By Raheel Raza
January 31, 2019
Are Young People Running From Religion?
That was one of the topics of a multi-faith
panel I was invited to participate in recently on Context Television. Joining
me were Rabbi Jordan Cohen and Pastor Sheldon. The question raised by the
anchor was whether young people are running away from religion due to dogma and
The pastor spoke about how Christian youth
are not comfortable with following dogma and would like to be free to practice
the faith. The rabbi also echoed that and said we are fortunate to live in a
country that affords us religious freedom, which is an important component for
a thriving faith community.
The idea of this dialogue came after Rahaf
Mohammed, a young girl from Saudi Arabia, ran away from her family, her country
and her faith because she was being forced into religiosity. Rahaf was given
sanctuary in Canada.
Many questions have arisen from this
episode, including whether it was culture or religion that she felt oppressed
Rahaf was fortunate to have gotten away
from the Saudi kingdom, and while I am very glad she has found sanctuary in a
free country, there are thousands of other women in Saudi Arabia who are facing
Forced religiosity is not about God or
faith. In theocracies like Saudi Arabia, it is about power, patriarchy and
control and nothing to do with spirituality. In these countries, men are the
religious leaders and women are the ones who are forced to follow an ideology
that dictates what they should wear, who they should meet, where they can go
and also how they should practice the faith. These dictates are enforced by
Added to this, there is the abuse.
A report from Amnesty International alleges
that 10 women’s rights activists who have been detained in Saudi Arabia for
months without charges are facing escalating levels of torture and sexual
Among them is University of British
Columbia graduate Loujain Al-Hathloul, an outspoken advocate for women’s
rights. From the names we know, Samar Badawi (sister of jailed blogger Raif
Badawi) has also been jailed.
While we know that religious freedom is not
the norm in Saudi Arabia, this abuse of women goes beyond religion and is an
abhorrent human rights violation.
We see this happening in many other Muslim
majority countries. Take Iran for example. There, women are jailed and tortured
for simply uncovering their hair. During the recent massive protests against
the government, many women were incarcerated. The ones who weren’t are
continually harassed by the notorious religious police.
A question also came up on our panel: What
can the world can do? The international community should reference Rahaf
Mohammad’s case to pressure Saudi Arabia to clean up its human rights
violations and give women full rights and freedoms.
And similar to how Clarion Project’s
acclaimed film Honor Diaries exposed problems women face in Muslim majority
societies in full detail, isn’t it time that the Women’s March, the #MeToo
movement, Linda Sarsour and the two newly elected Muslim members of the U.S.
Congress take their heads out of the sand and directly address these issues of
human rights violations against their sisters?
I’m waiting with bated breath to hear them
Raheel Raza is an
adviser to Clarion Project. She
is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker on the topics of jihad and
Sharia. She is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and an
activist for human rights, gender equality, and diversity.