30th March 2008

“French-style secularism is a necessary precondition for the reform of Islam.”

Soheib Bensheikh

3 Responses to “30th March 2008”

  1. Terence Meaden Says:

    This is very important. From within the religion that is Submission-Islam, Bensheikh nonetheless pronouces somewhat helpfully on this subject. He was a candidate for the French presidency this year, so we may be suspicious of his softly-softly motive. Readers will find it useful to visit http://www.memri.info/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&Area=northafrica&ID=IA34407

  2. Terence Meaden Says:

    An excerpt from the article about him follows:

    Dr. Soheib Bencheikh was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 1961. He studied Islamic theology at Al-Azhar University and received his doctorate from the prestigious Parisian Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE). Formerly Mufti of Marseilles, France, he is a member of the French Council for the Muslim Religion [2] and head of the French Institute for Islamic Science. [3]

    A strong advocate of secularism, Bencheikh believes that French-style secularism is a necessary precondition for the reform of Islam, and he calls on both Muslims and non-Muslims to participate in critiquing Islam, reinterpreting its holy texts, combating fundamentalism, and helping Islam adapt to the modern era.

    Secularism is Key to a Reformed Islam; The French Experience Provides the Possibility of a Reformed Islam

    According to Bencheikh, the rereading of texts “in light of modern thinking” can only take place in a secular context. He says that the French experience in particular provides the possibility of a reformed Islam, [4] but that France will be able to foster the new reformed Islam only if it adheres to the secular values of the French Republic: “Islam… must adapt to modernity, century after century. I call on the French to remain faithful to the historical mission of France. I call on the Muslims to do the only thing that will save them: to adhere to the basic principles [of the French state], such as secularism.” [5]

    Bencheikh explains that secularism is not atheism, but a set of laws enabling tolerance: “I believe that inter-religious understanding is another word for secularism… I believe that religion lives under the [protection] of secularism.” [6]

    He adds that the left should remain faithful to its mission of protecting secularism: “I am a leftist, and I am appalled at the collapse of the ideals of the left [in France]…” [7] He adds: “I am not against the left. On the contrary, I deplore its absence… The left was always less timid [than the right]…, more receptive to equality and universal causes. Where has this left gone? [The left today] wastes its energies looking for the most charismatic figure, for whom people will vote. Where are the ideas? Where are the plans [for the future]? Is there [still] a left that believes in its own message?” [8]

    Traditional Islam Has Become Obsolete

    Bencheikh says that Islam came into being in tribal societies and is still focused on the tribal lifestyle. Thus, he says, it should be reformed to address the needs of modern life: “…Religious teachings were developed and formulated between the eighth and 12th centuries, and have not undergone any reform or updating since that time… [Muslims today] experience a dangerous discrepancy between their status as citizens and their status as believers…”

    “This theology [traditional Islam] could not care less about living in harmony with other cultures, and knows nothing of pluralism based on universal principals like secularism and religious freedom – [principles that are] applicable to all religions and granted to all.” [9]

    Political Islam Is Heresy

    Bencheikh draws a distinction between Islam as a humanist religion and Islam as a political tool, stating that Muslim theologians have a responsibility to promote humanistic Islam: “It is up to us Muslims who are versed in religious science to make the distinction, in the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, between a religion based on spirituality, humanism, and civilization [on the one hand], and a purely instrumental use [of religion], which aims at seizing worldly, material power [on the other]…” [10]

    “Islam Must Be Criticized, Just As Christianity Was [Criticized] During the Enlightenment”

    He adds that not criticizing Islam is tantamount to contemptuous dismissal of it: “Islam must be criticized, just as Christianity was [criticized] during the Enlightenment. Islam is a message for all humanity. Therefore, it is not the property of Muslims [alone]. Everyone has the right to be fascinated by this religion, to adhere to it, to be critical of it, and even to be hostile to it… To avoid criticizing Islam is a form of segregation. “

  3. Critic Says:

    A strong advocate of secularism, Bencheikh believes that French-style secularism is a necessary precondition for the reform of Islam, and he calls on both Muslims and non-Muslims to participate in critiquing Islam, reinterpreting its holy texts, combating fundamentalism, and helping Islam adapt to the modern era.

    This is encouraging – however, I can’t see Islam adapting to the modern era. Not that it is impossible, just highly unlikely from my view point. The fundamentalists in Islam, as in Christianity, are firmly in control of the path of their religion and the educated moderate are largely silent. Sins of omission I suppose…..if you believe in that sort of thing.