Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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By John Cosenza & John Pinna

Introduction

In April 2019 over 300 men, women and children were killed across three cities in Sri Lanka, many of whom were peacefully observing the Christian faith during Easter Sunday mass. The remnants of ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the well-calculated attacks as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand the month prior. The Sri Lanka bombings contributed to a larger overall trend defining the international Christian community. Indeed, a recent Pew Research Center study found that at least 144 nations experience some level of anti-Christian persecution or harassment, confirming Christians as the most persecuted religious group in the world.[1] Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and others often target Christian communities in similar fashion to the Sri Lanka bombings.

Yet what is more disturbing is the escalation of Christian persecution among entire societies in the Middle East, Asia and Northern Africa. In nations such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, Christians live in constant fear of radicals and non-radicals alike.[2] The following analysis does not seek to blame Islam for the Sri Lanka bombings or for the overall rising trend of Christian persecution.[3]  Not every Muslim harbors anti-Christian sentiment and both communities live together in relative peace across the globe. Rather, this analysis explores one man’s bold mission to confront difficult questions facing the Muslim community today.

The Path Forward

For over three decades, Muslim leaders have attempted to redefine Islam in a way that is compatible with the modern world. This slow progression is often attributed to the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights of 1981, adopted by the more liberal Islamic Council of Europe. The council’s objective included raising awareness of “human rights that are being trampled upon with impunity in many countries of the world, including Muslim countries.”[4]

Furthermore, the council declared human rights are an integral part of the overall Islamic order and is obligatory of all Muslim governments and organizations. Although a step in the right direction, this declaration was strictly based within the framework of the Qur’an. Thus, the lack of secularization did not prohibit human rights violations justified by Qur’an verses or ideologies; such verses are used today as a justification to persecute Christians and other religious minorities.

Nine years later, the Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) provided the next minor step in this progression. Adopted in Cairo on August 5th, 1990, the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) established the CDHRI, providing an Islamic perspective on human rights. The CDHRI was created to establish guidelines prescribed for all members of the OIC, guaranteeing many of the same rights as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted in 1948 following the Second World War. Yet, the CDHRI was limited to the confines of sharia law.[5] In turn, it greatly restricted the rights of women, religious minorities, and ethnic minorities that do not enjoy the same rights as Islamic men under sharia law. These steps towards the modernization of Islam would unfortunately be left to future Muslim leaders to finish.

In The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, Bernard Lewis attempts to answer a contested question in the contemporary Muslim world; what is modern day Islam? More specifically, what cultural and religious practices are acceptable today in Islam?[6] In November of 2004, King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan devised a spiritual mission to answer these questions. In what became known as the “Amman Message”, King Abdullah II issued a statement declaring the need to officially redefine modern day Islam. During this time of political and religious uncertainty in the Muslim world, Abdulla’s mission was to clarify to the modern world the true nature of Islam and the nature of true Islam.[7] Furthermore, his goal was to “assert what the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims expect themselves to be: full partners in the development of human civilization, and in the progress of humanity in our age.”[8]

The Amman Message

On November 9th, 2004 Sheikh Izz-Eddine Al-Khatib Al-Tamimi, advisor to King Abdullah II for Islamic Affairs, delivered a powerful message to a congregation of Muslim clerics and scholars at the Hashimiyeen Mosque in Amman, Jordan:

“We are aware of the dangers and challenges the Islamic Nation is facing today. Evil threaten its identity, incite disunity, tarnish its religion and assail its tenets; they attack fiercely the very message of Islam. Some who attack Islam imagine it is their enemy. But it is not their enemy. Others, who claim to belong to Islam, have done gruesome and criminal acts in its name. The message that is under attack is the message of tolerance; a message of brotherhood and humanity; forming a righteous religion that embraces the entire sphere of human life, upholding what is good and forbidding what is wrong, accepting of others, and honoring all human beings.”[9]

