As a citizen of the United States I am granted many freedoms, freedoms I often take for granted. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects my right to freedom of religion. Although I am not personally religious, I question how different life would be without that choice.
According to Article 18 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone is entitled to the right to freedom of religion. This includes the freedom to change one’s religion, and freedom, either alone or in a community with others in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
If religion is considered a universal right, why is it a constant cause of conflict in the Middle East?
Unlike the United States, which practices a separation between religion and state, not all, but many areas in the Middle East have little or no separation between the two. The close interaction between state and religion poses a challenge to other religions as well as restrictions to the dominant religion.
While Islam is predominant, it is not the only religion in the Middle East. It is important to remember the Middle East is an area with much history and many traditions. In addition to well-known religions such as Judaism and Christianity, smaller minority religions include by are not limited to Druze, Yazidi, and Zoroastrianism.
Druze is a small Middle Eastern religious sect, which lives mostly in Lebanon, with smaller communities in Israel and Syria. The survival of their religion is remarkable because their religious system is kept secret from the outside world as well as its own members. Only elite of initiates, known as uqqal (knowers), fully participates in their religious services and has access to the secret teachings of the religious doctrine, the hikmah. Islam had an enormous impact on the development of Druze beliefs. The Druze believe that God incarnated himself in the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, who disappeared in 1021. While most Muslims believe he died, the Druze disagree and believe that al-Hakim is awaiting to return to the world.
Those who practice Yazidi are thought to be descended from supporters of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I. They believe that they were created separately from the rest of humankind, descended from Adam, but not Eve. Although they are scattered, they are a well-organized society with a chief Sheikh as the supreme religious head and an emir (prince) as the secular head.
The chief divine figure is Malak Taus (Peacock Angel) and he is thought to rule the universe with six other angels, but all seven are subordinate to the supreme God, who has had no direct interest in the Universe. Yazidi are antidualist, which means they deny the existence of evil and therefore also reject sin, the Devil and hell. They believe in metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls, which allows for the progressive purification of the spirit.
The religion Zoroastrianism is believed to be linked to the historical figure Zoroaster. At the age of 30 Zoroaster claimed an Angela transported him to Ahura Mazda (the wise lord), who provided the first series of religious revelations. The most significant aspect of this revelation was the belief in a single God. He emphasized the importance of ethical living and monotheism.
These are only several of many minority religions located in the Middle East. It is important to learn about different cultures and the history of these cultures because it helps to explain why things are the way they are. Although minorities have faced many challenges it is necessary to acknowledge their past and present resilience.
Do you think that learning about other religions may result in tolerance and prevent religious conflict in the Middle East?