By Monia Ghanmi
Secularism does not conflict with the principles of Islam, according to Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi.
“Secularism appears to be a philosophy that contradicts religious perceptions, but things are not as has been posed,” he explained in a March 2nd lecture, hosted by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Tunis. “Secularism emerged in the West and evolved as solutions and measures for problems between church and state posed in central Europe within the framework of churches in the Protestant state.”
“So secularism is only procedures and not atheist philosophy,” he added.
Ikram Koubàa, a Tunisian citizen, considered Ghannouchi’s statements positive and reassuring, indicating a new development in the Ennahda Movement’s discourse, and a higher level of intellectual awareness among Tunisia’s Islamists.
But others saw ambiguity in Ghannouchi’s concept of secularism.
“We call for a secularism separating politics from religion and respecting our identity and our religious minorities, in which religion does not interfere with politics,” Achref Smairi said.
Ghannouchi stressed that the troubling interactions between the Islamist and secular intellectual elites stemmed from confusion about the concepts of secularism and Islam.
On the other hand, he also noted that if religion and state were completely separated, it would become easier to abuse both.
He added, “Islam grew up combining religion and politics and religion and state, and Muslims were constantly influenced by religion and they should seek inspiration from the values of Islam and its teachings to face their civilian lives.”
Ghannouchi also stressed that Islam is a civilised religion and does not contradict with civil society.
Many reject Ghannouchi’s idea of an overlap between religion and politics.
Abdessatar Akrimi said, “There must be a separation between religion and politics, because religion is a personal matter and every person is free in his convictions and no one can call him to account on his belief. Thus, Islam should not be interjected in political conflicts and employed to serve private interest.”
On the other hand Ghannouchi said, “Religiosity based on coercion is meaningless, because the Islamic nation does not need hypocrites, as people’s religiosity and what is in their hearts pertains to God. Further, Islam is a religion of the people and not a religion of the elite and not a religion of one party or another.”
With regard to the growing confrontations with Salafist groups, particularly at educational institutions and mosques, Ghannouchi described Salafists as “the fruit of a dictatorial regime”. He called for dialogue with them and embracing them to exit this conflict.