The ‘secularism’ argument (I)

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By Mohammed Adamu

Not a few Muslims have been railroaded into ‘accepting’ what most of our Christian brothers are only too happy to ‘believe’, namely that Nigeria is a ‘secular state’. ‘Secular’ as in Webster’s Dictionary’s definition  means: ‘concerned with temporal, worldly matters’ to the exclusion of ‘religion’; or ‘the profane’ in disregard of ‘the sacred’. And especially in circumstances such as we have now, with Islamic banking needlessly on the Bunsen burner, many are wont to assert that ‘secularity’ even with contemporaneous denial of the country’s ‘multi-religious’ status.

Thus you hear often: ‘Nigeria is a secular state; not a multi-religious nation!’ As though ‘secularity’ and ‘multi-religiosity’ are necessarily antonymous –one a direct opposite of the other. In truth they are not! The term ‘multi-religious’, in context, is more denotative of ‘number of faiths’ than of the very ‘essence’ of faith or of ‘religiosity’; in the same manner that ‘multi-culturalness’ will indicate a society made up of many cultures and not necessarily a ‘society run by culture’ or ‘run culturally’. And to which extent, therefore Nigeria is definitely a ‘multi-religious’ state.

Thus if like-terms should attract like-terms,  the opposite of the term ‘multi-religious’ more logically would be ‘mono-religious’, and that of the word ‘secular’ will necessarily be ‘non-secular’.

So that a state is either simply ‘secular’ for the one reason that it is ‘concerned with temporal, worldly matters’ to the exclusion of ‘religion’ (like the US ‘arguably’ claims to be) or it is ‘non-secular’ for any one of the following reasons: either that the state is ‘concerned with ‘religion’ -to the total exclusion of ‘temporal, worldly matters’ (which is inconceivable), or that it is concerned as well with ‘temporal, worldly matters’ as with ‘religious’ ones (like most countries of the world are, not excluding Nigeria).

For example in Nigeria it suffices that we are non-secular even because we are: a Common Law jurisdiction (which is deeply Christian in origin); that the Constitution recognises and the courts adjudicate on the Shariah; that the State recognises annual Christian and Muslim religious holidays including weekly ‘days’ (Sundays and Saturdays) and ‘hours’ (Fridays 12 to 2), of worship; and that states and the Federal government are involved in Christian and Muslim pilgrimages. When a state is involved even in any one of these religious activities, it is enough that that state is concerned with ‘the religious’  and no less with ‘the sacred.’

So that a nation comprising citizens of many different faiths (just as any with a preponderance of followers of one religion) can nonetheless be ‘secular’ if it declares itself so to be, and if by conduct it demonstrates so. But simply by the incidence of a state declaring itself ‘secular’, it is inconceivable that the multi-religious realty of that nation should either lose its abiding ‘spiritual’ essence or that it looses  justification to assert itself in a manner that defines that ‘essence’.

And by the way, if the primordially-subsisting incidence of the multi-religious character of a nation is not deemed sufficient to vitiate any surreptitious claim by it to the newfangled idea of ‘secularism’, why should the reverse of that be sufficient to disprove the multi-religious nature of that state and to serve as base for the justification of her ‘secularity’?

There are, by the way, many Western nations predominated by Christianity, like the UK, and who’s officially established leaning to a state-recognised Church, (like the Church of England), is equally as entrenched, but who nonetheless lay claim to ‘secularity’ on account simply of their undeniably more deeply entrenched ‘temporal’, ‘worldly’ form of existence.

Yet if being ‘concerned with temporal, worldly matters’ to the exclusion of ‘religion’; or with ‘the profane’ in disregard of ‘the sacred’ is the abiding yardstick for defining ‘secularity’, UK, like Nigeria, is most definitely ‘non-secular’ for the simple reason that it does not deal with any of these spiritual and temporal opposites to the exclusion of the other.

And so whether because the UK is non-secular on account of its Church-leanings, it is therefore a ‘Christian’ theocracy, is yet another conundrum all together! Because if even Iran, on account of a few considerations, is not deemed wholly an Islamic theocracy, the UK cannot be theocratic without its government being either run by clerics or its institutions administered according to the tenets of Christianity. Nor is it conceivable that the UK will be theocratic-ally Christian and yet it should promote contrary doctrines especially of Islamic-banking, which –by CAN’s warped argument- will be potentially subversive of UK’s Christian substructure.

But again it makes sense to say that if by reason of unwillingness to completely dissonate ‘State from Church’ and ‘State from religion’, the UK has proved itself non-secular, it should make even better sense to say that UK’s willingness to resonate a liberal inter-faith attitude especially towards Islam by establishing the ‘Islamic Bank of England’ alone is nonetheless proof also of its excellent secular character.  And which begs the question: Is any state by the way ever ‘secular’ or ‘non-secular?’

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