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An Audience With
Imam Achmad Cassiem


Imam Achmad Cassiem

The Chairperson of the Islamic Unity Convention (South Africa), Imam Achmad Cassiem has spent his entire life standing up against oppression.

At aged 15 he joined the armed struggle against the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa and at the age of 17 he was one of the youngest people to be imprisoned on Robben Island.

His numerous publications include "Iqra - Freedom from Ignorance", and "The intellectual roots of the oppressed".

Imam Achmad Cassiem is also an advisor to the Islamic Human Rights Commission.


During 70 sizzling minutes Imam Achmad Cassiem talks on the important themes of "Racism" and "Lack of Unity among Muslims", using examples from the experiences of Muslims in South Africa. This is followed by 42 minutes of questions and answers. A few passages from the talk are provided below. The full audio is available below for listening or downloading.

"After having lived in a terrorist state for all my life I now have the opportunity, inshallah to look back at other societies and see exactly what transpires there and how our experiences can benefit other people in the rest of the world..."


Audience with Imam Achmad Cassiem

Download (right-click) lecture (real audio 70min 8.6Mb)



He talks about apartheid and other forms of racism and how on occasions Muslims themselves have fallen in to this trap of racism. Then he looks at Islam and the ideological foundations of its opposition to racism.

"... then I realised that they have fallen in to this trap of racism, because now ethnicity becomes the euphemism for racism and I believe that in your practices and your constitutions here or your constitutional principles [Mosques & Muslim groups], common law, this concept of ethnicity is dominant... believe me it is going to destroy this Ummah if we do not apply the original [Islamic] principles.

In the Ayat al Quran, specifically Surah Hujarah (49) ayah 13. The ayah is address to al nas - "Oh mankind" and it says that He Allah has "created you from a single source and has created you in nations and tribes, not that you may discriminate against one another, but that you may know one another. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you." Now when the Muslim understands that conceptually then he automatically ceases to be a racist.

The concept al Nas means Human beings, humankind, undifferentiated, unclassified according to economic class, social class, nationality or race because we do not accept the race - it is not even a scientific concept - The science called anthropology tried to justify that [race] - anthropology was essentially a colonialist created science. Because when they discovered societies that were different from them, they wanted to justify this difference and their superiority. So they classified the worlds population in to Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid, ands its actually disgusting how this is classified.

That the Caucasoid is supposed to be the person who is light skinned, blond hair, straight noised, blue eyes - the Aryan race that Hitler was talking about. The Mongoloid is supposed to be the Japanese, Chinese variety - black straight hair, narrow slanted eyes, yellowish skin. And the Negroid from which we get the word nigger - the swear word in the United States of America; from which we get the word kaffa for the black population in South Africa, meant that this person had kinky or curly hair, a flat nose, black skin, thick lips. And this is perpetuated in the movies - Hollywood does it, writers do it, and they keep on referring to it..

There is now a form of apartheid among Muslims, for when I say this is a black Muslim I'm using apartheid legislation, When I say this is a white Muslims again that's exactly what I'm doing. Now Allah in his infinite mercy does not allow us to classify people except as he Allah has classified them - al Nas, Muslim Mohmin, kaffiroun and munafaqin. So there is a solid brick wall between the Muslim Mohmin and the kaffir because the kaffir - kaffra means to cover - to hide and he denies and covers up the truth, so he denies Tawheed - the existence of Allah, he rejects Nabuwath - prophethood, and he rejects Ma'ad - resurection and accountability of the day of judgement. So if they reject one, they reject all three. So those that understand that Islam is not a religion amongst other religions, but that Islam is the definition of religion, they cannot use the system of discrimination so they are duty bound to oppose the present racism..."


Then for the remaining 50 minutes he discusses the important issue of why is there lack of unity among Muslims and what is the solution.

"Why is it then that Muslims have not been united since the demise of Rasool Allah (the Prophet of Allah). What is it that has happened, why has it happened and is there a solution to this particular problem?

The three questions that I ask as a revolutionary in my earlier years (I was very young at the time 15 to 17 years old):

Does Islam identify the social, economic and political problems amongst mankind?

Secondly, does Islam provide the solutions to those social, economic and political problems?

Thirdly, does Islam provide us with the methods of struggle with which to deal with those problems?

