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May 21st, 2010
09:17 AM ET

My Take: Most victims of Muslim religious persecution are other Muslims

Editor's Note: Asma T. Uddin is founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com and an international law attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

By Asma T. Uddin, special to CNN

Religious persecution in Muslim countries has gotten a lot of ink lately, but what's been mostly overlooked is that Muslims themselves are the most frequent victims of that persecution.

Members of minority religions are hurt disproportionately, owing largely
to the government's failure to prosecute crimes committed against these
individuals. But in terms of sheer numbers, it is Muslims of minority sects or Muslim dissidents who are most consistently victimized. The recently released annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) makes this abundantly clear.

Shiites are usually the main victims, given that they're the minority sect in Islam and are also often associated with an Iranian political threat.

In Saudi Arabia, Shiites constitute 10 to 15 percent of the populace but occupy very few top government positions. Members of Ismailism, a Shiite sect, often face apostasy and blasphemy charges; Hadi Al-Mutif, an Ismaili, was sentenced to death in 1994 for apostasy and is still in prison today - despite the fact that he says he is a Muslim.

Blasphemy laws are also a huge problem in Pakistan, where they're used to exact revenge on business or personal rivals. Because these laws do not penalize false allegations nor require proof of intent or evidence beyond allegations, extremists use blasphemy allegations to intimidate minority groups, including Shi'as and members of the Ahmadiyya sect, who consider themselves Muslim.

Similarly, Egypt's blasphemy laws are wielded against Shiites and Koranists, as well as dissident Muslims from the majority Sunni population.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is an illegal organization in Egypt
and its members are routinely tortured or detained for long periods of time, without any evidence of violence or incitement to violence. The Egyptian government persecutes the Brotherhood because of its socio-political influence in Egyptian society and across the Muslim world.

The group, which seeks to overthrow the current secular government and implement Islamic law in Egypt, did fairly well in recent parliamentary elections - despite government repression during the voting process.

In Iran, meanwhile, senior religious leaders who oppose the government's
religious and political practices are subject to house arrest, detention
without charges, and torture. Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, once the designated successor to Khomeini, died in December 2009 after years of imprisonment and persistent harassment because of his strong opposition to Iranian clerical rule.

Two patterns emerge in these cases.

First, the use of blasphemy laws to protect a state-sponsored definition
of Islam. Second, state control of religion politicizes religion.

Blasphemy laws presuppose a single version of a given faith that is "right" and that all other interpretations are necessarily wrong. Stultifying debate by freezing religious interpretations is extremely dangerous-not just because it robs religious groups and individuals of the ability to define their religion for themselves, but because it prevents the type of reform and revival of faith that make it relevant to changing times.

Suppressing social activism under the pretext of blasphemy is even more
dangerous. It takes away people's right to express these elements in a peaceful and productive way, driving them underground instead. With the public square sealed off, they run to the mosque as the only free space. Social activism ends up taking on religious overtones and becomes radicalized against the government. The result is often terrorism.

The way forward? The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's report recommends that the U.S. government fill the vacancy for the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

While various government working groups have been established on inter-religious dialogue, the report says that these groups give mere passing reference to religious freedom. Religious freedom programs must be funded, and U.S. government agencies interacting with religious actors abroad need to make religious freedom a central component of these efforts.

Faith is central to most of the world's inhabitants. When they are oppressed on account of it, instability ensues - and the world becomes unsafe for everyone. If only out of self-interest, the U.S. would do well to pay more attention to religious freedom.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Asma T. Uddin.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Opinion • Politics • Religious liberty

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Sophie

    Very interesting if flawed premise. If Muslims are "using" blasphemy laws to exact revenge or otherwise go after other Muslims for reasons other than Islam, whether the victims are part of minority sects or not, is this religious persecution? It may be hypocrisy, human rights violations and / or unjust, but it certainly isn't religious persecution. It's corruption taking on the guise of religion.

    As for all the raving bigots posting here, having lived in both the U.S. and Pakistan, I can guarantee my fellow Americans that there is no more violent society on earth than the U.S. :) Just ask the Europeans.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  2. nOT Trash

    Religion causing killing and retribution for no other reason that hate fermented by religion. a beautiful never ending story of carnage.

    May 30, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  3. Wajid Ali

    I found your article with a brilliant start, a medicore center and a laughable end.
    After concluding that blasphemy laws are used to beat each other, you decided that the US government should solve the problem.
    THIS IS A MUSLIM PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED BY MUSLIMS
    they have to learn tolerance , a good start would be to see if they can become secular. Out of 50+ Muslm countries only Turkey is genuinely secular. The extemism of WAHABISM rises from the benign and false belief of the superiority of Islam.
    So once again Muslim brothers please learn tolerance, don't ask the American tax payer to clean your poop.
    They are already struggling with Investment bankers.
    P.S Open Challenge if Saudi or Iran become secular in the next 10 years I will color my hair purple and I know I will win.

