Sunday, August 15, 2010

On questions of intolerance

A reader Freek (geubel@home.nl) wrote:
"You wrote about Religious Intolerance in America.
What about Religious Intolerance in the Muslim countries?
Why can't Christians build a church in, let say Saudi Arabia or read even a Bible?
Do you understand the meaning of the word "tolerance"?
It must come from both sides will we ever live in peace on this world.

FG,
The Netherlands"

My comments follow:
Religious intolerance is against the very spirit of the Qur'an, as enunciated in many verses. One can read my detailed article on the subject, based on my lecture at the interfaith conference in Nashville, Vanderbilt University.

If some Muslims are violating the noble precepts then it is they themselves who are blameworthy. Such intolerance against anyone including fellow Muslims of different sects is simply unacceptable, and would be punished by God on the Day of Judgment.

The question on Saudi Arabia (SA) is a flawed one. Nonetheless I shall try to answer it. First, SA does not have any Christian citizen, unlike what we have here with Muslim citizens in the western world. Muslim citizens in the West are tax paying citizens, as do the temporary or guest work permit holders. There is a well known principle on statecraft: no taxation no representation. So, with no taxes paid the people in SA cannot even expect representation. And yet, the Saudi rulers allow a limited form of representation from the tribes and communities that live within the kingdom. This statement should not be construed as approving the Saudi policy on people representation.

Second, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, with its rules and policies that are not only at odd with other democratic countries but also with Islam in so many grounds. The ruling elite comes from the most extreme group within the religion of Islam, i.e., Wahabism, which historically killed fellow Muslims on the ground that they were not Muslims having adhered to certain traditions that they considered innovation or deviance. Interestingly though, the monarch considers itself the custodian of the Islam and its holy shrines, much like how the Vatican leadership sees itself as the custodian of Christianity in general, or Catholicism in particular. When the Vatican allows a mosque to be built on its holy ground probably the Saudis may allow the same for church.

Third, it is NOT true that Christians can't read the Bible in SA. No one in SA cares about what goes inside the house or office. Unlike western countries, it does not spy on its citizens or visitors, esp. on matters happening inside the four walls. Thus, all non-Muslim workers are allowed to practice their religion within the confines of their homes and offices. These non-Muslims have been celebrating their mass services inside their workplaces and homes, and offices for many decades. During Christmas, many hospitals where the Christians work host the mass service with approval of the Saudi Directors. The propaganda that non-Muslims can't either read the Books or worship is a blatant lie. Again, let me reiterate -- the absence of a structure for church or temple does not mean that they are prohibited from worshiping or reading their books in SA.

Again, comparing apples and oranges can only delude one's judgment on a serious issue like tolerance. Muslims in the West whether they are in Europe or Americas are citizens with rights, protected by the constitution. If they were non-tax paying non-citizens then it would have been a different thing altogether. Similarly, if they had lived in a country where the laws of the land don't permit mosques, it would have been a different thing. Comparing their plight today in the West with Christian temporary workers in SA is not unfair, it is outright stupid and criminal. Let's face it: what the opponents of mosques are doing is sheer bigotry. It is Islamphobia, much like what anti-Semitism has been for centuries. Both are vices and condemnable.
Enough said.

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