Liberal Grace

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Freedom of Religion in Qatar!

Yes, we Christians are "free" in most Muslims countries but we're far from equal.

When Muslims claim that they allow freedom of religion in their countries, they are telling the truth. But their definition of "freedom" is nothing like the religious freedom they enjoy in America.

Compare the optimistic headline with the body of the article. Italics are mine.

Religious freedom on the rise

US report praises Qatar for allowing other faiths.

By Barbara Bibbo', Correspondent

Doha: Religious freedom has improved in Qatar, although the Government prohibits proselytizing by non-Muslims and places some restrictions on public worship, according to a US report on religious freedom in Qatar.

The document issued by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor was presented by the American embassy in Doha to the local media.

The report said Qatar's new constitution explicitly provides for freedom of worship, but no foreign missionary groups operate openly in the country. The Government, which maintains an official register of approved religious congregations, has granted legal status to Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Coptic and many Asian Christian denominations.

On the contrary, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'is, and members of other religious groups do not operate as freely as Christians, because they have not sought official permission from the authorities. However, there was no official effort to harass or hamper adherents of these religious groups in the private practice of their religion.

Despite the recognised congregations being able to perform their religious rites freely within designated spaces, the report said, proselytising is prohibited and religious symbols cannot be exposed.

Criminal code

"In June 2004, a new criminal code was enacted that established new rules for proselytising. Individuals caught proselytising … for any religion other than Islam, may be sentenced to a term in prison of up to ten years. According to this new law, individuals who possess written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity are imprisoned for up to two years," the report said.

The Government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of non Islamic books and materials. However the authorities tolerate individuals and religious institutions importing Bibles and other religious items for personal or congregational use.

Islam is the state religion of Qatar, a country with barely 900,000 residents, whose indigenous population is barely 200,000. The majority of the citizens belong to the Wahabi order of the Sunni branch, while only 10 per cent are Shia Muslims, who practice their faith freely. Religion is not indicated on national identity cards, nor is it a criterion for citizenship. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs controls the construction of mosques, clerical affairs, and Islamic education for adults and new converts.

Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital offence; however, there has been no recorded execution or other punishment for such a crime.

The report said discrimination on a religious basis is uncommon. However, convicted Muslims may earn points for good behaviour and have their sentences reduced by memorising the Quran. It also mentioned that Muslim wives get better treatment in court cases on inheritance than non-Muslims.

However the report did not say that non-Muslim convicts are denied religious assistance by priests or representatives of other religions. Local media reported that many conversions from other religions to Islam occur in prisons .

Representatives of local congregations as well as Qatari officials refused to comment on the report, citing as a justification the current international tension among religious leaders.

Religious freedom on the rise

Many Muslims feel oppressed in the west. I am sympathetic to them. I, as a Christian, denounce any bigotry or special restrictions on Muslims in predominately Christian countries.

I think Muslims should have every right to proselytize, have literature, wear symbols and meet where ever they want, just as Christians do. Christians should be free to convert to Islam and Christian women may marry Muslim men.

Will fair-minded Muslims please speak up and say that Christians in Muslim countries should have these same rights?

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