Salman Ahmed Shaikh
Samuel Huntington in his book raised the debate of clash of civilizations and argued that Islam has ‘bloody borders’1. Let us look at the defence budget of major world economies. As per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data for 2020, United States had spent $732 billion and China had spent $261 billion on defence2. Together, they spent close to $1 trillion on the military. How is this related to economics is not difficult to understand as development expenditure is compromised to spend on the military. As per the World Bank, there are 767 million people below the poverty line of $1.90 a day. It means that crude poverty gap is $531.9 billion (1.90 x 767,000,000 x 365) per year. The annual defence spending of the USA alone is more than what is required to pay $1.90 a day to each and every poor person in the world!
Samuel Huntington may classify democracy as an exclusive feature of western civilization. However, Islam, instead of discouraging democratic culture, instructed Muslims to instigate consultative decision making (Shura) as a recurrent process and guiding principle for collective decision making in their socio-political systems (Al- Shura: 38).
Instead of autocracy and exploitation, Islamic principles engender strong accountability (hisbah), limit the government’s power of levying exorbitant taxes and ensure socio-economic justice and civil equality. Islam directs Muslims to uphold justice and instructs that even enmity of a nation must not make them leave the path of justice (Al-Maida: 8). Injustice is one of the main hurdles in bringing about peace in this world. Injustice in politics, in economics and in every sphere of life must be avoided as per Islam.
On the other hand, Secularism as a philosophy or comprehensive doctrine is not entirely democratic if it does not allow religion to prevail in the public sphere of life even democratically. Islam permits individual freedom in the choice and practice of one’s religion or comprehensive doctrine. Some Muslim countries may not present the best examples of this commitment and they should correct themselves based on Islamic injunctions.
Secularism claims to be ‘neutral’ about religion, but in effect, it could turn out to be ‘insensitive’ to religion in several practical instances. Can we say there is a discrepancy between philosophy and practice? However, in the case of ideologies like Secularism, nothing is divine. Both its philosophy and practice is a result of human conception and attitudes. In its worst examples, the ‘public’ sphere of life can result in laws and policies which ban Hijab, beard, modest dress and in the case of a recent event, the ban of particular names for babies in some places in East Asia. ‘Private’ sphere of life then reduces to home alone. That is one’s private sphere since ancient times anyways.
Those who suggest that Muslims should blindly follow the Western countries for higher morals, they must note that some of the Western countries who claim to be secular deprive Muslims and people from other religions to practice their religion and uphold their values and cultural symbols.
For instance, European countries where there is full-scale or limited-scale ban on Hijab include France, Belgium, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Germany. But, European countries where prostitution is legal include: Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Switzerland.
- Huntington, S. P. (1993). “The Clash of Civilizations?”. Foreign Affairs, 22 – 49.
- SIPRI (2020). “Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Military Expenditure Database”. http://www.sipri.org/databases/milex