In the Arab and Muslim world, a new discussion on religious coexistence emerges.


MANAMA, Bahrain -- Throughout the Arab and Muslim world, a new discussion on how to live peacefully side by side with the followers of all religions has begun to take shape.

This discourse has been inspired partly by the dramatic call of Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, an Iranian cleric who has called for religious coexistence with the Baha'is in Iran.

But the discourse has in some ways taken on a life of its own, emerging as a heartfelt discussion about the situation of religious freedom in Arab and Muslim lands and elsewhere.

In Bahrain, respected journalist Es'haq Al-Sheikh published a commentary in the newspaper Alayam saying that Ayatollah Tehrani's calligraphic gift offered insights about the need for bold action to promote the principle of religious coexistence in the entire region.

"The call of this Iranian cleric creates a genuine invitation for a spirit of peaceful and stable religious coexistence, firmly established in tolerance among all religions," wrote Mr. Al-Sheikh on 21 April 2014, in an article headlined: "Allow for the Baha'i Faith amongst us."

"This is a blessed call that must take its path to ... the Arabian Peninsula and all the Arab countries, to give Baha'is their rights in practicing their religion, and for those countries to strengthen their own concept of citizenship through justice and equality between all religions and beliefs in our Arab societies," wrote Mr. Al-Sheikh.

Abdul-Hamid Al-Ansari, an expert on Islamic law in Qatar, wrote in the Kuwaiti newspaper Aljarida on 26 May 2014 that: "Man was created 'free,' and from the Islamic perspective, 'freedom' is not a mere right, but rather a duty accountable by law.

"Islam grants 'religious freedom' to those who are at variance with it in belief and worship [as stated in the Quran]: 'To each among you have we prescribed a law and a system.'

"Hence," wrote Dr. Al-Ansari, a former dean in Islamic studies and law at the University of Qatar, "what will remain of the meaning of 'freedom' if we prevent the followers of other religions from practicing their religions?"

An "opening of the mind"

Suheil Bushrui, an authority on religious and interfaith issues in the Arab world, said the region "is an area where there are without any doubt tremendous forces of fanaticism, but at the same time there is an opening of the mind, and a tremendous desire to create a new way of thinking.

"Part of this new thinking is that violence is not what religion teaches, and there is an...

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