Muslim leaders vow to protect religious minorities

Muslim leaders vow to protect religious minorities
A conference of senior clerics from Muslim-majority countries has released a declaration affirming Islam's protection of religious minorities following the close of a two-day summit in Morocco on Wednesday.
3 min read
29 January, 2016
A march in solidarity with the Christians persecuted in Mosul, Iraq in 2014 [Getty]
A declaration affirming the right of protection for religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries has been issued following a gathering of senior Muslim clerics in Marrakesh on Wednesday.

The Marrakech Declaration was issued after more than 250 religious leaders and government officials met in the Moroccan capital to discuss the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries this week.

The summit follows violent persecution of religious minorities by Muslim extremist groups most notably by IS militants, including of Yazidi and Christian minorities in Iraq.

The final declaration said principles of religious freedom were set down in the Muslim faith fourteen centuries ago in the Charter of Medina instituted by the Prophet Mohammed following his migration to the city.

"This year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him, and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith," it stated.

It declared that principles set out in the Charter of Medina provide a constitutional framework for the liberty and equality of all living Muslim majority countries.

"[We] declare our firm commitment to the principles articulated in the Charter of Medina, whose provisions contained a number of the principles of constitutional contractual citizenship. [We] firmly condemned acts of oppression done in the name of Islam by extremist organisations."

The declaration blamed a breakdown in political authority for enabling "criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole".

"[We] affirm that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries," it concluded.

The conference was organised by the Forum of Promoting Peace, founded by prominent UAE-based cleric Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah.

It was sponsored by the Moroccan government leading to criticism on social media, particularly of Morocco's King Mohammed's opening speech, in what many considered an attempt to whitewash human rights abuses in his own country.

Morocco was recently the subject of criticism by rights organisations for its "diminishing tolerance for dissident voices". Activists have documented numerous cases of human rights violations.

The country has also seen civil unrest with protestors calling for reforms despite government bans on public protests.

Those attending the summit included clerics and muftis from several Muslim countries including Turkey, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq and Iran, and a number of non-Muslim religious leaders.

The declaration further pronounced the need for educational reform to combat religious extremism.

"[We] urge Muslim 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," the declaration stated.

"[We] call upon politicians and decision makers to take the necessary political and legal steps to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens [of] various religious groups in the Muslim World," it added.

The meeting focused on the plight of religious minorities in Muslim states, said Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, one of the main organisers of the summit.

"We have people being forced into sexual slavery," Yusuf said,  "We have Christian churches that existed long before Islam was in these lands, that are being destroyed. And we have Jews in Yemen, one of the oldest Jewish communities, whose very existence is being threatened."

But some say the efforts of these traditional Muslim scholars may not reach the right people.

"If you want to convince people who are predisposed to radicalism you have to provide voices that they're going to see as legitimate," said Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at Brookings Institution.

"You don't come with these government-sponsored clerics, who are very much part of the ruling establishment in the Middle East, which itself has been a big part of the problem," Hamid added.