How should the majority religion treat those of minority religions in their land?
My experience in both my home nation of the United States and my residence nation of Indonesia is that those of minority religions are often treated unjustly:
- It is difficult to get permits to build houses of worship
- Minority houses of worship are often protested, and sometimes vandalized or forcibly closed
- It is more difficult to rent a home or get a job
- Anyone leaving the majority religion to join a minority religion may be persecuted
- The government is quick to address perceived threats from the minorities, but sometimes overlooks both threats and actual violence from the majority faith
In other nations which are less pluralistic, such as certain places in the Middle East, discrimination against the religious minorities is even more apparent, and at times, deadly.
If only there was a standard of conduct towards religious minorities that all nations and communities could agree on…one in which the majority religion agrees to protect the minorities’ homes, their houses of worship, their jobs, their legal status, their freedom of worship, their freedom to choose their own religion, their right to be conscientious objectors in time of war, their freedom from any compulsion by the majority…but what national or community leaders would dare teach their majority constituents such a standard? Would your pastor or mayor speak out in support of this? Would your imam or ayatollah bravely take a stand?
There is one religious leader who has courageously stated and enforced such a code, and it might surprise you who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the Prophet Muhammad.
One of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world was built at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Egypt, St. Catherine’s Monastery. The monks claim that Muhammad visited them several times and maintained friendly relations. Muhammad wrote a letter to them now known as the Ashtiname, or Covenant of Muhammad, and this document has become the basis for much modern-day peacemaking discussion, especially by Muslim religious leaders, and even cited in a controversial case in Pakistan defending a Christian on trial! Here’s what one translation of the letter says:
“This is a message from Muhammad, son of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation of (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
In all my years living in Indonesia, oh how I have longed for a Muslim leader to start a speech like Muhammad’s letter above: “Christians, we are with you!” Muhammad’s Ashtiname—a Persian word meaning “Book of Peace”—is the standard Muslim majority nations and local communities should aspire to in how they treat religious minorities.
The standard for Christian majority nations and local communities comes from Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself…love your enemies…do to others as you would have them do to you…by welcoming the stranger, you welcome me.” (Matthew 22:39; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:31; Matthew 25:34-45) In other words, “Muslims, we are with you!”
If you live in a community where you are in the religious majority, I appeal to you to consider the religious minorities in your midst and care for them with the high standards set by Muhammad and by Jesus