Islam and Tolerance Towards Other Religions
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Date: Sun Feb 26 13:07:36 CST 2006
From: Jesus Ortega
To: Sam Moreno
Subject: Christians persecuted in Morocco


Regarding the conversation we had yesterday about the Muslim attitude
towards other religions, and how they tend to persecute even Christians and
Jews as soon as they make any sort of public commitment to it, I just read
an article published by the Spanish newspaper "El Pais" that illustrates
this quite well.

Since you don't read Spanish, let me summarize the story here.  The article
talks about Gilberto Orellana, an Evangelist from El Salvador, who used to
teach music in Tetuan's music academy (Tetuan is a somehow large Moroccan 
city that used to be the capital of the Spanish protectorate back then, and
where one can still find a significant amount of people who speak Spanish).
Apparently, he made proselitism and managed to convert a total of 8 students
to Christianity, which led to his arrest under article 220 of the Moroccan
Penal Code, which acknowledges and protects the freedom of religion but
strictly forbids any form of proselitism of non-Muslim faiths.  He was
interrogated, although not tortured, and sentenced to one year in jail, of
which he only served three weeks thanks to international pressure that led
to his release from prison and expulsion to the Spanish city of Ceuta (one
of the two small Spanish enclaves that still exist in Northern Africa).  As
for the 8 Moroccan students, they were also sentenced to 8 months in prison,
and again were released when the international pressure mounted but not
without first reciting in front of the judge the well known central tenet of
Islam: "There is no other God than Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet".
Also, these other people were beaten during the interrogations at the police

This story sums up pretty well the extent of Muslim tolerance when it comes
to other religions, and it fits perfectly with what my own cousin told me
several times about the nature of an Islamic State (i.e., at least in his
case, not a fundamentalist state, but a state where Islam serves as the
guide for social and political organization, which is one of the central
ideas of any Muslim I have ever met, since they never underwent a serious
process of secularization as we did in the West).  Both agnosticism and 
atheism are strictly forbidden and even persecuted.  As for other religions,
the ones that are considered "religions of the Book" (i.e., Judaism and 
Christianity) can be practiced, but only in private.  In other words, any
sort of public expression of faith is strictly forbidden, and that includes
proselitism as well as processions and any form of public prayers, etc.

As a consequence of all this, you will not find any Christian church or
organization listed on the phone books or posting a web page, since that is
illegal in many of these countries.  In quite a few cases, they are legally
bound to only cater to European and immigrant communities that live in those
countries, and are forbidden from allowing locals into their services.  They
still do it quite often, but at their own peril.  

As I explained yesterday, when we hear voices explaining how Islam has
traditionally been more tolerant towards other religions that either Judaism
or Christianity, I'd say that is generally correct as long as we limit
ourselves to a historical analysis.  The Muslim attitude towards Christians
and Jews was, for example, much more tolerant than the one applied by
Christians in any of the countries where they held government.  There is
no doubt of that.  However, when it comes to today's society, it's pretty
clear in my mind that not a single state where the majority of the
population is Muslim can show the same degree of tolerance as any Western
country.  Even more important, my criticism applies not only to the way this
or that Muslim country applies legislation in a particular instance, but to
the way Islam itself (i.e., the Muslim creed, its own philosophical and
theological core) views other religions.  

Jesus Ortega