The recent attacks in Egypt and Malaysia on churches have raised concerns about the erosion of rights for religious minorities in Muslim countries. Faith leaders and academics from both the Muslim and Christian communities have been united in their condemnation of the attacks and the calls for unity and greater religious pluralism, understanding and acceptance.
Two such statements are reproduced below:
PRESS STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JANUARY 10, 2010
We are outraged by the tragic attacks on our Christian brothers and sisters and reiterate our unequivocal condemnation of the bombing of churches in Malaysia. Today’s attack on the oldest standing church in Malaysia, the All Saints Church in Taiping, is an attack on our nation’s heritage.
As a nation we struggle to uphold the spirit of unity that our founding fathers envisioned at independence. We must hold fast to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion and the right of religious groups to manage their own affairs. In such times the spirit of engagement and dialogue must transcend those voices that would seek to sow discord and enmity across our land.
The people of Malaysia must unite against those who exploit race and religion to incite hatred for political gain. We must renew our commitment to religious understanding and religious freedom. This is a time that tests the resolve of all religions for peace and mutual respect. We must remember that the God who we worship is in fact the same God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.
With respect to the use of the word Allah, for example, it cannot be disputed that Arabic speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews have collectively prayed to God as Allah throughout the last fourteen centuries. While sensitivities over its usage have arisen in Malaysia, the way to resolve these conflicts is not by burning churches and staging incendiary protests but by reasoned engagement and interreligious dialogue.
Muslims must recall the memory of our own tradition’s remarkable commitment to understanding and coexistence with the People of the Book. Islam clearly grants respect to Christians and Jews. In the Quran’s second chapter, God says: Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God (Aal-Imran, 3:64) And in the 29th Chapter He says:
And dispute not with the People of the Book but say “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and that which came down to you…our God [Allah] and your God [Allah] is One, and it is to Him we bow (al-Ankabut, 29:46)
Jesus is himself revered as one of the greatest prophets whose noble example should be followed. The Caliph Umar, who visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 638 AD, was careful to ensure that the Muslims respect the sanctity of Christian places of worship. What then of our own Police’s hesitation to offer an assurance of safety and security for Malaysian churches?
Much of the blame for the recent attacks can be placed at the doorstep of the UMNO-led BN ruling party. Its incessant racist propaganda over the Allah issue and the inflammatory rhetoric issued by government controlled mainstream media especially, Utusan Malaysia, are reprehensible. Such wanton acts of provocation are indeed criminal and demonstrate the duplicity of the 1Malaysia campaign.
I am encouraged by the swift condemnation of the attacks issued by Muslim organizations and leaders. I likewise applaud our Christian leaders for their strong statements calling for calm and forgiveness and resisting revenge and retaliation.
The need for interfaith dialogue in Malaysia is an idea whose time is long overdue. We must now advance the spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood which is inherent in our religions and enshrined in our Constitution. Pakatan Rakyat will collectively take steps to ensure that the necessary dialogue and discussion take place throughout the country. Our fellow Christians must feel safe and secure in this country knowing that their freedom to worship is protected.
Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Opposition leader in the parliament, and former holder of the Malaysia Chair of Islam in S.E. Asia at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
Muslim Puralism Problems
Recent attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and firebomb attacks on churches in Malaysia have raised major concerns about deteriorating rights and security for religious minorities in Muslim countries. In the town of Nag Hamadi, near Luxor in southern Egypt, seven people were killed when gunmen sprayed automatic fire into a crowd of churchgoers after a Coptic Christmas midnight mass on January 7. Egyptian officials believe the attack was in retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man. Clashes between Muslims and Christians are not uncommon in southern Egypt or, in recent years, in Cairo.In Malaysia, where Muslims make up 60 percent of the population, eight churches have been attacked with firebombs as bands of militants threatened further actions. Malaysia has long been cited as an example and model of a progressive multiracial Muslim country.