    May 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  4. Laraine

    I appreciate the point of Ms. Uddin's eloquent essay, however, I question her solution. Why is the job of the U.S. to "pay more attention to religious freedom" in these majority-Muslim countries? We cannot impose our values on other countries or faiths. They must do it for themselves.

    May 27, 2010 at 4:05 am |
    • SeanNJ

      Agreed. Isn't that the reason that most Middle Eastern inhabitants despise us to begin with?

      July 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  5. Abdul

    Look at this way. It takes one sophisticated bomb (made by the USA, exported to some undemocratic regime, dropped once a year) to kill 1,000 muslims in a go. It takes fifty acts of violence to kill the same 1,000 muslims by other muslims (one act per week). At the end of the year, muslims have killed as many muslims as Americas have killed as many Muslims. WHATS THE DIFFERENCE. None!! Except it appears Muslims are always killing Muslims because it takes them 50 acts of violence to duplicate what Americans can do in one act.

    Another example is World War Two. If you add up all the dead people as a result of World War Two (which had little to do with Islam and the Muslim world), more people were killed in WWII in 5 years than perhaps muslims have killed in wars and feuds in the last 500 years combined!! Yet today, everyone notices the daily violence in the muslim world, no one remembers the ULTRA MEGA VIOLENCE of WWII.

    CONCLUSION: Muslims are babies / amateurs when it comes to violence, compared to non-Muslims.

    May 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
    • Joe

      Either one of those scenarios is good for me. The more dead muslims the better.

      June 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  6. Rida

    I do agree that yes Muslims kill each other more than any other non-muslim.

    There are reasons, one of them is that 'we Muslims make decisions on our emotions, we take actions based on emotions. We don't think, we become irrational'. Yet, it must be considered that a large amount, i repeat a large amount of my Muslim world is poor and illiterate. They lack interactions with other human beings of different beliefs. We are also very much society fixated. And so quite often we don't even follow the rules of Islam. There are hardly any Muslims these days who pray 5 times a day or more so importantly try to be fair in our decisions. We don't learn about our religion. We are in fact illiterate when it comes down to Islam.

    Look: we lack knowledge all right. Whether it be academic or religious. We lack to see new perspectives. But there is a hope from our younger generation, from my generation. We kids are sick and tired of trying to change the intolerant beliefs of our parents and our elders. They don't listen to us and i don't think they are going to change either. Now all i can do is learn, spread wisdom, share wisdom and educate the future generation. Though i lack some serious guidance. I feel as if my Muslim world is isolated, every Muslim is isolated, especially from knowledge.

    Banning Muslims from going to overseas country will lead to a loss of cross- cultural communication and some serious wisdom. Plus i hope people are open minded enough to understand that NOT all Muslims are like them. I can gurantee you that in my Pakistani society, you will find all the cimes/ sins in the world. But i can also tell you that not all of us are same.

    I won't remain silent if you violate my basic human rights, but i alse promise to maintain peace that in under my control and do my very best to keep harmony.

    Yes Ravi, Indian rulers may have had some bad qualities- but India to this day obtains a lot of money from those sites e.g Taj Mahal that were made by these very same rulers. I am not against India or anything, but i do know that our Muhammad Ali Jinnah and your Mahatma Gandhi were like minded men and both fought for peace.

    May 21, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
    • cat

      comparing Jinnah and Gandhi...or any freedom fighter of that day is a joke. arguably many of pakistani problems can be traced back to Jinnah's intolerance and backstabbing ways...

      May 31, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  7. KOG

    Bible Quote -" Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste ; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand".
    – Jesus Christ.(Not Issa)

    May 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  8. Sue

    Are we supposed to display sympathy ? Sorry, I have none for the people who kill innocents everyday and then raise a huge hue and cry about someone drawing their precious prophet.....

    May 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  9. Protip

    Muslims are all about inflicting fear. They're got it down to an art at least, I give them that.

    May 21, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  10. Ravi

    100% agreed.. Look at the history of India where muslim rulers were killed by other muslim guys/mostly relatives or even muslim friends for greed/deceit.. Top religious leaders will continue violence and torture to inflict fear in the minds of followers (along with fatwa etc) so that they continue to stay in power... Same thing which prevailed in europe during middle ages before renainance movement liberated the minds..

    May 21, 2010 at 10:15 am |

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.