SECULARISM: A SACRED FAITH?
Secularism, like any darling child, has many names. In contemporary literature it is presented, either humbly, as a rejection of ecclesiastical authority, a model for pluralism, a theory of society, a doctrine of governance; or augustly, as a philosophy of history, a creed of atheism, an epistemology of humanism; or even more grandiosely, as a metaphysics of immanentism that corresponds to the ultimate scheme of things. Within the academic discourse, it is also customary to accord it an almost Socratic definition and distinguish its various manifestations as a process of history (secularization), a state of mind and culture (secularity) and a theory of truth (secularism). (One may note the close affinity of these terms with modernity, modernization and modernism!) Needless to say, not everyone championing its cause ascribes to all these claims, nor is every expression of the secularist, this-worldly, conscience and piety antithetical or inimical to Islam.
The first point to note is that the Western attempts to define secularism and its derivatives are not value-neutral and testify to the existence of an intense polemical climate within which these concepts are evoked. For instance, a modern Christian apologist of secularity, Harvey Cox, asserts that 'secularization is the liberation of man from religious and metaphysical tutelage, the turning of his attention away from other worlds and towards this one.'<1>. Previously, however the Christian church was not as enthusiastic and regarded it as a punitive ideology. For, secularization then simply denoted a judicial measure of confiscating ecclesiastical property for 'worldly' use by individuals or the state <2>. It is only recently that Christian thinkers have started modifying their position regarding secularization. Dietrich Bönhoffer, for instance, protested against the antithesis of ecclesia-saeculum which is axiomatic to the moderns and argued that secularization 'represents a realization of crucial motifs of Christianity itself'. Hence, Bönhoffer pleaded further, the term was meaningless and ought to be abandoned <3>.
The whole problem of Christian complicity with the modern world has been the subject of an exhaustive and incisive debate and need not detain us here <4>. Suffice it to say that sociologists, for whom the term 'secularization' refers to 'empirically available process of great importance in modern Western history', find no reason either to abandon the term or to agree with Bönhoffer <5>. On the contrary, the insistence is that secularization, as a fait social, can be defined positively as: 'the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols <6>. The typical manifestations of secularization, then, would be: the separation of Church and state, the expropriation of Church lands, the emancipation of education from ecclesiastical authority etc. Thus, for all its discomforts to the Church, secularization continues to be the cardinal doctrine of sociology.
Belatedly, however, some sociologists have come to the realization that, scientifically speaking, secularization is an inadequate category of societal analysis. According to David Martin, for instance, far from providing an objective description of modern society with scientific validity, the term secularization acts mainly as 'a tool of counter-religious ideologies.'<7>. (We need, however, to question the common assertion that fundamentalism is a revolt against modernity and secularism. Inasmuch as its metaphysical orientations are towards immanentism, it may be regarded as a variant of modernistic secularism. Hence, it is not merely accidental that there is so little love between traditionalists and fundamentalists!) Other, moderate, critics of secularization theory, who would not go as far as to dismiss it entirely, have also begun questioning its intellectual underpinnings. They readily concede today that 'secularization, as the integrative idea of social change in the modern world, is seriously flawed.' <8>
An recent critique further contends that basically the secularization thesis is 'a hodgepodge of loosely employed ideas rather than a theory', and that 'existing data simply do not support the theory.' <9>. Similarly, the persistence of religion in the heart of secularized societies, suggesting that 'religion is perhaps truly ubiquitous in human cultures', and the fact that in more countries than ever before, religion has re-emerged as a significant factor in the articulation of socio-political reality, also challenge the assumptions of the secularization thesis. Even more embarrassing for its supporters is the disclosure that secularization theory is one 'scientific' theory that traditionally has not turned to empirical facts for its authentication. Indeed, a recent student exclaims, 'before the mid-twentieth century essentially no empirical research and, hence, no foundation for challenging secularization theory existed.'!<10>.