However, its peaceful coexistence has been strained by interreligious tensions and conflicts in recent years between the Malay majority and the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who are mostly Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.In recent years, Malay militants have insisted that Christians stop using “Allah,” the Malay term for God, despite the fact that this has been an accepted practice in Malaysia as it is in Indonesia and the Middle East. Malaysia’s Home Ministry prohibited Catholics from using the word in their Malay-language publications since 2007. Customs officials seized 15,000 Bibles from Indonesia because they used the word “Allah” as a translation for God. However, Malaysia’s High Court overturned the government ban, ruling that the word Allah is not exclusive to Muslims and that others, including Catholics, who had been prohibited by the Home Ministry from using the word in the Malay-language edition of the Catholic monthly the Herald, could use the term. Incensed by the decision, militants attacked several churches and pledged to prevent Christians from using the word “Allah.” The High Court in response to the government’s appeal to the higher Court of Appeal to overturn the ruling, granted a stay of its order on Jan. 7; the government appealed.
This is not an isolated instance. Religious minorities in the Muslim world today, constitutionally entitled in many countries to equality of citizenship and religious freedom, increasingly fear the erosion of those rights — and with good reason. Interreligious and inter-communal tensions and conflicts have flared up not only in Egypt and Malaysia but also in Sudan, Nigeria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan. Conflicts have varied, from acts of discrimination, to forms of violence escalating to murder, and the destruction of villages, churches and mosques.In the 21st century Muslims are strongly challenged to move beyond older notions of “tolerance” or “co-existence” to a higher level of religious pluralism based on mutual understanding and respect. Regrettably, a significant number of Muslims, like very conservative and fundamentalist Christians and Jews, are not pluralistic but rather strongly exclusivist in their attitudes towards other faiths and even co-believers with whom they disagree.
A key Islamic issue and debate today regarding pluralism and tolerance is the relationship of past doctrine to current realities. Many call for a reinstatement of the “protected” (dhimmi) status in the past in which Christians and Jews could practice their faith and be guided by their religious leaders in exchange for payment of a tax. Although in the past this was progressive as compared to Christian practice, in today’s modern nation state, it would amount to second class citizenship. Other Muslims insist that non-Muslims be afforded full citizenship rights because pluralism is the essence of Islam, revealed in the Qur’an and practiced by Muhammad and the early caliphs, and not a purely Western invention or ideology. They emphasize that the Qur’an envisions a pluralistic world, mutual understanding and religious tolerance. Jews and Christians are regarded as “People of the Book,” who have also received a revelation and a scripture from God (the Torah for Jews and the Gospels for Christians), a recognition that in later centuries was extended to other faiths.
Today Muslim reformers represent a vanguard that is facing resistance from many conservative religious leaders and movements, fundamentalist and extremist factions. Most reformers both build on and also transform notions of religious pluralism already present in the Islamic tradition. They turn to Qur’anic texts that reveal a pluralistic vision such as: “O humankind, We have created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” (49:13) or “To everyone we have appointed a way and a course to follow” (5.48), and ”For each there is a direction toward which he turns; vie therefore with one another in the performance of good works. Wherever you may be, God shall bring you all together [on the Day of Judgment]. Surely God has power over all things.” (2.148) These verses support religious diversity in the human community and reflect support for pluralism, not exclusivism.Religious tolerance and equality of citizenship remain fragile whether in more secular Muslim countries like Egypt and Turkey or self-styled Islamic states and republics in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iran states that too often limit the rights of non-Muslims, tolerate or foster religious intolerance of other faiths or of those Muslims with alternative interpretations of Islam.
The more pluralistic visions of Islamic reformers will need to be adopted and implemented in society. Substantive change can only come with strong leadership from government and religious leaders and government legislation; seminary and university curriculum in religious, particularly comparative religion courses, to counter religious exclusivism and intolerance by instilling a more inclusive, pluralistic and tolerant vision and values in the next generation of imams, priests, scholars and the general public.
We have come a long way in inter-religious dialogue and relations both nationally and globally. Major religious leaders and scholars meet at gatherings, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Al-Azhar University, the Vatican, Organization of the Islamic Conference, the World Economic Forum, UN Alliance of Civilizations, to discuss and address and issue statements of concern. In a major global initiative, Muslim leaders sent an open latter, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” to the heads of major Christian churches. They emphasized the importance of the two largest global faiths on the basis of the foundational principles of both faiths, the two great commandments: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor, to join together to contribute “meaningful peace around the world.”Finally, religious discrimination, conflict and violence cut across all the world’s religions affecting Muslim minorities in the Philippines, Thailand, Greece, Croatia, Serbia, India, and Jews and Muslims in Europe and America where Islamophobia and ant-Semitism are on the increase.
