On the 3rd of March the British Court of Appeal ruled that Shabina Begum could wear her Jilbab (gown) to school, instead of the school uniform. Commenting on the verdict Lord Justice Brooke said, “Her freedom to manifest her religion or belief in public was being limited.” The announcement differs from France’s decision to ban Muslim girls wearing hijab from schools and Germany’s decision to outlaw Muslim women from wearing hijab in public offices.
One may think that at last, Muslims in Britain can find some solace under British secularism. Think again! A day before the verdict, Home Office minister Hazel Blears said that UK Muslims should accept that people of Islamic appearance are more likely to be stopped and searched by police. The number of searches targeting Asians has risen by 300%, since the introduction of anti-terror laws. It is a regular feature of western governments to eschew religious freedom in return for demonstrating intolerance towards Muslims and their right to practice Islam.
Since September 11, under the pretext of the war on terror, the West has undertaken a host of measures specifically aimed at Muslims living in the West. These measures include arbitrary arrests, physical torture, imprisonment without trial, surveillance of mosques, muzzling of Imams, and deaths in police custody. Some have even been forced to become spies. Muslims have also witnessed the endless vilification of Islam by the western media.
All this has left an indelible impression on Muslim minds that secular democracies in the West are incapable of guaranteeing Muslims the peace and security to practice their religion.
The plight of Muslims living under secular dictatorships supported by the West is much worse. In countries like Uzbekistan, Muslim males are routinely arrested for having a beard or visiting the Mosques too often. In Turkey, Muslim women who opt for university education are forced to abandon their hijab.
But the fiercest punishment is reserved for those who seek to criticize these tyrannical regimes; imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killings can routinely be found in such countries. So we also find Muslims living in the Muslim world convinced that secularism is flawed and unfit to govern them.
Even non-Muslims living under secularism feel that their religion is vulnerable. Many Christians in the West view gay bishops, women priests, illegitimate children, and the commercialization of Christmas as malicious attempts by secular fundamentalist to subvert Christian values and replacing them with secular ones.
Likewise, secularism has failed to protect the Christian sects in Northern Ireland and safeguard the lives of Jewish, Christian and Muslim people living in Palestine. India, the largest secular state in the world, is prone to religious violence where Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs are all victims of secularism. So, just like Muslims, non-Muslims are also looking for an alternative system that can provide them with an opportunity to practice their religion in peace.
Islam is the sole ideology in the world where people of different faiths can worship and perform their religious duties without experiencing reprisals or insecurity. In practice this is secured by the Caliphate state. In the past the Caliph safeguarded the rights of non-Muslims and Muslims alike, without discriminating between them. Take the case of Palestine: under the shade of the Caliphate, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in harmony, a feat unrivalled in the history of mankind.
By pressing ahead with the forced secularization of Muslims, Christian and Jews, western governments run the risk of alienating them. Instead, the West should re-evaluate its policy of coercive assimilation and critically address the broader question of our time – as to whether secularism can really guarantee the rights of people belonging to different faiths.