Justice for Religious Minorities

7 08 2019
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  Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

 

 

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

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Fighting God’s Enemies

6 03 2017

  Religion can bring out the best or the worst in mankind. It brings out the best, for example, when we follow the Great Commandment to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves; or as similarly commanded in Islam, habluminallah, habluminannas.

Religion brings out the worst in mankind when we decide that we need to fight those people that we believe are God’s enemies—as though God is incapable of dealing with them Himself!

By bombing an abortion clinic, vandalizing a mosque, gunning down people in a gay night club, or honor-killing a family member who chooses to change her religion, we have left the most basic teachings of our faith in order to “help” God bring judgment against those we disapprove of.

In spite of all our efforts at peacemaking, such tragedies still happen—such as the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh in Malaysia.

On February 13, in broad daylight, three black SUVs forced Mr. Koh’s white sedan to the side of the road and masked men abducted him, while five other vehicles operated by masked men kept traffic away from the kidnapping. But while the police were slow to respond,  CCTV footage from a nearby building appeared on social media recording the entire event.

The Koh family offered a reward for any information about Raymond, but for the last three weeks there has been only silence—no ransom demands or news of any kind. The Koh family is not rich enough for this abduction to be financially motivated. The only logical conclusion is that it was religiously motivated.

This is not how the Prophet Muhammad treated Christian pastors! By referring to the Ashtiname of Muhammad, or the Charter of Medina (and its modern parallel The Marrakesh Declaration), it’s clear that Muslims were commanded by their Prophet to not only establish religious freedom for minorities, but even to protect them.

A survey of how Jesus treated those of other religions leads us to a similar path of peace. When dealing with non-Jews such as Romans, Syrians, Canaanites and Samaritans, this is what Jesus DID: healed, delivered, told them to share their miracle stories, revealed himself as Messiah and King, praised them for their faith, praised them for exhibiting the righteousness God wants, and announced they’d feast in heaven with the earlier prophets. This is what Jesus DIDN’T do: follow his own culture’s prejudicial norms, condemn, rebuke, warn of judgment or hell, argue theology or debate, quote the Scriptures, explain the Gospel unless they asked, or ask them to change anything. He certainly didn’t condone any violence against them, teaching his followers by his own self-sacrifice to overcome evil with good.

The greatest barrier to peace today is not any particular religion—it is misguided religious followers that pursue hatred and violence in the name of God. [This is what my novel A VIOLENT LIGHT is all about!]

Please pray with me for the speedy release of Pastor Raymond Koh, and for his captors to return to the most basic tenets of their faith—habluminallah, habluminannas.