Govt. warned: Dangerous Constitutional proposal

By RNZI 21 May 2016, 12:00AM

The government has been warned not to consider proposed changes to the Constitution to further recognise Christianity as the official religion of Samoa.

After the prime minister confirmed he would consider the move, the National Council of Churches took a step further and called for the banning of Islam.

While some say that's based on reasonable fears, others say it's simply religious bigotry.

The Secretary General of the Samoa Council of Churches, Reverend Ma'auga Motu, sparked reactions when he called for Islam to be banned, despite the most recent figures showing Muslims made up 0.03 percent of the population.

Professor Rex Ahdar from the University of Otago, says Christian churches in Samoa are simply looking to "protect their turf".

"And they harbour genuine fears, and let's face it, they're not totally without some foundation, fears about the growth of Islam which they've seen in other countries around the world including in the west,” he said. 

“Now you might say well that's just fair competition, shouldn't they have to compete in the religious marketplace like anyone else, but again like good monopolists, sorry to use all this economic analysis, they're protecting their market share."

Rex Ahdar has met the leader of the only mosque in Samoa and says he is a 'good bloke', and that Muslims live harmoniously in the community. 

A New Zealand-born Fijian, Aarif Rasheed, who founded the Religious Diversity Centre says he too has worked with Muslims and Christians in Samoa and there should be more awareness of how the two faiths have peacefully coexisted in many parts of the world. "It's more about making sure that church leaders who have an enormous amount of control and who have a huge burden of trust upon them to make sure that they don't get caught up in some of the I guess more conservative and bordering on the irresponsible side of religious ignorance and bigotry."

Professor Iati Iati from the University of Otago, says the church leaders who made the call to entrench Christianity in the Constitution were probably motivated by the reality that the faith is now fully built-in to society's structures.

"The church minister within the village actually has a set position. He's sort of like the go-between within the different political actors within the village so they've actually given him a sort of formal position within the traditional cultural system and that's why I think Christianity plays such a big part in Samoan society."

Dr. John Shaver who has researched into religious diversity says it's easy for ignorance and fear to spread when people are relying solely on the media.

"The problem is a lack of information and when your personal experiences don't often lead you to interactions with peaceful Muslims then you rely on the media. And we know that positive examplars of minority groups in the media are capable of reducing prejudice."

Professor Iati Iati says Christianity is one of the reasons for Samoa's renowned stability, but sounded a clear warning about tampering with the constitution.

"Samoa would be heading down a very dangerous path if it tried to enshrine in law the prohibition of a particular religion. History shows that whenever you have the unification of church and state, the end result is oppression."

Other Muslim volunteers who have travelled to Samoa from New Zealand say they have peacefully assisted both Muslims and Christians, not with the view to win converts but to help others in the name of humanity.

By RNZI 21 May 2016, 12:00AM

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