Religious intolerance in Muslim societies

From: SunnyDate: Tue, May 8, 2012 at 10:50 PM\05\07\story_7-5-2012_pg3_6; 05:58 8-Mei-2012

COMMENT: Religious intolerance in Muslim societies — Yasser Latif Hamdani

Much like Akbar the Great, the Mughal Emperor, Mehmet Fateh and Suleiman the Magnificent refused to give in to the whims of the Muslim clergy. Their courts were models of pluralism and heterodox ideas

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan made Ahmedis non-Muslims for the purposes of the law and constitution. Exclusivist and arguably ultra vires the scope of parliamentary power as it was, it did not impose any restrictions on the freedom of religion of Ahmedis, including their right to call themselves Muslims. To do so would have been a negation of Article 20 of the Constitution, which promises every citizen freedom to profess and propagate his religion.

Then in 1984 came Ordinance XX, which criminalised the very freedom the constitution bequeathed on Ahmedis as citizens of this country. Hitting at the root of the Ahmedis' faith, the Ordinance took away the right to say salaam or even recite the Holy Quran. Ironically, Christian painters were given the task of whiting out Quranic verses on Ahmedi graves. It was forbidden for Ahmedis to call their places of worship mosques. They were forbidden to make any structures that remotely resembled a mosque. What, one wonders, does a mosque look like is anybody's guess. Does the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad look like a mosque? How about Ranjit Singh's Marri? Does it not look like a mosque? In any event, some vague idea of what a mosque looks like was forbidden to Ahmedis.

Last Thursday, in Lahore, the Misri Shah police scratched out Quranic verses from an Ahmedi place of worship and destroyed parts of it to make it look less like a mosque. It reminded me of another incident not long ago in Switzerland where a ban on minarets for mosques was proposed. Ironically, that incident which had the entire Islamic world up in arms against the Swiss government pertained to an Ahmedi place of worship. Here Pakistan follows that fine Swiss tradition of forbidding religious freedom to a certain community and with a vengeance.

Complainants from as far as 15 kilometers away had become incensed at this small place of worship, which was suddenly threatening the spiritual well being and religious freedom of the good Muslims of Sultanpura and Misri Shah area.

The problem with Muslims in general is that they want themselves to be held to a different standard than that to which they hold others. In the west in general, Muslims seem to be perpetually outraged against 'intolerant majorities' for the slightest of slights. Goal posts change once it is a Muslim majority country. The human rights that Muslims assert in the west are almost always deemed as irrelevant to Muslim countries. There is no Muslim country in the world without a harrowing tale of minority persecution. From Coptic Christians in Egypt to Hindus in Pakistan and from the Druze to Ahmedis, almost every Muslim country has a minority or two that has been forcibly oppressed and targeted by a majority that is incapable of accepting diversity, not just vis-à-vis non-Muslims but also within Islam. Bahais and Sunnis face the wrath of the majority in Iran. In Syria, we have Alawites threatened and isolated. In Saudi Arabia, all non-Muslim modes of worship are banned and for expatriates living in Saudi Arabia, being a Shia may lead to deportation (though Saudi Shias are somewhat tolerated). The situation in Pakistan was considerably better until 1984 but since then, not just Ahmedis but Christians and Hindus have also faced systematic persecution. It is not enough to claim that Islam provides the most rights for non-Muslims; there should be some practical example of these rights. Going by what we have in the world today, that example seems to elude us.

At a time when the world was in darkness, Islam gave unprecedented religious freedom to non-Muslims. The Meesaq-e-Medina is evidence enough — Jews and others were declared one Ummat, one community, with the Muslims of Medina. That pact was perhaps the first genuinely pluralistic compact between a diverse people. Amongst the later Caliphs, Mamun-ur-Rasheed's rule stands out for its acceptance of religious diversity and personal freedom. That his rule corresponded with the zenith of Islamic civilisation is no accident. The Ottoman Empire, in its heyday, was a prime example of this. Sultan Mehmet Fateh — the great conqueror of Constantinople — and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent were both known for their enlightened and tolerant religious policy towards the non-Muslims in their realm. Far from theocratic Caliphs, these masters of realpolitik realised the importance of keeping their non-Muslim subjects happy. Fateh even assumed, for a  time, the title of the head of the Orthodox Christian Church and its protector. Much like Akbar the Great, the Mughal Emperor, Mehmet Fateh and Suleiman the Magnificent refused to give in to the whims of the Muslim clergy. Their courts were models of pluralism and heterodox ideas, which is why Jews and Christians, who together outnumbered Muslims in the Ottoman Empire, remained loyal subjects of the Empire. Even Aurangzeb — who was the most puritan and fundamentalist of the Mughal emperors — had to adopt a measure of religious tolerance and pluralism towards the Hindus of his realm though it was not nearly enough in the end.

None of these examples matter though. The truth is that lack of tolerance, a skewed educational system with misplaced priorities and outright bigotry — taught from the pulpit — has so fantastically distorted our worldview that one wonders how we will dig ourselves out of this hole. In terms of our treatment of minorities, our utter disregard for diversity and our zero-tolerance for dissent has begun to fracture our society in ways that we have yet to comprehend fully. How long will we allow this country of ours to remain on the wrong side of history and known for a land of narrow-minded bigots who are incapable of even accommodating a tiny minority?[]

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at http://globallegalorum.blogspot and his twitter handle is therealylh

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السّلام عليكم و-ه [AsslmlKm w.w.]. Selamat datang di blog saya yang sederhana ini, dan terima kasih atas kunjungan, serta isian komentar-komentar maupun “Like This” Anda. جـــزاكم الله أحـــسن الجـــزآء [JzKml-Lh ahsnl-jz].[] ^_^

Jakarta, 1 Desember 2010

Rahmat Ali

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