Freedom to pray not to evangelize

Last year the BBC ran an article about religious freedom in Dubai of which there isn’t much.

The UAE, of which Dubai is a part, has crippling restrictions on freedom of speech. There’s widespread media censorship and dozens of activists are in jail.


As you move around Dubai, you see no evidence of religion other than Islam. Churches cannot display crosses, and those who preach publicly or try to persuade Muslims to convert can expect jail and deportation.

However, Dubai has created zones where Christians or Hindus can practice their faith freely. Within those zones it seems there is genuine liberty, so much so that it was compared very favourably to more unstable or oppressive places such as Pakistan or Egypt.

The policy then is that you have freedom in there but not out here. It’s a policy that is framed in law.

What struck me though was, while in law in the Europe, the UK and other Western nations there is religious freedom in law, the prevailing attitude of authorities is very similar to that in the UAE. You have freedom to practice your faith in your churches or mosques but not beyond it, not really. There are plenty of statements from ruling officials that faith has no place in the school, hospital, boardroom, parliament etc…your religious faith should be checked in at the door.

Clearly the UAE is an Islamic nation and is favouring it’s religion. It is using the state to enforce or promote Islam. In the West it’s slightly different, faith of all kinds is fighting for the right to be allowed expression in the public square.

Obviously the law matters, but laws change and they often change to follow dominant attitudes. How unlikely or inconceivable, in the current climate, is it really that a nation in Europe might just say that Muslims are free to practice their faith in mosques but nowhere else?

I don’t think it is imminent, but neither do I think it inconceivable that a nation like Hungary or even France (in the face of continued atrocities) would begin to seriously debate the limit and extent of religious freedom and that will be a matter of concern to every person of faith.

Photo by michael_swan

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