Education, Religion & Secularism

By: Shah Abdul Hannan

If we study world history, we will see that just like every cell that has a nucleus according to scientists, prior to the rise of secularism as an ideology, the nucleus or center of education was religion. The objective of education was to establish an ethical base and to mould human beings with moral or ethical ideology. This applies to Islam as well. During the initial phases of the Islamic era, the middle ages and even most recently before the colonial era, Muslim educational institutions had put emphasis upon the Qur’an, Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SA) and the Sirah (his life story) or Fiqh issues. That is, summarizing in one statement, in addition to putting emphasis upon all these, there were discussions and teachings about History, Geography, Duties of Statesmen, Policies of Government or rules of administration. A letter that was sent from Hazrat Ali (RA) to Malik Al Ashtar specified the duties and responsibilities of a governor or head of state. This shows that the basis of education was religion or Islam, which promotes good character and ethical values. Natural science or social science – whatever the teachings were – were based on this specific source.

The same is true in the history of Budhism to some extent. The education that was disseminated through Nalanda University was based on fundamental teachings of character building and on the basic ethical values taken from the teachings of Budhism. They had also incorporated other streams of knowledge prevalent in India at that time.

If we analyze the primary phases of the Hindu religion, it will be clear to us that the basis of acquiring knowledge was the Veda. Veda itself means Knowledge. The basis of their ancient philosophy was also Veda. In other words, Veda was at the center of their education culture. Alongside it, military science, diplomacy, financial studies/economics and other scriptures were added according to the need of the time.

Historically, the Christians’ education system was also based on the Church. Every church was used as a college or an educational institution. Whatever was taught there, the basis was the Bible, i.e. the Old Testament and the New Testament. This only proves that prior to the end of the 18th century – when the Enlightenment Movement began and gave birth to Secularism – education was based on religion. The result of this education culture was that human life was more or less governed by certain ethical and moral standards. As a result, most of the people, whether they were Hindu or Buddhist, were charitable. As regards fundamental human values, they were better than people now. They were not inhuman.

Prior to the enlightenment movement (that supposedly advocated free thought) initiated at the end of the 18th century, there had been two more revolutions in Europe . The first was Renaissance. This occurred in areas of Art and Literature; it was not based on religion or politics. The second revolution was the Reformation Movement. A dispute arose from the Christian Church itself over whether the Pope was the sole interpreter of the Bible. Without going into too much detail on this issue, this resulted in the Church being divided in multiple sects. For example, the Lutheran Church under the leadership of Luther, the Calvinist Church under the leadership of Calvin, the Angelical Church led by the British Priests, the Baptist Church and others. This was called the Protestant Movement which was the result of the Reformation Movement. 

There was a third revolution which had occurred in France . It had started in the name of ‘Free-thought’. The influence cut through the end of the 18th century and before & after the French Revolution. Whatever the reason was, majority of the leaders of these revolutions were openly atheist or inclined to atheism or secularism. In the history of mankind, this was the first time that they came up with the philosophy that religion needed to be excluded from activities of the state and society. That is, religion will have no role to play in issues of the state or society. If religion exists, it has to exist only in the hearts of the people – if anyone wants. Religion will be absent in areas like Economics, Culture, Politics, Legal system, and other mundane matters. The main argument of this movement was that logic, and not divine revelations, will be the basis of life; and there will be no establishment of religious or divine law. 

