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Religious tolerance a U.S. value to be treasured, nurtured

Special to The Seattle Times

Saturday, July 19, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM



A recent Pew Survey reporting that more than 90 percent of people in our country believe in God or in a universal power confirms what I have always believed about the religious nature of Americans.

I feel fortunate to practice my faith in a country where, like me, the majority of people believe in God, where everyone is free, and most people are peaceful and able to participate in and contribute to society as equals. This is still something unique in the world.

God says in the Quran:

O people! Behold, we have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another.


America's sense of unity and coexistence among different kinds of believers in a multicultural society mirrors Islamic teachings, which is why Muslims have assimilated so well here. Yet history is a sober reminder that we must continue to work for this important value.

In 1993, the newly posted Bosnian Mission Ambassador Mohamed Secerbegovic visited Seattle and agreed to be a guest on my television show, "Focus on Islam."

During one hour of tapings he shared his take on an important part of history, a time when Bosnia became a beacon of religious freedom. He explained that during Spain's Inquisition, a time when Muslims and Jews were being systematically killed because of their religious beliefs, it was the Bogomils, a now long-gone peaceful Christian sect of Bosnia, who offered them safe refuge in the Balkans, if they could make it there.

The Bogomils themselves had been persecuted as heretics and were forced to flee Armenia and Bulgaria. They eventually settled in Bosnia, where they practiced their faith freely and without harassment. They came to be known as Christians of the Bosnian Church.

This area remained a sort of safe haven for these three Abrahamic faiths, which lived and practiced their faith together peacefully within a multicultural society. The majority believed in God and they treated one another as equals so much so that the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia (site of the 1984 Winter Olympics), was recognized as unique in Europe, a city where you could find a mosque, a synagogue and a church all on the same block.

The 1992 conflict in the Balkans, during which Bosnian Serbs massacred thousands upon thousands of fellow countrymen who were Muslims as well as members of other ethnic groups, served as a fresh reminder that the inquisitions, holocausts and ethnic cleansings that have plagued history can still happen, even in the modern world.

In Islam, religious tolerance is not about diplomatic positioning, it is a serious religious obligation. Our nation's belief in God and its practice of faith are a good thing, but we must constantly recheck and renew our obligation to religious tolerance, even with respect to agnostics and atheists who have the same constitutional rights, but who may not share our belief in God.

America today still represents a sort of utopia for so many around the world who seek our way of life.

Let us take comfort in this recent survey and continue to make good our commitment to religious tolerance, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of future generations. May we continue to make history, and not repeat it.

Aziz Junejo is host of "Focus on Islam," a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may send feedback to


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