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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Are Christians Persecuted more than Muslims?

1 04 2017

Indonesian church burned by angry extremists (www.newson6.com)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks so, calling Christianity “the most persecuted religion in the world.” Other Western leaders have made similar statements. But I began to wonder, is it true? So the research began…

The first thing I discovered is that in terms of how many nations persecute those of another religion, Christianity and Islam are neck-and-neck. In measuring both government harassment and social harassment over the last ten years, Christianity and Islam are ranked #1 and #2 every year, frequently changing places, but averaging persecution in about 80 nations of the world. In terms of where they are persecuted, it seems to be a tie.

The major difference I found is in how, or to what extent, they are persecuted. While it may be difficult to get mosque permits in the US just as it is difficult to get church permits in Indonesia, there are other more severe forms of persecution studied that show clearly Christians are suffering more greatly overall than Muslims. These variances are catalogued as “Low, High, Very High” or sometimes “Extreme.” Muslim majority nations have numerous cases of long prison sentences or angry mobs beating someone to death because they questioned a religious teacher, shared any thoughts deemed “anti-Islamic,” or converted from Islam to Christianity, whereas it’s very rare to hear of such cases in Christian majority nations.

For example, in Brian Grim’s insightful TED talk, he notes that the disparity between High or Very High Government Favoritism in the Middle East and N. Africa is 95%, while the rest of the world is only 12 %. Similarly, Sectarian or Communal Violence in the Middle East and N. Africa is 50%, while the rest of the world is only 11%. These regions of High or Very High persecution are almost all Muslim majority nations persecuting their minorities, including smaller Muslim groups but especially Christians. And when the government favors one religion to the detriment of other religions, it tends to result in a higher rate of social hostilities. In many cases, heinous crimes against minorities even go unpunished.

In every list I found of the worst offenders of religious persecution, Muslim-majority nations dominated the list.

  • US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in their 2016 report listed 17 nations of highest concern and 11 of those are Muslim majority, with a 12th nation, Nigeria, devastated by the Islamic extremists Boko Haram. The only Christian majority nation on the list, Central African Republic, has been torn apart by civil war. Of the 10 nations of high concern, 6 are Muslim majority, none are Christian majority.
  • The Pew Forum’s 2014 report showed that the Middle East and North Africa are roughly three times more religiously restricted by governments, and experience roughly five times more social hostility than the Christian majority nations. Combining these two features of persecution and applying it just to the world’s twenty-five largest nations, Pew Forum ranks the large nations with greatest religious persecution as follows: Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey—again, 4 of 5 are Muslim majority.
  • Open Doors 2017 World Watch List claims that persecution of Christians has, for the third straight year, reached a record high. They count 215 million Christians that suffered high, very high or extreme persecution last year. Of the Top Ten nations with Extreme persecution, all except North Korea are Muslim majority nations.

This is a difficult subject to talk about with my Muslim friends, mainly because much of the media in the West, and many Christians, have concluded that the problem is Islam, that religious persecution and violence is an essential part of the Islamic faith. Most of my Muslim friends do not actively persecute those of other religions, and they would claim persecution and violence are not a part of their faith. So who is right?

I would like to make an appeal to both sides—

  • To my CHRISTIAN friends: Unless you want to claim as part of the Christian faith the KKK, the Serbian Christian genocide of Bosnian Muslims, the Christian-majority Central African Republic’s slaughter of minority Muslim groups, and a host of other historic examples when evil men used religion as an excuse for violence, please don’t assume that your Muslim co-workers and neighbors will support violence in the name of Islam either. Ask about their feelings—they may be more horrified than you are. In fact, they may personally know victims of Islamic extremist violence. Please remember that Muslims are also victims of horrific persecution at times, such as the massacre of the Rohingya in Myanmar. And please speak up for justice for the minorities around you.
  • To my MUSLIM friends: If you live in a Muslim majority nation, it’s time to stand up and demand justice for your minorities. Keeping silent or claiming ignorance of what others do in the name of Islam does not reflect the character of the Most Merciful, Most Compassionate. One of the reasons that extremist groups thrive is that they’re freely allowed to preach their poisonous ideologies. Meanwhile, governments show favoritism to one religion over others. And the majority of peace-loving Muslims turn a blind eye. If you don’t want your religion criticized by others, do something to change this situation.

Let’s work together to stop all types of persecution against all types of people, and work towards a just and true peace.