Two holy days, observed in freedom

M. Zuhdi Jasser and Hannah Rosenthal

On Saturday we will witness a confluence of two holy days of Judaism and Islam, offering a unique moment to reflect on the imperative of religious freedom.

On that day, Jews will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is marked by a call to repent of sins, while Muslims will commemorate Eid al-Adha (Holiday of the Sacrifice), marking Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to God.

For both communities, prayer, reflection, atonement and reverence for God are central to the commemoration of each holy day.

That both fall on the same day this year is a rare occurrence partly resulting from the shared use of a lunar month in our calendars, a symbolic reminder of common origins. The fact that both will be observed by our communities here on the same day in liberty and peace is remarkable. It is a tribute to the religious freedom that many Americans take for granted and is lacking across much of the globe.

As commissioners appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and as adherents of Judaism and Islam preparing to separately commemorate our holiest of days, we must reflect on the religious freedom conditions for Jews and Muslims abroad, while working for a future where all religious believers will enjoy the universal right of freedom of religion or belief.

According to the Pew Research Center’s January 2014 report, “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High,” Jews were harassed in 71 countries and Muslims in 109 nations in 2012.

Jews in Iran often have been targets of anti-Semitic campaigns by government officials, including statements denying the Holocaust. Elsewhere in the Middle East, government media continue to promote anti-Semitic propaganda.

The plight of Rohingya Muslims in Burma remains especially dire, given relentless official discrimination and countless numbers being persecuted and made homeless and stateless. In China, the government persecutes Uighur Muslims, shutting down religious sites, conducting raids and restricting the study of the Quran.

What is true of Muslims and Jews is the case with members of nearly every religious group, as well as those who reject religious belief altogether. Nearly all suffer persecution somewhere in the world, despite the fact that most nations are signatories to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of religion.

It is time to reaffirm the universal human right to follow the dictates of conscience on matters of religion or belief, peacefully and without fear.

M. Zuhdi Jasser and Hannah Rosenthal are commissioners at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).