The most cogent refutation of secularization thesis, few would disagree today, has come from the recalcitrant forces of history. It is history rather than theory which has refused to redeem secularism's claim about the disappearance of religion in the age of science and enlightenment. The death of the sacred remains more of a vain secular hope than a probable historical scenario. And yet, despite its spectacular failure, sacralization theory has not been totally abandoned, not least because it serves a useful purpose in modernity's ideological polemics against its detractors within the West, or against other cultures without. Needless to say, this ideological commitment is also at work behind recent efforts at the restitution and revision of this theory. The persistence of religion in the midst of secular modernity, some secularist theorists point out today, is due to its privatization. For, secularization implies not the extinction but the privatization of religion. However, according to another revisionist, 'the assignment of religion to the private spheres is like having one's cake and eating it too. One can hold steadfastly to the Enlightenment image of the demise of religion and still account for its embarrassing persistence. It is not necessary to establish a timetable for the disappearance of religion.' <11>
Clearly, the modern advocacy of the secularization thesis stems from an ideological commitment rather than from any fidelity to the scientific method. And even the sociologist has to concede that secularization is more than a socio-structural process, for it affects the heart and soul of the symbolic and cultural world of a society. It manifests itself in 'the decline of religious contents in the arts, in philosophy, in literature and, most important of all, in the rise of science as an autonomous, thoroughly secular perspective on the world.' <12>. Secularization of societal institutions, then, leads to the secularization of consciousness and bestows upon the modern man his peculiarly anti-religious prejudices and passions.
Today, the term does not merely describe what happens in history but expresses a value, perhaps the most sacrosanct value of our age. Secularisation represents more than a Promethean bid for the banishment of God from the governance of human Polis. The idea of secularization itself has become sacralized and secularism as doctrine has now replaced secularization as process. It has turned itself into a faith: a faith in man and a faith in progress, both a secularized faith and a faith in secularization.<13>
AUTHORITY WITHOUT TRANSCENDENCE
Whatever the cogency and validity of the secularist argument, it is contingent upon a conception and understanding of 'religion' that is idiosyncratically Western. The modern definition of religion as 'the exclusive zone of human reality for the experience of the 'holy'' bears the distinctive insignia of the secular man and applies only to his world. The intellectual cosmos and life-world of the pre-modern man of faith is a unity: it knows of no religious and non-religious dominions. No faith regards itself as anything but a total system of morality and knowledge that can cope with any human situation in terms of meaningful answers. None is willing to disenfranchise itself to the extent of positing that there could be spheres of human experience outside of its arbitration <14>. For the devotee, there is no optional metaphysics of belief, only the integrative life-world of faith. <15>. Indeed, even anthropologists argue that there can be no generic definition of 'religion', a universal genus of which all particular religious traditions are mere historical variations, 'not only because its constituent elements and relationships are historically specific, but because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive forces.' <16>. Religion, in plain words, is the foundational myth of secularism!
Paradoxically, if the peculiarly modern notion of 'religion' is the creation of the secular man, it was the sacred that gave birth to the secular in the first place and legitimated it as an autonomous domain of human reality! (The sacred and the secular here refer to institutional divisions within the Western society and do not allude to any putative schism in the human soul.) This fateful dichotomy, upon which most of modernity's self-authentication hinges, owes its genesis to one of the bitter-sweet ironies of history. Its roots lay in the sacred nature of Roman politics where religious and political activity could be considered as almost identical. It is within that context that the concept of authority (auctoritas) originally appeared and came to be distinguished from power (potestas). The most conspicuous characteristic of those in authority is, notes Hannah Arendt in a particularly suggestive and seminal study, 'that they do not have power. Cum potestas in populo auctoritas in senatu sit, "while power resides in the people, authority rests with the Senate." <16>
For Romans, the binding force of this authority, 'more than advice and less than command', is closely connected with the religious force of auspices. Further, this conception of authority is similar to that of the Sunnah in the Islamic tradition: precedents, deeds of the ancestors and the customs that grew out of them are deemed paradigmatic and binding. Indeed, the expression auctoritas maiorum, which may uninhibitedly be translated as Sunnat al-Awwalin, became for the Romans identical with normative models for actual behaviour, with tradition. However, when the Church after Constantine succeeded in overcoming 'the anti-political and anti-institutional tendencies of the Christian faith' and embarked upon her political career in the fifth century, she adopted the Roman distinction between authority and power. But, most significantly, she claimed for herself the old authority of the Senate and left the power of the state to the princes of the world. Thus were sown the seeds of the strife between regnum and sacerdotium, but also of the 'sovereignty' of the state within its own, secular, realm! <17>
