When Muslim peacemakers take bold initiatives to counter violence and work for peace, the world should take note. People of all faiths - and no faith - should do everything they can to support these efforts. Let me tell you why we should celebrate and support the Marrakesh Declaration.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, a brilliant Islamic scholar and gracious peacemaker, convened 300 people from 120 countries on January 25-27, 2016 in Marrakesh, Morocco. This gathering was the conclusion of a 4-year process of deliberation. Muslim scholars, government officials and non-Muslim observers gathered to address the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. And I was privileged to be one of their honored guests.
The Marrakesh Declaration is based on the Charter of Medina, a 7th century contract between Muhammed and the Jewish tribes of Medina, which functioned as a constitution for a multi-racial and multi-faith society. According to the conveners of the conference, the Charter of Medina provides authoritative guidance for how Muslims should treat minorities in their countries today.
There have been periods in Islamic history where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived side-by-side peacefully. My friend and fellow peacemaker, Sami Awad (a Christian Palestinian living in Bethlehem) has shared beautiful stories of Christians and Muslims living together in harmony in his lifetime.
But that is not always the case. Christians, especially, have been and are presently persecuted by Muslims. So the Marrakesh Declaration could be a game changer in Christian-Muslim relations. (And yes Christians have done their share of persecuting Muslims as well).
Here are four reasons I think we need to support this peacemaking effort:
- The Marrakesh Declaration is initiated by a world-renowned Islamic scholar who convened an equally impressive number of high-level Islamic clerics and government officials from around the world. The declaration itself is the product of rigorous Islamic scholarship and dynamic debate.Because the framers of this declaration are highly respected Islamic leaders, and because the declaration is rooted in Islamic sacred texts, the declaration has the potential to bring about profound long-term positive change in the Muslim world.
- The Marrakesh Declaration forcefully addresses the human rights of minorities: “We need to adopt a civilized code of behavior that bans all forms of coercion, fanaticism and arrogance.... Religion must not be manipulated to justify any infringement or denial of the rights of religious minorities in Islamic countries.”In other words, the framers of this declaration recognize that Muslim majority countries have treated religious minorities poorly in the past, and thus they resolve to uphold and protect their human rights in the future.
- The Marrakesh Declaration calls on “institutions of higher learning and religious authorities to launch bold revisions of educational programs in order to stand against this cultural crisis, which breeds extremism and enmity, fans the flames of conflict, and tears at the fabric of society.”The framers of this declaration realize that intolerance and discrimination have made their way into the educational systems of most Muslim countries. Thus their call for bold revisions in education will help undermine and eliminate the sources of discrimination.
- The Marrakesh Declaration invites non-Muslims to partner with them in working for peace: “The more we ponder the various crises threatening humanity, the more firmly we believe that interfaith cooperation is necessary, inevitable and urgent.”The framers of this declaration realize that the change they long for demands partnership with non-Muslims. So we need to respond to this invitation to collaboration.
The Marrakesh Declaration has the potential to be one of the most important Islamic events in modern history - a powerful, peacemaking counterweight to the violent Islamic extremism embodied in groups like ISIS.
It is too early to determine the actual impact this declaration will have. So for now, I’m going to celebrate this initiative. I’m going to promote this declaration. I’m going to pray for its implementation. And I am going to partner with Muslim leaders who affirm this declaration.
Will you join me? This could be a game changer in Christian-Muslim relations!
( Reprinted from Peace Catalyst International )