The challenges of the rise of secular religion

Houses of Parliament

Jahangir Mohammed of the Ayaan Institute argues that Muslims in the West must shift focus from debate and dialogue with Christians to confronting the challenges posed by atheistic secularism.

Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad in a recent publication of some his personal reflections challenges Muslim communities to reflect on the changed conditions in which they live in the UK, and find a way of adjusting or coming to terms with them.

Much of his reflections appear to be personal opinions (some have argued stereotypes).  Nevertheless, he makes some valid observations and the issues he raises could do with being grounded in an academic facts-based piece of research, upon which a more meaningful analysis for the Muslim community can then take place.

One relevant observation he makes is that Muslims in the UK have not really come to terms with a post-Christian (non-belief in God) society. To which I would add we have not really begun to even understand those changes at a political, community and global level, and their implications for Muslims.

Much Muslim commentary, discussions, activity, and indeed even inter-faith-dialogue in the UK, remains located primarily within a faith-based or Christian context. Even engaging in inter-faith is mainly with those now marginal and declining communities.

Britain was once a pagan country when that was the dominant force or power in society.  It then became a Christian society when Christianity was the dominant power in society.    Britain has now changed again, even from the time my parents came to what was then still a Christian country.

Secular power

Secular power has now become the dominant force in UK and European society. This has led to a situation where the UK is no longer a Christian country in the sense of belief, although the Church of England and its institutions and customs retain a privileged position in society. Morning assemblies in state school are still required to be of a “broadly Christian” nature and the monarchy is still technically the “defender of the faith.” Yet what faith they are now defending remains unclear.

Britain is now a society based on non-belief in God, or any higher spiritual power (atheist).  This is very unlike the United States where Christianity retains a huge organisational following and influence. According to a poll in December 2016 only 28% of people in the UK now believe in God or a higher spiritual power. Among this 28% will be Muslims and other minority communities. So the percentage for the indigenous community is likely to be even fewer.

Even Christmas is no longer celebrated primarily as a Christian event, according to the survey. It said:” “When presented with a list of twelve factors which might make Christmas an important time of year for them, respondents assigned the two explicitly religious aspects to the bottom two places. Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ was ranked eleventh in order of importance.”

Shockingly, even among Anglican and Catholics the figures for reasons for celebrating Christmas primarily as the birth of Jesus were only 39% and 55% respectively. Most people celebrate Christmas as a time for friends and family to get together and give presents. One can only imagine what the figures for belief in God will be in the 2021 Government census.

Given this shift in society, there are serious questions to be discussed about Muslim relationships with wider society, the politics of the land, relationships with a secular state, even co-existence and survival as a faith.

The  famous Muslim founder of sociology Ibn Khaldun correctly analysed that a colonised/overpowered people tend to imitate the habits and customs of the dominant power or force in society, even down to dress.

If a people tend to take on the characteristics, beliefs, and values of the dominant power of the day, as history tends to indicate (and the experience of Christianity in the UK has shown), it is not difficult to imagine where Muslims will be in 50 years. That drift has in fact already started among the community some time ago.

What should our focus be?

What then should be the focus of our community, mosque, dawah, even political activities?

Most of our dawah is still written and presented in the style of a previous time of Ahmad Deedat and his “comparative religion” approach. We still conduct inter-faith mainly with Christians and Jews. Surely, we should be doing inter-faith (or more non-faith) with the majority atheist communities?

How do we protect our children from emulating the new belief system and its culture, customs, and values? What relationship do we have with militant secular states and their values? How do we influence them when policy makers no longer see religion as a positive force in society, but the cause of harms and sedition?

Hardly anyone worships statues, nature-based Gods, or man-Gods anymore. We live in the era of the supremacy and civilisation of the non-God. One might even call it the worship of the self as God (self-God). From social media to the policies of the state, the ideology of the self-God rules.

Has there ever been a time in history where we have had to deal with such a phenomenon?  How does a monotheist faith such as Islam deal with the forms of worship of the contemporary era?

Ironically, there might well be parallels with militant Kemalist secularism in Turkey, and the experience of Muslims who lived through communist Soviet and Eastern European states, from which we can draw lessons. Even here there is a difference – communist atheism is not the same as capitalist atheism.

Saving the West from itself

As a community we have not even started to discuss these issues and yet Muslim children and teenagers are having to deal with these challenges daily.

On the other hand, European states themselves have evolved. Secularism once meant only the separation of state from historical clerical power and control, not the removal or God from society. Today it has started to morph into an ideology and new religion of godlessness seeking to remove God from people’s lives.

It is seeking to do this by defining those beliefs, standards, that are core values of a new secular religion and beginning to impose them on the rest of society. Terms such as “fundamental British values” or “Republican values” reflect this search to define secular religion. We have seen this already with government agencies such as OFTSED, and the Countering Violent Extremism programmes targeting Muslim communities for reform, and now moving on to wider society.

This new secular religion finds the existence of Muslims in Europe particularly problematic and we are seen as much a challenge for them, as we are challenged by it. For Muslims, the verbal acceptance of the idea of the supremacy of man and the values of Self God over Allah (SWT) is unthinkable. So when the French Republic asks Muslims to sign a declaration of allegiance to that effect, we already know what the reaction is going to be.

However, we are an Ummah with a proud history of civilisation which through knowledge and creativity were able to come to terms with many new realities. It was through understanding of social/political problems and advancement of universal knowledge – rooted in belief in Allah SWT and the Prophet Muhammad ( pbuh) – that Muslims enabled Europe to lift itself out of the Dark Ages.

The West needs Muslims and Islamic thought to prevent it from again descending to its Dark Ages. It is no coincidence that in the West,  in a search for answers to great social and economic problems of the day, so many non-Muslims at a political level have begun studying the works of Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim social scientist.

Muslims must once again rise to the occasion not just to save ourselves, but to save the West from itself.

This article first appeared on the Ayaan Institute’s website.

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