What is religious freedom and what does it mean?
Religious freedom is sometimes called religious liberty or freedom of religion. It is the claimed right of the religious to live by the values imposed by their religious texts. The term is often used by Catholics in America, especially the leaders of the Catholic Church, to reject the use of contraceptives and abortion, and limit the rights of homosexuals and lesbians. They claim the use of contraceptives and abortion is forbidden because it is restricting the reproduction of human beings demanded by God. They often quote Leviticus as being the source of their condemnation of homosexuality, conveniently forgetting that there are many other things banned in Leviticus that they disregard. So in the case of Catholics in America, religious freedom means the right to discriminate against those who do not follow Catholic codes of behaviour.
Is Christianity the only religion to claim religious freedom as a right?
Well, no. Muslims claim the right to abide by their own religious texts, which not only include the Qur’an but also the Hadith, the texts which purport to show how Mohammed lived his life and therefore the way all Muslims must live.
Other religions also claim the right of their religious texts to be imposed on society in general but for this exercise I will restrict myself to Christianity and Islam.
It is often said that the Qur’an is Islam’s equivalent of the Bible. Is it true?
There is a distinct difference between the way the Bible is perceived and the way the Qur’an is perceived. The Bible consists of two testaments, the Old and the New. Strictly speaking, the Old Testament is a history of the Jews up to the birth of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus, although based on the Old Testament, abrogated the verses. The Old Testament, therefore, is largely historical and the New Testament is a guide as to how Christians should live their lives. Jesus claimed that it is the choice of the individual to accept his teachings or not. Only those who abide by his teaching, however, would be accepted into heaven.
The Qur’an on the other hand instructs Muslims how they must live.
So the difference is that the Bible is effectively historical and a guide whereas the Qur’an is prescriptive.
What does the difference mean in practise?
Jesus is claimed to have said: give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. The Bible also says that Jesus left the decision on whether to follow him or not to the individual. Christianity seems, therefore, to be the ideal religion to fit comfortably with secularism. Demands that society bend to the requirements demanded by Catholics do, on the face of it, seem distinctly anti-Jesus. Do the demands come from any other texts, then. Well, yes. There are the letters and epistles of Paul, who in many of them seems to contradict the teachings of Jesus and treats the texts of the Old Testament as more authoritative than did Jesus. If Jesus is the Christ, from which comes Christianity, the Catholic Church could be considered anti-Christ. Certainly, arguments for religious freedom by Catholics on behalf of all Christians look argumentative at best and, more accurately, spurious.
Islam makes no concessions whatsoever and demands absolute adherence to the teachings of the prophet Mohammed and to the teachers who have come after him. However, in practise this usually does not happen. The majority of Muslims want to live their life in peace, care for their families, improve their lives and get on with their neighbours.
This, of course, is the same for most human beings, whether religious or not. They want to live their lives in comfort and security. There is one thing that that religious people want that is different from non-believers: they want to believe that they will live on after their physical bodies die, to be with their loved ones, those already dead and those who will come after them, for the rest of eternity. They do not want to know what eternity means, they just want to live forever, whatever it is. And most continue to believe what they were taught as children and what their parents believed to get there.
But there arises a problem. What if someone changes their minds and decides to change their religion at any time? Different religions have different attitudes to what is known as apostasy. Today’s Christians, because they have been brought up in secular societies, usually believe they have the right to be free to change religions. Muslims, especially extremist Muslims, are taught something quite different. If one of their number attempts to leave Islam, they believe they have the right to kill that person. He or she will then go to hell and be tormented for eternity. Catholics had similar beliefs before the rise of secularism. Those who dared admit to non-belief in Catholicism were killed, often by being burned at the stake. So, extreme Islam and extreme Catholicism have something in common – they are extreme in their demands for extreme sanctions against dissenters and disbelievers.
What does that mean?
Most Christians, even in secular societies, are required to undergo religious education of some sort or another and therefore most of those brought up as Christians have some knowledge of their Bible. And we have already mentioned burning at the stake. The same cannot be said of Christians’ knowledge of even the Qur’an, let alone the Hadith.
If we accept that the most extreme forms of Islam abide absolutely by the Qur’an we need to know which English translation is most often accepted by the extremists. In that way we can gauge the dictats as accurately as possible. Watching videos made by those Muslims who believe they will go to straight to heaven if they die during attacks against non-Muslims, we can identify the translation most often used is that by M. K. Shakir. We shall therefore use that translation to study some of their extreme beliefs regarding Christians and non-believers in general. we can consider also the verses most often quoted; they are taken from Chapter 9. In Arabic, a chapter is called a sura, sometimes spelt Surah. OK, so let us consider a few verses from the Qur’an, Sura 9 most often quoted.
The following verses show that Muslims are given immunity from crimes against non-Muslims – as long as the non-Muslims are first given the opportunity to learn about Islam and choose it as their religion.
[ 9: 1 ] ( This is a declaration of ) immunity by Allah and His Messenger towards those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement.
[ 9: 2 ] So go about in the land for four months and know that you cannot weaken Allah and that Allah will bring disgrace to the unbelievers.
[ 9: 3 ] And an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah and His Messenger are free from liability to the idolaters; therefore if you repent, it will be better for you, and if you turn back, then know that you will not weaken Allah; and announce painful punishment to those who disbelieve.
Muslims can live amongst non-Muslims as long as they continue their duties as required by Allah and Mohammed and try to convert non-Muslims.
The following verse shows that even though non-Muslims choose not to become Muslims they can be allowed to continue their beliefs as long as they swear not to attack Muslims and pay the taxes required of them.
[ 9: 11 ] But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, they are your brethren in faith; and We make the communications clear for a people who know.
The next verses show how non-Muslims are to be treated if they break their agreements, either by attacking or defaming Muslims or if they fail to pay their taxes.
[ 9: 12 ] And if they break their oaths after their agreement and ( openly ) revile your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief– surely their oaths are nothing– so that they may desist.
[ 9: 13 ] What! will you not fight a people who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Messenger, and they attacked you first; do you fear them? But Allah is most deserving that you should fear Him, if you are believers.
[ 9: 14 ] Fight them, Allah will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace, and assist you against them and heal the hearts of a believing people.
[ 9: 29 ] Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.
The next verses include Christians and Jews among non-Muslims, and why.
[ 9: 30 ] And the Jews say: Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!
[ 9: 31 ] They have taken their doctors of law and their monks for lords besides Allah, and ( also ) the Messiah son of Marium (Mary) and they were enjoined that they should serve one Allah only, there is no god but He; far from His glory be what they set up ( with Him ).
[ 9: 32 ] They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, and Allah will not consent save to perfect His light, though the unbelievers are averse.
So, Christians are to be destroyed because they dare to believe that Jesus (The Messiah) is the son of God.
What can we learn from this?
If Catholics get their way and Religious Freedom is granted, Catholics can enforce their beliefs on others. But Muslims have the right to claim that to kill Christians, and to kill Muslims who live in non-Muslim countries and abide by their laws, is legal. If religious freedom is granted to one religion to enforce their bigotry and intolerance, Muslims claim, then all religions must be free in the same way. Had that situation been applicable in the past then the horrific 9/11 attacks could not have been condemned. Muslims could claim it would to be legally acceptable, that Muslims have as much right as Catholics to enforce their religious beliefs on the world.
The right of of religions to be free to enforce their beliefs is nonsensical. The only way to ensure that religions are free is to ensure that they exist within secular societies and abide by secular laws. Without those restrictions, there can only be a descent into chaos.