Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Religious Freedom and Islam

Saw this short but fascinating article
on the Pope’s recent visit to Turkey. Benedict spent a lot of his time there promoting religious freedom in Turkey and throughout the Islamic world.

Clearly, the rights of Christians and other religious groups are severely limited in most of the Muslim world, so the issue couldn’t be more current.

As a result, lots of folks in the west are beginning to demand ‘reciprocity’ in religious freedom: basically, because Muslims are free to pursue their faith in the west, they argue, Christians and other religious groups should be free to pursue their faith without repression or harassment in the Muslim world.

That raises at least two questions for me:

1. Who should bring that message to the Muslim world?
2. Can Islam remain Islam and allow western style religious freedom?

It’s not clear to me that Popes or preachers or western politicians can carry that message successfully. Too much negative history and distrust for that. In a lot of the Islamic world I’ve experienced, true religious freedom would be seen as a way for Christians from the west to subvert cultures and regimes by manipulating a kind of ‘fifth column’ local Christian community. And in parts of the Islamic world that are less paranoid, the leadership simply doesn’t want to deal with the religious conflict and social upheaval that might develop if Christian groups—or other religious groups—grew strong and more influential.

The article suggests that Muslims living in the west may be the best folks to carry the message of religious freedom to the Islamic world. That’s a pretty fascinating idea. Wonder what would happen if Muslims in the west created think tanks and foundations aimed at influencing Islamic governments toward greater religious freedom? Certainly worth a try.

But even with efforts like that, I wonder how much to expect. I’m not trying to be a complete pessimist :^), but it seems to me that theocracy and a religious monopoly are intrinsic to authentic Islam in a way they are not, for example, to Christian faith and practice. Muslims may live under a secular government but if they take their Islam seriously they must always hope for a religiously dominated government. And while Islamic governments in the past famously made a place for ‘People of the Book’ (Christians and Jews), in fact those minority religious groups were treated as second class citizens and oppressed by any modern standard.

That all makes me wonder if Islam has to be thoroughly reinterpreted and/or politically restricted (as it is in Turkey) if we’re ever going to see real religious freedom in much of the world.


Blogger Jonathan said...

Completely agree with everything you say here. But even with that, does the Pope still have a responsibility as a leader to give his input? Or does it just do too much harm and keeping quiet is the best policy?

1:10 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Benedict has gotta get as honest as he can about religious tolerance around the world. But I think he'll contribute more by motivating westerners to take the issue seriously than he will be convincing Muslims.

8:54 PM  

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