The ongoing debate on the freedom of religion in Samoa was recently enflamed by Reverend Ma’auga Motu.
The Secretary General of the Samoa Council of Churches had stated that among the Muslim community, there were “dangerous people […] who might come and threaten our peace”.
He therefore claimed a banishment of the Religion in the country.
A banishment accompanied by a possible change of Samoa’s constitution. The government however reacted quickly on the subject, as Prime Minister Tuila’epaSa’ileleMalielegaoi explained that any amendments to the constitution would focus on making it clearer that Samoa is a Christian country.
At the same time, he excluded a possible banishment of certain religious communities in the country by telling that the constitutions Article 11, which deals with freedom of religion would unlikely be touched.
With 98 % of the country’s population being related to Christianity, the statement uttered by the P.M. about Samoa being a Christian country can hardly be refuted. Nevertheless, Samoa has some religious minorities and even though the Bahai’i community is in fact just that, namely a minority, it is still one of Samoa’s bigger religious orientations with roughly 1500 members living in Samoa and the neighbouring country American Samoa.
The national governing council of the Baha’i Faith in Samoa and American Samoa has expressed their concerns when asked some responses to the potential possibility of the banishment of all religions in the country except for Christianity.
The Baha’i council explained that, the small community is indeed worried about the issue which for now can be seen as defused by the P.M.’s explanation: “We are naturally worried but are also confident that the principle of world unity the Baha’i espouses, will continue to strengthen in Samoa as well as throughout the world”.
When being asked about the fact that the freedom of religion in the country might be threatened by a constitutional change, the Baha’i council pointed to other parts of the world, where they see a real danger for the Baha’i faith.
“When we look to our brothers and sisters in Iran, we can see a place where the faith is severely persecuted. Although their conditions are dire in terms of the deprivation of their basic freedoms, they are still able to act and serve their local and national communities in an integrative, unifying and harmonizing way”.
For the unlike case of a constitutional change and therefore the banishment of their faith in Samoa, the Baha’i community is sure that it certainly does not need a name to believe and practice a certain religion.
“If that is really the will of the state in the end of the day, then as Baha’is, we will abide by it. But like our Baha’i friends in Iran, we’ll still be able to speak and act as Baha’is, for religion is more than a name.
I have to admit that even in this unlikely situation, our Faith’s spiritual and moral teachings would guide those conversations and actions, which in fact are completely in harmony with those of Christianity as well as those of other religions.
If the state would force us to leave the country, we can only tell that Baha’is had such experiences in some other countries and depending on circumstances and degrees of the severity of such bans, some leave their home countries for other places where their freedom to practice are allowed but some remain under very difficult conditions”, the Baha’i council told Samoa Observer.
As a matter of fact, the community’s council also stated that the banishment of any religious faith can never be part of a solution in the debate, as “history has demonstrated that such a situation is not conducive to a long term solution for all concerned.
Religion need not be a source of division in the world and in Samoa. On the contrary, we believe that religion is the principal means by which religious intolerance can be permanently eliminated”.
They also explained that ”the principles underlying any solution to religious intolerance may be found in the teachings of all religions and in all spiritual traditions in the world.
We are, therefore, convinced that religious communities have a special responsibility, because of their own teachings, to work toward dissolving divisions, ending conflicts, and establishing security, so that fear can be gradually replaced by trust. After all the fundamental purpose of religion is to safeguard the interest and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst all of mankind.”