22 May 2007

What's In A Name?

A rose by any other name [Credit: bialystocker.net]Imagine if Muslims in this country were told they couldn't register the birth of their children unless they gave them Christian names; that anyone attempting to name their child Mohammed or Majida would find their child unable to go to school, unable to access hospital treatment, and unable to get a passport to travel abroad.

There would be uproar! Yet that is precisely what one reader of The Difference has written to say is happening in Azerbaijan. With one difference: it is Christians who are being told by the Muslim authorities that they are unable to give their children Christian names — in the latest high profile case, an eleven month old whose parents wish to christen him Ilya (Elijah).

Christians in Azerbaijan have previously complained that their democracy is being sold for oil, noting that "Foreigners are afraid to call things by their real name. They are afraid to tell our government bluntly that human rights violations must end."

As the West seeks to engage with Islamic communities around the world, this issue of religious double standards must be confronted. Indigenous believers across the Muslim world consistently find themselves unable to register with the authorities or denied permission to meet together, yet we in this country are supposed to sit idly by while Muslims backed by Islamist groups in Saudi Arabia seek to build a mega-mosque in east London with a initial capacity more than ten times greater than Britain's largest cathedral and an expected eventual capacity of more than twenty times greater.

In an age when politicians talk of promoting democracy far and wide, the international community must uphold and promote freedom of expression and freedom of religion for all. Failure to do so will not only leave it exposed to accusations of national self-interest but will foment the next generation of those disillusioned by broken promises and dashed hopes.