These troubles have continued regularly, often with orgies of killing and looting, much of it unrelated to religion or ethnicity. For Muslims themselves, violence among members of the faith may be of greater consequence than struggles between groups representing Islam and Christianity. Today a major player in exacerbating Nigerian sectarian violence is the Muslim sect called Boko Haram, which is strongly opposed to Western values and forms of education and generally shares a Taliban ideology.
In recent years, members of Boko Haram have raided schools, churches, and government offices in their fight to carve out an Islamic enclave in northeastern Nigeria.
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In April , Boko Haram abducted more than schoolgirls, who as of this writing have not been returned. Those familiar with the situation in northern Nigeria believe that Christian and Muslim organizations could greatly assist in ending conflicts said to be carried out in the name of religion. Many observers believe that the key lies with renewed efforts at interreligious dialogue. Conservative Muslims often think that Christians seek to convert them, and Christians worry that Muslims want to make Indonesia into an Islamic state.
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Christians have always harbored a deep fear of Islamization. Under President Suharto Christians began to lose their influence with the regime and felt increasingly marginalized. In after the fall of the Suharto regime, an upsurge in violent Muslim-Christian conflicts took place throughout the country. Since Indonesia became an independent state in , pancasila has served as its guiding philosophy, including among other principals freedom of religion within the framework of monotheism.
The cause of violence has been attributed by many people to nonreligious factors such as politics and control of state power. Still, religious rhetoric has been used to mobilize groups and forces.
The possibility of interreligious conflict has increased dramatically in recent years. In exchange for a kind of religious equilibrium, the church tries to cooperate with secular authorities. New forms of conflict transformation, specifically efforts toward peace-building, are gaining ground across communities that have experienced some of the worst conflicts. A group called Peace Provocateurs, for example, has worked to advance brotherhood and peace in Ambon, as a result of which Ambon has achieved relative calm. One of the largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, the Muhammadiyah, is also working for peace and accepts Christians in its schools.
In , a large interfaith conference was co-sponsored by several Christian and Muslim organizations, leading to meetings across the country to air tensions, prevent violence, and promote harmony. Despite peaceful efforts in Southeast Asia in general violence has not fully abated. Since , several countries have seen the emergence of armed Islamist groups, such as Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines and Laskar Jihad in Indonesia.
The world was shocked at the Bali bombings in , carried out by an al-Qaida affiliate. Some observers argue that violence in Southeast Asia represents a defense response on the part of Muslims rather than aggressive fanaticism. Often it represents a response to efforts of local governments to extend their control over areas where Muslims are in the minority.
The epicenter of Christian-Muslim relations after the rise of Islam, the Middle East is a complex, heterogeneous region, where the addition of the state of Israel has further complicated relations. The recent Arab Spring, pressures for a more Islamic state in Turkey, and international dialogue on the future of relations between Iran and the West have added to regional tensions.
Generally minorities sometimes tiny ones in states dominated by Muslim-majority populations, Christians are focused on trying to live as full and equal citizens. In some cases, especially in Syria and Egypt today, Christians are struggling for their very existence. Christians in Muslim-dominated areas generally support efforts to secure the separation of religion and state, while some Muslims argue that the two must not be separated.
Christians worry that when no distinction is made between religion and politics they run the risk of being labeled noncitizens, even though they were the primary populations of their lands long before the beginning of Islam. In general, Christians number about 5 percent of the total population of the Middle East. They account for some 40 percent of the population in Lebanon and 10 percent in Egypt. The modern states have mainly replaced these laws with modern civil codes.
Europe’s Muslims hate the West
Nonetheless, divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims have deep roots in most areas of the Middle East and can sometimes serve as the central cause of harassment and discrimination. Muslims, especially in states where they make up the majority of a population, are divided into various groups whose supporters uphold more progressive notions of government versus those who advance more conservative views.
Modern Turkey, for example, is struggling to determine the degree to which it remains a secular state, the basis on which it was founded in , or move toward the Islamicization of society. The latter option, of course, presents serious problems for its Christian minorities. The resulting tensions have encouraged some Islamist terrorist response and increased persecution of non-Muslim minorities. For decades Lebanon was viewed as a kind of model of successful Christian-Muslim and Druze relationships at the level of the national government.
Now the deadly crisis in Syria threatens to escalate tensions among the several groups that make up the largest religious communities in Lebanon. Christian-Muslim relations are at a low point not experienced since the days of the Crusades. Christians are being killed in Lebanon as a direct result of the Syrian war, with churches destroyed, priests tortured, and bishops kidnapped.
Fears are growing that indigenous Christian communities not only in Lebanon, but also in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria will be forced out of their native homes in the Middle East permanently. Conservative Christian communities in the West, especially in the United States, have targeted the treatment of Christians by Muslims in the Middle East as a major concern. Why should we be asked to help foster appreciation of the religion of Islam in America, they question, when Christians are denied their rights in many Middle Eastern countries?
