A hugely important event for the advancement of religious freedom and belief took place at Lambeth Palace hosted by the Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. The meeting was between British faith leaders and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. MINAB Chairman Imam Qari Asim, MBE and Dr Yousif Al-Khoei OBE of the Khoei Foundation were present at the round-table.
The meeting, a first of its kind, brought influential faith leaders together to discuss the persecution of religious communities worldwide. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis; the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos; the Roman Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, Archbishop Kevin McDonald (representing Cardinal Vincent Nichols), the US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, attended the meeting.
The meeting came just days after the interim report on the persecution of Christians worldwide, as well as the recent attacks on innocent people in Christchurch, Pittsburgh and Sri Lanka, among others. Faith leaders discussed in light of the deteriorating situation around the globe for people of faith and highlighted the persecution of their communities. They also emphasised the need to protect each faith and minority communities’ freedoms in order for human beings to flourish.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said: “We are also concerned, and this is very much part of the Anglican tradition going back many generations, that in this country we work very closely together with other denominations and other faiths, and in a sense have, we are an umbrella for the different faith communities here.
“One of the things that we are concerned about is that foreign policy takes into account the impact and the importance of freedom of religion and belief….”
“Secondly, that where the interests of minorities are concerned, foreign interventions can often have very serious long term [impacts], as we’ve seen with the collapse of the Christian population in some parts of the Middle East.”
Yousif Al Khoei the Director of the Al Khoei foundation and a founding member of MINAB spoke of the need to maintain higher ethical standards in foreign policy and said “we are living in an increasingly polarised world and we need to take the protection of religious minorities more seriously as there are small minorities who have survived for thousands of years which are disappearing as we speak. We have probably not even heard of them. Groups such as the Yazidis, we have only heard of because of the atrocities committed against them. There are many more minorities like the Yazidis and the Faili, Shabak and the Christian minorities in the Middle East which are under threat. Some minorities are victims of the fact that some friendly states permit atrocities with impunity which acts as encouragement for them to commit more atrocities. Mr Al Khoei called for protection of all communities affected and a collective response to protect and call out suffering against any minority group.
Dr Imam Qari Asim spoke about the persecution of religious communities around the world. He said that the findings of the independent report, commissioned by the Foreign Secretary, on the persecution of Christians around the world “was extremely troubling”.
“The fact that Christianity is said to be the most persecuted faith in the world shows how all communities are at risk from the dangers of hatred.”
“The Muslim community is all too aware of being persecuted because of one’s faith and identity. Uighur Muslims in China and Rohingya Muslims in Burma are prime examples; they have been made to flee their homes because of their faith, Islam.”
Imam Qari Asim spoke about the abhorrent treatment that some other faith minority communities were facing. He also mentioned the alarming rise in Islamophbia across the world and how anti-Muslim hatred was impacting on people’s lives.
Imam Qari Asim continued: “Freedom of religion or belief is extremely important. No one should feel intimidated or persecuted because of their faith. There needs to be strong collaboration between religious and political leadership to combat growing levels of intolerance, and to protect freedom of religion or belief.”
Speaking after the meeting, Imam Qari Asim said:
“This was an important and symbolic meeting because it brought together religious and political leaders. Religious and political leaders have a shared responsibility to stand against hatred and division. Poisonous and bigoted rhetoric of religious and political leaders can unleash bigotry, hatred and violence in communities, as we have recently seen in many communities and countries around the world.”
Effective steps must be taken to stop intimidation and persecution of religious communities and we hope that this religious freedom round-table brings us all one step closer to making that possible.