The rapid decline in the security of Christian communities in the Middle East in recent years pains and alarms me beyond measure. For just one example–and from what I understand yet worse trends are being seen in Iraq–consider this heart-breaking depressing statistic about Egypt (“After Egypt’s Revolution, Christians Are Living in Fear” – NYTimes.com):
COPTS represent approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population and are the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Yet, sensing danger while everyone else in Egypt and in the West was busy celebrating the fall of Mr. Mubarak during the much-heralded Arab Spring, 93,000 Copts have already fled Egypt since March. In light of the events in Maspero, it is thought that another 150,000 Copts may leave their ancestral homeland by the end of 2011.
Emphasis added. I doubt that most influential Islamic religious leaders in the region approve of the persecution that is driving Christians to emigrate, but perhaps feel that they have “bigger fish to fry” and therefore table this important discussion.
Yet, if Pakistan’s steady slide in sectarianism and instability since Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto established in the mid-1970s the now time-honored Pakistani tradition of relentlessly chipping away at religious minorities’ rights and dignity in order to gain short-term support–The word “hudna” seems very apt–from hardline Islamists is any indication, I doubt those leaders could be more wrong.
As this fine piece by Abdul Malik Mujahid ably illustrates, the Quran’s message regarding diversity is–in utter contrast to the hateful rhetoric of known-nothings, whether among the Islamophobe peanut gallery or knuckle-dragging Muslim fundamentalists–strikingly embracing of pluralism. Religious diversity is repeatedly discussed in an explicitly approving manner in the Quran, and one verse even makes it clear that enduring religious differences are part of the divine plan:
Unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ.(5:48)
Furthermore, elsewhere non-Muslim houses of worship are declared protected territories because they are places where, as in the case of mosques “Allah’s name is remembered.” In fact, they are explicitly placed under the same rubric as mosques.
Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah – For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily Allah helpeth one who helpeth Him. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty – (22:40)
Note as well how this verse makes it crystal clear that Muslims are required to militarily defend–i.e., declare jihad–all houses of worship. How much more clearly can it be said?
I wouldn’t want to be these people who “defend” Islam by laying siege to churches on the Day of Judgment.
Something beautiful is being lost before our eyes today. Not unlike the cause of Desegregation and Civil Rights in America a generation ago, defending non-Muslim minorities isn’t just the right thing to do–I’m convinced it’s critical to the successful transition of these societies to democracy and rule of law.
I pray that mainstream leaders put this at the top of the agend before Christians become an exotic bird in the Middle East and everyone is the worse for it.