By Dr Javed Jamil
Director, International Centre for Applied Islamics
There has been an outcry in recent times with people trying to present religion as a destabilising force. The truth however is that it is not the religion but the economic fundamentalism, its tirade against religion and its attempt to marginalize religion, which are primarily responsible for much of the chaos in the present world.
Throughout the history, religion has played a significant role in the individual and social affairs of human beings. For most of the people that flourished in different regions of the planet earth and in different eras, faith has been a sine qua non for their existence. In spite of the fact that religion has more often than not been defiled or contaminated by the self seeking clerics, it has earnestly and relentlessly endeavored to discipline life by erecting the ethical fence around it. It has almost been a periodical phenomenon that the prophets and sages arrived with sublime messages of highest virtues, and no sooner did they depart, their followers successively adulterated those with immoralities and indecencies. Yet, it is an irrefutable truth that it is mainly owing to the strong influences on human minds and hearts wielded by religion that truth, honesty, sacrifice for others, justice and mercy have always been regarded as commendable virtues in society, even if the constituent members of society have not, generally, put them into practice. What is, indisputably, commendable is that religion assisted mankind in overcoming dilemma of routine life at a time when it was not advanced enough to, objectively, discriminate between the right and wrong. In the midst of all-pervading gloom, the solitary torch of religion shone; whoever had the eyes that could observe it, darkness made exit from his life.
The faiths that have been dominant in the world during last few millennia - Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism. Christianity, Islam and Sikhism -- all have, without exception, magnified moral values. No religion preaches falsehood, dishonesty, cheating, bribery, hatred, violence, adultery and fornication. Each of them eschews, albeit in varying degrees, this-worldliness; Jainism and Buddhism, altogether, condemn this life; Christianity promotes celibacy; and Islam, while permitting necessities and enjoyment of life within prescribed limits, promotes love for other-worldliness. Religion aims at achieving peace, and gives less importance to material gains. This principle applies to all religions, and this is what annoys most the the economic fundamentalists; for promotion of materialism reigns supreme in their scheme of things. Their plan cannot succeed, unless people became least entangled in moral dilemma, and the love of this worldliness ravishes that of the other-worldliness; if honesty rules the roost in their life, sex outside the ambit of marriage is considered immoral and illegal, self-sacrifice lords over their hearts and minds, and deceit and falsehood haunt their conscience, how would they be persuaded to "enjoy" the "comforts of life" (without unduly caring for right and wrong) that the merchants seek to market with great fanfare.
It first happened in West where the business moguls, involved in rapid industrialization, realised the compelling need to marginalise religion, Christianity was their obvious target; they sought to minimise its influence in affairs of the state in Europe. It had played a vital role in the crusade. The bishops enjoyed unchallenged authority and respect in society that helped them in exerting pressures on the rulers. The kings, too, needed a moral boost for themselves, and some of them feared God. They were therefore usually reluctant to earn displeasure of the religious patriarchs; for any disturbance to their equation with them could loosen the rulersí grip on the masses; the danger of sedition constantly hovered over them. But, with the growing fortunes of the industrialists, the monarchs were now better placed to back a campaign for the separation of Church and Establishment, a demand that had been voiced even in the past, but without much of a success. The time was ripe to push ahead as the rulers and the industrialists could now act in tandem. The rift between this-worldliness and otherworldliness, led to the coinage of the concept of secularism. Secularism, as a movement, began at the time of Renaissance, and aimed at redirecting society from otherworldliness to this-worldliness. It was presented as an ideology that exhibited the development of humanism and the growth of manís interest in human cultural achievements. It has been in progress during the entire course of modern history, and the critics have rightly viewed it as primarily anti-Christian and anti-religion. The clerics resisted the move, but their efforts to stall the march of economic fundamentalism in the garb of secularism proved futile. A number of theologians in the second half of the twentieth century made a vain attempt to reconcile Christianity with the demands of the modern life by proposing Secular Christianity meaning that man should find in the secular world the opportunity to promote Christian values. Little they realised that the secular movement was in fact directed against these very values, and not against the rituals of that religion. Secularism showed tremendous progress in Christian countries, because Christianity did not have an elaborate code of human actions; it had to face greater resistance in Islamic states as there had been a strong belief among Muslims that Islam was not just a set of rituals, but had an elaborate system for all affairs of the world. Thus secularism achieved the remarkable feat of "emancipating" the state from the "clutches" of religion. One European country after the other started adopting secularism The economic fundamentalists had won a major battle.