And on all three of those I had a definitive yes. And I couldn't understand why Muslims are divided, even up to today. What I have discovered is that the worlds population, or the unity of mankind is awaiting the unity of the Muslims. The Muslims are the people of Tawheed and they are not united. They have one Quran, they have one Prophet that they follow, they have one origin created as "caliphate Allah ..", and they have one destiny. They why is it that they are divided? I'm not suggesting that Muslims live in a vacuum, but we can say that our enemies weaknesses are not our strengths - we tend to fool ourselves. So we must identify the enemies strengths and we must identify our weaknesses, and the major weakness in this Ummah of 1.5 billion human beings is their disunity.

We have been performing Hajj for about one thousand four hundred and fourteen years, and those numbers who go on Hajj have increased exponentially, and those that have gone on Ummrah have increased exponentially - then what is it that is not in place? It is my humble submission that there is a difference between what Islam demands of us, and what we are prepared to do.

I want us all to answer the question, in our individual capacity, is Islam the cause of our problems or is Islam the solution to our problems? Now if we are going to say, if you think carefully, that Islam is the cause of our problems, then that puts us outside the fold of Islam - because then we are kaffir. But all of us say that Islam is the solution of our problems, but the problems don't seem to be solved and therefore we have to revisit the cause of these problems. Why then are Muslims communities, like South Africa, why are Muslim states, and why are Muslim nations plagued by division and disunity and enmity?

The question I pose is does al Quran deal with the concept of, firstly, conflict resolution in Islam amongst Muslims and with reconciliation?

Firstly when we say our Kalima Shahadat [declaration of faith] two things happen. One we acquire a set of rights which Allah has ordained for us, a set of divinely ordained human rights - not given by a parliament, or human beings or a body. But we simultaneously acquire a divinely ordained set of obligations, so for each right there is this obligation.

If a person embraces Islam then all the rights that accrue to a Muslim accrue to him immediately, but the obligations only accrue to him once he knows what those obligations are and he is capable of carrying it out. So an obligation in Islam is firstly it is morally binding on the Muslim, and secondly it is legally binding on him because this is a contractual obligation. But we must ask that we be certain what these obligations are because they cannot be based on speculation. Because if they are based on speculation then the iman of this person is not intact: "certainty, absolute conviction of the truth is the whole of iman" Iman cannot be based on doubt. So for this person to act he must be certain, and this applies both to our individual obligations as well as to our collective obligations - we must be certain about them.

Why are obligations necessary? First and foremost they are necessary because they are a means for solving intra-personal conflicts, when a person has conflicts within himself and the moment he prioritises his obligations the conflict disappears. Secondly it is a means of resolving inter-personal conflicts - conflicts between human beings. Thirdly it is also a means for resolving intra-communal conflicts.

And this is what is happening in the Muslim communities. The Imams are opposed by the masjid committees, and the masjid committees are opposed by the musalids. I don't know of any masjid where there is no such conflict. In Cape Town, in South Africa, in Southern Africa these are the problems that keep on cropping up, these are intra-communal problems. Then there are the conflicts between communities, the inter-community conflicts.

Obligations are therefore a means for prioritising our values, our processes and our responsibilities. Secondly it is also a means for determining accountability.

Husbands have rights but they also have obligations, wives have rights but they also have obligations, and that which is the right of the husband is the obligation of the wife, and that which is the right of the wife is the obligation of the husband. That which is the right of the child is the obligation of the parent, and vice-versa. That is why Islam works and other systems don't work. And there are no policemen that enforce this because they have accepted this kalima shahadat and that binds them to it.

But these obligations also determine the criteria for action. So now we understand how to deal with these problems in our communities because Islam deals with real life problems - the Quran was not revealed to children, it is not children that engage in talaq, it is not children that have got to pay gizia, it is not children who have to engage in jihad, these are the concerns of adults. And therefore these real life problems must be dealt with.

Two sets of ayat al Quran will make this exceptionally clear to us. The first one, surah al Hujarat (49) ayah 9 translates "if two parties amongst the Mohmin" - it doesn't say Muslim - "if two parties amongst the Mohmin fall in to a quarrel make you peace between them, but if one of them transgresses against the commands of Allah beyond bounds against the other, fight you" - physically to fight, this is not shadow boxing, this is not metaphorical fighting, it says "fight you against the one that transgresses until he complies with the commands of Allah, but if he complies then make peace between them with justice and be fair for Allah loves those who are fair and just"

Now when the Islamic movement in South Africa coined the phrase and put it on stickers and posters "JUSTICE BEFORE PEACE" some of the ulema opposed it. How else is peace going to be established? Now if Muslims understand that between themselves and they practice it, then it is not difficult to understand how peace is established between the Muslims and their enemies - its only on the bases of justice and nothing else. So peace in Islam is a manifestation of justice and that is why we as Muslims we love justice more than we love peace for peace emanates from justice!

From Quran: "the believers are but a single brotherhood" and in the first constitution of Medina, the very first clause says that this Ummah is one ummah and that there will never be another ummah like it. The believers are but a single brotherhood so make peace and reconciliation between your two contending brothers and fear Allah that you may receive mercy". And I know sometimes that this ayat is recited sometimes is several different modes of recital and some even say 14 different modes of recital but I know that there is only one mode of understanding - and that is what is absent.

The second set of ayat "Oh ye who believe, oh ye who have iman, oh ye who have reached this level or awareness and consciousness and of commitment obey Allah and obey his rasool (prophet) and obey those who obey Allah and his rasool. In South Africa the ulema of the courts, of the government, they told us that ayah means "oh you who have iman obey Allah, obey his rasool and obey the government in power" and they collaborated with the apartheid government and I'm sure all the oppressors in the world do the same - they tell you the Quran says you must obey the government in power.

That ayah does not end there, the rest of the ayah reads "if you differ in anything amongst yourselves then refer it back to Allah and His rasool, if you do indeed believe in Allah and the Last Day, that is best and most suitable for final determination". Now the beauty of that in terms of rational thinking is when people have a dispute and they cannot resolve their dispute you don't refer the disputers, you refer it to the higher authority to resolve it. So on both those grounds the ulema of the world have failed their communities in that respect, the good ones excluded. It is on that bases then that the intra-communial and inter-communial conflicts can be resolved. It has not happened since the demise of Rasool Allah.

I went to Sheikh Omar Habib to invite him to the Islamic Unity Convention. I said let us put first things first, we are 1.2 million Muslims [in South Africa], but there are 800 organisations representing the interests of these Muslims. So you have 800 different opinions on certain issues. He said to me "My dear boy" - he's older than I am, he studied at al-Azhar for 13 years, so he said "My dear boy, what you are trying to do, nobody has ever done in the history of Islam". Because after the demise of Rasool Allah (SAW) the Muslims were split. And he told me Jamaal udeen Afghani had tried, Syed Qutb had tried, etc. My answer to him, in my ignorance, was "Sheikh Omar I am not a follower of those who cause division of the Ummah, I'm a follower of Rasool Allah (SAW). Because the Muslims were not disunited under Rasool (SAW). And he had no answer for me.

The question then is answered, does the Quran deal with conflict resolution and reconciliation? If Islam does deal with it between husband and wife, between father and child then its quiet obvious it deals with it between ruler and ruled, and between nation and nation, and between oppressor and oppressed. One, which conflict management principles are then in place in the Quran. Two, which conflict management policies are in place in derived from these principles, and Three, which conflict management processes are in place based on these principles on these policies so that we can go forward?

The one person, may Allah be pleased with him was Imam Khomeini, and he had made no bones about this issue. Before I came here, a few months ago, I reread Imam Khomeinis collected speeches - its published under the title Kausar, there are four volumes. The first volume is from 1962 to 1978, in there Imam Khomeini says there is no difference between the Muslims in Turkey and the Muslims in Iran, and during the revolution Imam Khomeini also emphasised "la Sunni, la Shia, wahda wahla Islamia" Now I'm not saying that there aren't differences, yes there are historical differences, there are differences of interpretation. But I am saying what is the Quran saying? If I transgress against the principles of the Quran then obviously there is something wrong which must be corrected in accordance with the principles of the Quran, that is very obvious.

