Minorities worldwide: Are they getting fair deal?

    By M. Zajam, TwoCirlces.net

    Mahatma Gandhi once said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Going by the Mahatma Gandhi’s words, treatment and rights of minorities can easily be an important factor of a nation’s success or failure.

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    To deny their legitimate rights, Muslims are always reminded about the status of minorities in Muslims countries. Many points out at that minorities do not get fair deal in Muslim-majority countries and Muslims when in minority demands more.

    Islam gives clear and precise instructions about their rights and treatment of minorities. Islamic Law protects the rights of non-Muslims living in an Islamic society. The Islamic state has to guarantee protection for their life, property, and the places of worship.

    “Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of (your) religion nor drove you out of your homes, Allah loves those who deal with equity.” (Al-Mumtahanah 60:8)

    “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error” (Al-Baqarah 2:256).

    ‘Wilt thou (Muhammad) then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!” (Yunus 10:99).

    In a hadith by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):“He who kills a non-Muslim who keeps a peace treaty with the Muslims will not smell the scent of Heaven, though its scent can be traced to as far as a march of 40 years”(Imam Ahmad and Al-Bukhari in Al-Jizyah, among others).

    The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has also said: “Beware! Whosoever is cruel and hard on such people i.e., (Contractees or non-Muslims) or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can endure, or realises anything from them against their free-will, I shall myself be a complainant against him on the Day of Judgment”. (Related by Abu Daud in The book of Jihad)

    Have Muslims followed the Quran and prophet instruction?

    Let’s look at the US Department of State’s International Religious Freedom 2009 Report and other reports say about status of minorities in various countries.

    Arab World:

    In spite of Iran being projected as sworn enemy of Israel and Jews, and as projected to be ever ready to wipe Israel off the map of world. More than 25 thousands Jews still living in Iran. Iran has more Jewish population than of India. Jew are giver proper representation and allocated one seat in the Iranian Parliament. Ciamak Moresadegh is the current Jewish member of the parliament. Tehran has close to 20 functioning synagogues, many of them with Hebrew schools. It has two kosher restaurants, an old-age home and a cemetery. Jewish burial rites and divorce laws are accepted by Islamic courts. Iran has one of only four Jewish charity hospitals in the world. This hospital regularly receives fund from Jewish diaspora – in Iran where even local aid organizations have difficulty receiving funds from abroad due to strict monitoring. Dr. Sapir Hospital, has also received donation of $27,000 from President Ahmadinejad. During the 1979 revolution, the hospital refused to hand over those wounded in clashes with the security forces of the pro-West Shah Reza Pahlavi. Ayatollah Khomeini later sent a personal representative to express his thanks. The Constitution states that the army must be Islamic and must recruit individuals who are committed to the objectives of the Islamic Revolution. In practice, however, no religious minorities are exempt from military service. In June 2007, there were reports that wealthy expatriate Jews established a fund to offer incentives ranging from £5,000 a person to £30,000 to Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel. Few took them up the offer. Ayatollah Khomeini met with the Jewish community upon his return from exile in Paris and issued a fatwa decreeing that the Jews were to be protected. In the Islamic republic, Jewish citizens were free to travel out of the country but were subject to the general restriction against travel by the country’s citizens to Israel. Jews regularly visit their relatives in Israel and keep in touch with them on phone.

    But Media continue to project Iran in bad light. In 2006, a false story in the National Post of Canada claimed that the Iranian parliament was considering requiring a yellow insignia for Jews in Iran.

    Iran has 2% of total population as non-Muslim religious minorities, including Bahá’ís, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarsanis,Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. According to U.N. figures 300,000 Christians live in the country. 5 seats of a total 290 in the Majles are reserved for religious minorities. Three of the parliament seats are for members of Christian religious groups, including two seats for Armenian Christians and one for Assyrian Christians. Sunnis Muslims do not have reserved seats in the MajlesMembers of religious minorities are allowed to participate in election. The Government allows recognized religious minorities to establish community centers and certain self-financed cultural, social, athletic, or charitable associations.

