Dubai - Religion shouldn't play a role in economic decisions: UAE official

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Omar Ghobash, the UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. Photo by Shihab/KT

47 per cent of GCC residents believed religion impacted their countries' economic decisions.

Religion can no longer play a leading role in finding solutions to problems faced in a country's economy, other sectors and especially a person's mental health, a top UAE government official has said.

The comments by Omar Ghobash, the UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, were made at a panel discussion during the Arab Strategy Forum, which focused on the topic of secularisation and what role religion plays in a government.

He also shared his views on the results of a pan-Arab survey by Arab News, released in partnership with the forum, on the subject of 'Mosque and State: How Arabs See the Next 10 years'. Out of the 3,076 participants, 47 per cent of GCC residents believed religion impacted their countries' economic decisions.

"The way we (UAE) define our problems, we don't define them in religious terms. Economic problems are economic problems, they're defined with technical economic terms, based on data and research," Ghobash told Al Khaleej Today on the sidelines of the forum.

"I think the religious classes are maybe not equipped to answer those technical questions for the time being. And if you are looking for economic solutions to economic problems, then you probably best speak to people who know those spheres. Religious classes know how to do certain things, which doesn't necessarily mean their skillset is transferrable."

During the panel discussion, Ghobash said today there are many specialisations which the clerical class can no longer claim to be able to solve - for example demographic change, transport policies or logistics.

"I was recently speaking to somebody at the (UAE) Ministry of Climate Change and he mentioned the prayers for rain and he said 'at one point that was really important, and probably is still very important. But, today we have cloud seeding'," Ghobash said.  

"So, maybe there's not so much necessity to call the clerical clerks to figure out our environmental problems. One development is the area of mental health. It is still a taboo subject in our part of the world and it's usually been treated as a spiritual and great interpretation of the Quran. And yet, there is also chemical basis of mental health, so you're able to withdraw another spin. So, ultimately, the secularisation you're talking about will come by the basis of irrelevance of their expertise."

The survey also showed that 35 per cent of respondents disagreed with the view that separating mosque and state would cause a decline in religious practice. While, 36 per cent agreed that there would be fewer wars if the world religion and politics were separate, and 32 per cent disagreed.

Another speaker on the panel, Ed Husain - founder of counter-extremism organisation Quilliam - said: "Her Majesty the Queen of England is the head of state and head of church - part of the problem here in the region is that we haven't been able to articulate a form of secularism that isn't seen as negative, in other words, that Islamists are attacking anyone who is secular without offering a way to be genuinely Muslims, pious and secular in private space."

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