Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Islam and Religious Minorities

Arabic original here. The immediate context of this article is Syrian rebels forcing Druze to convert to Islam and killing them in Idlib and the threat that they may do so again if they succeed in their current assault on Jabal Druze.

Islam and Religious Minorities

Contemporary Islam has proven its inability to provide effective solutions to reassure members of religious minorities living among Muslims. What was apparently successful, to a reasonable extent, was the dhimmi system of bygone eras, before the age of human rights, citizenship and equality... However, even if, in the past, the dhimmi system contributed keeping the "People of the Book" safe where they live, this does not mean it is appropriate for the present day.

Contemporary Islam has likewise proven its inability to make a real effort towards rapprochement between Islamic sects, indeed, its inability to halt the deterioration of relations between their members. It has become a trend to dig up ancient fatwas that declare some Islamic groups to be unbelievers and permit the spilling of their adherents' blood and to implement them in some places. Some people have gone to lengths that even people in the distant past did not dare approach, declaring Islamic sects to be unbelievers even though the soundness of their Islam has been commonly accepted.

It is not surprise, then, that the issue of religious minorities has come to the forefront in Syria-- and before that, in Iraq.  This country that had been a model of religious diversity has now had its doors open wide to every sort of takfirism, displacement and religious cleansing.

We cannot limit responsibility for what has been happening in Syria to extremist Islamist groups alone. These groups build their opinions and rulings on the statements and codes of jurists and muftis who are recognized within traditional, moderate Islam. Factors that seem to neutralize some of these rulings declaring certain sects to be unbelievers are only present if there is political will, in the absence of which these factors are also absent. In other words, neutralizing these rulings is not based on sound juridical rulings that abrogate or cancel what came before, but most of the time only on the will of the political ruler.

When armed groups in Syria regard those who belong to a given sect as non-Muslims-- and therefore as infidels-- and that they must abandon some of their beliefs and practices and practices and adopt Islamic rulings, they are coming up with these rulings from the content of ancient books. They are not coming up with something new or an innovation of their own making. And here we have, in the fact that members of this sec [i.e., the Druze] who insist that they are Muslim monotheists, are still forbidden from performing the hajj to Mecca a shining example of this impotence that hampers moderate Islam and permits extremists to impose their rulings in the name of Islam.

In reality, both moderate and non-moderate Islamic thought has failed to solve the dilemma of minorities. As we have said time and again and will continue to say, this is because it divides society into two parts: Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic thought itself is responsible for exacerbating the phenomenon of minorities and for not finding ways that would allow members of minorities to be engaged in Islamic society and that would make them more committed to Muslims' issues and aspirations.

The fundamental problem for those who strive for an Islamic state-- both those who are moderate and those who are not-- lies in their lack of respect for political, social and religious diversity and in their lack of respect for the particularities of the groups that make up the national mosaic that includes all citizens.

This country will not find security and the people of this country will not find tranquility so long as Muslim thinkers will not work for a real renewal of Islamic thought based on bold re-interpretations of the foundation of the Islamic state and a recognition of the right to religious diversity in Islamic society.

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