As a result of these problems not being resolved, in South Africa we have a Shafi masjid and a Hanafi masjid in the same street, because the two couldn't live together. It was so bad that fathers wouldn't give of their Hanafi daughters to a Shafi husband. Fortunately, this was in the 1950s, this has now started to die out. And we can multiply these cases based on ethnicity, nationality, language, etc. and the principle of "ina akrumukum ahndallahi akhakum" is totally ignored.

The conceptual framework, based on the teachings of Imam Khomeini and other ulema who are sincere about the pursuit of the unity of this ummah, said and this Imam Khomeini said to the members who went to the Majlis (the first time). He said to them "differ on issues, not on personalities". In the Islamic Unity office we have got a notice up in front of every office - the women's forum, the youth forum, the national ulema council, and the Islamic unity convention national office and the educators forum and it says "look not at who is right but at what is right". Now when I address people in accordance with their personality, then I tailor my talk to suit their personality, when I address people in terms of their mentality, it is a far higher level of communication. Because it is not merely mind to mind or akal to akal or intellect to intellect, it is also heart to heart and thats very important. So Muslims must expropriate the truth where ever it is. I was ashamed one day when an alim said "By you doing that and praising Imam Ali, etc. you are expropriating the haq of the ahlul bait. Now I've reread this Quran, 10 thousand times, and it says this Quran is revealed "as a guide to mankind" [2:185]. It wasn't sent to the Quraish, imagine the Quraish telling me that you are expropriating the haq of the Quraish.

So there is a conceptual understanding that must start to reach us, and its a very serious matter, before the world bursts in to flames, because this is what the west is looking for. And if we are not united they are going to walk over us one by one.

I believe that safe guarding a small organisation anywhere in the world even in South Africa, to retain its identity, at the expense of the destruction of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a great crime because it means we reduce those sacrifices to nothing - the 100,000 that were killed under the shah, the 100,000 that were maimed under the shah and the million mujahadeen who lost their lives in defending the gains of that revolution. So we have to understand what is it that we are protecting and what is it that is destroying us.

The second thing that I learn from this process is that we must distinguish between factual problems and attitudinal problems. If on my way here the motor car stalled and we got out and we checked is there petrol in the car, is there oil in the car, is there water in the radiator, are the spark plugs okay. Now I cannot restart that car until I find out what the problem is - its a factual problem. Now if I discover that the coil has cracked, that car wont start, I have to repair that coil. But attitudinal problems can only be resolved by changing attitudes. Now by putting the facts on the table does not necessarily change the attitudes - this is what we have discovered. But we must put the facts on the table. We had a classical example of this at Cambridge University the other night, sister Merva Kavakchi was on the platform and supporters of Kamal Attaturks line were present in the audience, and they said "but you are not a Turkish citizen". So she explained why she is a Turkish citizen. Now their attitude was the problem, because if it was a factual problem you would have picked up the telephone phoned the embassy or phoned the president in Turkey and solved the problem. But even that fax arrived that says she is a citizen, their attitude would not have changed because they came there to humiliate her, to oppose her message. Socrates, a Greek philosopher of 4000bc, he said "look not at who says, but at what he says" the reason being don't let your prejudice intrude. If an atheist tells you that two plus two is four what are you going to do with it? You cant tell him you are a kaffir, I don't believe what you say! For the simple reason that you have the tools to verify what he is saying, so establish the facts.

But the third level of problems are conceptual problems - problems of understanding. And any teacher knows, who teaches mathematics for example, not all students understand the same theorem at the same time. You can walk through that class of 40 students and each one of them will understand at a different time, some might not understand it at all at the time it is delivered at perhaps a couple of days later they see it.

Now the Muslims cannot give up on the truth, for Allah says in the Quran in Surah Baqarrah (2:42) And do not mix up the truth with the falsehood, nor hide the truth while you know (it). and the Quran also says that the dialectics of truth is totally distinct from the dialectics of falsehood as nothing can come from falsehood. The Marxist say that every idea contains within itself the germ of its own destruction. This is what they are saying - because you have a theses and then you have an antithesis and then a new synthesis will come out of it. But the Muslim says how is this possible? I have the truth what do I use as an antithesis against the truth - it must be a falsehood. So how do you get a new synthesis out of this falsehood and truth. So we say that it is falsehood that contains the seeds of its own destruction and the truth contains the seeds of its own germination and development for there is no higher value than the truth.