To more effectively address critical issues of religious freedom, a more ad hoc, a rapid response mechanism must be initiated. Modern technology and communications can be used as a more powerful tool for major religious leaders and organizations of all faiths. They need more initiatives to join together, condemning all forms of discrimination, intolerance and oppression against ethnic and religious minorities. Together they can speak out whenever and wherever abused occur, whether it be their own religion or government or someone else’s that is the oppressor or the victim.
By John L. Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University
Originally Printed in the at the Washington Post-On Faith:
On closing the World Parliament of Religions on the 9th of December after 6 full days of deliberation, discussion and celebration, The Dalai Lama challenged the participants to put what they had discussed to action. In order for love and compassion to become a reality, he said that there would need to be a new type of ‘secularism’ – not a secularism that denies the importance of religion but one which respects the practitioners of all religions and of none.
‘Beliefs may differ, but the core practices of love and compassion are common in all traditions’ he concluded.
The Dalai Lama’s comments put an end to a highly successful gathering where the theme was on coming together despite differences to show unity in common challenges. That unity was displayed with a gesture of solidarity with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and also showed solidarity with representatives of indigenous people from around the world. One of the main discussion points throughout theParliament was an Islam 101 series which focussed on improving people’s understanding and perceptions of Islam. The series featured contributions from Professor Tariq Ramadan; Dr Chandra Muzzafer; Imam Faizel Abdul Rauf; Imam Khalid Griggs amongst other leaders and civil society activists. TCF also featured prominently in the Parliament sitting in on 4 panel discussions.
For more information on the Parliament’s events, please click here
As young people of the Christian and Islamic faiths we call upon those negotiating on our behalf in Copenhagen to acknowledge our voice and to attend to the critical matters of man-made climate change with urgency and vigour.
Although we are individuals from a great many backgrounds, ideals and variances of faith, we draw upon our collective moral and religious conscience to take responsibility for the condition of our planet and its people. We are aware of the evidence, understand the issues, and recognise that global warming will produce numerous unacceptable repercussions; in particular we are aware that changes in our climate will have disproportionate effects on the poor and irreversible consequences for future generations. Our faith obligates us to care for the earth and to attend to those who are in need and as our representatives we call on you to take heed of this and act effectively.
To help mitigate climate change…
As a growing number of your constituents, we are ready, willing and able to do our part in mitigating the effects of climate change and are calling on you to lead us in immediate action. Action must start now. It is unacceptable that the majority of the country does not know the true extent of climate change and you must address this through developing a stronger awareness at all levels(including individuals, communities, and businesses).
To drive these changes we want to see stronger policy incentives for sustainable practises and deterrents against harmful practises (especially through greater accountability and penalties). We demand a refocus toward greener technology and innovation through more investment as well as responsiveness to the effects of the total production process. Furthermore we demand a fair global deal with developed countries taking the lead in responsibility. Failure to act adequately will impinge on future generations and account for millions of lives worldwide.
To help us adapt to climate change…
We ask that all people are educated on climate change to give them the knowledge that they need to engage with strategy and policy making, and that knowledge and good practices developed locally are shared and fed into government strategy and policies for adaptation. A political and economic system more conducive to adaptation must be pursued which removes barriers to adaptation by promoting trade justice, transparency and the provision of sufficient resources (money, technology, skills).
We ask that your approach to the negotiations in Copenhagen ensures that local economies and agriculture are developed. More policymakers should work with farmers, equipping them to keep food in production locally. They should be empowered to maintain ecosystems and bio diversity and to share resources among their communities, so they are able to work together on the ground. Policymakers need to also recognise that faith based organisations are a catalyst for empowerment and delivery.
To tackle the issues on funding our response to climate change…
When signing the UN Convention, countries agreed to the principle that as developed countries with worldwide climate debt they are morally, politically and legally obligated to take full financial responsibility for their actions.
This responsibility should be two fold; ensuring that our future development puts climate justice at its centre alongside enabling countries in the south to fulfil their right to develop.