In Saudi Arabia, for example, non-Muslim houses of worship are sometimes burned; religious police regularly close down the operations of Christian Bible distributors and of churchgoers in general; school textbooks are often intolerant of Christianity and Judaism; names that sound too Christian or Jewish are forbidden to be given to babies, among other actions. Despite these deteriorating circumstances and their negative effects on Muslim-Christian relations, some efforts are being made in the Middle East to promote better understanding between the two long-standing neighboring communities.
In the 20th century, both Christians and Muslims worked to improve relations and to build on a long history of peaceful coexistence. Dialogue has taken place both through the structured efforts of organizations, such as the World Council of Churches, and in more informal settings. Some groups of Christians, in particular the Orthodox Church, have begun to reexamine the sources of the respective faiths and, on a theological level, to see God working through religions such as Islam. Efforts are being made to break away from the Western concept of nationalism and to emphasis the common historical and linguistic links shared between Christians and Muslims, looking for more positive models for the future.
The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of newly demarcated states in the Middle East, the retreat of colonialist powers around the world, the creation of the states of Pakistan and Israel, the rise of the Islamic republic in Iran, postcolonial conflicts in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the breakup of Yugoslavia and consequent ethnic cleansing—these and many other factors have led to large numbers of Muslims moving to western Europe.
Some have come as refugees, some simply seeking a better life. Following the ties developed through Western colonialism Muslims have come from Turkey to Germany, from North Africa to France, from Indonesia to the Netherlands, from the Indian subcontinent to Britain.
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More recently, refugees have arrived, and continue to arrive, from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, and elsewhere. Some 30 million Muslims now make their home in Europe. The great rise in Muslim immigration in the last several decades is perhaps the single most important factor influencing the ways in which Europeans view Muslims. Muslims are arriving in virtually all the countries of Europe from all over the world, looking for work, education, and a better life. Europeans, for their part, see Muslims not only as part of a generally foreign religion that has been viewed as both repellant and seductively attractive through the decades of the last century or more, but now also as neighbors and even competitors for employment and the services of the state.
This, of course, creates a dramatically new situation for Christian-Muslim relations. Some very specific events in different parts of Europe have led to outrage by Muslims and thus to rising tensions between the two communities. Particularly noteworthy were the so-called cartoon controversies, which started with the publication in a Danish newspaper on September 30, , of a series of some twelve cartoons, most deprecating the prophet Muhammad.
The cartoons were reprinted in more than fifty newspapers worldwide, as a result of which hundreds of thousands of Muslims took to the streets to protest and riot, leading to incidents of brutality and killing. Christians were shocked, Muslims were angry and hurt, and interfaith relations suffered a serious setback. Acts of terror on the part of Muslims, including the bombings in New York, Madrid, and London, have helped to polarize European responses to Muslims and Islam. Events that are mainly about political power or economic resources nonetheless may be identified with the religion of the perpetrators.
Negative stereotyping by the press and media promote fear among the general public. Muslims, meanwhile, wonder why Europeans can so often fail to relate their own subjugation of native Muslim populations through the various means of Western imperialism and colonization to subsequent acts of violence on the part of Muslims. Many immigrants experience a kind of continuation of colonialist treatment in various European countries, some feeling marginalized, disaffected, and economically passed over.
Instead of the wonderful new life they dreamed of they find inferior educational opportunities, unemployment in some European cities up to 70 percent of the Muslim population is unemployed , and poor housing. For some immigrants these disparate conditions lead to violence, crime, drug use, and increasing radicalization, especially of youth. The relative ease of travel to home countries may, in some cases, encourage immigrants to identify with radical elements of Islam.
In Sweden, for example, which is a fairly new host to Muslim immigrants, journalists attest to the presence of some 1, Islamic extremists. A second generation of Muslims is now fully established as citizens of respective European countries, doubling in the last decade. Islam is growing in many European countries not only because of immigration, but also because of high rates of birth as well as conversion. Convert women are among the most active in participating in interfaith discussions and in explaining Islam to non-Muslims.
Issues such as wearing of the hijab, public call to prayer and building of mosques with visible minarets, availability of halal meat, participation of Muslim girls in some public school activities, and a host of other issues must be faced by Europeans. Some among the Muslim population, perhaps growing, want nothing to do with Western life and values, leading to feelings of marginalization and economic disadvantage.
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Conversations between Muslims and other Europeans are also difficult because of the high level of anti-Muslim prejudice, encouraged by the press and other forms of media. Changes in European churches have made it difficult to bring Christians and Muslims together for conversation.
As Protestant churches are increasingly empty except for ritual events, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic populations are on the rise. Fortunately, some positive developments in interfaith relations are taking place. Some Protestant churches are attempting to educate their parishioners about Islam. Muslims and Christians are working together on issues of everyday life, with interaction between women on the increase.
Some efforts on the part of Christian churches to address these issues of disparity and to attempt to promote better understanding and even dialogue have proven successful.