This continuity of the Roman tradition, according to Arendt, had two consequences for the history of the West: one, the permanence of the clerical institutions, the other, the degradation of the political ones: 'On one hand, the miracle of permanence repeated itself once more; for within the framework of our history the durability and continuity of the Church as a public institution can be compared only with the thousand years of Roman history in antiquity. The separation of church and state, on the other hand, far from signifying unequivocally a secularization of the political realm and, hence, its rise to the dignity of the classical period, actually implied that the political had now, for the first time since the Romans, lost its authority and with it that element which, at least in Western history, had endowed political structures with durability, continuity, and permanence.' <18>
The Christian identification with auctoritas, which insinuated that the Church represented a truth higher than the mundane concerns of earthly empires, however, had the unintended consequence of removing God from the realm of the political, indeed of dispensing with God as the organizing principle of Western civilization altogether. It also meant rupturing the Roman unity of religion, authority and tradition which had conferred upon the political realm its foundational pathos and its imperial grandeur. Hence, having acquired this insight, Hannah Arendt can justly claim that 'whenever one of the elements of Roman trinity, religion or authority or tradition, was doubted or eliminated, the remaining two were no longer secure. Thus, it was Luther's error to think that his challenge of the temporal authority of the Church and his appeal to unguided individual judgement would leave tradition and religion intact. So it was the error of Hobbes and the political theorists of the seventeenth century to hope that authority and religion could be saved without tradition. So, too, was it finally the error of the humanists to think that it would be possible to remain within an unbroken tradition of Western civilization without religion and without authority.' <19>. In fact, for Arendt, "the decline of the West" consists primarily of 'the decline of the Roman trinity of religion, tradition and authority.' <20>
Similar concerns have been expressed by an uncompromisngly secularist thinker, Michael Harrington, who in a recent work mourned the death of the 'political God of the West' with great eloquence, anguish and sorrow.<21>. For him, the eclipse of religion entails pre-eminently a crisis of political theory and a loss of authority. The fact that the West, for the past two centuries at least, has been a civilisation without any avowed faith in the Transcendent is therefore for him a cause of acute metaphysical pathos and spiritual disquietude. Prior to his `demise', notes Harrington, the societal God of Judaeo-Christianity possessed certain political attributes that included:
God, claims Harrington, was 'the most important political figure in the West' and, hence, his banishment from public consciousness has had calamitous social and political consequences for the Western body-politic. Some of the most noticeable among them are:
No one need deny the moral urgency and persuasive force of Harrington's sentiments; yet the tyranny is that his `social democratic' vision cannot free itself from the compulsion to compromise. At the end of his superbly conducted tour of Western intellectual landscape, his gaze refocuses itself on the familiar mileposts of his own ideological pastures. Like a mole, Harrington would have us burrow our way through the mountain of spiritual crisis in a spirit of political compromise. Little wonder that the rocky impediments of unbelief allow him only the comforts of the tunnel vision of a mole. He lacks the power of faith that moves mountains. The Grand Coalition of `atheistic humanism' and `religious faith' which is offered as a path to planetary conscience is a half-measure, begotten of half-truths, that is unlikely to end the apartheid of `faith' and `reason' that is the legacy of the Western man and his civilization to our age.
Despite Harrington's justified strictures, however, modern thought neither denies the 'political necessity of religion' nor dismisses the indispensability of 'civil theology' for political order. Nor, in fact, is there any real dispute about the need for 'transcendentals'. Rather, the principal cause of the legitimacy-crisis is the realization that the basic religious tradition of the West can no longer, as a religious tradition, provide the core values of Western society. A revival of Judaeo-Christianity, a return to the theocratic past, is, in other words, both impossible and undesirable. The roots of the present political crisis are cognitive, epistemological and metaphysical and no 'pragmatic' acceptance of the Christian solution could appease the secularist conscience. Nothing that does not remove the seeds of cognitive doubt is worthy of the secularist's voluntary societal assent.
