With the recent deadly attacks on Christian churches, the maniacal terrorists of al Qaeda seem to be aiming at unraveling the neighborliness among Muslims, Jews and Christians throughout the Middle East that has existed for centuries.
In Baghdad, 58 people died in a bomb attack on a church; in Alexandria, Egypt, 21 people were killed and about 80 injured in another bombing.
Of course, al Qaeda has not limited its attacks to Christianity. Before its attacks on churches, al Qaeda was targeting mosques all around the region.
In 2006, for example, Iraqi members of al Qaeda attacked the Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, Iraq, during the morning hours, killing at least 101 Iraqi Muslims at one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam.
In July 2007, hundreds of militants barricaded themselves in the Red Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, in a bloody standoff with the Pakistani army, resulting in the deaths of at least 154 people in the nation's capital.
Al-Azhar University -- one of Egypt's oldest centers of Islamic study and worship -- issued a statement on Egyptian television condemning the Alexandria bombing. "This is a criminal act that can never be justified in any religion. Islam specifically prohibits any attacks on religious places. As a matter of fact, our religion of Islam tasks Muslims with protecting religious places of worship for Muslims and non-Muslims alike."
The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia issued his own public statement categorically condemning the attack on the church in Egypt.
"This is an unacceptable act, as our religion forbids aggression in all its forms, and this bloodshed and unjust slaughter of innocent people is not approved by any religion or reason," he said. "Islam is not a religion of bombings and does not allow targeting non-Muslims' places of worship ... What happened is a sinful and atrocious act that has nothing to do with Islam."
Al Qaeda has also claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks on synagogues in the Middle East. In April 2002, an al Qaeda operative, allegedly on orders from 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was convicted in a French court of driving a natural gas truck filled with explosives into the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 14 German tourists, five Tunisians and two French nationals.
The concept of freedom of religion was first encapsulated in international law by the United Nations in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 states quite clearly that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
"This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his [or her] choice" without any fear of violence or retribution. The international community once again reiterated the importance of freedom of religion within Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty in 1966 as well.
As an international human rights lawyer, I believe it is important for all people of conscience worldwide, during these times of global crises, to clearly state, once and for all, that an attack on any house of worship is an attack on all houses of worship everywhere in the world.
Advocates for religious freedom can work for a 21st- century global village where a Jewish man can proudly wear his yarmulke, a Muslim woman can safely wear her hijab and a Sikh man can proudly keep his turban without any fear of harm or violence.
My heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to the victims of the bombing tragedies at the Christian churches in Iraq and Egypt. Because al Qaeda has not discriminated in its attacks on the houses of worship of all major Abrahamic religions, it seems only appropriate for our global community in the Muslim world to spit in the face of terror by building even more churches, synagogues, temples and mosques in that part of the world.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer and a legal fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).
This article was published by CNN on January 5, 2011: