There is a growing epidemic of persecution of religious minorities around the world. These religious minorities are often also ethnic minorities who suffer economic and social isolation as well.
The Syrian Christian community, one of the oldest in the world, is under attack by IS (Islamic State), as are other religious groups like Shia Muslims and Yazidis. Many Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face death. There are 4,841,305 registered Syrian refugees who have fled both religious persecution at the hands of the Islamic State and the general chaos in Syria.
In Buddhist Myanmar (Burma) over 150,000 Muslims from the Rohingya ethnic group have been stripped of their citizenship and forced into horrific camps. They cannot legally marry, be employed, or attend universities. In 2014-15 eighty-eight thousand risked their lives and their life savings to pack into leaky boats supplied by human traffickers bound for Malaysia. Thousands never made it.
Pastor Zhang Shaojie is serving a 12 year sentence in Chinese prison. Although Christianity is one of the 5 officially recognized religions in China, house churches are vulnerable to accusations of being a cult and Christian pastors often face persecution. The Chinese Communist Party has also cracked down on Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners.
In Nice, France, police officers forced a Muslim woman to remove some of her clothing, saying that it did not respect “good morals and secularism”. The “burkini”, a full-body swimsuit often used by Muslim women exercising their right to religious freedom, has been banned by city authorities. President Sarkozy has been quoted saying that the burkini is “provocation for the service of a project of radicalized political Islam.”
Historically, Indigenous religious practices such as the sundance and the potlatch have been outlawed in both the U.S. and Canada. Indigenous peoples’ right to religious freedom was finally protected in the U.S. in 1978 through the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. In Canada, the outlawing of these practices was removed from the Indian Act in 1951.
These are just some of the situations in which religious minorities are suffering under restrictions to their religious freedom across the world. Almost ¾ of the world’s population lives in countries where there is some restriction on religious freedom, either from the government or from non-state groups such as the Islamic State. Unfortunately, it is often religious leaders who are inciting violence against religious minorities.
When conflicts are simplified into Muslim vs. Christian, Hindu vs. Muslim, etc, other economic and political dynamics that are fuelling conflict are often masked. This over-simplification is problematic because any curtailing of the right to religious freedom is a serious issue. We need to fully understand the roots of these conflicts in order to help.
Why We Care
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)
The freedom to worship and serve God is a God-given human right. It is also a right guaranteed by the constitutions of many countries - including Canada and the U.S. It is stated clearly in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 18 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
A distinction should be made between countries like Canada and the U.S., where Christians are not in the minority and in fact have a great deal of power. While many Christians there are concerned about protecting religious freedom, this is markedly different from the situations of persecution faced by people around the world who are religious minorities, who have little political power or protection, and whose religious designation makes them vulnerable to harm.
What Restoration Looks Like
“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:4-5)
Through the prophet Micah, God paints a picture of people flourishing in their own lands, free from fear. We know that God is at work in His world to restore it, and we see signs of hope in…
During the 2011 protests in Cairo, Christians joined hands to protect Muslims as they prayed, although 23 Coptic Christians had died in a suicide bomb attack only a month before in Alexandria. Muslims also protected Christian churches.
Over 250 Muslim leaders, members of historically persecuted groups, interfaith allies, and government officials gathered in Morocco in early 2016 to sign the Marrakesh Declaration, calling for the full protection of the religious freedom of all religious groups in Muslim-majority countries. It draws on traditional Islamic Law to assert that Islam requires the protection and full citizenship rights of religious minorities in Muslim nations.
The defeat of proposed legislation in Quebec that would have prohibited public sector employees like public school teachers from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols like the hijab or niqab, and the challenging of burkini bans in French cities.
Restoration begins with resistance:
- We advocate with our governments and international institutions for effective, just, and wise resistance against extreme and violent religious groups wreaking havoc on the world. Our goal is always to use what power God has given us to protect the vulnerable, achieve a just peace, and to help restore right relationships among those in conflict and persecution.
- We resist demonizing those of other religions - whether neighbors or strangers. We welcome, protect them, and and seek respectful relationships with them. We recognize the image of God in them, and when we share the good news of Christ with them we do so in relationships of mutuality and trust, and with humility.
Header image: Flickr user Beautiful Faces of Berlin.