Two religiously afflicted issues has happened in recent months, in different parts of the world. First, in Indonesia where The Jakarta court sentenced governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama to two years’ imprisonment for blasphemy against Islam. In short, Ahok was charged because he said Muslims were being deceived if they believed in Al-Maidah:51, which is a verse in the Qur’an that forbids Muslims to choose a Non-Muslim leader. This issue divided opinions in religious, legal, and political aspects. In the end, Ahok was accused and sentenced for blasphemy.
At the other part of the world, in the USA to be specific, issue of blasphemy also took place. Bernie Sanders had an issue with Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. To be brief, Vought once wrote in an article that Muslims are condemned because they have rejected Jesus Christ as the son of God. Sanders did not take this very well and object Vought as a nominee. Sanders said “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,”
A minor yet funny thing from this, is that the sides that are objecting towards blasphemy, and demanding more tolerance are actually two opposite sides. In Indonesia, the ones that are against Ahok and his alleged act of blasphemy are known as the more conservative ones. Whereas in USA, Bernie Sanders, is well-known from the American left, democrat party, and representing the so-called more progressive people.
So how did this come about? How can two different sides with different values, be similar in their cause?
From what I see, the root cause of this is that both sides have used the notion of tolerance, anti-discrimination, and religious freedom and played it for their own will. What we need to understand is that the terms “tolerance” “discrimination” and “freedom” are such abstract terms and can be easily manipulated by anyone. You can see it everywhere right now, and it comes to a point where disagreeing with someone can be easily misinterpreted as an act of hate, discrimination, and intolerance. But it shouldn’t be that way.
A disagreement should not prevent peaceful coexistence and should not be equaled as hate. On the contrary, acknowledging that people have differences is a fundamental part of peaceful coexistence. From the two examples above, what we are seeing is not an effort to understand and discuss these disagreements, but an attempt to throw something so important, such as religion, under the bus and shut down any chance of fruitful discussion. If this is the definition of religious freedom, than this is only pushing us to be more ignorant towards each other, and that of course, does not help to cool down the tensions that is already happening right now.
Religious freedom is, in my opinion, the ability to choose independently on what you believe in, and the only way to reach that is through a spiritual journey of seeking the truth. If saying that “anything other than my belief is wrong” is now forbidden, than I am afraid we are getting things wrong. We are not allowing the process of truth-seeking for every individual by preventing them to discuss publicly on differences of faiths. If we go by the current norms now and say all religions are the same, then how, by any means, would a person get to the truth? at the end this will lead to the abandonment of religion at large.
Back to the case, Was Ahok wrong to say that the Quranic scripture was a lie? After all, he is a Christian, meaning anything other than christianity for him, personally, is a false belief.
Was Russel Vought wrong to say Muslims are condemned? Isn’t it just an act of expression of his personal belief?
what Ahok and Vought did, in a theological sense, was expressing their religious beliefs. But we also need to take note in the way they convey the message. In Islam we call this as adab. that is beyond my capacity to discuss but as far as I know, Islam talks at length about adab, and is something we take very importantly.