Summary Statement on Religious Freedom, Dokuz Eylul University / University of St. Thomas Workshop


Authors: Dr. Terence Nichols and Dr. Adil Ozdemir

Christian Summary statement from workshop in religious freedom

Pope Benedict XVI has written, "Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning, and purpose of the person are fully understood."

Religious freedom in Christianity is based on the understanding of the person as created in the image of God, of which a central aspect is freedom. In the Christian understanding, each human person therefore possesses freedom as an intrinsic gift.

In both the Old and the New Testaments, human persons are called to obey and turn towards God. This implies they are essentially free to do so.

The Bible also says that human persons' freedom is inhibited by the obstacles and limitations called sin, which the Bible understands as choices against God's will. Habitually bad choices diminish freedom.

Jesus preached the kingdom of God as the restoration of God's rule, including the freedom of the children of God. The kingdom of God is intimately linked with the Christian church, and eventually with the political order as well, where God's rule must also be restored.

The political order includes the use of the sword for discipline against evil (Romans 13). The restoration of God's rule, and of therefore of human freedom, sometimes has meant that the good news of human freedom was distorted by the use of the sword.

Catholic Christianity has not always made the necessary distinction between the two. As a result, Catholicism has been slow to pay proper credit to modern movements for freedom, even though those movements can be seen as consistent with the Bible's teaching about freedom. This is especially true in the case of religious freedom, which Catholicism did not embrace as a human and civil right until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Catholicism is now irreversibly committed to defending religious freedom, even though freedom will always be liable to misuse.

Freedom is understood in two senses. "Negative" freedom refers to freedom from the interference and coercion of others. Because we have the freedom described above, persons and states ought to refrain from coercion in basic life choices, such as religion. "Positive" freedom refers to the responsibility of the individual person; it means persons have the inherent power to make fundamental choices in life, such as to believe and follow God, as Pope Benedict said. Persons have the responsibility to seek the truth and direct their lives accordingly.

As read by Terry Nichols at public session in auditorium of Dokuz Eylul University, Jan 18, 2012.

Turkish summary statement from workshop in religious freedom

Freedom of religion and conscience are regarded among the basic human rights. As a human right, freedom of religion also means freedom to choose the faith and teaching without any compulsion, force or obstruction. The Qur'an as the primary source of Islam has given the divine decree that "There should be no compulsion in religion" (2/256) and the Sunnah of the prophet which exemplified justice and mercy served as the legal and practical source for broadly legislating freedom of religion in Muslim societies. Freedom of religion is essentially a corollary to freedom of faith. The Qur'an which acknowledges for human beings the right to have faith and conviction as an epistemological and ontological necessity assumes that freedom of faith can develop only in societies where there is no forcing or compulsion.

The Qur'an calls Islam, meaning submission to God, religions in their entirety regardless of their variety in the whole human history. At its very core Islam means reconciliation, peace, salvation, safety and wholeness, etc. As such Islam is considered as the religion of the sound human nature. To this effect the Qur'an reads: "Turn your face upright to the religion of the fitrah upon which God created human beings"(30/30)

With such teachings in mind it is emphasized that the prophet was in charge only of conveying the message not of forcing it on any. With the verse "If it were God's will all humankind without exception would have believed. Will you then compel people to believe?" (10/99) it was stressed that believing is an act of free will for all.

To help better understand the teaching of Islam regarding freedom of religion we  also suggest that jihad and war should be taken separately. It is unfortunate that many identified jihad with war and confused it carelessly with "holy war". While the Qur'an is precise in choosing its vocabulary of jihad, fighting and warfare, both Muslims and non Muslims tend to use them interchangeably. It must also be noted that even though the Qur'an as the basic source of Islam refers to some issues regarding religious freedoms, the context in which Muslims live plays an important role in interpreting its message.

Jihad cannot be reduced to sheer warfare. It is broad to include struggle with heart, tongue and hands and the sword is to be sought only when necessary. It has yet been popular today to primarily use it in the sense of armed struggle with the negligence of its broader generic meanings. The fact that verses on jihad appear in the Qur'an in the midst of verses referring to actual warfare and fighting might have led to its confusion with actual warfare as its primary application.

In the classical period of Islam basic human rights, and at the head of which came the freedoms of religion and faith for non-Muslims living in the Muslim society, were guaranteed by law. Islam, contrary to what some claimed, spread not by the use of force but for the most part through the course of centuries of social interaction. From the beginning of Islam non Muslim communities who lived under Islam participated in the same socio cultural and economic life together with Muslims and played a significant role in the formation of the greater Islamic history, culture and civilization. They attained prominent positions particularly in the administration of the Islamic state. It is almost impossible to encounter forced ghettos in Islamic history. This should not though lead us to think that the condition of non Muslims under the Muslim rule in the classical period of Islam was like a rose garden without thorns. We encounter some cases where they were subject to some restrictions due mainly to political and socio-political reasons. One can also say that the attitude of Muslims to the non Muslims included some sort of  belittling and contempt similar to what almost every dominant group develops against the rest of people. But we almost never find among Muslims in Islamic history in general the existence of any trace of any major hostility or hatred reminding us of anything like anti-Semitism.

Muslim philosophers have valued the freedom of religion on the individual level within the framework of a concept of natural religion (deen al fitrah) which allows moral and spiritual development in a social and political context free from any form compulsion on body and conscience. Muslim thinkers who had the experience of living together with people of diverse religions and faiths have understood the common good which motivates the social life  and the just society  which aims at happiness within the parameters of a scholarly mentality which sees the truth within a concept  of  broader unity. From another angle, they approach religious freedoms as the differentiated manifestations  for many reasons of a single higher reality in social and political spheres effected by various religious concepts as to what constitutes the common good.

Read in Turkish by Ismail Acar, with simultaneous translation by Adil Ozdemir at Dokuz Eylul auditorium, Jan 18, 2012

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