In any genuine dialogue with the atheistic humanist, then, the Muslim would be justified in insisting that the Western experience of the `death of God' is quite provincial and parochial; that religiously and politically it does not represent humanity's ultimate longing for a vacuous emancipation and enlightenment but that both the malaise and the remedy are appropriate only for the Western patient. It would be equally appropriate to point out that the Western man's loss of faith represents the logical fulfillment of the 'secularistic' dogmas of his own creed. One could also take comfort that Islam as a civilisation has never renounced God. In fact, dismissing all the oracles of doom would not be an unreasonable Muslim reaction, nor would be the search for epistemolgically and experientially cogent Islamic answers. However, as man of faith, the Muslim should tell the secularist that humanism, whether Christian or atheistic, Marxist or liberal, cannot end the present crisis of values. For, so long as man has himself as the locus of his values and concerns, he is unable to judge his own conduct. Only by defining himself from an external point of reference, can man hope to acquire the trappings of a cognitive and moral arbitration. The religious man has always measured the cardinal point of his personality and his civilization against God - the external (transcendent) source of all values. Before he can make a common cause with the atheistic humanist, he has a right to ask, whom does the latter accept as the referee?
What is true of Harrington is true of the secular man in general. His epistemology of questions, his loss of meaning, indeed the uncertainty of his being, is the natural cry of the self-reproaching, tormented soul, Nafs al lawwama as we know it through the parlance of the Qur'an. By renouncing God, secular man has been rendered impotent in the face of the problems of knowledge and power. Theology and political philosophy, it has always been a matter of common knowledge, are indispensable to each other. The modern debate on the legitimation of knowledge also shows that even epistemology without theology is not a viable option; for, with the `death of God' comes not only the darkness of the human soul but the blankness of the human mind as well. Without a transcendent referent, there can be no science of morals, only the cognitive uncertainty of relativism. Without a beyond, there is no categorical imperative, only the whim of subjectivity.
THE CLERICAL PARADOX
Secularization, we have seen earlier, is more than a process in the mind, a loss of religious belief and an acceptance of the scientific view of the world. It is an institutional arrangement, a structural differentiation and an ideational division of labour whereby the sacred is separated from the realm of power. It is the sacred that gives birth to the secular by hiding behind a veil as it were. Where the sacred is not self-conscious, or narcissistic, enough to conceal itself in a sanctuary, to confine it within an inviolate haven, the secular also remains unnoticeable. Such was the case in traditional Islamic societies where the sacred had no special retreats and the secular had no boundless freedom outside them. With Christianity, and Buddhism, however, it is a different matter. The Church - or Sangha - represents an institution specifically concerned with 'religion' in counterposition with all other institutions of society. The confinement of religious activities and symbols to one institutional sphere ipso facto defines the rest of the society as 'profane', outside the jurisdiction of the sacred. It is then that the world outside world becomes the saeculum, the profane domain with which the sacred had neither any concern nor any quarrel. The logical development of this, notes a modern scholar, may be seen in the Lutheran doctrine of two kingdoms, 'in which the autonomy of the secular world is actually given a theological legitimation.' <24>. Secularity, it would appear, is from the very start a Christian ambition and a Protestant necessity!
Muslim societies, it is part of both the indigenous and the foreign lore, did not have any sacerdotal institutions, any churches, and hence were spared the sacred-secular dichotomy of the West. Whatever the validity of this thesis, early Islam did witness some attempts at the establishment of a theocracy, and in the event of its failure, at the creation of a surrogate imama which was more like a papacy than a political government. Nonetheless, in practice not even Shi'ism, which championed the cause of an infallible imama, completely severed its bonds with history and it too remained loyal to the common Islamic ideal of the unity of the religious and the political. Like Sunnism, it simply responded to all the challenges of history and to the perennial tension between state and religion in Muslim societies with the intellectual and moral resources of a single, unified vision.
