The global elevation of human rights and individual liberties may be a historical trend, but religious persecution remains an immense challenge in our times.
Millions are suffering threats to their lives and well-being simply because they desire to embrace a particular religious identity and exercise faith convictions.
This issue resonates with many Christians in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where a painful history of affliction against Christianity haunts, and far too many Christ followers today endure violation of their rights and personal security.
Religious persecution is not uniform; it can be executed aggressively or it can be administered passively, but the result is always a demoralization of the human condition.
The plight of believers has not been lost on the global Christian church community, and a host of organizations are committed to defending the rights of Christians and supporting victims of maltreatment.
Even so, often missing from a Christian discourse on religious persecution is recognition of an injustice undermining millions of lives today: the persecution of Muslims.
From certain vantage points, it may be difficult for Christians to imagine how Islam can be the victim of religious persecution.
Islam is widely believed to be a force inclined to channel religious persecution not endure it, but the fact is many in our world are suffering horrific injustices precisely because they are Muslims.
Their misery is largely invisible to many Christians, even those deeply concerned about the problem of religious persecution. The following are three compelling cases of ongoing persecution against Muslims:
- In the eastern Indian state of Assam, legislation is being enacted by the Hindu-dominant government that threatens to ruthlessly expel Muslims from the national community.
In a supposed effort to crack down on illegal migration (primarily from neighboring Bangladesh), a national register of citizens has been released featuring the names of all individuals legally considered to be Indian nationals.
Anyone not included in the register risks being rendered stateless and threatened with expulsion from India, and the law is extremely disconcerting to human rights monitors.
The scale of disenfranchisement is massive (4 million names, out of a total population of 32 million, have been left off the register) and the measure leaves many to believe that Muslims are being targeted for exclusion.
These fears have been stoked by policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the right-wing Hindu nationalist ruling party, discriminating against Indian Muslims.
Threats against Muslims in India go far beyond government policies as there is a disturbing trend of mob violence, including lynching by “cow vigilantes.”
Millions of Muslims in Assam risk being cast out of their long-known homes and communities, and with no other home to go to, they may effectively become cast out from our global systems entirely.
- In China’s far-western Xinjiang region, ethnic Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim people group numbering more than 11 million, are currently enduring a campaign of repression at the hands of the communist government in Beijing.
Harrowing accounts abound of families forcefully torn apart as many as tens of thousands are detained in internment camps for what the government refers to as programs of “political re-education.”
This is part of widespread violation of religious freedoms in Xinjiang that includes destroying religious buildings, banning long beards and reportedly forcing Muslims to consume pork and alcohol.
The level of investment in this campaign is visibly massive as infrastructure expands in order to intensify a Muslim crackdown.
While the treatment of Muslims in other parts of China is noticeably different, the ongoing situation in Xinjiang is nothing less than extreme religious persecution.
- The Rohingya community of Myanmar is currently victim to the single greatest human rights disaster of our times.
As stateless Muslim minorities within a Buddhist nation, the Rohingya have been utterly rejected and denied citizenship despite their historical presence in the land.
The exclusion has manifested into “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” as the Myanmar military engages in a campaign to terrorize the Rohingya in their home state of Rakhine and drive masses beyond the borders into Bangladesh.
Their displacement is total – they literally do not have official belonging in our world – and their suffering is extensive as they shoulder wave after wave of human rights abuses.
The Rohingya are Muslims enduring a well-documented, unapologetic genocide, but little is being done to address the prejudices undermining their very existence.
To be clear, none of these situations can be completely distilled to a religious essence.
Each is a complicated case involving elements of nationalism, politics and concerns over national security, but I beg to question if any case of religious persecution is ever entirely about religion.
Even so, it cannot be denied that the aforementioned are examples of tremendous human rights tragedies, where religion rests at the very heart of the matter.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here. A version of this article first appeared on the Institute of Middle East Studies’ blog. It is used with permission. IMES is holding its “Middle East Consultation 2019 – Thinking Biblically about Muslims, Muhamad and the Quran: Practical Implications for the Church Today” on June 17-21 at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut.
Brent Hamoud is programs coordinator at the Institute of Middle East Studies. In 2016, he received a Master of Religion in Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.