Two hundred billion dollars a year is urgently required to tackle this critical environmental crisis. This should be raised through public finance and administered by the UN to ensure transparency and democratic representation of all nations. We see no place for the World Bank’s involvement in raising the required funds. We need to make it explicit that this is not charity but a historical debt that developed nations have incurred through overconsumption. It is clear that this is achievable based on the recent bail out of financial institutions costing $3-7 trillion and the Iraq war which cost $1 trillion. We call for developed nations to commit a minimum of 1% of their GDP to climate finance without conditionality.
Just financial implementation is necessary by using the most appropriate community-based and sustainable solutions to lead to a low carbon future. These include partnering with faith groups and young people, the future generation, who will be left with the consequences of inaction. Communities can propagate and maintain hope, raise awareness and morals and contribute to a changed mindset. Furthermore they can promote a rights-based approach to climate change based upon shared belief, openness, responsibility and accountability.
We believe in a global green deal that will deliver real economic benefits for all.
Technology is the right of all and as we are called to be stewards of nature, so we are also called to be good stewards of the ideas and technology that we have developed. This is a crucial time for the global north to use its technologies in partnership with the global south to ensure growth on an environmentally constructive pathway.
Western countries are too possessive of technology so we need to give access to our resources. This should include the creation of a fund to buy out patents and restructuring patents to take advantage of the long-term benefits of their utilisation by developing countries. Governments need to commit to investments through small businesses and social entrepreneurs to provide green sustainable jobs and transferring technology abroad; this will have long term benefits to all including themselves and all other stakeholders. Accountability and responsibility should be undertaken by a partnership of stakeholders including world leaders, grass roots community leaders, faith leaders, NGOs and business people. These proposals will instil a sense of justice which is not defined by short-term economic incentives.
For more information on this subject (and other related issues) please click here
The mind is boggled by the fact that Switzerland, a country renowned for its tolerant nature, could come to see less than a handful of minarets as a threat to its identity and culture.
The main campaign poster used by far right groups to rally against the construction of minarets in Switzerland depicted a Muslim woman in niqab standing before a multitude of minarets graphically rendered to look like missiles.
Switzerland’s Commission Against Racism said that the campaign poster defamed the country’s Muslim minority.
Neither the niqab nor the minaret is characteristic of the Muslim community in Switzerland but both have been regularly used to stoke the flames of hatred and fear against Muslims throughout Europe in recent times.
And it was that fear which pushed over half of Swiss voters to choose, by a majority of 57 per cent, to support the minaret ban called for by the Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC), a right wing populist party.
The only way forward is for a realisation that Europe is not built solely on a Judeo-Christian heritage, but that Muslims too have played a vital and significant role in shaping modern day Europe through contributions of culture, arts, politics, law, theology, science, medicine and dozens of other disciplines.
There must be a realisation too that the 30 million or so European Muslims have become part of the European social fabric, through an invaluable contribution which they have made over decades if not for centuries.
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On the joyous occaision of the completion of the Hajj and the celebration of Eid-ul Adha, The Cordoba Foundation takes this opportunity to wish you Eid Mubarak. May you enjoy peace, happiness and tranquility with your loved ones, friends and family during these blessed days.
The book is a noble attempt to bring the injustices of the Palestinian people to light. Throughout the narrative the authors interweave their own first-hand experience of being in Palestine, where they have travelled extensively on numerous occasions, with the personal stories of the Palestinian people and friends they met along their way. One of the distinguishing features of this book is not only their accessible writing style and frank assessment of the situation on the ground but also their use of over 50 photographs and maps to illustrate their points and provide a ‘Graphic Perspective” of the situation on the ground.
In their relatively short book the authors manage to cover a great number of vital issues including the illegal Israeli settlements, the separation wall, the systematic campaign of house demolitions and the inhumane siege on Gaza. As they have clearly stated on many occasions, there is a great need to let the world see with their own eyes what is going on hidden away behind the wall and that exposure and accessibility is what they hope their book will achieve.
The authors were joined by a distinguished panel of guests including, Oliver McTernan (Co-Founder and Director of Forward Thinking), John McHugo (Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine), Anas Al-Tikriti (CEO of the Cordoba Foundation) and Dr Daud Abdullah (Director of the Middle East Monitor).