Notwithstanding the received wisdom, Muslim civilization is heir to a peculiar set of tensions that have been as detrimental to its body-politic as the most nefarious conflict between the Church and the state in the West. Though as an institution, the Muslim state was all-pervasive and never had to contend with any challenge of the non-existent church, in terms of ideology, it was a different matter altogether. For the state, despite all its absolute power, never succeeded in establishing its autonomy and legitimacy: it remained merely the coercive forearm of the political society which could have no pretense to any redemptive functions. The body-politic of Islam, the Muslim ummah, expressed its ultimate aspirations through the sacred law whose legitimate guardians were the ulema and not the Sultan. Civil society in other words was sovereign over the state and the ruler did not represent the body-politic. He merely embodied his personal rule or misrule. Or, seen differently, the state as the locus and seat of sovereignty did not exist.
Despite the absence of the church, and of the concomitant rivalry between church and state, the civilization of Islam generated its own sources of tension between the sacred and the secular. It too was forced to choose, as it were, between two contending texts: the one of the sacral kingship of the Khalifa and the other of the clerical authority of the `Ulama'. What triumphed in Muslim history can only be characterized as a duality: the State as the body, phenoumenon, of Islam and the Law its spirit, noumen. The state shared power with no rival association, but was not the ultimate focus of Muslim loyalty; the ulema possessed no institution of their own, but acted as the expounders of Islamic dogma! Institutional power without a legitimating text and textual authority without any institutional power: a this-worldly state in the service of the other-worldly norm! Indeed, the mutual dependency of the one upon the other has produced a highly immanentist reading of the supremely transcendental text of the revelation. Little wonder that in the discourse of the jurists raison d'islam becomes indistinguishable from raison d'etat!
The triumph of secularism, or the encroachment of Muslim order by Western powers, has seriously disturbed the traditional equilibrium between state and clergy. The modern state which had become too secular and had emancipated itself from the ulema's influence is under siege today. The clergy not only is very much part of contemporary Shi'ism, especially in Iran, but is gaining strength in other parts of the Muslim world as well. Today, it aspires to assuming special sacerdotal functions within Muslim societies and has even adopted the non-traditional term, clergy, with alacrity. Contrary to the populist rhetoric, secularization of Muslim societies, it would appear, is in full swing. In fact, according to a modern observer, the most powerful factor against the realization of the the professed and sought after unity of the sacred and the secular in Islam is the emergence of the clergy in recent times. <25>
Institutionally and sociologically, then, the clergy is the progenitor of secularism - albeit by default. Little wonder that the secularist ideal expresses itself in terms of a revolt, institutional as well as intellectual, against clerical hegemony. The secularist passion for purging Western societies of all vestiges of ecelessiastical influence, then, is grounded in a specific experience which makes sense only within the historical context of Church-State strife. Only the Church's attempt to subordinate supreme political power to its own authority, its scrambling for the riches of this world as it were, can be held responsible for the virulence of the anti-religious sentiment in Enlightenment. However, this specifically, if not uniquely, bitter Western experience renders the secularist solution to the alleviation of sacred-secular tension within the modern society much less of a universal cure.
For all the benefits of the secularization process, it cannot be mechanically transferred to other cultures simply because they do not share with the West the 'medieval' experience of ecclesiastical tyranny and obscurantism. Hence, the odd Muslim thinker who proposes a conscious policy of secularization for the modernization of Muslim societies may justifiably be criticized for not understanding the dialectics of either the Islamic or the Western history <26>. Further, as to the mechanics of this process, Muslim secularists are frustratingly reticent. They never spell out that, in the absence of the church-state dichotomy, how and by which institutional mechanism, may the churchless Islamic societies trigger this process (as compared, for instance, to the legal and political appropriation of ecclesiastical property for `worldly' uses, which is the Western precedent?) The secularist solution, then, does not move beyond the stating of the problem and provides no indication that a superficial reading of Islam as a fait social can sensitively comprehend its historical crisis and prescribe any cure for its cultural malaise.
NO MORAL RESTRAINTS TO POWER!
