Churches in Muslim countries
Churches, synagogues and mosques are all places of worship where the name of God the creator and lord of the entire universe is oft-commemorated. Thus, they all are very sacred and holy and deserve to be respected and honoured fully, irrespective of the denomination to which they belong.
But, unfortunately, there are some countries that do not allow the building of churches, mosques or other places of worship on their territory. Also, there are some people who are not paying full respect to the places of worship that do not belong to them or which are not the symbols of their religion. However, I believe all places of worship, whatever the religion they belong to, whoever the worshipers, whatever the way they worship God, are sacred and holy and must be respected fully, in every country, in every part of the world and by all people.
I always find it very discomforting reading about sanctions on building places of worship or attacks on such places. I feel a lot of sorrow whenever I read about a place of worship being attacked, damaged, demolished and disrespected. Or about any religious symbol having been dishonoured by the people of other faiths.
I have often been asked a question about a topic I also see many comments and writings on: “Why do Muslim countries not allow the building of churches?” This is a very important and valid question and I will try to shed some light on the matter.
First of all, I would like to say there are many churches in present-day Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia. This is in line with the freedom of religion that Islam allows. Islam believes in full freedom of faith and rejects any sort of force or violence in matters of religion. The Holy Quran says: “There should be no compulsion in religion’’ (2:257)... “for you is your religion and for me is my religion’’ (109:7).
That is to say, no one has the right to force others into complying with their demands or compelling others to follow their line of thinking. These verses have clearly showed no one has the right to force anyone against his will to believe or to deny any faith or religion. The choice of faith is a personal matter and everyone is allowed to build the place of worship according to his beliefs and he can pray freely.
However, it is right to note that some Muslim countries have gone against this Islamic injunction and prohibited collective worship by non-Muslims.
This is wrong and completely unacceptable. Never did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) forbid the building of a church, nor did he order the demolition of a church. There is not even a single example in his entire life when he ever prohibited the building of a church or he ever gave a permission to destroy or demolish a church.
His entire life is a clear example of the freedom of faith. When he migrated to Medina he signed a Constitution with the people of Medina that everyone will be free in his religious matters and they all will be equal in the eyes of the state.
Once, during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, a Christian delegation from Najran came to Medina to have interfaith dialogues with Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad extended to them warm hospitality and had discussions with them for many days in his mosque in Medina, called Mosque of the Prophet. At one time during the talks, the Christian delegation asked for permission to go out for some time. The Prophet Muhammad asked them: “Why do you want to go out?” and they replied: “It is our prayer time and we would like to go out and pray outside this mosque.’’ The Prophet said: “It is also a house of Allah and is built for the purpose of worship; you may pray and worship in this mosque’’. And he spared them the place in his mosque and went out with his companions so the Christians could pray easily according to their faith and beliefs.
This incident and the teachings of the Quran mentioned above clearly show that not only is building churches permitted in Muslim states but Christians are also free to pray in Muslim mosques. And any action against this clear teaching of religious freedom is unacceptable and is totally against the teachings of Islam.
In the light of these teachings, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat has opened the doors of its mosques to all, to the people of different faiths, and it always tries to tie the bonds of love, respect and brotherhood, which the world today needs more than ever before in the history of mankind.
The author is president, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta.