Saudi Arabia

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U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Saudi Arabia Chapter - 2015 Annual Report​

Key Findings

Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia remains unique in the extent to which it restricts the public expression of any religion other than Islam, there were some improvements in religious freedom, including further progress on revisions to public school religious textbooks. The government privileges its own interpretation of Sunni Islam over all other interpretations and prohibits any non-Muslim public places of worship in the country. It continues to prosecute and imprison individuals for dissent, apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery, and a new 2014 law classifies blasphemy and advocating atheism as terrorism. In addition, authorities continue to repress and discriminate against dissident clerics and members of the Shi’a community. Based on these severe violations of religious freedom, USCIRF again recommends in 2015 that Saudi Arabia be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Although the State Department has designated Saudi Arabia a CPC repeatedly since 2004, most recently in July 2014, an indefinite waiver has been in place since 2006 on taking an otherwise legislatively mandated action as a result of the CPC designation.


Saudi Arabia is officially an Islamic state with approximately eight to 10 million expatriate workers of various faiths, including at least one to two million non-Muslims. In recent years, the Saudi government has made improvements in policies and practices related to freedom of religion or belief; however, it persists in restricting most forms of public religious expression inconsistent with its particular interpretation of Sunni Islam. Saudi officials base this on their interpretation of hadith and state that this is what is expected of them as the country that hosts the two holiest mosques in Islam, in Mecca and Medina. This policy violates the rights of other Sunni Muslims who follow varying schools of thought, Shi’a and Ismaili Muslims, and both Muslim and non-Muslim expatriate workers.

While the government has taken some steps to address its legitimate concerns of combatting religious extremism and countering advocacy of violence in sermons and educational materials, other government actions continue to restrict peaceful religious activities and expression by suppressing the religious views and practices of Saudi and non-Saudi Muslims who do not conform to official positions. Furthermore, the government has not codified the protection of private religious practice for non-Muslim expatriate workers in the country, which fosters a sense of insecurity.

On January 23, 2015, King Abdullah passed away. He was succeeded immediately by his half-brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. In various remarks, King Salman stated that he would continue many of his predecessor’s policies, advance a Saudi foreign policy committed to the teachings SAUDI ARABIA The [Saudi] government privileges its own interpretation of Sunni Islam over all other interpretations and prohibits any non-Muslim public places of worship in the country. 58 USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 of Islam, and maintain the country’s Shari’ah legal system. He also announced a significant reshuffling of several cabinet-level positions, including appointing new Ministers of Justice, Education, and Islamic Affairs, and a new head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), among others.

Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015

Recent Improvements

USCIRF has noted some improvements in recent years that include: curtailing the powers of the CPVPV; promoting a “culture of dialogue” and understanding between Muslim religious communities inside the Kingdom and advancing inter-religious dialogue in international fora; improving conditions for public religious expression by Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern Province; continuing efforts to counter extremist ideology inside the Kingdom; and making further revisions to remove intolerant passages from textbooks and curriculum.

Restrictions on Shi’a Muslims and Dissidents

Sporadic arrests and detentions of Shi’a Muslim dissidents continued. For many years, particularly since 2011, the government has detained and imprisoned Shi’a Muslims for participating in demonstrations or calling for reform; holding small religious gatherings in private homes; organizing religious events or celebrating religious holidays; and reading religious materials in private homes or husseiniyas (prayer halls). Saudi officials often cite security concerns to justify cracking down on religious minorities and Muslim dissidents. The Shi’a community also faces discrimination in education, employment, the military, political representation, and the judiciary.