The most respectable theory with regard to secularism is the one which portrays it not only as the breakdown of ecclesiastical authority but also as the collapse of the theocentric model of the universe. It construes the development of secularism in terms of a devolution of human consciousness 'from Divine Cosmos to Sovereign State.' <27>. Within secular political order, it is argued, concerns with temporality and mortality replace the search for immortality and a trans-temporal salvation. Secularization entails journeying into modernity and partaking of its sacrament of rationality and progress.<28>. In modernity, man creates not only the self, which is the historical and cultural medium for redemption, but also the representative secular sovereign state which renders his reliance on any benign cosmic and theocratic order superfluous. Secularity, quite simply, is man's coming of age.
Obviously, the modern march away from theocracy to secularism signals a new conception of 'reality' in political philosophy. Secularism self-consciously repudiates the Christian solution to the human condition according to which the true end of man lies beyond the world of politics and history <29>. It posits, in the name of realism, a new conception not only of the polis but of the cosmos as well. Indeed, there is a general turn away from transcendentalism to immanentism, from theology to positivism and historicism, which renders politics more of an art of the possible than a quest for virtue, justice or redemption <30>. The architect of modern political realism and the first theorist of the modern secular state is no other than Machiavelli <31>. Religion, declared Machiavelli, has to be banished from politics not because it teaches morality but because it teaches a wrong kind of morality, the kind that does not enhance the power of the state. For him, the religious claim to rule over secular realm, the dilemma posed by the problem of Church and State as it were, produces only two alternatives: either the public realm become corrupt, in which case religion itself gets abused, or the religious body remain uncorrupt and hence destroy the public realm altogether. Either a corrupt state and the doom of religion, or an uncorrupt religion and the ruination of the state!
The dialectic of Church and State, it has been long recognized, pose an almost insoluble problem for Christian conscience. Or, expressed more cautiously, 'There are no absolute relationships of church and state, of religion and politics, and perhaps no ideal ones either' <32>. The state being the outcome of the Original Sin is at best a necessary evil, and politics, to the extent that it incarnates the sheer struggle for power, 'is bound, in Christian terms, to be the realm of the devil by definition.' <33>. The Church, in other words, may neither forsake the state nor claim it as its own! Paradoxically, the Machiavellian and the Christian concepts of politics, despite their radically diametric moral foundations, are identical insofar as they both result in a devaluation of politics. Politics is not a quest for virtue or justice, but it is, at best, an activity proper either to the fallen man (Christianity), or to the half-human, half-beastly statesman (Machiavellianism).
The traditional vision of Christianity as 'Christendom' was at best an uneasy balancing act, for it was under obligation neither to dismiss instrumental goods nor to encourage a theocratic temptation. However, even this Christian compromise crumbled in history and was replaced by a modernity in which politics, arts, science and philosophy asserted their autonomy from divine supervision. Modernity, however, created its own impasse, namely, that if each of these domains of human spirit had to look for its own criteria of validity, beyond and outside the biblical tradition and the Church, where was this normative foundation to be and how could it produce ex nihilo its own principles without making them a matter of arbitrary choice. The crisis of authority lay already in the secularist's quest for autonomy. For while art, perhaps also philosophy and science, could live with this nihilistic liberation, it cannot be made an unrestrained principles of politics. Politics, in order to remain politics, needs to distinguish itself from anarchy.
And this brings us to the poverty of secular polemics against religious faith. For, it misconstrues theocracy, either by incapacity or by design, as a theory of politics and a model for governance. Theocracy, however is pre-eminently a moral doctrine which proclaims the futility of 'political solutions' or the illegitimacy of secular rule. <34>. It represents a Utopia which, as observed acutely by a modern philosopher, 'is a form of suggestiveness from afar. It is not primarily a project of action but a critique of the present.' <35>. Theocracy, accordingly, cannot be institutionalized and must be distinguished from hierocracy, or clerocracy, which simply stand for 'priestly government'. In terms of moral orientations and relationship to power and truth, then, theocratic perception is the exact opposite of that of secularism. For, secularism proclaims not only a doctrine of power but also that of its supremacy over truth. Truth is merely a mask which will-to-power wears in order to realize itself. Indeed, in its Nietzschean form, secularism takes an aim right at the heart of religious faith by claiming that power is, essentially and ultimately, amoral. Of course, it is a stupendous claim which can only be sustained within the consciousness of nihilism, a consciousness which is convinced of the 'death of God'.
