Two days ago, the Saudi-based Muslim World League met with the Italian Minister of the Interior to best secure Muslim rights in the traditionally Catholic nation.
In a helpful explanation from the 2016 US Report on International Religious Freedom, Italy has a series of “accords” with recognized religious groups in the nation.
The Catholic Church is separate from the government but does have a unique accord privileging it somewhat above the 12 other Christian denominations and religious groups. Accords are signed through the Ministry of the Interior, and grant tax-deductible status, state financial support, property rights, clergy recognition, and religious holiday waivers for students and employees. Non-accord groups can apply for these benefits on a case-by-case basis.
Muslims do not have an accord with the government.
Part of the issue may be that Muslims have no administrative entity governing their affairs. Among the topics discussed with the minister is the role of the Muslim World League to help unify the local Muslim community, and secure Islam as a recognized religion.
Italy lauded the MWL for its role in spreading the values of tolerance and coexistence.
A few days earlier the secretary-general of the MWL met Pope Francis, and agreed to set up a joint committee to pursue the values issued in their statement:
- Religion and violence are incompatible
- Religions have moral resources capable of contributing to fraternity and peace
- The phenomenon of fundamentalism, in particular when violent, is troubling and joint efforts are required to counter it
- Situations exist where freedom of conscience and of religion are not entirely respected and protected
- There is an urgent need to remedy this, renewing religious discourse and reviewing school books
This is a worthy statement, though the urgent need would seem to require more than the suggested remedies. Yes, these would help change a culture over the long term. But laws guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion are currently lacking in several countries within the Muslim World League.
Perhaps the statement is a polite and friendly way to begin to address this, without the shame associated with naming names – as does the US Report on International Religious Freedom.
The statement of religion and violence being incompatible is also curious. Islam has a well-defined tradition of religiously sanctioned jihad. It need not be equated with terrorism, but neither is it exactly equivalent to Christian just war theory. I find it strange the Muslim World League could sign on to such a clause, without further delineation.
But they are discussing the right things. The common criticism of interfaith statements of toleration is that Muslims do not practice what they preach in their own countries.
It remains to be seen if the Muslim World League will act on these principles, but it is encouraging that the Vatican has a joint committee to hold them responsible.
And, to be held responsible. In coordination with the MWL, Italy has taken steps to better ensure the religious freedom of minority faiths.
Do note when Muslim nations do the same.