    There are close to 18 thousand Jew living in Uzbekistan and Turkey. Morocco and Uzbekistan have population of close to 5 thousands Jews.

    Syria has around 16% of christian population. Syrian Christians have their own courts that deal with civil cases like marriage, divorce and inheritance based on Bible teachings. Christians civil servants are given Sunday mornings off to allow them to attend church, even though Sunday is a working day in Syria. Schools in Christian-dominated districts have Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, while the official Syrian weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. The Government observes the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Orthodox and Western Easter, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, the Islamic New Year, and Western Christmas as national holidays. Military personnel are expected to refrain from expressing their faith overtly during work hours. For example, Muslims are discouraged from praying while on duty. Syria does not profess a state religion, and does not officially favor any religion over another. Citizens have the legal right to sue the Government when they believe it has violated their religious rights.

    Egypt has large minority of Christians in Egypt, who make up around 10% of the population. In Egypt, Coptic Christmas (January the 7th) is recognized as an official holiday. The application of family law, including marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, and burial, is based on an individual’s religion. In 2005 the President issued Decree 291/2005, which delegated authority to the country’s 26 governors to grant permits to Christian denominations that seek to expand or rebuild existing churches.

    In Iraq, Christians are around 3% with Tariq Aziz, who was deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and close adviser of Saddam Hussain as famous face of it. There are 6% Christian population in neighboring Jordan.

    Hindu Temple in Dubai

    United Arab Emirates has 76 percent of the total population is Muslim, 9 percent is Christian, and 15 percent is “other.” According to unofficial figures, at least 15 percent of the resident population is Hindu, and 5 percent is Buddhist. In spite ofIslam being the official religion, the government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims. The Government recognizes more than 30 Christian denominations and issues many of them land-use permits for the construction and operation of churches. Non-Muslim groups are allowed to own houses of worship to practice their religion freely. The Emirate of Sharjah also waives utility payments for religious buildings. There are at least 33 Christian churches built on land donated by the ruling families of the emirates. There are two Hindu temples, at least one of which is shared with Sikhs, in Dubai. A new Sikh temple was under construction in Dubai.

    Oman has 5 percent non-Muslim population which includes Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha’i and Christians. ManyHindus and Christians have been naturalized. There are two Hindu temples and one Sikh temple in Muscat, as well as additional temples located on work sites. The Basic Law provides for the freedom to practice religious rites as long as doing so does not disrupt public order and it also prohibits discrimination based on religion. Non-Muslim communities are allowed to practice their beliefs without interference on land specifically donated by the Sultan for the purpose of collective worship.

    Kuwait, The Christian population, consisting mostly of expatriates, is estimated to be more than 450,000. There are also 300,000 Hindus, 100,000 Buddhists, 10,000 Sikhs and 400 Baha’i . The Constitution provides for “absolute freedom” of belief and for freedom of religious practice in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or morals. Private employers have authority to decide to give their non-Muslim employees time off for their holidays. The Government does not designate religion on passports or national identity documents. Seven Christian denominations enjoy full recognition by the Government and are allowed to operate freely: Catholic, National Evangelical, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Anglican. Minority community leaders are pleased with Government effort and help it provides in form of police security and traffic control as needed. Unrecognized religious groups are allowed to worship privately in their homes without government interference.

    In Bahrain, even though Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Baha’i constitute the only less than 1 percent. Four Sikh temples, several Hindu temples, and a Hindu crematorium function freely. The Hindu temple dedicated to Krishna has existed in Manama for over 150 years. The Jewish cemetery is operational. The Constitution imposes no restrictions on the right to choose, change, or practice one’s religion of choice, including the study, discussion, and promulgation of those beliefs.

