Christian Minorities in Muslim Countries
by Abdul Malik Mujahid
Church bombings have been a terrorist tactic used around
the world, and more recently in Iraq. The latest incident occurred on
December 8, 2004, when two churches were bombed in the ethnically diverse
city of Mosul. Three people were wounded in the attack.
The American bombing of mosques in Iraq and Afghanistan
will not help contain Muslim extremists who want to use these images
as an opportunity to attack their innocent Christian neighbors. Revenge
is unIslamic (please see Quran 22:40). Attacking a house of worship
is a sin in Islam and a crime in the eyes of humanity. A Muslim must
be just even if in conflict with an enemy. Iraqi Christians are neighbors
who have nothing to do with the US military's attacks.
Condemning these despicable attacks on houses of worship
is not enough. Muslims must demand that their governments bring strong
action against the culprits and provide volunteer guards to protect
Iraqi Christians. That is what our Christian neighbors do when a Masjid
comes under attack by a Christian fanatic or hatemonger. In our view,
those who commit such crimes do not have any faith.
The attack seems to have two motives. The first is
to terrify Iraqi Christians and foment hatred between them and their
Muslim compatriots. Muslim and Christian Iraqis have been living together
peacefully for centuries.
The second could be to link Iraqi Christians to the
Americans occupying the country at the moment. Since the war on terror
began in October 2001 with the bombing of Afghanistan, punishing the
local Christian minority for the actions of the American government
has occurred in at least three countries: Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Now Iraq has joined the list.
Christian groups in Pakistan had been warning authorities
that they were facing various kinds of harassment since the September
11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent American bombing of Afghanistan.
This seems to have led to the horrific church massacre on October 28,
2001, where 16 Christians were killed as they worshipped, along with
one Pakistani police officer who had been guarding the church.
Similarly, in Nigeria, tribal unrest left hundreds dead in a spate of
violence that was followed by Muslim-Christian riots in the area the
Such harassment and violence do not behoove the followers of the Prophet
Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him, who emphasized the importance
of protecting and respecting minorities in the Muslim state. The constitution
he drafted in Madinah following his migration to the city was unique
in that it clearly established the rights and obligations of all parties
living in the city, in particular, Jews and Christians.
Under this constitution, Christians, like other religious groups, had
the right to not only protection from the Muslim government, but also
to freely practice their religion without harassment or violence of
This example of tolerance, respect and openness did not end with the
Prophet's death though. When Umar ibn al-Khattab was Khalifah, he returned
tax money collected from Christians in a town in modern-day Iraq after
the Muslims had to leave it. The taxes had been collected to ensure
Muslim protection of the Christians living there. Since the Muslims
could no longer do that, they returned the money.
Given these and many other examples from Islamic history, it must be
emphasized that there is no place in any Muslim state for the kind of
violence and bloodshed represented by the church bombings in Iraq or
violence against Christians elsewhere. The Muslim government and the
Muslims of a given Islamic state are obliged to protect and respect
Christians and their institutions as a protected minority.
Now is the time for not just condemnation, but also comfort and reassurance
in the face of this tragedy. This is especially important with Christmas
coming up in less than two weeks.
What you can do about this if you live in a Muslim
1. Visit a church in your city and offer your condolences
and sympathy if any of the churches in your country have been harassed
or attacked. If it is closed, leave a note or a card expressing your
regret for the incident.
2. Tell your friends that those Christians are not
responsible for the American occupation of Iraq its foreign policies.
3. Tell them that the rights of neighbors in Islam
are not restricted to Muslim neighbors only but to all neighbors.
4. If you know an Imam, tell him to give his next Friday Khutbah about
the first Hijra of Muslims to a Christian land, Habasha or modern-day
Ethiopia. There, Muslims, who were a persecuted minority, found refuge
and the freedom to practice their faith.
The Muslim community survived with the generosity,
kindness and fairness of the Christian king, the Negus. The Prophet
described him and his land in this way: "a king rules without injustice,
a land of truthfulness." The Negus refused to hand the Muslims
over to the Makkans, who wanted them returned to their native city,
and tried to bribe the Negus with gifts and deception about Muslim beliefs.
He refused and the Muslims remained protected in his land.
5. If you are an active citizen, make sure your city, state/province
and country provide Christians and other non-Muslims their due rights
of freedom of religion and nondiscrimination.
6. Establish a fund for the victims of this crime and their families.
1. Encourage your local Imam to discuss this tragedy
in his next Khutbah by discussing the Islamic principle of tolerance
and respect for other faiths. It is important to remember that while
Muslims in predominantly Christian countries like the US struggle for
their rights, they must also be concerned about the rights of non-Muslims
in Muslim lands. These are enshrined in Islamic law but not always respected
by those who are ignorant of Islam's stance on non-Muslim minorities.
2. If you have relatives in the Muslim world, e-mail
them these and other suggestions on how to build bridges between Muslims
and Christians at this critical time in the country.
3. Have your mosque or Islamic organization continue
to emphasize the duties of good citizenship to their congregants. We
can help Iraq and America only if we are active citizens relating and
connecting to policy makers and opinion leaders. This can ultimately
lead to a better understanding of the world and the establishment of
laws and practices that protect everyone's rights in our global village.