Goodwill Muslim Leaders Speak Up for Religious Freedom for Minorities


Mohamed Magid, a "Different Books, Common Word" interviewee, was present at the meeting of Muslim scholars resulting in the Marrakesh Declaration. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

Historic and inspiring are the two words used by Texas Baptist religion professor Robert Sellers to describe the Marrakesh Declaration released last week by Muslim scholars.

Texas megachurch pastor Bob Roberts said he was "blown away" by the 750-word document.

Washington, D.C., retired Archbishop Theodore McCarrick said, "It is truly a great document, one that will influence our times and our history."

Olav Fykse Tveit, World Council of Churches general secretary, said, "With this declaration, Muslim leaders are showing the way toward a future of living together on a shared platform."

Roy Medley, general secretary emeritus of American Baptist Churches USA, called the statement "historic" and "a significant milestone."

What is the Marrakesh Declaration?

Some 300 Muslims scholars - religious leaders and government officials - gathered in Morocco at the invitation of the Moroccan King Mohammed VI. They were joined by Christian observers.

They issued a statement that religious minorities in Islamic countries are to be treated with respect, not persecution.

What does the Marrakesh Declaration say?

After acknowledging the deteriorating conditions in different parts of the Muslim World due to violence, the document said in a series of "whereas" that "this year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad ... and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith."

It added "hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from over 120 countries, along with representatives of Islamic and international organizations, as well as leaders from diverse religious groups and nationalities, gathered in Marrakesh ... to reaffirm the principles of the Charter of Medina."

It noted the gravity of the world situation harming both Muslims and other people of faith.

Then it declared their "commitment to the principles articulated in the Charter of Medina, whose provisions contained a number of the principles of constitutional contractual citizenship, such as freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual solidarity and defense, as well as principles of justice and equality before the law."

The statement affirmed an earlier Islamic declaration known as "The Common Word," an initiative at the heart of EthicsDaily.com documentary "Different Books, Common Word."

The Marrakesh Declaration said the cooperation "must go beyond mutual tolerance and respect, to providing full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner that eschews coercion, bias and arrogance."

It called on:

  • Global Muslim scholars "to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of 'citizenship' which is inclusive of diverse groups;"
  • Political leaders "to take the political and legal steps necessary to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens;"
  • Other leaders "to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorities in Muslim countries and to raise awareness as to their rights;" and
  • Leaders of different houses of faith "to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry."

The document ended by saying, "it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries."

While a variety of U.S. Christian leaders were in attendance as observers, it is particularly important to underscore the Baptist presence at the meeting.

After all, one of the earliest Baptist founders, Thomas Helwys, wrote King James I in 1612 appealing for religious liberty, including that of Turks, what Muslims were then called.

Sellers, who teaches at Hardin-Simmons University, and Roy Medley, an American Baptist leader, have been at the forefront of Baptist-Muslim collaboration.

Fittingly, a frequent contributor to EthicsDaily.com, Rick Love, president of Peace Catalyst International, was an observer.

Additionally, two EthicsDaily.com friends attended the conference: Mohamed Elsanousi, director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and Mohamed Magid, executive imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.

Magid was quoted in EthicsDaily.com's first 2016 editorial.

Why does the Marrakesh Declaration matter?

It matters on multiple levels. First, it counters the negative, untruthful narratives that Muslims don't care about religious freedom, that Islam is a religion of terrorism and that all Muslims are the same. Clearly, here are Muslim leaders who seek goodwill.

Second, it shows that Muslim leaders are seeking reformation in their own cultural contexts. The document is bluntly rooted in a painful, urgent awareness that forces within Islam are distorting their faith and harming their own people. It even calls extremists "criminal groups."

Third, the declaration builds on the substantive Common Word initiative, which says Christians and Muslim share a common word from their own sacred texts - love for neighbor. It shows a continuing desire among Muslim leaders to collaborate theologically and practically with Christian leaders.

What does the Marrakesh Declaration mean for Christians in general and goodwill Baptists in particular?

It means that we need to invest the time and energy to support moderate Muslims by speaking truthfully and repeatedly to our own households of faith. Given the hateful rhetoric in the public square and repeated in churches, we have much work to do.

Remember the Marrakesh Declaration next time you hear someone say Islam is an evil, violent religion.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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