Justice for Religious Minorities

7 08 2019
micheile-henderson-03NMNUqHPdE-unsplash

  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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“Baton Packs a Punch”

12 11 2017

photo from standard.co.uk

I was greatly encouraged to read this recent review of my writing on Amazon. The reviewer, Carolyn Klaus, kindly permitted me to post it here on my blog as well. Enjoy!

I just finished A Way Out of Hell. Wow. It is a tightly woven thriller that has haunted me, day and night, since I began reading it aloud to my husband during a long car trip recently. He doesn’t do novels, but has been as engrossed as I. I cannot recommend this book too strongly.

The author captured my interest by the excerpt on the back cover: “The Intelligence agent leaned back in the chair with his hands pressed together, tapping his lips. ‘If ISIS is indeed here, I want you to find their terrorist cell and take it down. And I want you to do this…’ he paused, ‘…non-violently.'” Was such a thing possible? Yes, as a Christian, I had heard Jesus’ commands to “love your enemies” many times. It hadn’t seemed to me a very practical approach to combating terrorism. But then, the evening news wasn’t showing me very much success from other methods.

Both A Way Out of Hell and the first book in this series of three, Someone Has to Die, demonstrate the author’s intimate knowledge of the many cultures of Indonesia—and of human nature. Carefully chosen details paint the characters and their environments with convincing reality. More impressive to me was the deep sympathy with which the author depicts the inner life of each of the characters—from terrorist to prejudiced pastor. I found myself empathizing even with the bad guys.

But this was not just a highly entertaining read. Baton packs a punch. Peacemaking, realistically, is difficult, risky, and costly. It is not for the faint-hearted or for hirelings. But as the Muslim former jihadist hero says, “The only true and lasting change happens when men’s hearts, like my own, are changed. And men’s hearts are never changed by fear, intimidation, control, threats, or violence. All of these only succeed in reproducing themselves in those we want to change. Fear produces hatred, hatred produces threats; threats produce violence; violence produces anger; anger produces more hatred, then more violence, and the cycle never ends. The only way toward true peace is to stop that cycle and start a new one. There is another cycle we can choose…” Baton has shown how this could work in the real world today. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. I hope a lot of others– Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and those without religion– read this and do the same.





You Can Go to Hell

15 05 2017

“I can’t wait for the Day of Judgement when Jesus is made to stand before Allah, his Lord and Creator. And is made to testify against you infidels. He will denounce your worship of him and disassociate himself from you all. Then, Hellfire for eternity for all of you who worshiped Jesus…”

These are the words of my Muslim acquaintance who had gotten himself into an argument with some Christians that quickly deteriorated into mutual swearing, name-calling, and arguing over who was headed to Hell.

Later he sort of apologized to them and explained his frustrations: “You’ll have to excuse me for my rather blunt tone. I deal with Christians regularly. I get so annoyed and frustrated when they constantly tell me that my religion is false, I’m going to hell because I refuse to bow down to Jesus, ‘Muhammad was a false Prophet,’ ‘Islam is a death cult,’ ‘Allah is the moon god,’ etc. I’ve heard it a million times and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. It’s an eye for an eye out here. If you Christians want to tell me that my religion is false and that I will burn in hell for eternity because I refuse to worship Jesus. Then I’m just gonna give you what you gave me, straight intolerance and disrespect.”

Honestly, while watching from the sidelines, I felt some sympathy for the guy. No one likes to be attacked, and in his eyes, he was responding in the same spirit that the Christians treated him. If they thought they were successfully convincing him of their “superior truth,” they were sadly self-deceived.

I decided to enter the conversation for the first time, but to come in the opposite spirit.

I apologized for how we Christians are so often guilty of hate, unforgiveness and judgment, all of which create a veil through which it is hard for people to see our Jesus, who only ever acted out of love, forgiveness and healing of others, even those who hurt him. As I gently turned the conversation back to Jesus, this man’s tone softened, and he surprisingly agreed that neither he nor Muhammad himself could live up to Jesus’ standard—he quoted Jesus’ words about “turn the other cheek,” “pray for your enemies,” and “forgive seventy times.” It turns out that this Muslim may know as much about Jesus as the Christians who were arguing with him. But the way they talked about Jesus fell far short of the beauty of Jesus himself.

The Bible tells us that part of seeing Jesus’ glory is in seeing how he is “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus spoke truth graciously. And the only people he ever argued with were his own religion’s leaders, never with someone from another religion. From what we read in the Gospels, there is no basis to assume Jesus would tell this Muslim man that he is going to hell. It’s far more likely he would look for a way to bring healing and blessing into this man’s life, and see if he’d come back for more.

After our brief dialogue, this previously enraged Salafi Muslim had completely calmed down and offered this:  “I have to thank you. Because you opened my eyes to something. You taught me to be less harsh and more compassionate and understanding towards Christians… Because of you Jim and you alone, I have decided to ‘lower my wing’ in humility and be more patient and understanding towards Christians. As opposed to being harsh, blunt and intolerant. Thank you and may God bless you.”

A transformation had taken place. A small part of that veil was torn, inviting him to come closer. I thanked him for his gracious words, and began praying in my spirit over our next encounter.

Before we parted, he added this spontaneous prayer of blessing for me: “I wish you all the best in your spiritual journey to eternal salvation. And I pray that God blesses you and that He bestows upon you mercy and makes your life long and prosperous. Take care and God bless!”