Social Justice Challenge – Religious Freedom

Though I believe in a supreme being, I do not consider myself a religious person because I don’t follow any formal belief system. As I was trying to think about what religious freedom means to me, I realized that the fact that I don’t have to follow a specific religion is a freedom that has not always been available.
And I may be naive, but religious freedom to me also means being able to live with others who don’t share the same religion. A story that has made news recently in Malaysia has concerned the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims (in this instance a Catholic newspaper) to refer to God. A judicial court overturned a government ban on non-Muslim use of the term to the anger of some in the Islamic community, who feel that the term Allah is “their” term and should not be used by anyone else, arguing that it may “confuse” people and cause them to convert from Islam (which is illegal in Malaysia, even though officially freedom of religion is allowed).
I lived in Malaysia for six months in 1993 and that was my first exposure to Islam, which quite honestly was fascinating to me. The country has moved ever so slightly to a more extreme position since then, but the Malaysian Muslims I encountered were nothing but friendly and peaceful people. What I did notice was that the various populations – Malay (Muslim), Chinese (Buddhist/Christian) and Indian (Hindu/Christian) – segregated themselves from each other for the most part and that is likely why many of these ethnic/religious conflicts spring up.
I mentioned that Malaysia officially allows freedom of religion, however one religion – Judaism – is forbidden. The oldest religion in the world has also arguably been the most persecuted, the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust being the most notable incidents in history. Ever since I read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl when I was about 8 years old I have been interested in the Holocaust, reading the stories of victims and survivors and (unsuccessfully) trying to understand why it happened. The book I will be reading for this challenge, The Journal of Helene Berr, is a story of a young woman’s experience in Nazi-occupied France. I hope to be able to compare this with other books I’ve read related to the Holocaust.

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