During the past year, several Shi’a clerics received lengthy prison terms or death sentences. For example, in October 2014, Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shi’a cleric who has criticized the government, was sentenced to death by a Specialized Criminal Court. The Specialized Criminal Court is a non-shari’ah court that tries terrorist-related crimes, although human rights activists also have been tried in these courts. Al-Nimr’s brother and legal advocate, Mohamed, reportedly was arrested after announcing the verdict on Twitter. Nimr Al-Nimr had been arrested in July 2012 and was convicted on a range of unfounded charges, including “inciting sectarian strife,” disobeying the government, and supporting rioting. According to reports, days after al-Nimr’s sentencing, a Saudi court sentenced two individuals to death for participating in Shi’a protests, saying it imposed the penalty “as a deterrent to others.” A third person was jailed for 12 years. In August 2014, Tawfiq al-Amr, a Shi’a cleric from the al-Ahsa governorate, was sentenced to eight years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban, and barred from delivering sermons. According to human rights groups, a Specialized Criminal Court convicted him on charges of defaming Saudi Arabia’s ruling system, ridiculing its religious leaders, inciting sectarianism, calling for change, and “disobeying the ruler.” Al-Amr was arrested in 2011 following a series of public speeches calling for reforms in the Kingdom.

Dissident Sunni Muslims also encountered repression. For example, in November 2014, Mikhlif al-Shammari, a Sunni Muslim writer and activist, was convicted by a criminal court and sentenced to two years in prison and 200 lashes for, in part, visiting prominent Shi’a leaders in the Eastern Province and promoting reconciliation between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. The Specialized Criminal Court previously convicted him in 2013 in a separate trial on charges of “sowing discord” and criticizing Saudi officials, for which he received a five-year prison sentence and a 10-year travel ban.

Violence against Shi’a Muslims

During the past year, Shi’a worshippers were targeted by violent extremists. In November, during Ashura celebrations in the Eastern Province of al-Ahsa, masked gunmen shot and killed at least seven Shi’a worshippers and wounded more than a dozen. After a violent gun battle that resulted in the death of two police officers and two gunmen, authorities arrested more than 15 suspected perpetrators, including several others already in jail on terrorism charges. Authorities linked the incident to the armed group ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). At the end of the reporting period, an investigation was ongoing. In addition, Minister of Interior Mohammed bin Naif traveled to the site of the attack and visited family members of the victims; he also announced that the government would provide compensation to the families of those who were killed. At the funeral for the victims, tens of thousands of Sunni and Shi’a Muslims demonstrated in solidarity against sectarianism.

Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Sorcery Charges

The Saudi government continues to use criminal charges of apostasy and blasphemy to suppress discussion and debate and silence dissidents. Promoters of political and human rights reforms, and those seeking to debate the role of religion in relation to the state, its laws, and society, typically have been the targets of such charges.

In February 2015, after the end of the reporting period, a General Court reportedly sentenced to death a Saudi man for apostasy. According to multiple reports, the unidentified man allegedly posted a video of himself on a social networking site tearing pages from a Quran while making disparaging remarks. The court used this video as evidence to convict him and justify the death sentence.

In May 2014, a Saudi appeals court sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, and fined him $1 million SR ($266,000 USD) for, among other charges, insulting Islam and religious authorities. The sentence called for Badawi – the founder and editor of a Web site that served as an online forum for diverse views to be expressed freely – to be lashed 50 times a week for 20 consecutive weeks. On January 9, 2015, Badawi received his first set of 50 lashes. Immediately after the flogging was carried out, several governments, including the United States, and numerous international human rights groups and individuals condemned the implementation of the sentence. Badawi has not received additional floggings, due in part to the international outrage and in part to a medical doctor’s finding that he could not physically endure more lashings. At the end of the reporting period, Badawi continued to languish in prison, where he has been held since June 2012. Badawi’s case reportedly was referred to the Saudi Supreme Court in January 2015. Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced in July 2014 by a Specialized Criminal Court to 15 years in jail on various trumped-up charges related to his work as a human rights defender.

In June 2014, two Saudi men, Sultan Hamid Marzooq al-Enezi and Saud Falih Awad al-Enezi, were released from prison after being arrested under the pretext of drug charges and spending more than two years in prison without charges. Although formal charges were not filed, reports suggested the two men were held for committing the capital crime of apostasy for converting to the Ahmadi interpretation of Islam.

Individuals arrested for sorcery – a crime punishable by death – continued to be prosecuted during the reporting period. In June 2014, the Saudi Ministry of Justice announced that prosecutors had filed 191 cases of alleged sorcery between November 2013 and May 2014. In August, authorities reportedly beheaded a Saudi man, Mohammed bin Bakr al-Alawi, in the al-Jawf Province for allegedly practicing sorcery. His death sentence had been upheld by an appeals court and the Supreme Judiciary Council. In February 2014, King Abdullah pardoned a female Indonesian domestic worker, Ati Bt Abeh Inan, who had been on death row for more than 10 years following a 2003 sorcery conviction.

New Law Classifies Blasphemy, Advocating Atheism as Acts of Terrorism

Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism law, the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, and a series of subsequent royal decrees create a legal framework that criminalizes as terrorism virtually all forms of peaceful dissent and free expression, including criticizing the government’s interpretation of Islam or advocating atheism. Under the new law, which went into effect in February 2014, a conviction could result in a prison term ranging from three to 20 years. The Interior Ministry’s March 2014 regulations state that, under the new law, terrorism includes “[c]alling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.” While Saudi Shari’ah courts already permit judges to criminalize various forms of peaceful dissent, the new law provides an additional mechanism to classify as terrorism actions considered blasphemous or to be advocating for atheism.

Abuses by the CPVPV

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), which reports to the King and is not subject to judicial review, officially enforces public morality and restricts public religious manifestations and practice by both Saudis and non-Saudis. In recent years, the public presence of the CPVPV has diminished. Nevertheless, in 2014, members of the CPVPV periodically overstepped their authority in parts of the country. In 2013, a law was passed limiting the jurisdiction of the CPVPV. Despite the fact that the CPVPV is not allowed to engage in surveillance, detain individuals for more than 24 hours, arrest individuals without police accompaniment, or carry out any kind of punishment, its members have been accused over the past year of beating, whipping, detaining, and otherwise harassing individuals. USCIRF continues to call for the dissolution of the CPVPV.

Improvements in Saudi Textbooks, Yet Continued Dissemination of Intolerant Materials

During the reporting period, USCIRF’s longstanding request was largely fulfilled when the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC provided most textbooks used in public schools in the Kingdom during the 2013-2014 school year. After an analysis of some of the relevant religious textbooks that had been cited previously as containing inflammatory language advocating hatred and violence, USCIRF found that there were improvements concerning the removal of intolerant content. USCIRF subsequently requested seven additional textbooks, which it hopes to review in the future. USCIRF had not received these books by the end of the reporting period. The Saudi government acknowledged that some of the high schoollevel textbooks were still in the process of being revised.

In recent years, a Saudi royal decree banned the financing outside Saudi Arabia of religious schools, mosques, hate literature, and other activities that support religious intolerance and violence toward non-Muslims and non-conforming Muslims. Nevertheless, some literature, older versions of textbooks, and other intolerant materials reportedly remain in distribution in some countries around the world despite the Saudi government’s policy that it would attempt to retrieve previously-distributed materials that teach hatred toward other religions and, in some cases, promote violence. For example, some of the older books justified violence against apostates, sorcerers, and homosexuals, and labeled Jews and Christians “enemies of the believers;” another high school textbook presented the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – a notorious forgery designed to promote hostility toward Jews – as an authentic document. Concerns also remain about privately-funded satellite television stations in the Kingdom that continue to espouse sectarian hatred and intolerance.

U.S. Policy

Despite a series of challenges in recent years, U.S.-Saudi relations remain close. For years, the U.S. government’s reliance on the Saudi government for cooperation on counterterrorism, regional security, and energy supplies has limited its willingness to press the Saudi government to improve its poor human rights and religious freedom record. Since 2012, the U.S. government has notified Congress of more than $24 billion in proposed USCIRF found that there were improvements concerning the removal of intolerant content [from Saudi textbooks]. USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 61 arms sales to the Kingdom. During the past year, shared concerns over Islamist terrorism, particularly advances by ISIL, and Iranian regional ambitions provided a renewed impetus for increased strategic cooperation. As a result, there are concerns that the United States has been reluctant to jeopardize important bilateral initiatives by pushing publicly for political and human rights reforms, despite opportunities that arose during the year, such as two high-profile visits to the Kingdom by President Obama. However, in January 2015, the State Department issued a public statement urging the Saudi government to cancel the flogging against blogger Raif Badawi and to review his case and sentence.