Given the amoral nature of the secularist truth, it is not accidental that the highest secularist power, the modern, anti-theocratic state, proclaims for itself the morally indefensible attribute of 'sovereignty'. The distinguishing characteristics for a Power which is sovereign, according to a modern theorist, are: 'its possession of a legislative authority; its capacity to alter as it pleases its subjects' rules of behaviour, while recasting at its own convenience the rules which undermine its own; and, while it legislates for others, to be itself above the laws, legibus solutus, absolute.'<36>. Similar misgivings have been expressed from a radically different vantage-point by political scientists. The concept of sovereignty refers to some idea of moral goodness, to something intrinsically valid and commanding that lies outside the realm of procedures and juridicality. The state as a formal legal entity cannot incorporate it and by claiming it produce its own legitimacy. <37>
From the point of view of political philosophy, and not merely that of jurisprudence, pleads a modern catholic thinker, 'the concept of sovereignty is intrinsically wrong.' <38>. The source of the logical, not to speak of the moral, error lay in the original concept advanced by Jean Bodin which separated the Sovereign from the body-politic. Likewise, sovereignty of the people is untenable as 'it is nonsensical to conceive of the people as governing themselves separately from themselves and from above themselves.' <39>. Rosseau compounded the problem by endowing the concept with another mystical notion, the General Will. Rousseau's mythical, and totalitarian, entity stipulated the sovereignty of the people as a whole but excluded the possibility of any particular bodies of citizens or associations enjoying in the state any kind of autonomy! Finally, the doctrine of sovereignty required that no decision made by the Sovereign, whether conceived as the Moral God or the General Will, could possibly be resisted by the individual conscience in the name of justice. Sovereignty thus came to possess a status above that of the moral law itself.
The concept of Sovereignty, being one with that of Absolutism, must be done away with, as must the claim of the non-accountability of the State. For, what has transpired in modern political theory is that the power without accountability of the personal Sovereign of the age of Absolutism has been transferred to the so-called legal personality of the State. However, the concept of Sovereignty, even if improper to political philosophy is proper to theology. For, 'it loses its poison when it is transplanted from politics to metaphysics. In the spiritual sphere there is a valid concept of Sovereignty. God, the separate Whole, is sovereign over the created world.' <40>. In any case, state-sovereignty is no guarantee for justice and righteousness. For, construed strictly legally within its formal framework, even a Nazi state is sovereign and legitimate! Little wonder, that the most disquieting consequences of the Nietzschean concept of amoral power is that genocide has become the measure of civilization itself. <41>
Secularism does not present a unified theory or a systematic doctrine and the Muslim critic is obliged to resist the temptation of imparting on it a theoretical and epistemological unity which it manifestly lacks. Secularism, in short, must not be sanctified as a 'Grand Theory', or the 'Master Paradigm' of the West. Like any other human reality, Western civilization is beset by its own inner contradictions which do not lend themselves to the postulation of any absolute theoretical unity. Indeed, the only lesson worth learning out of this exercise is about the complexity and richness of human experience and the inadequacy and poverty of theory. Or as Goethe has expressed so eloquently:
Grau, teurer Freund, is alle Theorie.
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
(Gray, my dear friend, is every theory,
And green alone life's golden tree.)
We must also avoid looking at the ideational landscape of our times as a battlefield between Islamic theocracy and Western secularism. The contest is not between Islam and modernity, neither is it between Islamic faith and secular rationality; indeed, not even between Muslim will-to-power and the secular world-order (whose rhetoric solicits a cultural and political pluralism but whose institutions dictate monism), but between faith in a Transcendent Being and the totalitarian project for an immanent social Utopia conceived as the End (Al-Akhira). So long as the western man, or the Muslim fundamentalist for that matter, has taken upon himself to act as the advocate of secularism, so long as modern man, whatever his descent and persuasion, is adamant upon renouncing transcendence, Homo islamicus has no other option but to stand firm in his faith in an ultimately trans-secular order of reality.