The first bad consequence of this was that education was separated from religion. As a result, the schooling systems that developed made people selfish. They became commercial. Respect for religion decreased. The greatness or dominance of ethics/morals was reduced. Man became more accustomed to immorality and selfishness. This schooling gave rise to generals, politicians & scholars. In their inner self a predisposition was imprinted that for the greater society there was no need of religion – whether in parliament, markets, stock exchanges, or banks. This individual thought process that developed became the basis of their social attitude.
Consequently, this thought influenced all sectors of human life. Social Darwinism became a norm in economics and the theory ‘Survival of the Fittest’ was acquired as the theme. Only the capable will survive. Which meant: those who are not capable will one day be destroyed. Why would we obstruct the natural process? In this fashion, if any nation whether in this sub-continent, Africa or China does not prove itself as the fittest, it is bound to lose out. There is no need for morality or pity in such cases. It is only logical that ‘we are pushing the fittest forward’. This was Social Darwinism which was against Christianity and against Islam. Christianity asks you to love your neighbor, it asks you to give charity. And Islam talks about ‘Inf aq Fi SabiliLlah’ or ‘Spending in the way of Allah’, Zakah. This is a serious matter. It puts especial emphasis on the duties towards near relatives. Secularism or the Free-thought movement initiated thinking about the Economy with the exclusion of God. Even capitalism that started 500 years ago was not so unethical in reality; Christian morals had moderated its activities. However, they had started a completely competitive market system. Prior to the Free-thought movement the horrific face of capitalism had not shown itself.

But when capitalism combined itself with secularism, the laborers in Europe started facing oppression to such an extent that they were left only in the state of being alive – as resources for market production. Communism came in as a reaction to this very aspect; Socialism was given birth. The result of the imposition of Free-thought or secularist ideology on Economy was that inhumanity and immorality established itself and it was considered positive science; economy was a unique science; there will be no question of morals; no ethics. Just as we don’t give any thought of ethics in the flow of air or water, there will be no ethics on the flow of the economy. It will run by itself. Such notions resulted in many ills. Needless to say, such economic theories were the result of excessive greed and the urge for too much wealth. Interest operations made the situation worse. If interest was not there this may have never happened.

I have explained above the nature of the enlightenment movement (or the free-thought movement or Secular movement). The other result of these movements was that man at home spoke of independence, democracy, brotherhood while at the same time the children educated in the secular education system went out to conquer the world. People in France , England , Germany , Italy , Spain , Holland and few other European countries conquered almost the whole of the world: the two Americas , Australia , New Zealand , almost 100 percent of Africa and almost 70 percent of Asia. In trying to do so, they became involved in wars with each other and with the natives of those countries.
The followers of the enlightenment movement or ‘Free-thought’ of the 18th century managed to conquer the whole world. Their sense of immorality was behind this great win. No moral society/state can attack or capture another state. But they looted the world. They looted iron ores and various minerals, gold, diamond – they looted everything. The Spanish looted South America . The British looted our region, as they looted Africa . Looting was their main activity. That means: men educated in the secular education system started oppressing people severely. Then they announced that their objective was to civilize people. How can such uncivilized people civilize others?

At the time when they arrived as traders in the court of Mughal emperor Jahangir, the culture, the refinement, the etiquette that the Mughal possessed were much superior. What I’m saying is that colonizers’ political attitude was based on immorality. They fought against each other. France and England tried to take the control of India . In the end, England occupied this region solely. Similarly France , Britain & Spain fought in America . In the end South America went to the hands of Spain .North America went to the hands of the British. The British, French, Italians, Germans and Portuguese fought in Africa . Portugal took over the region of Mozambique . The Dutch took some parts including South Africa . Maghreb or North Africa was taken over by Italy and France . This very incidence is portrayed in the film of Omar Mokhtar.

What we noticed that the Free-thought movement that abandoned religion produced very bad examples of humans. These men went on conquering the world. These men plundered foreign countries and then fought among themselves. The result was that they could not give any peace to this world. They fought the First World War and the Second World War. Four very harmful doctrines were given birth by the Western Civilization: Fascism, Communism, Capitalism & Secularism. Except for democracy, they seem to have given nothing good at all. 