    In Qatar, rough estimate puts Christian population close to 130,000 and Hindu around 100,000 and Buddhists close to 200,000. Christian group worship was permitted among the six registered Christian denominations at a Government-provided area. Worship by other religious groups in private homes and workplaces is allowed. In 2009, several public Sri Lankan Buddhist Vesak celebrations took place. In addition, throughout the year, several public Hindu celebrations were attended by thousands of followers.

    The Saudi Arabia Government guarantees and protects the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious services. No law requires citizens or passport holders to be Muslim. Statistics for the religious denominations of foreigners are not available. Estimates provided by other countries’ embassies include 1.8 million Indians, 1.5 million Bangladeshis, 1.4 million Filipinos, 1.23 million Pakistanis, 1 million Egyptians, 600,000 Indonesians, 600,000 Yemenis, 400,000 Syrians, 400,000 Sri Lankans, 350,000 Nepalese, 250,000 Palestinians, 150,000 Lebanese, 100,000 Eritreans, and 50,000 Americans. Public religious practice was generally limited to activities that conform to the only official interpretation of Islam. Contrary practices, such as celebrating Milad Al-Nabi (birthday of the Prophet Muhammad) and visits to the tombs of renowned Muslims, are forbidden. Shi’a continued to face systematic discrimination and intolerance. Most Shi’a shared general concerns about discrimination in education, employment, political representation, the judiciary, religious practice, and media. In 2009, Shiite in Dammam were waiting for an official license for establishing a cemetery for burying their deceased instead of burying them in Alahssa which is about 150km from their residence. Government religious authorities continue the practice of destroying ancient Islamic historical sites for fear that Muslims would pray to the persons the sites represented In Saudi not only the non-Muslim but even some branches of Islam are discriminated. Tablighi Jamaat, movement primarily aims at Islamic spiritual reformation by working at the grass root level, also not allowed to preach in Saudi Arabia.

    Conclusion: In Arab world Syria is leading the way in minority rights by allowing citizens to sue government on violation of their religious rights and separating state with religion. UAE, Bahrain and Oman are not far behind with providing all assistance to minorities and religious freedom. UAE is also offering everyone property linked residence visa. Oman has neturalizes some Hindus and Christian. Iran in spite of being projected as biggest enemy of Jews and Israel, treats its Jew population very well. Iranian Jews have rejected lucrative offer of expatriate Jews to migrate to Israel. Jews are allowed to call and visit Israel without any trouble. Apart from Saudi Arabia, all the Arab countries have allowed minorities to establish religious place. Saudi Arabia is not only discriminating against non-Muslims but also Muslims following other branches of Islam. Shias and all other faiths other than Wahabism is discriminated and prosecuted.

    “No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of Minorities.” Franklin D Roosevelt

    “Shall we judge a country by the majority, or by the minority? By the minority, surely.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


    In Afghanistan, war torn country known for brutalities of Taliban has non-Muslim population close to 1 % consists of Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, Jews, and Christians. There are two active gurudwaras and Hindu Mandirs in Kabul and four Hindu mandirs in other cities. There is one Christian church and one synagogue. Although most members of these communities left the country during civil war, a small population of native Hindus and Sikhs never departed. Since the fall of the Taliban, some members of religious minorities have returned, with many settling in Kabul. Many in the Sikh and Hindu communities chose to send their children to Sikh and Hindu schools. The government continued to intervene to protect the Hindus’ (and Sikhs’) right to carry out cremations. Afghanistan has been placed on watch list by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

    Ashamai Temple in Kabul, Afghanistan

    In Bangladesh, largest minority of Hindus are around 10%. Islam is the state religion but constitution provides the right to practice, profess, and propagate any religion. Family laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption depends on the religious beliefs of the persons involved. The Hindu Welfare Trust received a total of $882,400 (60 million taka) from the Government for the fiscal year ending June 2009, much of it dedicated to temple-based literacy and religious programs. In addition, the trust money aided in repairing temples, improving cremation pyres, and helping destitute Hindu families afford medical treatment. The Trust spent approximately $43,478 (3 million taka) in government funds on annual Pujas, religious worship and festivals. Non-Muslim religious bodies are not required to register with the Government. The new Government appointed more religious minorities at all levels of government. In the new cabinet, three of 38 ministers are non-Muslim. Government-sponsored television and radio broadcast readings and interpretations of Hindu scriptures and prayers. The Government observes most major religious festivals and holy days of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians as national holidays.