Now the third point that comes out of our approach to resolving this problem is that we must address the causes of the problem and not the symptoms. Can you imagine that a medical doctor wanted to treat somebody with measles and put on cosmetics to disguise the measles The person is still ill - he doesn't look ill but he's very ill. So Muslims have been addressing the symptoms of the problem - they don't want to get to the causes.

Now the Ulema are at the centre of this conflict resolution and reconciliation because the sincere Muslims have a great respect for the genuine Ulema: "The Ulema are the heirs of the Prophets" meaning what do they inherit? They inherit two things - they inherit the mantle of truth and they inherit the mantle of justice. And if they don't have those two, unfortunately they don't qualify. This message can be delivered in Kabul, it can be delivered in Cairo, in Islamabad, in Capetown - it can be delivered anywhere in the world, for it is the principles that are important in this regard.

The fourth lesson then is a conflict of perspectives and conflict of interest. Now if I had a cup here in my hand, unfortunately I don't But assuming this was a cup, and the handle of the cup is on my right hand side, for all of the audience here the handle is on your left hand side. For the person on my left he doesn't see the handle. For the person on my right this handle looks peculiar because it looks like just two vertical and horizontal lines. For a person who has a plan view of this cup it looks totally different and if this was a glass table and the person looked at the cup from underneath it has a different perspective. But why do we have different perspectives? Because there is one common reality. So there is the reality called Islam, and we have different perspectives about the same Islam. We are not having different perspectives about different realities. You would call me crazy if I insisted that the handle on this cup is on the right hand side. All I can say that yes it is on the right hand side because of your perspective. So there is a conflict of perspective in our communities, amongst the nations of Muslims.

But there cannot be a conflict of interest. There is a conflict of interest between the oppressor and the oppressed, but there is no conflict of interest between Muslims. With one Quran, one Prophet, one destiny how can we have a conflict of interest? This is basic in terms of us trying to resolve this problem. The question of racism, of nationalism, of any other ism which divides Muslims is not acceptable.

And if we are asked what forms of government Islam is opposed to, our answer is very simple. Islam is opposed to all forms of government which are opposed to Islam. So if democracy is opposed to Islam, if on the basis of a show of ignorant hands you want to change the sharia, then Islam is opposed to that understanding of democracy.

The unity of mankind is awaiting the unity of the Muslims. And do we want to be held responsible for the fact that billions of human beings remain kaffir because we are disunited?

How can I go to a person that has not embraced Islam and tell him that Islam is the solution to your problems and he tells me islam is not even the solution to your problems, how can it be the solution to my problems? So on that bases then when I approach a person that has not embraced Islam I am not going to ask him why have you not embraced Islam.

I asked a couple of adults why you are Muslim and I got very beautiful answers. Islam is beautiful, Islam teaches justice, Islam teaches personal hygiene, Islam teaches mental hygiene, Islam keeps us sober from birth to death, I said mashallah all beautiful answers. But what does the Quran say why should you be Muslim? And I could smell their neurones burning because its not a question that is asked everyday, because we assume that if we are born into a Muslim home then we are Muslims.

For me the most glaring answer is in Surah Muhammad (Surah 47, ayah 1-3), translated it reads "Those who reject Allah, and hinder men from the path of Allah, their deeds will Allah render astray from their mark, they will not succeed. But those who have iman and who act in accordance with what is right and who believe in the wahi sent to Muhammad (SAW) because it is the truth from their Lord, he Allah will remove their ills from them and improve their condition." So I am a Muslim because the Quran is the truth.

So when I go to the non-Muslim I would ask him not why have you not yet embraced Islam, I would ask him why have you not yet acknowledged the truth? Now this person has got two answers ready for me. One is "What you are saying is the truth is not the truth" which means he has read the Quran, which means he has made an attempt to understand the Quran. But if that person tells me "I have not yet come across the truth" and that person has been in my company for 12 hours or more then there is something wrong with me.

So on those grounds then, yes there are 1,5 billion Muslims in the world, and they believe that they are Muslims and I believe them when they say that they are Muslims. But I also say that they are treating our Quran like a supermarket - they want to take of the shelves what they want to take and they have not accepted the fact that the entirety of the Quran is binding on them. So we must not resort to a components analysis of Islam, we must be a systems analysis. What is the system of Islam that needs to be in place?

