Killings in Nigeria and Iraq and death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan have renewed concerns about the rights and security of Christians in Muslim countries and in Nigeria with its large Muslim and Christian populations. They illustrate the dangerous and devastating consequences of intolerance and challenge Muslims to counter religious extremism and more aggressively and effectively safeguard and institutionalize the rights of all religious minorities. While majorities embrace religious diversity, a significant minority of hardline conservative, fundamentalist and militant Muslims, like their counterparts in Christianity and Judaism, are not pluralistic but rather strongly exclusivist in their attitudes towards other faiths and even co-believers with whom they disagree. These myopic religious worldviews can turn ugly. Substantive change can only come with strong leadership from government and religious leaders accompanied by religious and legal reforms.
Nigeria, home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, has historically been a country where Muslims and Christians have co-existed and interacted for generations. The situation changed dramatically with a conflict that dates back to 1999, and, according to Human Rights Watch, has claimed 13,500 lives and attacks against churches and mosques with no apparent end in sight. Though religion is increasingly playing an important role in the self-identity of combatants and their mobilization, it can mask deep seated economic, social and political tensions and conflicts.