    Hindu Temple in Islamabad, Pakistan

    Pakistan is an Islamic republic. But its constitution guarantees religious freedom to the non-Muslim residents. In Pakistan, close to 2 percent of the population include Hindus, Christians, and others .The Government allocated a 5 percent quota for religious minorities in all federal jobs and directed provincial governments to implement the same at the provincial level. The Government celebrates Minorities’ Day on August 11 every year nationwide. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, Zakat, and Ushr, in addition to safeguarding religious freedom, spends 30 percent of its annual budget to assist indigent minorities, repair minority places of worship, establish minority-run small development projects, and celebrate minority festivals. The Government imposes no restrictions on raising children in accordance with religious teachings and practices of their choice. Marriages are performed and registered according to one’s religious group. The National Assembly has 10 members of minority religious groups, and minorities are represented in most tiers of local government, including union councils, tehsil councils, and district councils. Minorities were also elected to the provincial assemblies: three non-Muslims in the NWFP, eight in Punjab, nine in Sindh, and three in Balochistan. Even though Liquor is prohibited in Islam but religious minorities are entitled to liquor under minority quota. Pakistan regularly allows Sikh and Hindu pilgrims from India. Prominent Pakistani Hindus include Danish Kaneria, cricketer, fashion designer Deepak Perwani, and Justice Rana Bhagwandas, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

    Nepal, Hindus constitute 86.51 percent of the population, Buddhists 7.79 percent, Muslims 3.53 percent, and Christians and others 2.17 percent. Members of minority religious groups believe their numbers were significantly under counted. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious organizations claimed that, unless registered, they were prevented from owning land, an important step for establishing churches, mosques, synagogues, or burial sites. Although public schools do not teach religious beliefs, most have a statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, on their grounds. Some begin the day with a Hindu prayer to the goddess. The Government has no formal policy on interfaith understanding. Madrasa are required to register with local district administration offices and supply information about their funding sources. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste; however, the caste system strongly influences society.

    India has been placed under the watch list by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Religious freedom guaranteed by constitution has been hampered by “anti conversion” laws in five states namely Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. Right wing influential organization, RSS opposed conversions from Hinduism and expressed the view that all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, should adhere to Hindu cultural values. Under Article 25 of the Constitution, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism are considered sects of Hinduism; however, these groups view themselves as unique and sought to introduce their own separate personal laws. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs 2008-09 annual reports, there were 943 instances of communal violence or violence along religious lines, in which 167 persons were killed and 2,354 injured. Attacks on Christians and Muslims and their places of worship continued, along with incidences of intolerance against both. Governmental response at the state and local levels continues to be largely inadequate and the national government has failed to take effective measures to ensure the rights of religious minorities in several states. International human rights groups have indentified the VHP, RSS, BJP and Bajrang Dal as perpetrators of the violence in Gujarat, as well as other acts of violence against non-Hindus. A 2007 study by University Grants Commission, Chairperson Prof. Sukhdeo Thorat for his Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, has found that fewer people with Dalit or Muslim names find jobs in private sector than equally qualified persons with high caste Hindu names. “Having a high caste name considerably improves a job applicant’s chance of a positive outcome” it says .As part of the study, 4808 application were filed for 548 jobs advertised in English language newspaper in a period of 66 weeks starting from October 2005. The response from the corporate sector indicates Muslims are the most discriminated, followed by Dalits. And chances of higher caste Hindus, with same qualification as Dalits and Muslims, getting the job are much higher. In government and government services too, minorities specially Muslims are under represented.

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