The ones who didn’t want to give any room for God in their consciousness showed animal behavior in issues of family and gender. They thought that there was no need for family and that it was merely an institution to subjugate and enslave women. They preferred living like animals. Even if anyone grew a family, that would be merely to produce children, which is anther animal attitude. There was also an idea of ‘Communes’. These communes would have 100 men and 100 women, and the identity of the fathers of the children was not known. Everyone would take the responsibility of child rearing. They also came up with the thought that an animal looks after (or rears) its young only until it can eat by itself. The tiger or the dog rears the young cubs until they are capable of standing on their legs. Man will also have to do the same. The attitude is: ‘Why shall I strive for 30 years? Why shall I sacrifice so much? The child has been born as a natural phenomenon and he/she is grown up now. Let him/her do his/her duty. I have no more responsibility. Why shall I give up my self-interest? Why shall I give up my happiness & pleasure?’ The deplorable state of families was largely due to the secular mindset. This could have become worse. However, the little influence of Christianity (wherever applies) that exists today has prevented it from going to that extent. Whatever good is there has been possible entirely due to people adhering to their religion of Christianity. And the moral degradation has happened largely due to this Free-thought movement; due to the secular ideology of separating life and ethics.

What’s the solution to this problem? As far as my knowledge goes, this can be solved in two ways. One, as Muslims we take seriously the directions given by Allah (SW); in other words, we need to submit to Him completely. The root cause of all problems is the false display of Free-thought. Their statement is: Leave God! On the contrary we should keep Him near to us. We have to follow Him all the time. We have to lead our lives keeping faith and trust in Him. We are bound and indebted to Him in all aspects. We cannot do without Him. This is our duty as Muslims. People of other religions have to go to the Creator, go to moral values, and return to religion. So as a solution we’re saying – whichever way possible – the education system based on morals/ethics needs to be brought back. For moral education there is no other basis other than religion.
In a Muslim State , Islam should be the basis for the Muslims, and other religions for their adherents. In non-Mulsim states a moral education system needs to be established with their religion as the basis. We hope alternatives will be there for Muslims.

If the education system grows in this manner, then we can hope that the process of developing good human beings will start. If good human beings are created, wellbeing will spread in all sectors. Good people will be created everywhere, in politics, economy, family. We cannot do with just theories. And the change will not happen with only what I am saying. However, we do have to start to work for the revival of humanity. We know that such a revival is not impossible.

There are some other relevant issues that need some discussion. There is a claim that Christian Churches are opposed to Science. I don’t know how much of it is true and how much is propaganda. This needs to be delved into. If anything of that sort has happened, then that is a mistake. Science has flourished in India and China . Here, scientists were never penalized.

Science has flourished in the hands of Muslims. We know of no incident of scientists being tortured or oppressed in Islamic history. Who can claim that in any movement, whether Communist or democratic, no mistakes were made? Removing Christianity completely is an over-reaction.

I would like to mention here a comment made in the book ‘Tawhid’ by Isma’il Al Razi. He said, ‘God is not against Science, nor an enemy of science’. It’s just because Allah exists that He has established an order. It’s because of this existence of order that it has been possible to conceptualize scientific theories. If Allah didn’t Exist, there would have been no order; neither would science have been created.

No religion has interfered in the development that has occurred due to science. The one or two examples that are found in Christian Europe were mistake. But Christian leaders or the Pope are not against Science.

We understand that humans were basically religious (God-fearing). They need to be reverted to religion and God-consciousness. They need to be reverted to being Islamic. What’s the difference between a person who is religious and a person who is secular? An Islamic person looks for a solution to any problem in the Qur’an and the Sunnah; and then to other areas. The same is applicable to other religious people. On the other hand, a secular mind doesn’t think about what’s there in Allah’s Book. He/she thinks and looks for what secular scholars say; what political leaders are saying or what Russia, China, America, or Canada are doing. They have taken the world from religious thought process to secular thought process. That is why our duty is to bring back the whole world into the frame of morality/ethics, to bring it back to the religious thought process.

The use of the word ‘secular’ was started after the Free-thought movement in the 19th century. By accepting the ideology of enlightenment, educated society has become more or less secular. Unfortunately, we have numerous people who pray but claim to be secular. They don’t look for solutions in Islam. These secular minds need to be reverted to Islam completely. For this, they need to be given some basic books to read. There is no other way. I hope, if we try our best, we will succeed insha Allah.

Translated by Sumaiya Sadia Raihan, MBA from IBA, Dhaka University .