Rached Ghannouchi, founder of the Islamist Ennahda party, stated in a debate held yesterday that religion is a personal conviction, not to be imposed by the state. ”Freedom is the foundation of Islam,” he declared.
Ghannouchi spoke yesterday at a discussion, hosted by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), on the topic of “Secularism and the Relationship between Religion and State from Ennahdha’s Prespective.” Ghannouchi presented his point of view regarding secularism and religion to an audience consisting of politicians, intellectuals and the Head of the National Constituent Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafer.
According to Ghannouchi, secularism appeared in the West as a “procedural solution” to solve problems when Protestant dissidents split away from the Catholic Church. “At first glance, it seems that secularism is a philosophy that came to fight religious views. However, this is not the case,” he stated.
The Ennahdha leader added that separating religion from the state is “an adventure” that could harm both religion and state if not done properly. ”The emancipation of the state from religion can be a way of transforming the state into a mafia, looting the economy and leading widespread political deceit if not done correctly… people are deeply in need for religion, to differentiate between what is forbidden (haram) and what is allowed (hallel) in their everyday lives,” he continued.
Governments that either force their people to adhere to religious practices or restrict the religious freedom of citizens are dangerous and unnatural, according to Ghannouchi.
He gave an anecdote of his visit to an Islamic country that forces women to wear the veil. “When I got on the plane to leave, all of the women were covering their hair, but once in the air, most of the women removed their headscarves. This shows religion is a personal conviction that can not be forced or imposed on others.”
Moderate Islam and “partial secularism” both guarantee the same principles in Ghannouchi’s view. “Freedom is a fundamental principle in Islam, religion can not be forced on believers,” he added. ”Religion is not meant to give us guidance in all areas of industrial management, agricultural innovation, and governance, those subjects require human reason. Religion, however, gives us a code of values and principles,” he explained.
Ghannouchi also argued that democracy is the best illustration of the value of shura, or consultation, in Islam.