Human Rights and Freedom of Conscience in Religion

Human Rights and Freedom of Conscience in Religion (Symposium of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Winnipeg, Canada) The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, the up-holder of human rights and freedom of conscience in religion, organised a symposium on 28th of September 1986 at the University of Winnipeg, Canada. The guest speaker was Professor Terence P. Day of the Department of Religion, University of Manitoba. The theme of his lecture was “Persecution and Suppression: The Plight of Religious Minorities in Period of Rapid Social Transformation.” Some relevant excerpts from his brilliant and thought provoking speech are quoted below for the benefit of the readers. Violation of human rights is the primary cause of current restlessness and absence of peace in the world. The Professor admits this point and says: “Among all the comtemporary concerns for world peace and economic co-operation between nations and peoples, one of the most grievious issues is the violation of human rights, particularly of ethnic and religious minorities in lands which have hostile religious majorities. Behind all the conferences, meetings, declarations, and legal enactments of human rights, there is the fundamental philosophical assumption that individuals have rights which ought to be protected by legalisation and practical implementations. Unfortunately, it is evident that many countries which have religious minorities view religious rights and freedoms in partisan ways which usually affect those minorities adversely. On account of them successive such commissions of the United Nations on the prevention of religious discrimination and the persecution of religious minorities have been brought to the commis- sions’ attention. Such representations and condemnations have implicit- ly rejected the religious absolutism which justifies the repression of religious minorities and their religious beliefs and practices by branding them as “heretics, apostates, satanic deceivers, and enemies of the faith.” Deliberating upon the blood-sacrifies and sufferings of religious martyrs who steadfastly stuck to the use of God-given freedom of conscience in 32 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS religion and drawing a painful and pathetical picture of such persecutions by different religious groups at different times on the canvas of history the Professor says: “Yet not only non Muslim minorities, but muslim minorities also are experiencing today the lessons of genocidal suppression and religious persecution. Jean Pelleren drew attention in an article dated July/August 1985 to the persistent rivalries between the Sunnite majority Shi’aite minorities both in the ancient and the contemporary Islamic Worlds. In Iran today, the mountain-dwelling Kurds and the urbane and sophisticated Bahais are undergoing the fiery trials and tribulations of genocidal persecutions. In Syria, recently, President Asad supported an Alawite minority by exterminating 10,000 Syrian Sunnite Muslims and thereby created a scandal throughout the Islamic world. In Pakistan, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect havebeen denied the right to be called ‘Muslims’ to regard their prayer-places as ‘Mosques,’ and to recite the ‘Quran,’ even though this movement has been the most prominent of the missionary societies carrying Islam into the western world.” “In this connection, Pelleren admits, that it is more unfortunate to belong to a Muslim minority in the Islamic world today than to belong to a non-Muslim religious group. For there can be no greater lesson than to be condemned as an ‘heritical’ or as an ‘apostate’ sect by a Muslim majority; for this is sufficient to place the minority in the front line of destruction in the ‘holy war’ of the Islamic ‘Jihad’ against the enemies of Islam.” After describing the ruthfulness of some of the Muslim rulers against the spirit of Islam, the learned Professor honestly defends the peaceful teachings and spirit of Islamic tolerance. He says: “On the other hand, the present plight of the Muslim minorities does not mean that Islam itself is a persecuting power. For many centuries following the dramatic creation of the Islamic world imperial power, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians enjoyed freedom of conscience in religion and also the dignity of being respected by Muslim rulers and leaders as ‘People of the Book.’ Only from the 13th century following the destruction of the capital city of Baghdad and the violent partition and fragmentation of the Islamic empire did the negative forces of the persecution of non-Muslim religious minorities start to break out.” The Professor concludes his scholarly treatise by giving a golden piece of advice to the Muslim world in the words of Marshall G. Hodgeson: “Marshall G. Hodgeson, the most renowned of western historians of Islam, has recognised within the stresses and conflicts within the Islamic world the aspiration toward an urgently needed larger vision of the HUMAN RIGHTS 33 character and world mission of Islam. At present time, the Islamic world has every cause to be sure of itself and confident of its world mission but, there is need for more stable and magnanimous expressions of this victorious emancipation particularly in regard to the Christian and Muslim religious minorities in its midst. The world cause of Islam is not well served by its oppression and persecution of religious minorities, but rather by the magnitude of its generosity toward the wards that are in its care. For the duty to practice, to propagate, and to defend Islam, implies also the right of Muslims to follow it according to their conscience, and the right of non Muslims to differ from it without disrespect to Islam, and not least, the obligation of Muslim powers and authorities to uphold the religious rights of others as well as of themselves.” President Zia of Pakistan should heed the world opinion and take the advice. A Divine Decree There is a Divine Decree which issues concerning the men of God and that is that they are never bereaved of Allah’s help. They live in full certainty that they have committed everything to God and that God also has committed everything to them. Whatever is theirs has become God’s, and whatever is God’s has become theirs. Who can defeat a people who are supported by Allah’s power and by Allah’s decree of their supremacy? Such a people live in that perfect certainty, and that certainty has always proved well-found. From Adam down to the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and in this age of yourown history,isthereanyinstancethatGodshould have deserted His weak servants? When has God permitted that the worldly ones should defeat the weaponless dervishes of God? It has never happened before and it will never happen in the future. (Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad)