Worship is common to all religions. What differs is only the manner and style of worship. Some people pray to God in a standing posture and some in a sitting posture. In some religions people remember God by kneeling to Him, while others bow down to Him. Some stand before Him with folded arms and others with arms hanging at their sides.
Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are the places purposely built for worship. Whatever the way people worship, it is common that they worship God, thus, all the places of worship are holy and sacred, irrespective of the denomination they belong to. And people of every religion are free to worship in those places according to their religious beliefs.
All the major religions of the world believe in religious freedom; Islam also stresses religious freedom in such unambiguous terms. In Islam, compulsion is incompatible with religion. Faith is an individual concern and commitment; it is a voluntary act born out of conviction and freedom. Islam commands that believing Muslims should not compel another to believe in Islam because they have earned no such right. There should be no compulsion in the matters of religion and all people must be permitted to find the truth through their own path and free will.
God says: “And if your Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Will you, then, force men to become believers?” [Quran: 10:100]
This verse demonstrates that religious freedom is part of Allah’s design. Indeed, Allah admonishes Muslims not to use force in matters of faith. Forced faith is no faith at all. And when God Himself did not use force, then, no one else has the right to do so with His people. But, unfortunately, we see that some Muslim countries, organisations or individuals force others to comply with their ideas; and for imposing their ideas on others they even use violence.
Recently I read that some churches were attacked in some Muslim countries. In September there was an attack on Christians at their congregation from HKBP church in Bekasi, Indonesia, by some hard-line Muslims. On September 12, a church in Mardan, north-western Pakistan was bombed and two Christians were injured, one of them seriously.
And on 18th September a Pentecostal church in Karachi was attacked and vandalized by unidentified men at around midnight; nine copies of the Bible, three hymn books and three wooden crosses were found burnt on the spot. Some musical instruments were also found damaged; hurting the sentiments of the local Christians.
These all are very sad and heinous attacks, they all are against the freedom of faith and against basic human rights. We condemn these attacks categorically, with the strongest terms. These attacks are completely against Islamic teachings, and Islam does not provide any cover or justification to such inhuman and uncivilized attacks, but, on the contrary Islam teaches Muslims to protect and defend places of worship which belong to other religions. The Quran mentions that Muslims are to defend churches and synagogues if they are attacked, even before defending their own mosques.
‘‘Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly, only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ – And if Allah had not repelled some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft remembered, would surely have been destroyed.’’ (Quran: 22:41)
Most clearly, the permission to fight back is not to destroy the churches, temples or synagogues. On the contrary, the Quran makes clear that it is to protect them along with protecting the mosques. In other words, it is to protect religious freedom for all those who worship God in accordance with their own faith traditions.
And during battles Muslims were commanded not to attack and demolish religious places. In the charter addressed to all Christians living as citizens in Muslim countries, the Holy Founder of Islam, states:
“None of their churches and other places of worship will be desolated or destroyed or demolished. No material of their churches will be used to build mosques or houses for the Muslims; any Muslim doing so will be regarded as recalcitrant to Allah and His Prophet.
“Every help shall be given them in the repair of their churches. They shall be absolved of wearing arms. They shall be protected by the Muslims. Let this document not be disobeyed till Judgment Day.”
This is the clear message of showing great respect and honour to the religious places and of religious freedom. Let us reject and condemn all those violent attacks on the places of worship; and let us enjoy and let others enjoy the freedom of faith which is gifted by God to all mankind.