Experts Expose Realities of Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority Countries During Standing-Room Only Forum
By: Marium Mohiuddin
(Los Angeles – 4/18/12) — On Sunday, April 15, the Muslim Public Affairs Council brought together a panel of scholars and human rights advocates to discuss the realities of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
Held before a full house at the Islamic Center of Southern California, “Minority Rights in Muslim Countries: Majority Rule NOT Majority Tyranny” highlighted an issue that is often brushed under the rug in the larger Muslim community.
A first among Muslim organizations, the event focused on reconciling Islamic ethics with the rights of minorities and arguing against the un-Islamic actions of governments that persecute religious minorities.
The event’s diverse speakers included Shia Imam Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County; University of Southern California Professor of Political Science Eliz Sanasarian, a Christian Armenian from Iran; Tad Stahnke of Humanrights First; and Dr. Maher Hathout, MPAC’s Senior Adviser and a leading Islamic scholar. They all addressed the challenges facing religious minorities in some Muslim-majority countries, particularly since the Arab Spring.
“Persecuting and oppressing religious minorities does not make us better Muslims,” Dr. Hathout said. “Muslims do not need to believe in what religious minorities believe, neither do they have to accept it. But as human beings and fellow citizens, they deserve the same rights as Muslims in majority-Muslim countries.”
U.S. Department of State Ambassador at Large, Suzan Johnson Cook, also provided a video message for the forum speaking about the importance of everyone working together.
Imam Al-Qazwini talked about the Saudi Mufti who declared that churches should be prohibited and destroyed in Muslim countries, as one of the many examples of people who stray away from the text to pursue their own self-interest. Religious intolerance and persecution, he reminded the audience, is often a tool used by the governments to advance their own political self-interest and do not reflect the core beliefs of Islam.
The conversation also turned to the Arab Spring, where Dr. Hathout pointed out that many government’s attitudes toward religious minorities is often separate from the people’s beliefs. This is why in Egypt, Coptic Christians protected Muslims while they prayed and why Muslims protected churches from being burned amidst the chaos of the revolution.
When asked by the audience what we can do to change the reality on the ground, the speakers echoed Stahnke’s response: Education is key. Once Muslims understand that persecution of religious minorities is not accepted in Islam, they will work together with minorities to solidify their rights and equal citizenship.
The discussion was moderated by Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, former presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
This article originally appeared as an MPAC News Bulletin. Founded in 1988, MPAC is an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. MPAC is also committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of American Muslims. [CONTACT: Marium Mohiuddin, 323-258-6722, email@example.com]