Ramadan and religious freedom

Anjum Naveed AP People gather to buy samosas and other traditional snacks to break their fast during the holy fasting … Continued

Anjum Naveed


People gather to buy samosas and other traditional snacks to break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, Monday, July 30, 2012 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year which lasts 30 days, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset.

From North and South America to Europe, and Africa and Australia to Asia, including the Middle East, Ramadan reminds Muslims of the soulful ties that bind them together. For Muslims, it is a month to strengthen faith in God and reaffirm love and reliance upon Him and His Word as revealed through the message of the prophet Muhammad. The month also is an opportunity for Muslims to fulfill God’s commandment to fast from sunrise to sunset (2:185) , an act that joins Muslims together as equals. It is also far more. Whether reciting the Koran, offering prayers, performing charity, or sharing in the nightly iftar dinner, Ramadan is a month for self-reflection and atonement. It also is a time for Muslims to come closer to God, scripture, family, friends, and neighbors, while gaining a deeper understanding and empathy for those who are less fortunate.

Given all that is happening in today’s world, Ramadan provides an especially important inflection point this year. In this time of reflection, we are particularly disturbed that Muslims and non-Muslims alike continue to have their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion violated by governments, religious extremists, and sometimes even their misguided neighbors.

As members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, we serve an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government body that monitors these violations around the world and makes recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and Congress. We promote and defend international standards of religious freedom and advocate equally for all, regardless of creed. Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights declare that countries must uphold principles of religious freedom, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom to change one’s religion or belief; and the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief peacefully. Many countries do not adhere to these principles — although they are signatories to international agreements — leading to the oppression and harassment of, and violence against, those who believe and those who do not believe. As commissioners, we continue to urge the U.S. government to hold countries accountable for violating international standards of human rights and religious freedom.

View Photo Gallery: The ninth — and holiest — month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims around the globe refrain from eating and drinking during the day, began July 20.

During this most holy month of the Islamic calendar, we trust that all Muslims will reflect on how this freedom relates to their devotion to God as well as to the Koranic injunction: “Let there be no coercion in religion.”(2:256) Thus, faith can bolster the inalienable right to religious freedom for those of different religions and beliefs. It is our hope that in this holy month, Muslims will remember that God imparted to this world people of great diversity, including diversity in religions and beliefs. As the Koran states repeatedly, “Had God so willed, He could have made [all human beings] a single people…” (42:8). Furthermore, He created differences among us not to divide us but to have us learn from one another (49:13).

It is also our hope during Ramadan that non-Muslims will take this opportunity to get to know better their Muslim neighbors and friends, and break bread with them at an evening iftar. Only through friendship and dialogue can we discard oppressive stereotypes and build communal bonds.

Finally, it is our hope that all of us remember that the respect and freedom, including religious freedom, which we seek for ourselves are only as possible, protected, and meaningful as the freedoms we allow for others and help them achieve.

Ramadan Kareem!

Azizah al-Hibri and M. Zuhdi Jasser serve as commissioners on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom whose members are appointed by the president and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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  • understandingislam

    This is pure pro-Moslem propaganda which could easily have been written by spokesmen for the Council on American Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America both of which are derivatives of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and both of which are associated with Islamic terrorists. The authors quote the Koran incorrectly and incompletely in order to change the meaning of the verses to appear far more benign than they really are. None of those verses allow for even tolerating, let alone respecting, non-Moslems. And, why is it that the authors, when talking about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fail to mention that ALL Moslem-majority countries signed on to the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam which is totally incompatible with our Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The Cairo Declaration explicitly says that ALL human rights must come from Sharia law which relegates non-Moslems and women to legally inferior status. As for Ramadan being a time of reflection, Moslems are supposed to read the entire Koran. Here are just a few of the tidbits they will find there:
    1. — Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve. (8.55)
    2. — The unbelievers are your inveterate enemy. (4: 1 01)
    3. — Mohammed is God’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another. (48:29).
    4. — Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme. (8:40)
    5. — Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme. (2: 193)
    6. — We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. (3: 151)
    7. — I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers. (8: 12)
    8. — Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given [i.e. Christians and Jews] … until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued. (9:29)
    9. — Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and

  • JImbo

    Good thing there’s nothing in the Bible advocating violence against non believers. LOL
    Exodus 22:20
    Deuteronomy 13:6-10
    2 Chronicles 15:12-13
    Deuteronomy 13:13-19
    Deuteronomy 13:7-12
    Deuteronomy 17:2-5
    Numbers 25:1-9

    Muslim radicals represent the Muslim majority the same way Fred Phelps represents the Christian majority.

  • jlavio

    The bible advocates genocide/ ethnic cleansing for the gentiles in many places – remember there were right-wing christians citing these bigotry words durint the Iraq war

  • YM65

    It is truly amazing that someone who is not a Muslim actually read that much of the Koran and got so much out of context, but I believe it is a more of a cut and paste job for hate sites vs actual thought. And yes please read the bibles’ own violence, or am I treading on “Sacred” ground. All of the religious characters’ that do something high profile or violent here in the U.S in the name of Christ is not fanatical at all ,it is celebrated BTW I am going to go get a chicken sandwich right now.

  • Nasir Mehmood

    Ramadan is an opportunity to purify one’s mind, body and soul.

  • ali6

    There are no peoples who are more oppressed and whose basic religious and other rights are severely violated than Arabs, especially Muslim minorities and non-Muslims. These two distinguished Muslims could have informed and served their readers, especially Arabs, best if they were more specific and to the point.

    Dr. Jasser, more so than Dr. al-Hibri, has spoken courageously about religious oppression and contamination in the Arab World prior to his membership in the government-funded USCIRF which is doing as much as it could so long as it does not stray away from the overall government’ approach and policy. He has also pointed out the looming threats to our democracy by Islamists in this country and around the world.

    The Arab World (specifically the country where Islam was born and where its holy shrines and Muslim textbooks’ print shops are located) is the hornet’s nest when it comes to religious oppression, incitements against non-Muslims, intolerance of other beliefs and marginalization of women.

    Designating countries (like Saudi Arabia and a horde of others) of particular concern by the State Department, at the same time selling their absolute dictators sophisticated high tech oppressive surveillance apparatus and protect the men who pay for, reside over and export lethal doctrines bug the question. In other words, hypocritical and self-defeating.

    Appeasing tyrannical regimes will only lead to more extremism and terrorism.
    Ali Alyami, Washington DC

  • 1littlegrey

    The TRUTH will set you FREE. Unfortunately many are brainwashed slaves to liars who deny you the TRUTH. Here is one TRUTH:- The EARTH is NOT FLAT.

  • aby

    The standard “defense” that Muslims present for the standing orders in the Quran to humiliate and /or eliminate those who believe differently are few passages in the Old Testament written by some Jew managing a conflict that at some point in history threatened the survival of his Hebrew tribe. This is a far cry from the “all times” standing orders by Allah to eliminate those who believe differently than Muslims.

  • maceoin

    YM65 states that an earlier commentator cited the Qur’an ‘out of context’. I’m afraid he needs to study the Qur’an more. The book is divided between psasages written in Mecca, which tend to be peaceful, compassionate, and even tolerant of non-believers, and passages written in Medina, which are the opposite and which teach jihad (a war on non-believers) – hence the hate passages that were cited. This is an accurate picture of the Qur’an, something summarized in the Islamic doctrine of nasikh wa mansukh, in which early verses are abrogated (mansukh) by later ones (nasikh). Tolerance for non-believers was abrogated by verses condemning them and by the wars that Muhammad fought against them (and the jihad that followed Muhammad’s deaths, allowing Muslims to conquer all the territories to the north, west and east of Arabia.

  • allinthistogether

    It never ceases to amaze me how a request for mutual tolerance and respect for freedom of thought can engender so much anger and vitriole. Is it fear that energizes these kind of responses?

    We are all fallible. All products of the human hand are fallible. All messages believed to be divinely inspired are at minimum made fallible by the human vessel through which they were “revealed.”

    If we can learn to equally respect doubt and faith, and to give the “others” the benefit of the doubt, then we may be able to make peace. Small steps of extending tolerance for difference, freedom of thought and practical aid, back and forth, can loosen the straight jacket of “us” and “them.” All we are asking . . . .

  • Venu10

    I wonder if the virtue that may accrue due to fast in the month of Ramadan is somewhat diminished because it is also a month of feast, particularly at its finale when there is mass slaughter of animals as a religious ritual to mark the believer’s display of sacrifice.

  • WmarkW

    The anti-Islam site JihadWatch.org runs headlines along the lines of “Three misunderstanders of Islam arrested with explosives and poison.” How come so much of the Islamic world’s leadership don’t get it?


    Fred Phelps DOES represent the majority of christian in the U.S. I mean, you don’t hear the voices of “mainstream” christians shouting him down, do you?

    Sorry, the same thing applies to Islam.

  • PhilyJimi

    Once I finally realized I was an atheist by definition not by choice. I didn’t reject god but I just could kid myself anymore that I thought he was real. Once it happened I really dropped quite a few of my religious based intolerances towards other people. I also could see past the silly arguments and excuses that the religions to justify their positions a right and the other’s as being wrong.

    We’re all just humans trying to do what is right for our families, friends and children. Trying not to offend some make believe guy that lives in the sky and killing other humans who don’t believe in the same make believe man in the sky has become so silly to me now that I feel compelled to shout it out from the mountain top.

    Just read your holy books they make no sense. As if the creator of the Universe needed to knock up a virgin with himself for the fruit eating crimes of a a rib woman spoke to a snake. This Universe creating god fakes his death. for 2 days (if you’re counting) and appears as a zombie savior for the Jews who reject him but the Romans who killed him become his followers. Really? Not picking on the big J, Islamic and Jewish myths are just as silly.

    Can’t we all just have a good laugh and try to move on! Before some religious nut gets he hands on a nuke and starts WWIII?

  • Kingofkings1

    Mr. Jasser has really made a name for himself in the current American political scenario as a reliable authority on Islam in the same category as Irshad Manji, Daniel Pipes, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. This group serves as a source of (mis)information on islam to Amercian and western politcians, by espousing oppression of the muslims

  • Jack

    To Kingofkings1,

    Maybe you and the other respondents here who accuse Dr. Jasser of precisely the opposite error should argue among yourselves about him. I suspect that both you and they are wrong, given that you’ve both staked out extremist positions on Islam, you as an apologist for all of its expressions, and other writers as bashing Islam in all of its forms.

  • Jack

    Intolerance is far more a function of one’s basic personality than it is a function of one’s belief system. It sounds like you have a naturally intolerant mindset, where any position that disagrees with whichever one you happen to be holding at any given moment is automatically held up to derision and ridicule. I’m sure that when you were a theist, you would belittle atheism precisely as you’re doing now to theism.

  • Jack


    Great response. Perfect.

  • Jack

    As a Christian, I am disturbed by some of what’s in the Koran and don’t believe that we can easily dismiss it by citing references in the Bible to grisly actions taken 35 centuries ago in the conquest of Canaan. However, while it’s wrong to sweep under the rug the things that aren’t right with the Koran, it is equally wrong to do a polemical hatchet job on the book. That is the antithesis of intellectual integrity. We need to be honest and fair, all the way around.

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