By Robert Sellers
01. 31. 2016
It was my privilege, on behalf of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, to attend the January 25-27 Marrakech Conference on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Lands, conducted under the high patronage of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI, of Morocco. Three prominent leaders had worked on this initiative since 2012—Shiekh Abdallah Bin Bayyah of Abu Dhabi, President for the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies; Dr. Ahmed Toufiq of Rabat, Minister of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs for the Kingdom of Morocco; and Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi of Washington, D.C., Director for The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.
Through the planning of these visionaries, more than 300 cabinet ministers, imams, scholars and intellectuals, peace activists, and interfaith leaders from 120 Muslim territories were brought together to reaffirm the principles of the 1400-year old Charter of Medina and to discuss its implications for our contemporary world. Joining them were approximately 50 non-Muslim leaders who served as observer-participants in the conference. The Marrakech Declaration—its powerful concepts shaped and debated during many hours of supportive speeches, breakout sessions, and multiple drafts, and its final wording ratified by the impressive range of Muslim signatories—is both historic and inspiring.
On the one hand, the Declaration is historic. It is a groundbreaking effort to clarify and unify the response of global Muslims to the world’s bitter experiences of war and terrorism, hatred and violence, desecration of sacred spaces, ethnic cleansings, forced migrations, and other atrocities perpetrated by “criminal groups” and “ignorant fools” whose vile actions “have nothing to do with religion.” The Declaration draws upon the principles of the Charter of Medina, drafted by the Prophet Mohammed in CE 622 as a means of bringing harmony between his followers and the non-Muslims of Medina, and reflects as well the values of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It challenges Muslims around the world to develop laws that guarantee the equal citizenship and just treatment of religious minorities in Muslim nations. Furthermore, the Declaration calls for all sects and denominations of Islam “to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification, and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promotes hatred and bigotry.” The Declaration is historic!
On the other hand, the Declaration is inspiring. Once again—just as was the case in the 2007 Muslim document, “A Common Word between Us and You”—leaders of Islam have drafted a statement affirming their commitment to neighbourliness in a world too often marked by religious boundaries and the clash of civilizations. By ratifying this call to harmony and the just treatment of religious minorities, these Muslim leaders have given us who are not Muslims an example that we also must follow. I thus find inspiration in this Declaration for thinking seriously about the rights of non-Christians in Christian-majority nations, like the United States. For example, making the appropriate categorical substitutions, this document can “urge [Christian] educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addresses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies.”
Furthermore, the Declaration can “call upon politicians and decision makers to take the political and legal steps necessary to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens, and to support all formulations and initiatives that aim to fortify relations and understanding among the various religious groups in the [Christian] world.” Not only should we be concerned about the human rights of non-Muslims in Muslim-majority nations, but we must be attentive to the human rights of Muslims in non-Muslim-majority nations. Islamophobia must diminish and neighborliness in the human family must increase. Toward that end, this Declaration is inspiring!
As the Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, may I reiterate my personal commitment to interreligious harmony and cooperation, and on behalf of my fellow trustees and peoples of all faiths who are committed to the interfaith movement, may I say that we will not cease in our efforts to bring about the kind of peaceful, mutually beneficial society around the world that is envisioned in this historic and inspiring Marrakech Declaration.