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Religion and Society

Islam and Non-Muslims, the Marrakesh Challenge

The declaration signed in Morocco invites a renewal of the interpretation of sacred texts in order to combat the distortions of extremism

Photo: @islamitalia

From January 25 - 27 2016, Marrakesh hosted an international conference, which united approximately three hundred figures from one hundred twenty countries, especially Muslim countries, as well as European countries and the United States.

 

The conference was jointly organized by the Moroccan Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs, and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, a foundation based in the United Arab Emirates directed by Abdullah Bin Bayyah, Mauritanian professor of Islamic studies and member of the “European Council for Fatwa and Research” close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

 

The topic was “the right of religious minorities in the Islamic world.” At the end of the meeting, participants — ulema and Muslim thinkers — “supported by brothers of other religions” (indeed some Christian religious leaders were invited: the Archbishop of Rabat and the President of the Evangelical Church in Morocco, for example) drafted the “Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities.”

 

The text promotes the renewal, if not a veritable reform of the texts, which govern the status of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim-majority countries.

 

 

The Strong Points in the Text

 

 

The first part recalls “the universal principles and founding (or consensual) values recommended by Islam”:

 

 

1. The document recognizes the existence of a one and only humanity and affirms that this unity was willed by God. All human beings are children of one father, Adam (§1-3) [and of one mother, Eve].

 

 

2. One of the faculties that characterizes the human being is liberty, which implies the right to choose, in particular with regards to religion (§2).

 

 

3. One of the foundations of society is the principle of justice. Such is a “rule of conduct for all human beings in order to prevent the temptation of hate and violence” (§4).

 

 

4. Peace is a privileged value in Islam and it must be the highest purpose of the Sacred Law, Sharia (§5).

 

 

5. “Islam urges its followers to be charitable and benevolent towards others, without distinctions” (§ 7), and the Prophet Muhammad was sent by God “as mercy to the worlds” (§6).

 

 

The second part of the text mentions the Charter of Medina as “a reference to guarantee rights to religious minorities in the Islamic world.” Already in the first part, it is recalled that “Islamic law values the respect of contracts, commitments and treaties” (§8) and that the Charter of Medina was “drafted by the Prophet Muhammad as a constitution of a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional society” (§9). Although it was only historically stipulated between the Jews, Bani Ouaf on one side, and the Muslims and their allies on the other, it remains an exceptional reality for the period. In the first place “his universal vision of man […] mentions neither minorities nor majorities, but it refers to the idea of the existence of different components within a single nation (in other words, citizens)” (§11a). Secondly, this charter was not the “consequence of wars or conflicts,” but was “a contract between communities that initially lived in harmony and in peace” (§11b). Today this charter could thus “constitute a fundamental reference for citizenship for Muslims.”

 

 

The third and final part wants to be “an exposition of the methodological foundations of the canonical position on the rights of minorities.” It is the provision of rules for a good critical interpretation of the founding texts of Islam, neither more nor less.

 

 

Finally, the conclusion is presented as a multifaceted invitation:

 

 

- to the ulema and Muslim thinkers so that “they commit to a path that leads to the consolidation of the principle of citizenship, which encompasses all affinities”;

 

 

- to academic institutions and teachings to “implement bold and responsible revisions of school textbooks” in order to correct the distortions: which incite “extremism and aggression,” foment wars and conflicts, and undermine the unity of societies;

 

 

- to policy and decision makers, so that “they take all constitutional, political and legal measures necessary to give substance to contractual citizenship” and so that they support “the initiatives aimed at strengthening bonds of understanding and coexistence between the religious communities living in the land of Islam”;

 

 

- to the intellectuals and the stakeholders of civil society, to ensure that they promote “the birth of a broad trend that brings justice to religious minorities in Muslim societies and raises awareness of their rights;

 

 

- to the different religious communities “united by the national link”, to bring about the reconstruction “of the past, giving life to common heritage, and building bridges of trust, away from the temptations of the excommunication and violence”;

 

 

- to the international community so that they promulgate “laws that punish offenses to religion, violations of sacred values and speech that incites hate and racism.”

 

 

What to think of this statement?

 

This declaration invites the opening of a work in progress, but the actual work has yet to begin. We must therefore wait to see if it will have some effect in Muslim societies. Having said this, the text of the declaration is brave and determined. It is bold because, overcoming centuries of struggles and misunderstandings, it fits in a contemporary perspective and in the "modern" dimension of contractual citizenship, with which members of the nation are placed on the same level of equality before the law, and have the same rights and the same duties, regardless of their religious affiliation.

 

 

As for Morocco, in the spirit of this declaration, during the Council of Ministers which was held on February 6 in Laayoune — so about ten days away from the conference — King Mohammed VI of Morocco asked the government to begin the reform of Muslim curricula and religious instruction manuals, as soon as possible. These are compulsory subjects in school from the first year of primary school to high school graduation. It is a strong sign that bodes well for the future.

 

 

This article was translated from the original Italian

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