King Abdullah II subsequently tasked 24 of the most senior religious scholars from all branches and schools of Islam to ponder the three following questions: 1) Who is a Muslim? 2) Is it permissible to declare someone an apostate? and 3) Who has the right to undertake issues relating to fatwas (legal rulings)?[10] The following July, King Abdullah II assembled an international gathering of 200 Muslim intellectuals from 50 nations in Amman, Jordan. The assembly discussed the contemporary meaning of Islam in response to the increasing state of violence among Muslim communities. Moreover, the assembly officially declared the true meaning of Islam and which actions accurately represent Islam within the context of these three questions. It was determined that Muslims include individuals belonging to the 8 legal schools of Islam including the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’I, Hanbali, Ja’fari, Zaidi, Ibadi, and Zahiri schools.Also, based on their discussions, they forbade declarations of apostasy, allowing Muslims to freely denounce their faith without fear of consequence. Lastly, they set forth preconditions for issuing fatwas, thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts of radical fundamentalists in the name of Islam.[11]

These three points were unanimously adopted by hundreds of Muslim scholars and organizations. Additionally, the assembly created a plan to implement this message within societal, cultural, educational and religious institutions, thus paving the road for a more progressive Muslim world. The solutions include: 1) Inter-Islamic treaties; 2) national and international legislation using the Three Points of the Amman Message to define Islam and forbid apostasy; 3) the use of publishing and multi-media in all their aspects to spread the Amman message; 4) instituting the teaching of the Amman Message in school curricula and university courses worldwide; and 5) making it part of the training of Mosque Imams and including it in their sermons.[12]

This attempt to modernize Islam was suddenly halted by two major events, the Global War on Terror and the Arab Spring. The United States’ invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by subsequent interventions in the Middle East and Asia, postponed the implementation of the Amman Message in the Muslim world. The Arab Spring similarly destabilized Muslim governments in the Middle East and derailed the noble campaign to reconstruct Islam for the modern era. However, Muslim factions in Nigeria, a country free of American military intervention, promote Islamism and religiously motivated violence. It is time to reconvene the Amman message and confront the expansion of radicalism. More importantly, it is time for the Muslim world to unite under the vision of King Abdullah II and fulfill his mission.

Islam’s Potential Futures

King Abdullah II’s attempt to delegitimize apostasy and radical Islamists was the next step in redefining modern-day Islam. According to author Ali Eteraz, “declarations of apostasy should have never been a part of Islamic Law. There is no mention in the Quran of a punishment for it. The Punishment of death for apostasy rests on a collection of flimsy hadith narrations, many of which openly contradict Quranic verses.”[13] More importantly, the Amman Message significantly undermines radical organizations such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS who issue fatwas under the veil of true Islam. This is good news not only for Muslims, for whom it provides a basis for unity and a solution to infighting, but also those of other religions as well, including Christians.

Indeed, Muslim leaders have taken efforts to reconstruct their societies in accordance with the Amman Message. In 2016, King Mohammed VI of Morocco invited 250 of the world’s most eminent Islamic leaders to discuss the rights and protection of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. Dubbed the “Marrakesh Declaration”, King Mohammed’s declaration was issued at a time of heightened social hostility fueled by violent extremism, sometimes justified by misrepresentations of Islamic teachings.[14] Saykh Abdulla bin Bayyah, the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace and Co-Moderator of Religions for Peace (RfP), delivered the keynote address at the congregation. Bayyah’s speech set the framework for Islamic leaders to openly discuss the statutes of the Marrakesh Declaration, some of which include:

  • Affirmation that it is impermissible to employ religion for the purpose of detracting from the rights of religious minorities in Muslim
  • A call upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all words that promote hatred and [15]

Muslim organizations are also taking steps to modernize Islam in accordance with the Amman Message. An Islamic organization centered in Indonesia known as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) “seeks to reinterpret Islamic law dating from the Middle Ages in ways that conform to 21st-century norms.”[16] Among other initiatives, NU calls for a re-examination of modern day Islamic law that dictates cultural practices and relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. NU

leaders believe classical Islamic perspectives are currently dominated by views that position non- Muslims as enemies and encourage Muslims to seek and attack other religious communities.

