A possibly significant development in Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations is being spear-headed by the Islamic Scholars of North America (ISNA). In July of 2012, ISNA Director of Community Outreach, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, convened a small multilateral forum of scholars in Mauritania to discuss challenges faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world.
Mauritania is an interesting choice, since it has no indigenous Christian population, and the CIA World Factbook lists the country as “(official) 100% Muslim.”
So, officially, Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, which begs the question: If the ISNA is reaching out to Islamic scholars in Mauritania on the issue of minority religious rights, and the (official) statistic is that Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, is this a tacit recognition on ISNA’s part that some of the 100 percent officially Muslim Mauritanians have secretly switched their religion … and that international human rights standards should allow them to do so?
If that’s the case, then this is a significant development in interfaith relations.
… the key word being if.
Since Mauritania is officially 100 percent Muslim, the other possibility is that the religious minorities under discussion are expatriates. But expatriates already have the ability to convene worship services according to their respective faiths in Mauritania, as well as in virtually every Muslim country.
Interestingly, the other countries that the ISNA has reached out to on the issue of minority religious rights are Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia – all of these are countries with little to no recognizable religious minorities in their indigenous populations, and which forbid their indigenous populations from switching their religious affiliations to any other faith but Islam.
So the question remains: Is the ISNA reaching out to Muslim scholars and government officials in Muslim-majority nations in order to patch up the status quo, or is the ISNA working to persuade Islamic governments to adopt the same religious freedom standards that people of all faiths enjoy in the West?
Here’s an excerpt from their website:
As part of its mission, ISNA seeks to help represent the voice of diverse Muslim communities within the United States, as well as to represent an American voice within Muslim communities around the world. Both goals require heightened attentiveness to issues of religious freedom and civil liberties, which we seek to address through positive interreligious partnerships both here in the U.S. and abroad. As a result, we have become increasingly concerned not only about the challenges faced by Muslim minorities within the United States, but also those faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world.
Over recent years, we have heard numerous reports about serious violations of the rights of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. These incidents stand in stark contrast to the values and traditions of Islam. Historically, when such circumstances arise which run counter to our Islamic theology, it has always been the role of Islamic scholars to intervene. As such, the Islamic Society of North America, is currently working together with Muslim leaders worldwide to promote a mechanism for developing Islamic standards and protocols on religious freedom and the role of religious minorities in the Muslim-majority communities. This effort is also in line with ISNA’s domestic priorities, because poor treatment of religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities also has a substantial and negative effect on the manner in which Muslim minorities are regarded and treated in the West.
Notice the phrase “religious freedom and the role of religious minorities.” At least from this particular wording, it seems that the ISNA is aware of the distinction that I’m raising in this article. If that’s the case – again, the key word being if – then this is a truly significant development in Muslim-Christian relations, a development that Muslims and Christians alike should welcome and support.
Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with A Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War. To learn more about Aaron’s ministry, go to www.aarondtaylor.com. This post originally appeared on the website Middle East Experience, a site dedicated to providing an open-source forum for all the varied voices from today’s Middle East.