IRFT Exclusive. New York. November 17, 2016.

Why  do many Muslim often demand more privileges in the West ,such as Islamic sharia law courts — but never give indigenous non-Muslims any freedom of worship? Father Joseph Varghese, Executive Director of IRFT examines. It is a great paradox that The Saudis banned any religious activities for non- Muslims in Saudi Arabia where as they help to build hundreds of Mosques across Europe. Not a single place of worship is allowed to build in Saudi Arabia. Though the other Muslim countries allowed limited freedom for religious activities by non- Muslims, they are always under the radar. Persecution of non- Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia are at the peek and getting severe by each day. The recent anti-Trump protesters in the US are consists of immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia and from the Middle East. In Europe also most agitators for religious freedom are those from the Muslim countries who are historically suppressed the freedom of it minorities. The Turkey is biggest hypocrite on religious freedom. The ambition of the Turkish government to enter into the European Union based on its claim as a secular nation. But the truth is different. Turkey is one of the Islamic Country who systematically eliminated its majority of non- Muslims through genocide, intimidation, false court actions and torture. Hundred years ago almost a million Armenian and seven hundred thousand Syrian Christians are killed by Turkish militias. 

And why is the Turkish government attempting to build mosques across five continents while it relentlessly persecutes Christians who have been there for centuries — long before Turks even arrived in the region from the Central Asia — and tries to seize lands from a historic Christian monastery?

The European Commission has recently issued its 2016 Turkey Progress Report, which contains serious criticism of the country’s increasingly grave human rights record.

One of the issues that the report has brought to light is the problem that the Syrian Christians in Turkey face as a religious minority, such as property rights for the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world: Mor Gabriel (the monastery of St. Gabriel), located in Mardin province, in southeastern Turkey.

In the 2000s I visited Tur Abdin, near the town of Midyat, where holy Syriac sites are located, a few times. Tur Abidin means in the Syriac language the “mountain of helots.” It is at the heart of Syriac religion and culture and one of the world’s ancient centers for Christianity. Mor Gabriel Monastery is the region’s oldest running monastery and the residence of Tur Abdin’s metropolitan. The holy premise was established in 397 as Deyrulumur (Shelter of Priests), and from the 7th century on, it has been called the Monastery of Saint Mor Gabriel. The places I am talking about are too old for Turkey’s memory capacity.

Another significant Syriac site is Deyrulzafaran. Established in 493, Deyrulzafaran was the throne of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate from 1160 to 1932. Afterward, the patriarchate moved to Damascus. And Syriacs are another ancient people of Anatolia who have experienced the religion-based nationalization process, just like other non-Muslim communities, and were run through with sabers. In fact they name the massacre they were subjected to “Seyfo,” meaning sword! In the aftermath of the disaster they faced, it became more difficult for the Syriacs to remain in the homeland. The Syrian-Turkish border, as the other result of nation building, reduced Syriacs in number once again. Since the patriarchate moved to Syria, Syriacs have taken refuge on the other side of the border. Speaking of which, there is an obvious difference between the “model country” and the country to be inspired by the model. Turkey claims to be a model country for the Arab countries, but cannot compete with these states when it comes to freedom of faith and protection of diversities! Syriacs were caught in the crossfire during the Kurdish revolts. Their outflow continued to date to the west of Turkey and to Australia, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States. Today, the Syriac population in Turkey is estimated to be 3,000-5,000. In short, Syriacs are struggling to survive in their homeland.

Officially, Islamic law requires Muslims not to force non- Muslims to embrace Islam. It is the duty of every Muslim, they hold, to manifest the virtues of Islam so that those who are non-Muslims will convert willingly after discovering its greatness and truth. Once a person becomes a Muslim, he cannot recant. If he does, he will be warned first, then he will be given three days to reconsider and repent. If he persists in his apostasy, his wife is required to divorce him, his property is confiscated, and his children are taken away from him. He is not allowed to remarry. Instead, he should be taken to court and sentenced to death. 

A hadith, or saying of the Prophet, has Mohammed, on his deathbed, saying that only Islam can exist in Saudi Arabia. As such there is no scope of any religious freedom in Suadi Arabia. If that is the case, Saudis instead of pushing the refugees to Europe, should rehabilitate them in the borders of Saudi Arabia. If US or European Union says ” only Christians” it is a human right violation but for Saudis, Turkey and other Islamic countries, it is their right.

( Father Joseph Varghese, Executive Director, IRFT)