Guest editorial: A faith community persecuted in 100 countries

Uyghur Muslims worshipping in Xinjiang Province, China. (File Photo from 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative)

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It was Day 5 of sitting in a sweltering mud house in the middle of an Eritrean refugee camp in Ethiopia. There was no running water, barely any electricity, and we conducted interviews while sitting on furniture fashioned out of hardened dirt.

elijah brown130Elijah BrownFor five days, I listened to heartbreaking stories of violence committed by the Eritrean government against its citizens. This included meetings with a child soldier, people whose homes government representatives had looted and a young lady who was caught reading the Bible while serving in the military. For her punishment, they tied her hands behind her back and forced her to stand under the blazing sun for three hours while pouring milk on her head so flies would bite her face.

“… there were threats”

This also included the testimony of Abrehem, who recounted in his own words:

I am a Sunni Muslim. I served as a muezzin and would call the faithful to prayer five times a day. I eventually became a leader in the mosque who led in the daily prayers.

During that time, I had two government officials from the secretary’s office assigned to me. They constantly stood beside me, one on my right side and the other on my left side. This was to ensure that I never said anything critical about the government during prayers.

In addition, each morning and evening, I was forced to sign a paper at the secretary’s office clarifying that I wasn’t going to escape. …

We were instructed to only teach certain parts of our faith while leaving out those parts which the government disapproved. If we disagreed and wanted to teach the whole truth about our faith, there were threats, including potentially even being shot.

After learning from a family member he was about to be arrested and sent to prison, Abrehem fled to Ethiopia. Even as he shared, he remained visibly nervous that his government would still find him and hurt him or his family. Abrehem is far from alone.

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Muslims in danger

Muslims in Nigeria who refuse to adhere to violent ideology have been targeted and killed by Boko Haram. Rohingya Muslims are some of the most persecuted people in the world, as the Burmese government engages in ethnic cleansing. Uyghur Muslims are severely repressed by the Chinese government. Millions of Muslims from across Syria and Iraq have suffered at the genocidal hands of the Islamic State. Innumerable Muslim refugees have witnessed firsthand the brutal undersides of human history.

While there certainly are people of minority faiths in Muslim-majority countries who face severe oppression and persecution, it does not negate the fact Muslims remain one of the most persecuted faith communities around the world. According to a report published last month by the Pew Research Center, Muslims experience harassment or intimidation in 100 countries.

Religious freedom for all

For religious freedom to thrive today, it must be extended to all people in all places of all religions. This includes the rights of Muslims around the world, as well as religious minorities living within Muslim-majority countries.

Our commitment to religious freedom must move beyond allegiance only to those who adhere to our particular faith or political persuasion. With the exception of terrorist activity, our commitment must be to safeguard the rights of all people to follow the dictates of their consciences in pursuit of those questions most foundational to the human experience.

Take action

Read the latest Pew Research Center publication, Trends in Global Restrictions on Religion.

Lead a Love Your Neighbor Dinner as modeled by Peace Catalyst International.

Watch the highly acclaimed 2011 film Of Gods and Men, which is based on the true story of eight French Trappist monks living in Algeria in the early to mid-1990s.

Elijah Brown is executive vice president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.

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