It is Time to Talk about the Persecution of Muslims

The Arabic Contemporary Commentary on the Bible: A Model of Unity that Celebrates Diversity
February 21, 2019
IMES Regional Brief – March 2019
March 7, 2019

By Brent Hamoud

The global elevation of human rights and individual liberties may be a historical trend but religious persecution remains an immense challenge in our times. Millions are suffering threats to their lives and wellbeing simply because they desire to embrace a particular religious identity and exercise faith convictions. This issue resonates with many Christians in the MENA region where a painful history of affliction against Christianity haunts, and far too many Christ followers today endure violation of their rights and personal security. Religious persecution is not uniform; it can be executed aggressively or it can be administered passively, but the result is always a demoralization of the human condition. The plight of believers has not been lost on the global Church community, and a host of organizations are committed to defending the rights of Christians and supporting victims of maltreatment. Even so, often missing from a Christian discourse on religious persecution is recognition of an injustice undermining millions of lives today: the persecution of Muslims.

From certain vantage points it may be difficult for Christians to imagine how Islam can be the victim of religious persecution. Islam is widely believed to be a force inclined to channel religious persecution not endure it, but the fact is many in our world are suffering horrific injustices precisely because they are Muslim. Their misery is largely invisible to many Christians, even those deeply concerned about the problem of religious persecution. The following are three compelling cases of ongoing persecution against Muslims:

  • In the eastern Indian state of Assam legislation is being enacted by the Hindu-dominant government that threatens to ruthlessly expel Muslims from the national community. In a supposed effort to crack down on illegal migration (primarily from neighboring Bangladesh), a National Register of Citizens has been released featuring the names of all individuals legally considered to be Indian nationals. Anyone not included in the register risks being rendered stateless and threatened with expulsion from India, and the law is extremely disconcerting to human rights monitors. The scale of disenfranchisement is massive (four million names, out of a total population of 32 million, have been left off the register) and the measure leaves many to believe that Muslims are being targeted for exclusion. These fears have been stoked by policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the right-wing Hindu nationalist ruling party, discriminating against Indian Muslims.[i] Millions of Muslims in Assam risk being cast out of their long-known homes and communities, and with no other home to go to they may effectively become cast out from our global systems entirely.
  • In China’s far-western Xinjiang region ethnic Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim people group numbering over 11 million, are currently enduring a campaign of repression at the hands of the communist government in Beijing. Harrowing accounts abound of families forcefully torn apart as many tens of thousands are detained in internment camps for what the government refers to as programs of “political re-education.” This is part of widespread violation of religious freedoms in Xinjiang that includes destroying religious buildings, banning long beards, and reportedly forcing Muslim to consume pork and alcohol. The level of investment in this campaign is visibly massive as infrastructure expands in order to intensify a Muslim crackdown. While the treatment of Muslims in other parts of China is noticeably different, the ongoing situation in Xinjiang is nothing less than extreme religious persecution.
  • The Rohingya community of Myanmar is currently victim to the single greatest human rights disaster of our times. As stateless Muslim minorities within a Buddhist nation, the Rohingya have been utterly rejected and denied citizenship despite their historical presence in the land. The exclusion has manifested into “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” as the Myanmar military engages in a campaign to terrorize the Rohingya in their home state of Rakhine and drive masses beyond the borders into Bangladesh. Their displacement is total- they literally do not have official belonging in our world- and their suffering is extensive as they shoulder wave after wave of human rights abuses. The Rohingya are Muslim enduring a well-documented, unapologetic genocide, but little is being done to address the prejudices undermining their very existence.

