While many people around the world will celebrate the beginning of the new year with family and friends, not everyone, especially minority Christians in predominantly Muslim countries and some minority Muslim groups in places like Pakistan and Myanmar, have the religious liberty to celebrate or to practice their faith.
The most fundamental human rights issue, freedom of religion, has been denied to some Christians and Muslims and it appears that the plight of these minority religious groups is getting worse. Take for instance the sorrowful state of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq. Similarly, look at how Ahmadi Muslims have been treated for more than 30 years in Pakistan. What about the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar?
Regrettably, many of these religious persecutions are happening in Muslim countries and thus the obvious question is: What did the Holy prophet say or demonstrate regarding respect for other faiths? It is on record that he offered his Mosque to a Christian delegation from Najaran for church service. In addition, prophet Mohammed fled religious persecution in Mecca to live among Christians, Jews and pagans in Medina. Finally, if the Holy Quran (2:257) clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion. So why are some Muslim countries becoming so intolerant toward other minority religious groups?
Countless numbers of people are being persecuted as baseless charges of blasphemy are being leveled against innocent people in the Muslim world. If more than 1,400 years ago, the Holy Quran and the prophet demonstrated that coexistence with other faiths is vital for social integration and progress, why do some Muslim countries restrict the religious liberties of others?
Most importantly, we should be very grateful that we live in the United States where we can practice our faith without any restriction. Not everyone in the world today or even during the time of Prophet Muhammad in Mecca enjoyed this privilege. I am sure that the religious freedom we are enjoying today would not have come without the complete separation of church and state and the promotion of divergent opinions in society. That is why we need to protect the religious freedom in order to avoid falling into similar situations.
Let’s take our personal and political views out of religion and let’s stop abusing Islam. Until we go back to the true teachings of tolerance and love for each other and reject the conceited and politically intolerant postures of some religious scholars, we will not turn the tide against radicalization and other societal problems. There should be a clear separation of state functions and religious activities to guarantee that freedom of religion and association will flourish.
For more than a century, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has championed the religious freedom of other faiths despite having been victims of religious persecution. Likewise, we encourage our Christian brethren in the West to support this cause to help minority religious groups around the world to worship in peace. Only when religious freedom is free for all can we expect to have a chance at peace in 2017.
Seidu Malik is the general secretary of the Research Triangle chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Chapel Hill.