By Carl Moeller
Open Doors USA President/CEO
Earlier this week I - along with many religious rights organizations including the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom - urged President Obama to address the issue of freedom of religion and other basic human rights in the Muslim world during his major speech from Egypt.
In the speech directed to 1.5 billion Muslims, he defined himself as the linchpin in a "new beginning" between the West and Islamic world.
And he did address the issue of religious freedom, saying in part: "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshipped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.
"Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld - whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it........."
First of all, I commend the President for mentioning religious freedom in his speech. His brief reference to Copts in Egypt is very relevant since Obama spoke from Cairo University.
However, he failed to elaborate about the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the plight of Christians and other minorities living in Muslim countries where Islam is the official religion and Shariah Law (strict Muslim law) virtually makes it impossible for Christians to practice their faith without persecution. That persecution could take the form of torture, isolation, interrogation, arrest, kidnapping and even death.
Islam is the majority religion in seven of the top 10 countries on this year's Open Doors World Watch List of the world's worst persecutors of Christians - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen and Uzbekistan.
The overseer of Open Doors projects in Iran recently talked about the danger of being a Muslim Background Believer or "secret believer:"
"A Muslim is forbidden to leave Islam. The government wants to punish converts with execution; women are to be imprisoned for life in such cases. According to the Islamic law, an apostate must return to Islam or die.
"I remember a Christian couple in Golar Dasht. They were lashed because of their faith. The husband was a Muslim who had become a Christian long before marrying. His wife was an Assyrian Iranian. As the traditional churches refrained from marrying the two, they performed a Muslim ceremony. The couple attended a house church and was arrested in September 2005 at a service in a private home, along with other members of the house church.
"Two years later their case came before a court. The judge stated that the wife had abandoned Islam because a Muslim wedding is equal to a conversion to Islam. Until the verdict was reached, the couple was to regularly report to the authorities. When the wife was sexually harassed by an official there, she gave up going to the authorities. As a result, security officers came to the couple's house with a court order to whip them. They were still in their house when the punishment was executed."
President Obama also said he welcomed efforts "like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue...."
The President was referring to King Abdullah's attempt to promote tolerance among the world's major religions. He initiated a "Culture of Peace Summit" held last November at the United Nations.
I said last November that Saudi Arabia calling on international religious tolerance is a little bit like the wolf calling for a sheep convention. That is because Saudi Arabia is one of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom. It is ranked No. 2 on the World Watch List behind North Korea. Seven months later nothing has changed in Saudi Arabia. He shouldn't be praised until the king walks the talk in his own country.
In summary, yes, we should go to the Muslim World. Open Doors founder Brother Andrew always says we in the West should reach out in love to Muslims. In his book Secret Believers (Revell 2007), he encourages us to go to Muslims with humility and share Christ.
We also need to support, advocate and pray for those who are suffering under Shariah Law. But Islamic nations must treat believers - giving them complete freedom of religion - like they want countries in the West to treat Muslims. For more information about how you can support "secret believers," go to www.secretbelievers.org or www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.