The NU shares many ideas with those described in the Amman Message, especially regarding the delegitimization of radical organizations who seek to use Islam as a political weapon. Indeed, leaders of NU argue “elements of Shariah, which Muslims consider divine law, are being manipulated by groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda to justify terrorist attacks and invoke fighters to battle in the Middle East and elsewhere.”[17] Similar to the Amman Message, the NU initiative aims to directly approach governments around the world as well as the United Nations, to achieve a global consensus on reforming what it views as archaic interpretations of Islam.[18] Although founded long before King Abdullah II’s declaration, the NU’s mission has a new meaning and purpose based in religious authority because of the Amman Message.

Conclusion

The Amman Message has empowered Muslim leaders and organizations seeking to redefine Islam and modernize the Muslim world. With the support of clerical and scholarly Islamic leaders, King Abdullah II’s message equips Muslims with the authority to denounce the barbaric actions of radical organizations like ISIS. Moreover, it equips Muslims with the authority to draw a line in the sand and declare these organizations as Non-Islamic entities.

Muslims can use this meaningful strategy in their fight to modernize Islam and alienate fundamentalists who misrepresent the true nature of Islam.

The freedom of religion and worship is not a right granted by a society or state, but a God given right and a fundamental truth. Christians and Muslims deserve the opportunity to live peacefully among one another without fear of political, social or violent consequences. However, there is much work to be done. Fulfilling the Amman Message will not be an easy task to accomplish. It will require comprehensive reforms in several Islamic governments and cultures throughout the Middle East, Asia and North Africa; a challenge King Abdullah II himself recognizes. If King Abdullah II’s policies outlined in the Amman Message are adopted by Muslim governments and socio-economic institutions, there is potential to bring Christians and Muslims closer together and mitigate religious persecution for all.


John Cosenza is a Market Research Analyst at Zitter Health Insights as well as a part time Research Consultant at the Mitchell Firm, a Washington D.C. based lobbying and consultancy firm. John graduated from Marist College with a dual degree in History & Political Science and graduated from Norwich University with a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy & International Business. John is an experienced professional with a unique combination of primary and secondary research skills as well as writing skills. He has experience working in the private and non-profit sector conducting secondary, qualitative, and quantitative research for multiple organizations including the world’s largest marketing and advertising agency, an international marketing consultancy firm, and a Washington, D.C. based Non-Government Organization (NGO). In addition to his research, John has co-authored multiple articles with Mr. John T. Pinna of the Mitchell firm focusing on international human rights issues and international religious persecution. John continues to work with political, think tank, and NGO leaders in the Washington D.C. metro area to advocate for international religious freedom. He can be reached at [email protected] or www.linkedin.com/in/john-cosenza/


[1] Pew Research Center, 2018. “Key Findings on the Global Rise in Religious Restrictions.”

[2] Lowry, Lindy (2019). “11 Christians Killed Every Day for Their Decision to Follow Jesus.” Open Doors, (2019)

[3] China, a non-religious state, was notably ranked as a nation with “very high government restrictions on religion”, including Christians (Pew Research Center, 2018).

[4] Islamic Council of Europe, 1981. “Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights.”

[5] The CDHRI reads “In contribution to the efforts of making to assert human rights, to protect man from exploitation and persecution, and to affirm his freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah (CHRI 1990, 1)

[6] Lewis, Bernard. “The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror.” The Modern Library (2003)

[7] King Abdullah II. “The Amman Message – Summary.” Ammanmessage.com (2018)

[8] King Abdullah II. “The Amman Message.” (2004)

[9] Ibid.

[10] King Abdullah II. “The Amman Message – Summary.” Ammanmessage.com (2018)

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Eteraz, Ali. “Dissent is now ok, but Only for Muslims.” The Huffington Post, (2011).

[14] The Marrakesh Declaration. “Muslims Advance Consensus for Citizenship for all: The Marrakesh Declaration” marrakeshdeclaration.org (2016).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Cochrane, Joe. “Indonesians Seek to Export a Modernized Vision of Islam.” The New York Times (2017)

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates