Part of the solution is to offer more “reassurance factors” to Muslim tourists, like halal food, placing markers in hotel rooms pointing to Mecca, and advertising nearby mosques where Muslims could worship or connect with other Muslims. Currently Gisborne meat plants use halal practices as a sign of respecting Islamic tradition.
With the door opening to encourage more Muslims to visit New Zealand come opportunities to widen our understanding of Islam and dispel current misconceptions, which often see Islam associated with fundamentalism and extremist views. However, there is another side to Islam which often receives little attention in the West.
An example of this was the recent action of a prominent Iranian Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani who, in an extraordinary act of courage, gifted to the Baha’is of the world an illuminated work of calligraphy and a statement on religious unity. See the statement at news.bahai.org/story/987
This act was extraordinary because, in Iran, Baha’is are regarded as “unprotected infidels” and are subjected daily to torment and prejudice as a result of a formal government policy which states that “their progress and development” must be “blocked”. Yet Ayatollah Tehrani boldly dedicated his artwork “particularly to the Baha’is of Iran who have suffered in manifold ways as a result of blind religious prejudice.”
Fearless in his beliefs, and fully aware of the danger to which he was exposing himself, Ayatollah Tehrani also championed his views on religious tolerance and co-existence on his blog site. He has since been arrested and his fate is currently unknown.
Ayatollah Tehrani’s statement has cast illumination on the subject of religious unity — vital for peace and harmony in the world. Other religious leaders and organisations from a variety of countries have subsequently spoken in support of his call. They include Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Sikh, Zoroastrian and Jain, as well as other Muslims.
Sadly, though, his action — as one of a growing body of enlightened religious scholars in Iran — is not reflected in the actions of the Iranian government. Such actions we believe do not reflect the true teachings of the Islamic faith.