Published: 12:00 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 18 August 2011
OIC states call for religious tolerance in Europe – yet persecute Christians
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Jean-Marc Ferre
In a press statement issued on 25 July 2011, the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC, formerly known as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference), Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, expressed disquiet at the reported reasons for the brutal massacre of over 90 young people in Norway by Anders Breivik two days earlier. He was especially concerned that the perpetrator was a person consumed by hatred and intolerance of religious diversity and multiculturalism. Professor Ihsanoglu stated that the OIC had always warned against intolerance, incitement to hatred on religious grounds, and the campaign against cultural diversity being carried on by right-wing politicians in Europe. The OIC, he said, had always been opposed to intolerance and discrimination based on religion. The massacre in Norway vindicated the OIC's anxiety at the growth of hatred and intolerance in Europe, which threatened the multicultural fabric of society.
But although the Secretary General has called for cultural and religious diversity, tolerance and multiculturalism in Europe, it should be noted that most Muslim-majority states (including his own homeland of Turkey and many other members of the OIC) display hostility to these very values. In predominantly Muslim countries Christians and other minority communities are routinely discriminated against, persecuted and violently attacked. Frequent reports appear in the media of anti-Christian atrocities in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and other countries.
Indeed, some commentators believe that a major reason for the increasingly public acts of violence carried out against non-Muslims may be the ongoing campaign by the OIC against what it calls "Islamophobia" and in favour of strict blasphemy laws. The OIC has pressed for a redefinition of religious freedom, away from the right of individuals to practise their faith freely, and towards an enforced respect for religion itself, especially for Islam and everything Islamic. The OIC and its members have been responsible for placing "defamation against religions" (by which they appear to mean primarily criticism of or blasphemy against Islam) on the human rights agenda of the United Nations. It has also been at the forefront of a campaign to introduce restrictions on "insulting Islam" and blasphemy in the rest of the world.
The OIC believes that governments should serve as regulators of religious orthodoxy rather than as defenders of individual freedoms. Many OIC countries enforce legal limitations on what may be said about Islam. These severely restrict free expression and are major means of social and political control. They coerce people into religious conformity and forcibly silence criticism of the dominant religion, Islam.
Freedom of religion, both individual and communal, is limited in most Muslim-majority countries, where the superior status of Islam is often enshrined in the constitution and the Muslim population are often hostile to Christians. Christian missionary activity among Muslims is limited or completely forbidden in most Muslim states, and converts from Islam face severe persecution and sometimes even death.
In many OIC countries the state itself persecutes Christians, not only through laws restricting church activities, but also by arbitrary arrest, torture and imprisonment. In Sudan, the Islamic government in the North pursued for decades a ruthless policy of Islamising and Arabising the non-Muslim South, resulting in the killing of some two million Southerners, including many Christians. Millions more were internally displaced.
In Iran, the government has severely limited the activities of Christians, closing several churches and the Bible Society. Churches are forbidden to hold services in Farsi, the national language. Several Christian leaders have been abducted and killed, apparently by the secret services, and one convert from Islam was executed in 1990. Another is currently on death row. Iran is not the only state where apostates from Islam can be executed. The law also permits this in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Sudan.
In Saudi Arabia, seat of the OIC and its main funder, the public practice or display of any non-Muslim religion is banned, as is the printing or distributing of non-Muslim religious material. There are no church buildings in the entire country. It is widely acknowledged that freedom of religion simply does not exist there.
In Turkey, Christians still suffer from harassment, discrimination and widespread prejudice. The media present Christians and Christianity as enemies of the Turkish state and of Islam, and several Christians have been murdered in recent years.
Malaysia is often portrayed as a model of religious tolerance, but Muslims have recently intensified their efforts to limit the religious freedom of Christians. On 3 August 2011 the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) raided the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) at the Dream Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor State, without a warrant. They harassed the guests, recorded details of the Muslims attending the event, and took photographs and videos. The raid was prompted by a complaint that Muslims were attending a church fund-raising dinner, which raised the suspicion that the Christians were trying to convert Muslims. The Selangor executive councillor for religious matters, Datuk Hasan Ali, claimed that the words "pray" and "Quran" were used in the presence of the twelve Muslims attending the dinner, and this was cited as proof that the Christians were attempting to convert them.
While the raid has caused grave concern among Malaysian Christians, Muslim lobbying groups have rallied behind JAIS. Over 40 NGOs sent a memorandum to the Sultan of Selangor expressing their full support for the raid. The memorandum alleged that the church event had broken the Non-Muslim Religion Enactment (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims), 1988. In addition, the Perkasa Youth association lodged a complaint asking the police to investigate whether the church was trying to convert Muslims during the event. "It is against our Constitution. You cannot simply ask other races to come, convert (them). This is against the law", Perkasa Youth chief Irwan Fahmi Idris told reporters.
(It should be noted that some moderate Muslim leaders in Malaysia have not joined in this widespread support for JAIS, but are continuing to call for a tolerant and plural society in which religious freedom is respected.)
Seeking to convert others is actually not prohibited in the federal constitution of Malaysia, but several states have laws that forbid Muslims to convert to other religions, and two of them prescribe the death penalty for apostasy. These laws have never been enforced because of federal government restraints. But the government does favour Islam as the national religion and restricts the activities of non-Muslims. It is against Malaysian law to write, speak, or preach against Islam. It is also almost impossible for non-Muslim religious groups to obtain additional land for places of worship, schools and cemeteries, and there are limits on the publication and distribution of Christian literature. Malays (whose legal definition includes the fact that they are Muslims) are given a superior status in law as the original, indigenous people of the country (bumiputera), and this includes many political and economic advantages over non-Malays. In the decades since independence, these advantages have become more firmly entrenched in law and in programmes of affirmative action.
While governments in the West have granted full equality and religious freedom to Muslims, in Muslim-majority states growing hostility and intolerance is being shown towards Christians. This is expressed in increased restrictions on their religious freedom and often in acts of violence. The OIC's appeal for equality and tolerance in the West would carry more weight if its members also promoted these values at home.
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 "OIC Secretary General Reiterates Call For Implementation Of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 In Light Of Norway Massacre", Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, 25 July 2011 (viewed 10 August 2011).
 Melissa Chi, "Perkasa Youth wants proselytisation claim probed", The Malaysian Insider, 8 August 2011.
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