And in conclusion, just to give an analogy, if we go to an automobile factory we find the assembly room in the motor car factory, and all the parts are lying on the assembly floor together with a manual - the slippins, the wipers, everything that fits on that car, because they are all marked. And in the next room, which is the showroom, there is the car which is assembled with petrol in and oil and water in the radiator. The car on the assembly floor is the sum of the parts, the one in the show room is the whole car. That one can drive, this one, on the assembly, cant.

So the philosophers say that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Believe me, all of these parts are lying there, somebody has to assemble it in order for the system of Islam to take its rightful place. He Allah has given us this blessing and he would not have sent the wahi to us if we did not have the intellect to understand this wahi and if we did not have the willpower to implement it."


Audience with Imam Achmad Cassiem:
Questions & Answers

Download (right-click) lecture (real audio 42min 5Mb)


In the Question Answer session one of the questions lead Imam Achmad Cassiem to talks about Hajj:

"Hajj is about freedom and about struggle, its about unity and its about brotherhood, its about power and strength, its about faith and its about commitment.

Hajj is about faith in the unity of creation and faith in the unity of the faithful.

We tawaf in one direction. We cant find one group going clockwise and another going counter-clockwise but that is what we do socially. But we don't do that when we are on Hajj - we move in one trajectory, and we have been doing this for one thousand four hundred and fourteen years.

We have one qibla, we have one ummah, we have one destiny which we say every time a Muslim dies we say aloud " Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji'oon".

When I go to the hotel there is an arrow on the ceiling and on there is written "Qibla", I believe on certain Muslim aeroplanes they have got a special salat room, I think they've got a gyroscope. In South Africa we turn 22 degrees north-east (from Cape Town). So physically, geographically I'm in qibla. But my intellectual qibla is in Moscow with Karl Marx, Lenin and Stalin. My financial qibla is in Washington, in Wall Street. My emotional qibla is somewhere else. So that must first be corrected.

Now Hajj is the time and place where we must unite. You don't have a choice - you go on Hajj you must unite. You cannot go and build your own little Arafat and go and perform your Hajj separately.

Hajj is a sanctuary for beast and man alike. Muslim cannot harm Muslim, Muslim cannot harm insects and animals. Then how is it that somewhere in the world Muslim is killing Muslim on behalf of an imperialist power?

Hajj is collective striving - we think together and we act together. The intellect of the human being and of Muslim particularly can only function in a social order which is free from greed, free from egoism, free from egotism, and free from selfishness, and Hajj provides us with that opportunity. If you've put on your ekrham - you've put on your burial shrouds. So what is there then that prevents this unity from consolidating itself?

Hajj is also a profound political statement. Its is anti-racist, it is anti-racialist, it is classless, and it is super-national.

Hajj is also a profound economic statement, for the only privileged ones amongst humanity according to Islam are those who have nothing because they must receive - those are the only privileged ones.

Hajj is also a profound sociological statement. "There is no Islam without Jummah" according to our Rasool-Allah (SAW) - there is no Islam without communal effort, without co-operation, without co-ordination. Even in small communities we don't have that.

Hajj is also a profound philosophical statement, you are here because you want to be here. So Hajj is not just a law of personal transformation, Hajj is also a law of social transformation. And yet as Dr. Ali Shariati says, the majority of Hujjas, or Hajis that come back, they come back with a suitcase full of souvenir and an empty mind. In South Africa every year, plus minus eight and a half thousand Hajis come back, in Cape Town alone two thousand five hundred, now if those people had understood what they had done then our community should be transformed and reinvigorated every Hajj. It has not happened..."


Related Resources

"It is immoral, irrational, it is obscene for an oppressor to tell the oppressed how they should respond to oppression."

Interview with Imam Cassiem: Open to Question


"Reconciliation between oppressor and oppressed is not possible because oppressed and oppressor are not brothers, they are enemies."

Lecture by Imam Cassiem: Muslims in South Africa


"Even if the Zionist State were the size of a postage stamp it has no right to exist"

Article by Imam Cassiem: Zionist Israel - Hypocrisy Has No Limits


"Islam minus Jihad is Islam minus Islam"

News Article quoting Imam Cassiem: South African Muslims warned against secularising religion