Following a welcoming opening statement by Anas Al-Tikriti, Bill and Kathleen briefly spoke about their book and the situation in Palestine.
At the half time break members of the audience were able to buy the book provided by the publishers Pluto Press at a discounted price. They were then able to meet the two authors in person and get their copies of the book signed.
Once the session resumed John McHugo gave a very powerful speech in which he discussed the existence of a culture of denial in the Western Press and he condemned the platform given to many writers in the Western media who have demonstrated a complete lack of competence in objectively covering the situation in Palestine by reference to their continued bias and distorted reporting of the facts. He also expressed his desire to see books such as Bill and Kathleen’s in sixth form colleges around the world in order to foster a greater awareness of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories among younger people.
Kathleen then honoured the audience with a short reading from chapter one of her book in which she described the difficulty and frustration that the Israeli separation wall, with its countless barriers and checkpoints, are causing for Palestinian residents.
An animated panel discussion followed in which Bill and Kathleen were asked to tell the audience a little more about their journey and experiences in writing the book. Dr Daud Abdullah also took the opportunity to highlight the absurdity of the fact that this week the world celebrated the twenty year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and yet no one in the Western press is drawing the obvious parallels to the current existence of the bigger, longer and increasingly more devastating Israeli Separation Wall.
Following this, the floor was open to the audience to ask their own questions of the panel.
Among the many questions asked were ones regarding the value of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The panel had different takes on this matter. Whereas Bill and Kathleen were in favour of BDS and any other means of mobilising international solidarity for the Palestinian people, Oliver McTernan was slightly more wary and said that although boycotts were useful we should be careful not to penalise Jewish people in general and he pointed to the many Jewish friends of Palestine who themselves oppose the Israeli regime.
Please click here for a book review
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The Cordoba Foundation (TCF) wishes to clarify the points raised by a document published by the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) on the 11th of November 2009 titled ‘Anwar Al-Awlaki: the UK Connections’, which alleges links between Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki and The Cordoba Foundation, as well as references to comments made by the leader of the opposition, David Cameron about our organisation in 2008.
This accusation regarding our association with Imam Al-Awlaki is made as a result of an event organised by Cage Prisoners in September 2009, which we agreed to support through undertaking a sponsorship package of the event. This agreement was made in August 2009 and the sponsorship fees were forwarded to Cage Prisoners within a few days of the agreement.
Upon the publication of the event’s advertisement a few weeks later, TCF became aware, for the first time that among the speakers was Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki via a video link. Immediately, TCF contacted the organisers and clearly communicated its serious reservations about the inclusion of Imam Al-Awlaki, and explained its position that any association with this person would go counter to the vision, policy and approach of TCF. Indeed, Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki has in recent years attacked and declared un-Islamic (Haram or Kufr) a number of initiatives and projects which TCF was either running or fully supported which encouraged further and wider engagement of young Muslims with British and European politics and the media. It was therefore to our satisfaction that he ultimately did not feature in the event proceedings.
In respect to David Cameron’s comment in a speech before the Community Security Trust on March 3rd, 2008, a well-known pro-Zionist organization, in which he accused The Cordoba Foundation of being a ‘front for the Muslim Brotherhood’, amongst other things, TCF wrote to Mr. Cameron on April 10, 2008, refuting a number of his claims and allegations featured his speech and seeking evidence and clarification of his accusations that TCF was as he described it.
The Cordoba Foundation has yet to receive a response from Mr. Cameron.
The Cordoba Foundation wishes to express its dismay towards the dire standards of professionalism, let alone accuracy, sound academic research and even truth, demonstrated by the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC). One would have expected from CSC a direct enquiry to ascertain the facts and distinguish truth from lies, or at least a clarification of the accusations leveled against TCF.
It is with regret that TCF notes that organisations like the CSC are repeatedly engaging in amateurish and flawed reporting for the simple purposes of achieving notoriety of the tabloid mudslinging genre. It is surprising that any political party, organization or individual should continue to accord such organisations credibility or respect.
The Cordoba Foundation continues to pursue its aims and objectives through actual projects, real initiatives and true engagement with those who matter for the future of our country.
The Cordoba Foundation
13th November 2009
Notes to editors
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