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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Confronting Hate Crimes in the Muslim World

These issues are not particular to Christians in the Muslim world. Muslim minorities experience discrimination in many places in the world, note John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani.

The attack against Syriac Catholics in Baghdad has renewed questions about religious minorities’ security and rights in Muslim-majority countries. The rights of minority religions in Muslim lands are an oft-discussed topic, but the attack in Baghdad highlights the challenge to Muslims to embrace constructive co-existence that emphasizes mutual respect and equality of citizenship in a globalized world.

It was little more than a week ago when Our Lady of Salvation, a Syriac Catholic church, was the scene of the worst attack on Iraqi Christians since the American-led invasion began in 2003. Reports indicate that armed gunmen in explosive suicide vests jumped the church’s security wall and took more than 100 worshippers hostage. The gunmen identified themselves as members of the Islamic State of Iraq, a group with links to Al Qaeda. By the end of the night, two priests and more than 50 worshippers had been killed.

This tragic event made worse was given more significance when the group pledged more attacks, declaring that Christians everywhere are “legitimate targets.” Its rhetoric threatens the safety and security of religious minorities in Muslim countries. At one time in Iraq, Catholics represented 2.89 percent of the population in 1980; by 2008 they were just .89 percent.

This incident exhorts Muslims to raise the gauntlet of “tolerance” and “mutual respect.” The vast majority of Muslims have and believe in the right to worship as a constituent to human freedom, but, sadly, significant minorities, like fundamentalist Hindus, Christians, and Jews, shun pluralism for a myopic world vision that marginalizes people of other faiths.

These acts of violence underscore the importance of a debate in contemporary Islam focusing on the status of non-Muslims in a predominantly Muslim country. Some believe in reinstating a “protected” status, for Christians and Jews who could practice their faith in exchange for paying a tax. Such a solution, while progressive at its times, now clearly would constitute second-class citizenship today. Reformists argue that religious pluralism is recognized by the Quran as part of God’s design for humanity and reflected by the example of the Prophet Muhammad and thus non-Muslims should have full and equal citizenship rights.

Of course, these issues are not only particular to Christians in the Muslim world. Muslim minorities experience discrimination in the Philippines, Thailand, India and Greece, and in the US and Europe, where discrimination is on the rise. Any form of religious intolerance or violence is unacceptable. Intolerance stands in the way of an integrated and peaceful world; and, fighting these attitudes and the ensuing actions are perhaps one of the great challenges facing us today.

It may not be easy, but it is entirely worthwhile.

John L. Esposito is University Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, and author of the newly released book The Future of Islam (2010). Sheila B. Lalwani is a Research Fellow at the Centre.

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