Le Soir on Islam’s Laicism

An interesting point of view.

“Islam is in fact a laicity-based faith [one
rooted in the separation of religion and government affairs],”
the Franco-Tunisian writer and essayist Abdelwahab Meddeb
explains in an interview. “It has no Church, nor a supreme
moral authority. During his final crusade, the Emperor
Frederick II, had observed that Muslims made a distinction
between the temporal and the spiritual. … We can trace the
origins of the reflection on laicity to Averroès [1126-1198].
He was the first to plant the seeds of the idea that there
existed two truths, one philosophic, the other theologic. He
saw them as twin sisters. But it is his philosophical
successors who end up forging the theory of a dual truth and
bringing about the split between philosophy and theology. …
Let us not forget that the non-separation of religion and
politics is part of the phantasmagoria surrounding the origins
of Islam that is all the rage among fundamentalists.”

By way of Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/bpb, Germany) and its estimable newsletter on European topics. I imagine the article is from Le Soir‘s issue of today, but the link does not specify, and my French is not up to searching it out. Any pointers to and/or translations of the full article gratefully accepted.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

13 thoughts on “Le Soir on Islam’s Laicism

  1. Where does philosophy end and theology begin ? Or where does theology end and philosophy begin ?

    I find this proposal that “laicite” somehow rests on some strange bifurcation of “philosophical” versus “theological” truth rather specious.

    If anything, “laicite” has it’s basis in the separation of “temporal” versus “spiritual” government -not in philosophy or theology per se.

    Besides, “origins of the reflection on laicity” can be traced further back to the 4th century to Augustine with his thinking on the “Two Cities” – city of God and city of man.

  2. This is cute, but much of Averroes’ thought is repudiated by modern Muslim thinkers. The Andalusians lost the fight over ijtihad, and in modern Muslim thought, there aren’t that many people who support separation of church and state. This is true even for most modern secular Muslim nations – e.g. Malaysia.

  3. My French is somewhat better, maybe.:) “Le Soir” (a repectable, freemason-driven, Brussels daily) published this as a contribution to discussion within Islam. It tried to bring forward elements in historical Muslim thinking, that point to a radical separation between religious and philosophical theories. The latter being reserved for state matters.
    “Le Soir” is right in underlining that Islam, in its original concepts, is a more “rational” religion than Catholicism. You should take into account, that political Belgian Catholicism, and especially the Flemish variant of it, constitute the traditional arch-enemies of the paper.
    A more comprehensive view, generally guiding “Le Soir”‘s opinions on Islam and politics, can be found in Olivier Roy: L’Islam mondialisé (2002), also translated in the US.
    I learned from it, that ANY religion, whatever its pacifist, tolerant or esoteric origins, can be transformed and (ab)used as a vehicle for fanatical confrontations. (This includes secular religions, like Soviet Communism under Stalin and radical secularism.)
    All those eclectic historical studies on Islam of the moment, are as irrelevant as it would be to judge modern Christianism on the basis of its Mediaeval Crusades or its Inquisitional practices.

  4. What makes you think that separation of church and state is somehow rational?

  5. @Oliver: Did I say that? I meant simply, that Islam, in comparison to Christianism, is more rationally structured as a religion: No Trinity, no Saints, no elaborate centralised Church structure, only one revelation, and a clear hierarchy among prophets. As Islam has no Church, no Pope, no Papal State and -officially- no pretensions to statehood, it could have been a religion that leaves us alone in matters that are of interest to us. But in reality we have a (Sunni) religious state in Saudi Arabia and a (Shiite) clergy state in Iran.
    I would agree, that “separation of church and state” is an 18th Century solution for the dilemma of the upcoming bourgeoisie, who hoped to get a win-win situation: the benefits of a clerically (self-)controlled popular mass, plus freedom to reorganise Government in order to suit property and commercial interests. This was, in a certain sense, very rational and delivery-oriented :-).
    Along with the near-disappearance of Church and religious community as relevant frameworks for disciplining and action during the 20th century in Europe, I think that, now, the ratio of this separation-axiom has to be reconsidered. Although, as a gut feeling, I am very uneasy with the idea, that the national state, or, god forbid, the European Commission, would get a sway on my ethics and morals.

  6. Did I say that?

    It seemed to me that you implied that.

    and -officially- no pretensions to statehood

    That is very debateable. The prophet was effectively head of state and commander in chief. The early caliphs could well be argued to have unified temporal and spiritual leadership.

  7. What makes you think that separation of church and state is somehow rational?

    More or less the whole history of state religions. Why do you ask?

  8. No. They work well for the purpose of controlling power and spreading the religion. They may hold back material progress, but rational does not imply usefull.

  9. Along with the near-disappearance of Church and religious community as relevant frameworks for disciplining and action during the 20th century in Europe, I think that, now, the ratio of this separation-axiom has to be reconsidered.

    Quite frankly, given the latest pronouncements on my sexual orientation from most of the religions of note, I’m quite happy with laicism and its variants.

    It figures that straight guys belonging to the majority culture would think it OK to sacrifice the disposable freedoms of the forgettable others.

  10. @Oliver: I think that the position of early caliphs as heads of state and heads of muslimhood (that was 1.300 years ago!) is as irrelevant to today’s Islam, as is the Pope’s pretention to infallibility (declared 130 years ago) to todays Chistendom.

  11. Did AFOE´rs notice that the separation of church and state works so well in Poland that the new Prime Minister recently didn´t deliver his inaugural address to the Sejm to said institution first, but to the Christian fundamentalist radio station that played a large part in propelling him to power instead?

  12. I meant simply, that Islam, in comparison to Christianism, is more rationally structured as a religion:No Trinity, no Saints, no elaborate centralised Church structure, only one revelation, and a clear hierarchy among prophets.

    Is it?

    Islam is full of irrationality: praying 5 times a day, not eating pork, performing the Haj, etc. To say that Islam’s structure is more rational is absurd, for all religions are rooted in irrationality. You would have a better argument to say it’s simpler. Although, when you apply Islam in the real world, visa vi Sharia, it becomes absurdly complex. Christianity has no such restrictions.

  13. that was 1.300 years ago!

    If the believers think it is relevant, it is relevant. Time is not important.

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