To be clear, none of these situations can be completely distilled to a religious essence. Each is a complicated case involving elements of nationalism, politics, and concerns over national security- but I beg to question if any case of religious persecution is ever entirely about religion. Even so, it cannot be denied that the aforementioned are examples of tremendous human rights tragedies where religion rests at the very heart of the matter. Millions of innocent Muslims are suffering[ii] simply because they exist in contexts where Islam is widely loathed and targeted. These problems warrant the attention of the entire global community, but I believe the Christian community should be especially mindful of the plight of persecuted Muslim. Within this discourse I propose the following points for consideration:

  • Grave injustices demand responses of great compassion. Biblical faith is built on the pillars of love and justice, and scripture is adamant that injustice in all of its forms is intolerable regardless of whom it victimizes. Christianity possesses a rich heritage crusading causes to magnify human dignity and defend rights; the Church must draw from this tradition in her efforts to minister to the persecuted today. What a testimony it would be to Islam (and the world) if the loudest voices calling for the just, humane treatment of Muslim individuals and communities were Christian voices![iii]
  • Christians must recognize that the persecution of Muslims and the persecution of Christians are dual parts of a single struggle. Here I invoke words written by the American theologian and social reformer Martin Luther King as he sat in a jail cell, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Persecuted Christians and persecuted Muslims are jointly suffering at the hands of oppressive powers, and their miseries do not exists in a vacuum.[iv] All injustices are linked within our shared human context. Christians must care about the persecution of Muslims precisely because they must care about the persecution of Christians. The world we desire to see is one where all people live free to appropriately embrace their faith without fear of persecution. Christians must be careful not to be exclusive at their own expense; the fight for another’s rights is effectively a fight for one’s own rights.
  • The reality of the persecuted Muslim must inform nuanced narratives of Islam. Narratives are essential to constructing our understandings and shaping our attitudes. This is particularly important when developing a Christian posture towards Islam (a topic that will receive the IMES treatment this June at the Middle East Consultation). The ways in which we comprehend Islam will invariably impact they ways in which we engage with (or disengage from) the billions of Muslims with whom we share our world, and it is imperative that our paradigms be honest, truthful and well-conceived. We certainly cannot dismiss the role of conquest, subjection and oppression in the story of Islam. There are painful facts that must never be ignored or diminished, but to turn these facts into the complete story of contemporary Islam is simply not fair. Our narratives of Islam must recognize it as a religion that both inflicts persecution and bears it- just as can be said of Christianity or any other major religion. To pretend that millions of Muslims are not suffering extreme persecution is to be uninformed about Islam and out of touch with our world. The reality that Islam is under attack in different contexts must contribute to our understanding of Islam’s lived experience today.

A major pitfall when discussing any issue is to focus on the nature of the problem more than the nature of the people affected. Religious persecution is foremost a matter of individual human lives and we must never let our view of religions corrupt our view of people. Christian concern needs to extend to all. As millions of Muslims suffer the misery of persecution let us actively care in a way that honors all individuals as image-bearers of God worthy of every measure of human dignity. This is the way of Christ.

 


[i] Threats against Muslims in India go far beyond government policies as there is a disturbing trend of mob violence, including lynching by “cow vigilantes.”

[ii] The role of statelessness as a weapon of persecution and dehumanization is a very disturbing trend.

[iii] Indeed Christianity has not been silent about the persecution of Muslims as organizations, such as the World Evangelical Alliance, voice an outcry against these blatant injustices.

[iv] Numerous contexts where Muslims are persecuted, such as China and India, are places where Christians’ rights are likewise undermined.

1 Comment

  1. Jonatha Andrews says:

    Dear Brent
    Very well expressed. I much appreciate your emphasis on people being human beings first before they are adherents of any faith.
    One might add to your analysis that much religious persecution is actually intra-religion, e.g. Protestant v Catholic and Sunni v Shi’a. Even within these broad categories there can be serious abuses; DAESH is but one recent example of intra-Sunni; there are examples within many branches of many religions.
    I have worked in the area of support for Christians enduring religiously-motivated persecution for many years. I am aware that some Christian organizations do place some persecution in the broader context of religious freedom for all, and (for some) in the broader still framework of human rights for all. In contrast, a few groups are very strict about only supporting Christians.
    I’m sure there is more to be worked through on this subject. I look forward to the Consultation in June and to resources that might emerge from it.
    Blessings
    Jonathan

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