November 23, 2010

Patriarch Theophilus Disputes U.S. Report On Religious Freedom In Jordan

November 23, 2010
Jordan Times

Religious freedom and coexistence in Jordan set an example of tolerance in the region and the world, Muslim and Christian leaders said on Monday in response to a US State Department report on religious freedoms issued last week.

The report claimed that "while relations between Muslims and Christians generally were good, adherents of unrecognised religions and Muslims who converted to other religions faced societal discrimination and the threat of mental and physical abuse".

"The government continued to harass some citizens and resident foreign groups suspected of proselytising Muslims and a few Muslim converts to Christianity, including by attempting to induce them to revert to Islam," the document added, "but the intensity of the harassment declined during the reporting period".

Father Nabil Haddad, head of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Centre, said in remarks to The Jordan Times yesterday that although the report highlighted efforts made by the government to establish coexistence and tolerance in the country and encourage dialogue between different religious groups at the international level, it cited individual cases that should not have been used to build a judgement concerning coexistence between Muslims and Christians in the Kingdom.

According to the report’s authors, Jordan’s application of Sharia (Islamic law) “infringes upon the religious rights and freedoms laid out in the Constitution by prohibiting conversion from Islam and discriminating against religious minorities in some matters relating to family law”.

In response, Father Haddad argued that discrimination on religious grounds does not exist in the country, where both Muslims and Christians share the same rights and responsibilities under the Constitution.

“We have never had any difficulties in setting up churches or religious schools to teach our congregation the rituals of Christianity,” the Christian leader said.

An Islamic cleric and politician agreed.

“Muslims and Christians constitute an integral component of the Jordanian fabric. We are one people and we have never had any problems with coexistence,” said Hamzah Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

“We in the IAF and the Muslim Brotherhood have strong ties with our Christian brothers. We see ourselves as representatives and defenders of the interests of all Jordanians regardless of their religious affiliations,” Mansour told The Jordan Times yesterday.

The report acknowledged that neither the Constitution, the Penal Code, nor civil law bans conversion from Islam or efforts to proselytise Muslims, but said the government prohibits conversion from Islam in that it accords primacy to Islamic law, which governs Muslims’ personal status and prohibits them from converting.

Religious leaders argued, however, that resistance to foreign missionary activity in the Kingdom is in fact something on which Jordanian Muslims and Christians agree.

“Any group who comes from outside the country to tamper with the country’s faith will be resisted by Christians even before Muslims. Such acts have been rejected by Christian denominations in Jordan in the past,” Mansour noted.

Father Haddad agreed, adding: “There is a unified stance by all leaders of recognised churches in Jordan regarding missionary groups. We reject any missionary activity by foreign groups.”

See also: Patriarch: Jordan, Model For Religious Coexistence