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It is not a one-way street

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

The ban on raising of minarets over mosques in Switzerland consequent to a popular vote has raised a lot of indignation from everywhere. Christians and Jews in that Alpine country have publicly expressed their disgust. European Commission for the Human Rights is all likely to overturn the ban. Reports from France say the French would reject any such proposal that would curtail freedom of Muslims construct a minarets. The British newspapers have condemned or deplored the Swiss attitude and deem it the outcome of all-pervasive phobia being orchestrated by vested interests about Islam's inroads into the Europe.

What is evident is that people in Europe are still guided by the philosophy of human liberalism that inform and inspires the European ethos. Islam's growing visibility in Europe be it through minarets, Hijab, flowing robes, mosques, is undoubtedly sharpening a threat perception among a section of people. Terms like 'Eurabia' and 'Zimmitude' are gaining currency in a section of media which is out to overplay the popular fears. Europe is finding it difficult to come to terms with Islam and sense of unease is palpable. Questions that the Europeans face have varying dimensions. The dilemmas are getting curiouser and curio user. If visibility of Islam keeps its spiral upwards, it clashes with the dominant European ethos. If denied the natural growth, European tolerance and human rights come under question. No one seems to have the answer as to how much Islam the Europeans can be currently prepared to see around them.

It is pertinent to note that outcome of the referendum has only found grudging acceptance with the Swiss government. But what we need to ask ourselves is whether non-Muslim minorities in the Islamic countries also find similar support from the powers that be or the civil society. Is it not a fact that building of churches or temples in Muslim countries is a task impossible; that Hindus have to choose between either burying the copses of their dead or take them out of the country to cremate in their homeland; that a member of the Coptic Christian community ( who make six percent of the Egyptian population) cannot marry a Muslim unless he converts to Islam; that a Non-Muslim in Malaysia has to procure consent of his neighbor to keep a dog; that Hindu girls are routinely abducted I Pakistan's Sind province and forcibly married to Muslim men; that 59 per cent Turks surveyed in a recent poll said non-Muslims 'should not' or 'absolutely should not' hold open meeting where they can discuss their ideas.

Mercifully Muslims in nation-states in the West had the advantage of a democratic set-up and have developed religious and cultural institutions commensurate with the demands of their faith. They are well integrated into those societies and doing well for themselves. In fact, some of these minorities have enjoyed more civil liberties than their counterpart in the so called Muslim nation-states. Occasionally, issues such as headscarves, growing of beard while serving in armed forces, or Ramazan rigmarole, or sacrilege of religious figures do crop in. They are also subjected to racial profiling, discrimination and hostility from extreme nationalist forces. But overall liberal humanism that guides these states provides the necessary legal and constitutional framework for the resolution of these issues. What is obvious is that much of the issues pertaining to Muslim minorities find solution in the liberal-humanistic set up they have opted for, rather than any intellectual initiative from the Muslim minority itself.

What however remains to be debated are terms like 'zimmi' and the status of non-Muslim in the Islamic states. Of course, no Muslim state today levies Jizya on its non-Muslim citizens.Jizya may be passed today, but not the mindset that treats non-Muslims as unequal citizens. Some intellectual circles within Islam do lend credibility to terms interpreting it as a compensation for exemption from military service. They rarely realize that keeping away minorities from military draft is more of a discriminatory treatment and denial of equal opportunity than a privilege as it deemed to be in medieval period where zimmihood had some validity.

Perhaps, the question of apostasy too needs to be debated on the same lines. Religion being a matter of personal conviction need not evoke state intervention today. Given the choice, no Muslims is ever willing to give up his faith. But laws to this effect on statute book do smudge the human rights copybook of the Muslim nations today. It is where Muslim nation-state need to have a relook at themselves and respond to the urges of reciprocity. Human rights is not a one-way street, one has to be willing to offer what he cherishes for himself from others.

Some of these questions are certainly more intense and urgent for Muslims in the West, but ultimately the whole Muslim world has to respond to them. Indignation over Swiss ban would appear more justified when Muslims would critically look at the pathetic plight of the non-Muslims in their own lands and gather courage to not only condemn it but also urge a fair deal.