According to the State Department, U.S. policy seeks to press the Saudi government “to respect religious freedom and honor its public commitment to permit private religious worship by non-Muslims, eliminate discrimination against minorities, promote respect for non-Muslim religious belief, and combat violent extremism.” The U.S. government continues to encourage the Saudi government’s efforts to remove intolerant passages advocating violence in textbooks, and it continues to include Saudi officials in exchange and U.S. visitor programs that promote religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. In addition, according to the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as of mid-2014, more than 83,000 Saudi students were studying in American colleges and universities, the highest figure to date.

In September 2004, consistent with USCIRF’s recommendation, the State Department designated Saudi Arabia a CPC for the first time. In 2005, a temporary waiver was put in place, in lieu of otherwise legislatively mandated action as a result of the CPC designation, to allow for continued diplomatic discussions between the U.S. and Saudi governments and “to further the purposes of IRFA.” In July 2006, the waiver was left in place indefinitely when the State Department announced that ongoing bilateral discussions with Saudi Arabia had enabled the U.S. government to identify and confirm a number of policies that the Saudi government “is pursuing and will continue to pursue for the purpose of promoting greater freedom for religious practice and increased tolerance for religious groups.” USCIRF has concluded that full implementation by the Saudi government of these policies would diminish significantly the government’s institutionalized practices that negatively affect freedom of religion and belief. The measures that Saudi Arabia confirmed as state policies included the following:

  • Revise and update textbooks to remove remaining intolerant references that disparage Muslims or non-Muslims or that promote hatred toward other religions or religious groups, a process the Saudi government expected to complete in one to two years [no later than July 2008].
  • Prohibit the use of government channels or government funds to publish or promote textbooks, literature, or other materials that advocate intolerance and sanction hatred of religions or religious groups.
  • Control distribution of Saudi educational curricula to ensure that unauthorized organizations do not send them abroad.
  • Ensure Saudi embassies and consulates abroad review and destroy any material given to them by charities or other entities that promote intolerance or hatred.
  • Guarantee and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice.
  • Address grievances when the right to private worship is violated.
  • Ensure that customs inspectors at borders do not confiscate personal religious materials.
  • Ensure that members of the CPVPV do not detain or conduct investigations of suspects, implement punishment, violate the sanctity of private homes, conduct surveillance, or confiscate private religious materials.
  • Hold accountable any CPVPV officials who commit abuses.
  • Bring the Kingdom’s rules and regulations into compliance with human rights standards.

On July 28, 2014, the State Department re-designated Saudi Arabia a CPC but kept in place a waiver of any action citing the ‘‘important national interest of the United States,” pursuant to section 407 of IRFA.


USCIRF urges the U.S. government to address religious freedom issues actively and publicly with the Saudi government and to report openly on the government’s success or failure to implement genuine reforms, in order to ensure that the Saudi government’s initiatives will result in substantial, demonstrable progress. Specifically, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:

  • Continue to designate Saudi Arabia a CPC, no longer issue a waiver, and press the Saudi government to take concrete action towards completing reforms confirmed in July 2006 in U.S.-Saudi bilateral discussions; provide a detailed report on progress and lack of progress on each of the areas of concern;
  • At the highest levels, press for and work to secure the release of Raif Badawi, his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, and other prisoners of conscience, and press the Saudi government to end state prosecution of individuals charged with apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery;
  • Undertake and make public an annual assessment of the relevant Ministry of Education religious textbooks to determine if passages that teach religious intolerance have been removed;
  • Press the Saudi government to publicly denounce the continued use around the world of older versions of Saudi textbooks and other materials that promote hatred and intolerance, to include the concepts of tolerance and respect for the human rights of all persons in school textbooks, and to make every attempt to retrieve previously distributed materials that contain intolerance;
  • Press the Saudi government to continue to address incitement to violence and discrimination against disfavored Muslims and non-Muslims, including by prosecuting government-funded clerics who incite violence against Muslim minority communities or individual members of non-Muslim religious minority communities;
  • Press the Saudi government to ensure equal rights and protection under the law for Shi’a Muslim citizens;
  • Press the Saudi government to remove the classification of advocating atheism and blasphemy as terrorist acts in its 2014 terrorism law;
  • Include Saudi religious leaders, in addition to government officials, in exchanges and U.S visitor programs that promote religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue; and
  • Work with the Saudi government to codify non-Muslim private religious practice, and permit foreign clergy to enter the country to carry out worship services and to bring religious materials for such services.

The U.S. Congress should:

• Require the State Department to issue a public progress report on efforts and results achieved by the Saudi government to implement religious freedom reforms announced in July 2006.

Dissenting Statement of Vice Chair James J. Zogby:

I did not disagree with designating Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) because as the report makes clear Saudi Arabia does not allow “public expression of any religion of any religion other than Islam.” Where I strongly disagree is with USCIRF’s decision to call on the Department of State to remove the waiver provision that defers any action that might be taken as a result of Saudi Arabia’s CPC status. What I would have preferred was a recommendation that would have coupled the CPC designation with a full review of the progress or lack of progress the Saudi government has made in implementing the 2006 “US-Saudi Discussions on Religious Practice and Tolerance.”

That 2006 discussion paper included 32 specific areas where the Saudi government committed to make reforms. Saudi officials have said that they are making these reforms, not because of outside pressures, but because these are changes they know they need to make to move their country forward. Annually we report, in piecemeal fashion, on some of the progress the government has made in a number of these areas: removal of both intolerant literature from their schools and intolerant speech from their mosques, insuring the right to private worship, creating a Human Rights Commission, etc. What we are lacking is a comprehensive review of just how much progress made and a list of the areas that still need to be addressed.

What the State Department should do is go back to the 2006 discussion paper and treat its 32 items as a check list. They should go through it with their Saudi interlocutors and report, in detail, on progress or lack of progress made in each case. In some instances, such engagement may provide opportunities for U.S. officials or USCIRF to offer assistance or new ideas to help Saudi officials find a way to move forward. In an effort to achieve progress, engagement with Saudi officials is the preferred and most effective course of action. On the other hand, should we move to end the waiver and enact the punitive measures that might flow from this action, we would risk shutting off further discussion. This would prove to be counterproductive.

Additional Statement of Commissioners Eric P. Schwartz and Thomas J. Reese, S.J.:

We strongly supported and voted for the CPC designation, but we write to comment on the Commission recommendation to urge the Administration to remove the waiver provision, which, pursuant to the IRFA legislation, effectively constitutes a recommendation to impose sanctions absent a U.S.-Saudi “binding agreement” to improve religious freedom. To be sure, we believe that both a readiness to impose sanctions and the imposition of sanctions can send important signals to offending governments and help bring critical pressure to bear in efforts to improve conditions related to human rights and religious freedom. Commissioner Schwartz notes further that, as a White House and State Department official, he was in general quite reliably on the side of those supporting sanctions as a tool to promote human rights. In short, we should impose sanctions when we have a fair degree of confidence that, over time, they will strengthen the position of human rights activists or help to change behavior of offending governments. But sanctions can also be ineffective or sometimes even counterproductive. Policy goals can be frustrated if the sanctions have little economic impact, permit a government easily to stoke nationalist or religious fervor against perceived outside interference, or are imposed when our influence is uncertain. Thus, their possible imposition merits careful discussion of costs and benefits. In this case, Commissioners did not subject their decision to such careful consideration, and, in the absence of such deliberation, we were not prepared to support elimination of the waiver.

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Although Hindi is India’s most widely spoken language, over 780 languages exist throughout the subcontinent. However, 220 have disappeared over the last 50 years, as their last speakers pass away and young children do not learn them. With English and Hindi often associated with education and development, incentives to preserve less-common languages are low, and their worlds and cultures are vanishing. In reaction to this trend, a movement to preserve the country's linguistic heritage has emerged throughout India, with activists using online talking dictionaries, YouTube videos and social media to save these languages from extinction.
In Canada, freedom of religion is strongly protected at the national, provincial, and local levels. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, part of the country's constitution, forbids discrimination by the state on religious grounds and guarantees the fundamental right of freedom of conscience and religion. The various provincial human rights codes go further and require employers, service providers and other private individuals to provide reasonable accommodation to all, regardless of religious belief.
In an attempt to forcibly transform the Soviet Union into a socialist paradise, the Communist Party declared the elimination of religion to be an ideological imperative. Even though the Orthodox Church was deeply interwoven in pre-revolutionary Russian society, the state forbade public expressions of faith, demolished hundreds of places of worship, and executed hundreds of priests. However, the Orthodox faith remained rooted in Russia - as communism collapsed in the late 1980s and early 90s, millions rushed to be baptized and thousands were ordained as priests. Despite attempts to eliminate religion, today the majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christian.
Before the first British colonists arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, there were well over 350 different Australian Aboriginal groups, speaking a myriad of indigenous languages and with a wide range of cultural traditions. Diseases imported from Europe decimated native populations. Those that survived were legally marginalized throughout much of Australian history, with the 1901 Australian Constitution denying them Commonwealth citizenship rights. It was not until 1962 that legal reform granted the dwindling number of Aboriginal Australians voting rights.
The United States of America has a formal policy commitment to protect religious freedom globally. In 1998, Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act, establishing the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The Commission monitors the status of religious freedoms throughout the world and makes policy recommendations to the US government, including on the designation of serious repeat violators as "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPCs).
Although branded as the transcript of a Jewish plot masterminding world domination, a large portion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is copied directly from a political satire by French writer Maurice Joly. Joly’s protagonist warns, “Like the God Vishnu, my press will have a hundred arms and these arms will give their hands to all the different shades of opinion throughout the country." The Protocols attribute an almost identical statement to a “sinister” Jew. This plagiarism is just one of the many holes in the Protocols' so-called indictment of world Jewry.
On July 8, 1985, school children in a small Indian town rose to sing the national anthem, "Jana Gana Mana," but one 15-year old boy and his sisters did not join their classmates. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, they believed singing the anthem constituted idolatry, and could not bring themselves to violate their beliefs. This behavior was condemned as unpatriotic by school employees and became a local scandal, eventually resulting in the expulsion of the children. Their family sued, and the case eventually rose to the Supreme Court where the children were exonerated, with Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy reiterating “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.”

 Tolerance implies a respect for another person, not because he is wrong or even because he is right, but because he is human.

- John Cogley (1916-1976), author of Religion in a Secular Age, 1968

 From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step.

- Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), economist and philosopher, 1944

 It is my inmost conviction, Badshah Khan said, that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabat – selfless service, faith, and love.

- Badshah Khan (1890-1988), Pashtun independence activist

 I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, 1920

 More dangerous than bayonets and cannon are the weapons of the mind.

- Ludwig Van Mises (1881-1973), leader of the Austrian School of economic thought, Liberalism, 1927

 At every level of society, familial, tribal, national and international, the key to a happier and more peaceful and successful world is the growth of compassion.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), The Compassionate Life, 2001

 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, December 16, 1966

 I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Author of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States,Letter to Archibald Stuart, Philadelphia, December 23, 1791

 We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live in somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me unless there is peace and joy finally for you too.

- Frederick Buechner (1926-present), American writer and theologian

 We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated July, 6, 1944

 Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another’s beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them.

- Joshua Loth Liebman (1907-1948), American rabbi and best-selling author, Peace of Mind: Insights on Human Nature That Can Change Your Life, 1946

 Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.

- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist, 1940

 I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement, 1927

 We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, colour, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, July 12, 2013

 The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God's image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideal, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.

- Jonathan Sacks (1948 - present), rabbi, philosopher and scholar of Judaism, The Dignity of Difference, 2002

 It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling.

- Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), French philosopher, 1686

 I was heartened that people everywhere want certain basic freedoms, even if they live in a totally different cultural environment.