The estrangement of Church and Establishment was only one step, though extremely crucial, towards the goal the economic fundamentalist had set for them. They envisaged complete marginalization of religion, and the values it stood for, in the social lives of men and women; for though the state could be persuaded to adopt an irreligious approach in socioeconomic matters, the ultimate success lay in the creation of demands for the industrial products. To multiply demands, materialism required glorification, and for the rise of materialism, religion was the greatest obstacle. This realization was responsible for the sustained tirade against the clergy, and against whatever religion championed for. The problem however was that the faith lorded over the hearts and minds of people. An outright condemnation of the oracles of religion was attended with dangerous possibilities. It could prove counterproductive, as the masses might have reacted outrageously. The clergy might have issued edicts declaring these activities blasphemous, and hardly any member of society had the audacity to face charges of blasphemy or apostasy. His faith in God and scriptures was not weak enough to permit this; he could also face ostracism. It was therefore considered strategically more expedient and less risky to campaign for privatisation of religion rather than exhibiting contempt for it. It was pleaded that faith was an absolutely personal matter, and men and women might engage in as many rituals as they liked; but, in other arenas, particularly the social, economic and political, the involvement of religion must be shunned, and those mixing the two must be condemned, and if needed, adequately punished.
As already stated, campaigns against religion were more successful in Christian countries. In Islamic countries, such movements, spearheaded by the westernised elements, had to face stiffer resistance, for unlike Christianity, Islam had laid down instructions even for social, economic and political spheres of life. Furthermore, Muslims have shown greater faith in their religion than the followers of other contemporary faiths. Slightest deviation from Shariah usually invited trouble. Even the rulers in Islamic countries, though they might be having little piety in themselves, applied Islamic principles in the matters related to law and economics. These difficulties however would not deter the antagonists of religion. A virulent propaganda began against the family and social doctrines of "the religion of Muhammed". These started producing results, at least temporarily. The masses in some Muslim countries, especially the elite, were dazed by the pompousness of the Western life. The indifference towards religion grew relatively more in those Muslim countries that had spells of French or British rule, or where communism had enraptured imaginations of some segments of society. The outstanding advancement of science, and the secular apparel the scientific education was provided with, promoted an atheistic temperament. A section of the Muslim intelligentsia started believing that God was non-existent, and there was no role of religion whatsoever in the modern world. The high voltage propaganda by the traducers of Islam gained some successes in creating confusion in the minds of the educated Muslims about the adequacy of Islamic principles for growth and development. Whoever harangued in favour of the religion was labeled obscurantist, retrogressive or retrograde; whoever advocated allegiance to the Islamic way of life was mocked decided, or ridiculed as fundamentalist or extremist. The anti-religion fervour of the westernist and leftist elements grew in intensity owing to the fact that the traditional scholars of Islam proved unequal to the task of defending the faith by presenting it in a jargon not understood by the modern man. They usually stuck to the interpretation of Qur'an and Sunnah by a handful of jurists, which often deviated from the original spirit of the sources, and they explained them only in accordance with the knowledge the contemporary world possessed about the facts of life.
The growth of Secularism in India was on a different pedestal altogether. Unlike West and Islamic countries like Turkey and Egypt, it was not primarily aimed at the negation of religion; it was more a product of the plural nature of Indian society that was composed of several religious groups and sects, many of which have considerably large population in the country. Nor secularism in India chose to deny after-life. In contrast, it developed as an ideology of the state that gives due respect to all religions, but will not have any religion of its own. A secular person in India need not be anti-religion or non-religious. He may in fact be a devout practitioner of the rituals and values preached by religion. His secular credentials become disputable only when he, by speech or action, shows disregard for the other religious communities, or spreads hatred against them. Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Mohd. Ali Johar, Pt. J.B.Pant -- all these political stalwarts were either devout Hindus or devoted Muslims, and still secular to the fore. The opposite of 'secular' in India has not been, as in the west, sacred but communal.
The unfortunate feature of the whole history of the decline of religion in most parts of the world, especially as a dominant social force, was that the protagonists of all the religions assumed an outright defensive posture. Their defence of religion was generally weak and ineffective, as they attempted to use the same criteria as their detractors had, after a meticulous thinking, laid down for examining religious beliefs and practices. They often turned apologetic in their arguments. This position has shown indication of change in many Islamic countries during last few decades as an outcome of the realisation in the educated class of their folly in blindly pursuing western life styles, rejuvenated interest in Islam of Muslim experts in modern subjects and the growing dissatisfaction of the masses with the modern legal, political, economic and social systems. The modern Islamists have discovered more rationale in their religion than the emerging order. They have gradually turned the table in several Muslim countries on their opponents. The whole Islamic world is now witnessing revival of faith. Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Malaysia -- in fact, almost every Muslim country that had, at one time or the other in the last century became westernised in varying degrees is back on the path towards the establishment of a completely or partially theocratic state. Christianity, Buddhism, Hiduism and Sikhism have also displayed signs of palingenesis in specific areas. But still, most of the religionists, including the Islamists, tend not to be aggressive in their approach, and often exhibit sectarian bias. Instead of focusing on the faults and discrepancies of the new dispensations that are numerous, they continue to dissipate their energies in erecting defences around their faiths. By the time, they defeat the mischievous propaganda unleashed against one principle or practice, the opponents, supported by the economic fundamentalists, open another front. The ideological war goes on unabated; but, this is still being fought in the domains of religion; religionists have forgotten that, for ultimate triumph, the battle-line is to be pushed into the domain of enemy.
Though the virtues like probity, self esteem, patience, endurance and truthfulness are also unwelcome, what particularly annoys the economic fundamentalists is insistence in religion on taboos. The practices forbidden by different religions are obviously such as tend to lure, mesmerise and addict the humans; these cause temporary pleasures, that may sooner or later be followed by undesirable effects, often severe on person, family and society. The very fact that they had to be prohibited indicated the culpability of the people for them; they rapidly transform their users or practitioners into physical or psychological dependants. Every religion has its prohibitions. Many of them are common with other religions. Christianity shuns sexual waywardness; Jainism and Buddhism forbid meat, alcohol and adultery; Hinduism and Christianity are not too sure about alcohol. In Islam, prohibitions have taken a more elaborate form, and cover all aspects of life; taking of alcohol pork and blood are not allowed and gambling, hoarding, usury, adultery, fornication, murder, theft and bribery are expressly unlawful. It can easily be seen that the habits and practices, prescribed by different religions, can produce serious ailments and social tensions. But, the economic fundamentalists had little concern for the welfare of the individual or society. They could foresee extraordinary scope, once the outlets are open in these taboos, for their commercial aggrandizement. It would however not be easy till religion retained a central position in society. The privatization of religion, was therefore, a compelling necessity for them.
The outgeneraling of religion along with its dos and don'ts in society ensured smooth sailing in future for the big business. They were now on a robust platform to bring about rapid onset of huge transformation in social values. These changes had absolutely nothing to do with the well being of society, and were aimed only at utilizing human temptations for the geometrical multiplication of wealth.
(Excerpted from Dr Javed Jamilís "The Devil of Economic Fundamentalism"
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