One of the problems in all discussions of Islam is the frustrated impulse to secularize in Moslems themselves. No clear definition of that is clear or consistent and the term itself has been hijacked by a narrow secular humanism that is a mix of dogmatic atheism, scientism, and, in the band of Sam Harris et al., perspectives practically out of Mossad with a built in bias, connected with charges of terrorism.
The issue of terrorism confuses the discussion because it is mixed up with the hopeless fog of covert actions that themselves drive Islamic fury. The shocking realization of the way terrorism is created by covert actions almost terminates any discussion of Islamic modernity. And these actions make any sensible person wonder if the so-called secular governments like that of the US are even civilized, let alone secular. Why would anyone respect the secular after the depravity of Americans in Iraq?
Let us consider the need to broadly define the nature of secularism to make the transition of Islamic cultures more sensible. But that said, we will find that hard to do. First, secularism began with the Reformation in the sixteenth century when people sensed a new era dawning, a new ‘saeculum’. So the definitional sequence begins with the sense of a new era of religion, not its abolition. The conflict of science and religion came later. So we must remember the complex steps of the Christian Reformation and not expect subsequent religious culture to salute the Sam Harris crowd. They have mostly started at the beginning. The stance of figures like Harris and the new atheists is that secularism renounces beliefs in god, and that all forms of religion must disappear in a secular period. That whole perspective creates hopeless confusion, and that stance of the extreme humanists is itself a de facto religious fanaticism.
In the end the term ‘secular’ has no simple definition that everyone can agree on. We should consider ‘secularism’ as a work in progress as the era of modernity explores its own future, in the process challenging traditional legacies, transforming them, and perhaps leaving them behind. The standard of science enters but is not dogmatically conclusive. Judging religion on the basis of the views of scientists over and over produces an oversimplification. The reasons were made clear by Kant who warned that the challenges to metaphysics were themselves metaphysics. There is a characteristic flavor to the ‘secular’ in a variable mix of reformation theology, science, the enlightenment, modern philosophy, romanticism, etc, but a flavor is not truly definite and we have to face the fact that there is an immense variety and ambiguity to the term. In the final analysis the original perception of living in a new era seems the only definition we can advance. Moslems should consider the point. The realm of traditional religion is constantly in conflict with the general trend of modernity.