Religion: A Plural Reality with Multiple Meanings

This blog is written by Political Science Professor and former Parliamentarian Dr. Mona Makram-Ebeid

 

The effects of the restructuring of traditional state power engendered by globalization on the political, economic and security processes of different countries in the Arab World, particularly after the Arab spring uprisings, are still in the making.

The changes in each of the countries represent different paths leading toward a shared model of the “new” Arab state. Since the 19th century, religious life has witnessed changes of different kinds, but was unable to settle into a constant and sustainable model that could serve as the basis for a new religious order.

There is no doubt that disillusionment with government and religious authorities is helping fuel a re-examination of religious discourse. As citizens begin to read religious texts with critical intelligence they will see through the myths, the inconsistency with principles and the cultural prejudices and literary devices imposed by humans on interpretation of the text. A new understanding of religion is the pre-requisite of any social change.

Majority Muslim countries are today faced with a three sided “prison,” namely: an archaic Islamic past, a seductive Western future, and the problematic present.

Half an ounce of gold

In the seventh century, that is how much most of Eastern Christians had to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they did not want to pay the Jizya (the levy) they could convert or “face the sword.” Today, in the 21st century, many Christians (mainly in Syria and Iraq) are given the same choice! But this time the offer comes from the Islamic State (ISIS also known as Daesh)! whose objective is to have a Christian- free Middle East.

As for women, ISIS has carried out particularly heinous acts against woman in Iraq and Syria, including their kidnapping, raping, trafficking, selling and sexual enslavement. For ISIS fighters, women are the spoils of the war.

In the last census of the Ottoman era, conducted in 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population.

Now, apart from Egypt, (where an estimated 150,000 Copts left the country after the 2011 revolution) analysts predict that the population of 12 million Christians will be halved by 2020 (currently the Copts number about 12-15 million).

Still, the departure of Christians also has consequences for the societies they leave behind. Acknowledgement of the rights of minorities is a powerful indicator of the future health of viable modern states and would help their countries develop into states where justice, the rule of law and the right of citizenship are applied evenly.

The only thing that will really prevent Christians from leaving the Middle East is secular regimes and neo-reformism, which could give a positive spin to religion’s role in politics and can serve as the basis for a new religious order.

 

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