sense. They imagine a government that is ostensibly speaking, not in the name of the people, but in the name of God. Hence, they fear that any dissent of government’s policy or implementation of laws will be construed as an opposition to God’s will.
If this happens, their “crime” of opposition becomes not only a state offence but a religious offence which may be severely dealt with because of the emotive element attached to it. In a secular state, legitimate opposition to government views are welcomed as an act of citizen contribution to the betterment of the state.
On the other hand, theocrats believe that the will of human beings must be subjected to the will of God as evidenced in the respective scriptures. They fear that if human beings’ will is not controlled by God’s will, society may, in the long run, be subsumed by values that are contrary to the scriptures.
It is clearly the priority of theocrats that religious considerations precedes any other considerations in the functioning of the state.
Secularists, I believe want to uphold and protect what they see as the inherent right of citizens to shape the destiny of the state as they deem fit. They do not want this right to be limited purely by religious dogmas especially those that they consider personal.
In fact, secularists believe that religion is a purely private matter which the citizens should be allowed to practice without imposing the same publicly on others. This position will understandably collide with the stand of the theocrats, especially the Islamists.
This is because to every mainstream Islamist there is no division of religion and life on earth. Every single act, thought and behaviour is a religious act to them. Islam is both a personal and a community religion and therefore, the Islamists will want to redesign the community into the “Islamic mould.”
It is therefore clear that this mindset will move the Islamist to influence and shape society to adhere to the “Islamic parameters” when he has the opportunity to do so.
While the secularists, for example, may be shocked to view Muslim adults being “compelled” into certain kinds of religious behaviour, these very same Muslim adults view it as voluntary adherence to an “Islamic government”! Clearly, therefore, the same act has two complexity opposing perceptive.
With respect, I humbly view the matter rather differently. I believe that both a secular and an “Islamic” government has its own set of problems. This is largely because it is interpreted and implemented by men with power and wealth.
We are not living in the age of the righteous, wise, compassionate, and humble sage who runs the state for the pure benefit of the greater good of the citizens.
If I am correct, then I believe that we have to move away from being trapped by the labels of “secularism” and “Islamism” when we want to deliberate on what is beneficial for the greater good of society. We have to now learn to embrace the substance of the matter rather than be caged within dogmatic egoism or sense of piety.
I know that this a tough call for me to make as both sides, especially the elites among them, may be resistant and adamant in their positions.
Therefore, I see that the change that can occur in this regard, if we want the change, is for ordinary citizens to start thinking about the nature, situation and future of their lives. It must be a bottom-up kind of change and I have long given up in believing that changes will come top-down.
I repeat: We have to learn to start the culture of discussing the substance of things — such as employment opportunities, ability to live as a dignified human being, responsible freedom, just laws that do not dishonour the human, equality as God’s children and citizens of one state and so on.
Really, it is pointless for the ordinary citizen to be caught up with the elitist arguments of secularism or Islamism. You are powerless in this regard and you may only experience a momentary syok sendiri feeling. It is not going to put food on their table nor is it going to ensure that their children will have a good future.
The real power is to have a “look at the substance of the matter” mindset and hopefully, changes will happen bottom-up.
* Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement which encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at rapera.jay@gmail.com.
- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/finding-middle-ground-between-secularists-and-theocrats-jahaberdeen-mohamed#sthash.cE9wU555.dpuf

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