One need only read the annual reports of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom or the annual reports on religious freedom from the U.S. State Department to know that freedom of religion is not universally respected as a foundational human right.
As we think this weekend about why that might be, I want to raise up, with some cautions, the issue of persecution of Christians around the globe and I want to point out, again with some cautions, efforts to create useful interfaith dialogue outside the U.S.
First, here's a not-very-detailed story at Newsmax.com about persecution of Christians in various parts of the world.
It's a useful effort to raise this issue -- and persecution of Christians is definitely a problem in many countries, as is persecution of adherents of other faiths -- but it tends to oversimplify things.
For instance, it reports -- without qualification or attribution -- that in Pakistan, "under Shariah (often spelled Shari'a) — Islamic law — the testimony of a Christian is given only half the credence of a Muslim accuser." This was in the context of a case against a Christian woman accused of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad.
I wondered about the accuracy of such a broad statement and checked with Professor Raj Bhala of the University of Kansas, who has written a book called Understanding Islamic Law (Shari'a).
"Sadly," he replied, "there have been such cases in Pakistan and elsewhere. As a general matter, the testimonial value of a woman is one half that of a man, except in cases involving matters of which women are said to have special expertise (e.g., giving birth). In some cases. . .the testimony of a woman is not admissible."
But he added: "I do not recall a passage in the Holy Qur'an that relegates the testimonial value of a non-Muslim to one-half (or less) that of a Muslim. There may be a basis for such a rule in the Sunnah of the Prophet (Tammeus note: The Sunnah of the prophet means the sayings of and traditions about Muhammad). . . And, I do not know Pakistan's Evidentiary Laws in particular."
But he pointed me to this website, where Muslims seem to be carrying on an argument about whether the testimony of a non-Muslim against a Muslim is admissible in a legal matter.
The point is that we always should be wary of statements about a religion that seem too simplistic, although sometimes even simple statements are true.
Next: While persecution of religious adherents, including Christians, is going on around the world, so are efforts to create better relations among those adherents.
A recent example was the 10th Doha Interfaith Dialogue Conference held among Christians, Muslims and Jews. Talking instead of fighting is almost always the preferred option.
But in the report to which I've linked you in the previous paragraph, Judaism, Islam and Christianity are described as "the three monotheistic faiths." It would have been more accurate to call them the "three Abrahamic faiths." There are many other monotheistic faiths in the world, including, believe it or not, Hinduism, though an explanation of why Hinduism is, in the end, monotheistic, takes a little work.
Again, the point is to be a discerning reader about matters of religion.
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THE STRESSFUL LIFE OF PKs
Ever wish you were a preacher's kid? Sometimes it's not an easy life, as this report shows. But probably no harder than being a columnist's kid.