- Aung San Suu Kyi (1945-present), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, 2012

 Even God doesn't propose to judge a man till his last days, why should you and I?

- Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), American self-help author and lecturer

 Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.

- John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher, Second Treatise of Government, 1689

 [W]e are all guilty in some Measure of the same narrow way of Thinking... when we fancy the Customs, Dresses, and Manners of other Countries are ridiculous and extravagant, if they do not resemble those of our own.

- Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician, 1711

 To build a future you have to know the past.

- Otto Frank (1889-1980), Holocaust survivor who was a German-born businessman and father of Anne and Margot Frank, 1967

 Each person must live their life as a model for others.

- Rosa Parks (1913-2005), African-American civil rights activist

 We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than only freedom can make security more secure.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

- Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, "I Have a Dream", August 28, 1963

 There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher, 1900

 I can imagine nothing more terrifying than an Eternity filled with men who were all the same. The only thing which has made life bearable…has been the diversity of creatures on the surface of the globe.

- T. H. White (1906-1964), English author

 The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, John Brown, 1909

 I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.

- Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion.... My belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.

- Stephen Fry (1957-present), English comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist, 1993

 God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.

- Desmond Tutu (1931-present), South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, April 26, 2005

 Compassion is not religious business, it is human business. It is not a luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability. It is essential for human survival.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935 - present), spiritual leader of Tibet

 I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.

- Rosa Parks (1913-2005), African-American civil rights activist

 Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist and U.S. minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., April 1886

 It is a worthy thing to fight for one's freedom; it is another sight finer to fight for another man's.

- Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist, June 17, 1898

 I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies another this right makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Age of Reason, 1794

 If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 The golden rule of conduct... is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision. Even amongst the most conscientious persons, there will be room enough for honest differences of opinion. The only possible rule of conduct in any civilised society is, therefore, mutual toleration.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), leader of Indian independence movement, 1927

 [Most] can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher

 We need a little more compassion, and if we cannot have it then no politician or even a magician can save the planet.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present)

 There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated May 3, 1944

 For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa,Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 It is hardly possible to overrate the value, for the improvement of human beings, of things which bring them into contact with persons dissimilar to themselves and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar... It is indispensable to be perpetually comparing [one's] own notions and customs with the experience and example of persons in different circumstances.

- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, political economist and civil servant, Principles of Political Economy, 1848

 A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist, 1950

 Tolerance and patience should not be read as signs of weakness. They are signs of strength.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), spiritual leader of Tibet, September 21, 2012

 And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, July 12, 2013

 If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, political economist and civil servant, On Liberty, 1859

 Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.

- Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic, Almansor, 1821

 I have no animosity towards anyone. Whoever displays human dignity, regardless of their religion or faith, I bow my head before them and hold them dear.

- Masoumi Tehrani, senior Iranian cleric

 The open society is one in which men have learned to be to some extent critical of taboos, and to base decisions on the authority of their own intelligence.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement

 Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Strength to Love, 1963

 While differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 1963

 Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.

- Maya Angelou (1928-2014), American poet and author

 Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement

 You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.

- William Wilberforce (1759-1833), English abolitionist, 1791

 Is discord going to show itself while we are still fighting, is the Jew once again worth less than another? Oh, it is sad, very sad, that once more, for the umpteenth time, the old truth is confirmed: "What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews."

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated as May 22, 1944

 I think... if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher, Anna Karenina, 1877

 The time must come when, great and pressing as change and betterment may be, they do not involve killing and hurting people.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Dark Princess, 1928

 All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness … the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present)

 Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa

 WHAT is tolerance? it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly--that is the first law of nature.

- Voltaire (1694-1778), French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, 1764

 If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated.

- Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, April 2, 2013

 All of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.... this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God.... And that, simply, is blasphemy.

- Pope Francis (1936-present), May 22, 2013

 Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.

- William James (1842-1910), American philosopher and psychologist

 Many of our problems are created by ourselves based on divisions due to ideology, religion, race, resources, economic status or other factors. The time has come to think on a deeper, more human level and appreciate and respect our sameness as human beings.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), The Compassionate Life, 2001

 No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is an essence of the true religious act.

- Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer

 No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.

- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Author of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, 1786

 Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.

- Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), American lawyer, May 8, 1888

 There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.

- Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), Greek philosopher

 Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, 1995

 We all know we are unique individuals, but we tend to see others as representatives of groups.

- Deborah Tannen (1945-present), linguist and author, You Just Don't Understand, 1990

 To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, June 27, 1990

 I respect Muslims, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Bahá’ís, etc., even non-believers who believe in the principles of humanity. I love them dearly and kiss the hands of each and every one of them.

- Masoumi Tehrani, senior Iranian cleric

 I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds, but our hearts and our souls.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, September 3, 2013

 I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.

- Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer

 No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 It is the enemy who can truly teach us to practice the virtues of compassion and tolerance.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), Ocean of Wisdom: Guidelines for Living, 1989

 How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, March 26, 1944

 I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated July 15, 1944

 Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944

 He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, July 1795

 If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, I am Prepared to Die, Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, April 20, 1964

 We recall our terrible past so that we can deal with it, to forgive where forgiveness is necessary, without forgetting; to ensure that never again will such inhumanity tear us apart; and to move ourselves to eradicate a legacy that lurks dangerously as a threat to our democracy.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, February 25, 1999

 Human nature is not simple and any classification that roughly divides men into good and bad, superior and inferior, slave and free, is and must be ludicrously untrue and universally dangerous as a permanent exhaustive classification.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Evolution of the Race Problem, 1909

 First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

- Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, January 6, 1946

 A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

- Desmund Tutu (1931-present), South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, September 7, 1986

 Freedom of judgment must necessarily be permitted and people must be governed in such a way that they can live in harmony, even though they openly hold different and contradictory opinions.

- Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 Where in this wide world can a person find nobility without pride, friendship without envy or beauty without vanity? Here, where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined. He serves without servility, he has fought without enmity. There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent; there is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.

- Ronald Duncan (1914-1982)

 The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.

- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist and U.S. minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., April 1885

 I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

- Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), Greek philosopher

 I knew that to really minister to Rwanda's needs meant working toward reconciliation in the prisons, in the churches, and in the cities and villages throughout the country. It meant feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the young, but it also meant healing the wounded and forgiving the unforgivable.

- John Rucyahana (1945-present), former Rwandan Anglican bishop, The Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones, 2007

 Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.

- John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th President of the United States, October 10, 1960

 If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.

- John F. Kennedy (1917-1961), 35th President of the United States, Commencement Address at American University, June 10, 1963

 My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, The Rights of Man, 1791

 The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.

- Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), American theoretical physicist

 Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance — these may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible.

- Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), Russo-British Jewish social and political theorist, philosopher and historian, Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century, Foreign Affairs, 1950

 How many paths are there to God? There are as many paths to God as there are souls on the Earth.

- Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic

 The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?

- Pablo Casals (1876-1973), Spanish cellist, 1974

 Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Loving Your Enemies, 1957

 I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people.

- Eduardo Galeano (1940-present), Uruguyan journalist, writer, and novelist, 2004

 Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.

- Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic

 You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, October 10, 2013


About Tavaana

Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society is Iran’s pioneer e-learning institute. Tavaana – meaning ‘empowered’ and ‘capable’ in Persian – was launched on May 17, 2010 with a mission to support active citizenship and civic leadership in Iran through a multi-platform civic education and civil society capacity building program. Tavaana holds a vision for a free and open Iranian society, one in which each and every Iranian enjoys equality, justice and the full spectrum of civil and political liberties.

About The Tolerance Project

The Tolerance Project aims to inspire conscience, pluralism, religious freedom, and celebration of difference. Using an array of educational materials in Arabic, Persian, and English, The Tolerance Project emphasizes the capacity of each and every individual to counter hate, and imparts the benefits of living in tolerant, open societies. The Tolerance Project educates to prevent persecution and genocide, cultivating the basis for vibrant and stable societies in the broader Middle East.