Radical Islam Called Largest Threat to Global Religious Freedom


A conservative watchdog group has issued a report claiming that religious freedom is deteriorating worldwide and that radical Islam is the largest threat to people's ability to worship according to their beliefs.

The findings by the Center for Religious Freedom were presented on Monday and come in advance of the publication of the book, "Religious Freedom in the World 2007," to be released next year.

The report cited Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, the Maldives, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as nations with the worst religious freedom records of the 100 countries surveyed.

The Center, a division of the Hudson Institute, also found a correlation between a lack of religious freedom within a nation and other measures of repression regarding the same country.

When compared to other international surveys, a "strong and significant linkage" exists between religious freedoms and other liberties that many Westerners take for granted, such as free enterprise, a free press and civil liberties, the report stated.

Freedom of religion was also strongly related to other factors, such as the longevity of democracy, military spending, violent social conflict and the use of modern communication devices, such as cell phones.

"Muslim-majority countries comprise the religious areas with the largest current restrictions in religious freedom. This parallels problems with democracy, civil liberties and economic freedom," said Paul Marshall, editor for Religious Freedom in the World 2007."

Two Muslim reformers have argued that such intolerance and repression is spawned by an endemic fault within Islam's theology.

"[T]here is much that is clearly wrong with the Islamic world. Women are stoned to death and undergo clitorectomies," Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a former member of the Islamist terrorist organization Jemmah Islamiya, said in an opinion-editorial for the Wall Street Journal on April 3.

"Gays hang from the gallows under the approving eyes of the proponents of Shariah, the legal code of Islam. Sunni and Shia massacre each other daily in Iraq. Palestinian mothers teach 3-year-old boys and girls the ideal of martyrdom," he added.

Hamid urged a direct, widespread and intellectual attack on the underpinnings of Islamist theology that "can transform a young, benevolent mind into that of a terrorist."

"It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence," he said.

"The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Shariah," Hamid said.

"Unlike Salafism [the conservative strain of Islam that al Qaeda and the Saudi government adhere to], more liberal branches of Islam, such as Sufism, typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts," he added.

Irshad Manji, a senior fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy, concurred with Hamid in a column for the New York Post on Sunday.

"While the vast majority of Muslims aren't extremists, a more important distinction must start being made - the distinction between moderate Muslims and reform-minded ones. Moderate Muslims denounce violence in the name of Islam - but deny that Islam has anything to do with it," Manji said.

"Reform-minded Muslims say it's time to admit that Islam's scripture and history are being exploited," he added.

"By their denial, moderates abandon the ground of theological interpretation to those with malignant intentions - effectively telling would-be terrorists that they can get away with abuses of power because mainstream Muslims won't challenge the fanatics with bold, competing interpretations," he said.

"To do so would be admitting that [religious teachings are] a factor. Moderate Muslims can't go there," Manji said.

Though the Council for American-Islamic Relations did not return requests for comment by press time, they have previously condemned studies led by Marshall , saying that his work presented an "Islamophobic view" by inaccurately representing the theological teachings of Islam and its history.

The report, then, "has done disservice to the important cause of combating hate," it said.

CAIR also joined with 343 other Muslim organizations in issuing a fatwa condemning terrorism and religious extremism in July 2005.

The decree said: "Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism....We pray for the safety and security of all inhabitants of our planet. We pray that interfaith harmony and cooperation prevail both in the United States and around the globe."

Marshall also stressed that "there are religiously free Muslim-majority countries, including some of the poorest, Mali and Senegal, which are religiously freer than many European countries."

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