Exploring Minorities Among a Majority

Bishop Samuel Azariah, a Christian leader from the Protestant Church of Pakistan, lives in a minority community of Christians among a majority of Muslims. Dr Orhan Cicek is a Muslim scholar of Turkish origin living in Australia where Muslims are among a majoirty of Christians.

The two scholars explored what it means to be a religious minority in an environment of different faith and what interreligious dialogue can do for the vulnerable, during the World Council of Churches-sponsored interreligious event in Geneva, Switzeland, on June 7-9.

"Pakistani Christians are placed in a unique socio-political situation," said Bishop Samuel to the WCC.

Samuel heads a church in the mostly Muslim nation and had expereienced several violent attacks in recent years.

"We are often misunderstood due to our colonial origin, and we are considered as 'representatives' of the West. As a religious minority, we did experience a backlash as a reaction to the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine," he said.

However, Samuel noted that "today, the Christian community is trying to redefine itself in the dialogue, but suspicion still creeps in during the process. At the same time, I feel that we have travelled a long way in the journey of interreligious dialogue, which was not a very bright possibility few years ago."

Meanwhile, Cicek said in Australia, legislation guarantees free speech and faith, but there are other difficulties faced by minorities.

"Even if we do not feel alienated as Muslims in a predominantly Christian context, we need to be more organized for our views and thoughts to be more acceptable," Cicek explains. "It is a big challenge to get adopted into the mainstream society and to maintain our cultural identities intact at the same time. The dilemma of post-modern countries is that, despite the promotion of multiculturalism, some groups in society remain isolated."

Ultimately, Cicek said interreligious dialogue is helpful for those living in insecurity among a majority.

"The isolation and sense of insecurity among the Muslim minority is related to those few leaders and politicians who associate Islam and terrorism in a way which I completely reject," he says. "For me and for many, there cannot be any connection between religion and violence. However, due to a certain political agenda, these terms are misused, and they feed on ignorance."

Therefore, Cicek said he values the efforts of organizations and institutions which promote multicultural and interfaith dialogue, as their efforts can also influence the attitudes of politicians and authorities.