Religious Freedom

There are varying degrees of religious freedom around the globe today. To better understand the degree to which countries allow religious freedom, it is useful to categorize certain countries based on the similarities in the way they treat followers of other religions.

Orthodox Countries

Hindus are given freedom to practice their religion. However, construction of temples and propagation of Hindu ideas are facing increasing resistance from civil society as well as governments in Orthodox Countries, especially Russia and Romania. While Hindus reject certain tactics employed by US based religious movements such as ISKCON, a higher degree of tolerance for propagation of religious ideas is needed in these countries.

Protestant Countries

The most important Protestant Nations are the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia. They are the most liberal among Christian Nations and a high degree of freedom exists for Hindus to practice their faith in these countries, primarily due to significant contribution of Jews to pluralism and their close and cordial relations with Protestants. A new threat that has surfaced in these countries in the form of Evangelical Christianity is considered by many as a source for serious anxiety. The Evangelical Christians have cultivated a culture of political activism that threatens the separation of Church and State, especially in the United States. Hindus have built hundreds of Temples and Gurdwaras in these countries apart from Ashrams (Hindu Monasteries). Hindu Festivals are celebrated without any difficulty.

Catholic Countries

Hindus are able to build temples and practice their religion with relative ease. Major concerns are limited to certain groups preaching racial superiority in Germany. There are growing concerns among other faiths about Europe’s commitment to pluralism and secularism. The efforts of the Catholic Church for inclusion of doctrinal matters in the European Constitution will have a chilling effect on diversity and freedom of religion. But, in general, Europe has distanced itself from such attempts by the Vatican. It is important for all faiths to ensure that Europe remains secular and multi- cultural.

Israel – The Jewish Holy Land

Hindus are free to practice in the Jewish Holy Land. There are no known restrictions on temple construction. The Hindu Population of Israel is small compared to various Christian and Islamic Countries. Recent efforts by Jewish Organizations and the state of Israel to develop cordial relations with Hindu Leaders from India is a good example for Christian and Islamic Countries to follow, given the growing need for inter-faith dialogue.

Islamic Countries

Hindus are not allowed to build temples or openly practice their religion. There are separate laws based on religion. The discrimination is also aimed at other faiths. In non-Arab Islamic Countries, in addition to discriminatory practices, there are varying degrees of religious persecution. The most brutal Islamic regimes are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Afghanistan. Radical Islam is already a way of life in these countries. Recent developments suggest that radical Islamic groups are gaining strength even in liberal Indonesia. The result of systematic persecution is evident in the decline of Hindu Populations in these countries.

One of the most important factors contributing to the radicalization of Islamic Societies Worldwide is the continuous and overwhelming financial support provided by Saudi Arabia to promote the Wahabbi School of Thought within Islam. Most of the funding has gone to South Asia, home to half of all Muslims Worldwide. Radical Islam, financed by Saudi Arabia, has no room for religious tolerance or pluralism. Hindus, Jews, Christians and Buddhists must develop a coordinated effort to improve the quality of life for Non Muslims in these Islamic nations.

Buddhist Countries

Major problems facing Hindus in these countries are historical. The raging civil war in Sri Lanka between majority Sinhalese Buddhists and ethnic Hindu minority has taken a heavy human toll and resulted in damaging inter-community relations. In addition, third parties with vested interests are trying to ensure that no peace exists between the two Dharmic Traditions.

Although this conflict is portrayed in the media as a conflict between Hindus and Buddhists, the LTTE, which is a terrorist organization based on Marxism is spearheading the rebellion against the Lankan Government. Hence, all legitimate grievances, which could be addressed through peaceful and democratic means, remain unresolved. A more active role by the religious leaders of both traditions, the political empowerment of the peace loving, majority Tamil Hindus and the defeat of LTTE will yield better results in the future.

Hindus and Buddhists live in peace in the rest of Asia, except for the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan where almost two hundred thousand Hindus of Nepalese ethnicity have been forced to leave the country and live as refugees.

A greater emphasis on dialogue and cooperation on addressing common threats facing the Dharmic Traditions is an imperative for peace and stability in the world, especially in Asia.