Protecting Religious Minorities in Muslim Countries

The rise of ISIS and other Muslim extremist groups in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia has brought horrific persecution of non-Muslims — Christians, Jews and other religious minorities. Now, a group of Islamic scholars, Muslim leaders and government ministers from Muslim-majority countries has promised to work together to protect those minorities, saying Islam forbids religious persecution, reports NPR.

More than 100 countries were represented at the gathering of Muslim leaders in Marrakesh this week, sponsored by the Moroccan government and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, an organisation led by Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah.

One of the organisers, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf from the United States, says the meeting had one focus: the plight of religious minorities in Muslim lands.

“We have people being enslaved into sexual slavery,” he told NPR from Marrakesh. “We have Christian churches that have been there for long before Islam was in these lands, that are being destroyed. And we have Jews in Yemen, one of the oldest Jewish communities, now the very existence of which is threatened.”

While some prominent Muslim leaders belittle the plight of non-Muslims in their countries, those who came to this meeting heard testimony from other faith leaders about the conditions in their countries.

Sheikh Sattar Jabbar Hilu, speaking on behalf of his Sabian sect in Iraq, said they and other minorities face killing and deportations, and the situation is getting worse.

The message from this meeting: Such persecution is un-Islamic. Nearly 1,400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad directed the preparation of a governing outline for an Islamic state, the Charter of Medina. It was named for the city in Arabia where Muhammad had taken refuge.

At the time, Medina was inhabited by various tribes and religious groups, and the charter mandated peaceful coexistence and religious freedom for all.

“Today we need to re-publicise this document,” says Recep Senturk, an Islamic scholar from Istanbul’s Fatih University, who was among those in Morocco. “Especially when we see that the minority rights are violated. Those people who are involved in terror activities, they are misusing the name of Islam and misusing the name of the Prophet Muhammad to justify their evil actions.”

A declaration coming out of this week’s meeting in Morocco calls on Muslim intellectuals to develop a more inclusive concept of citizenship. Education authorities are urged to identify curricular material “that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies.”

Religious leaders are told to address the “amnesia” of their followers that blocks memories of the centuries of interfaith coexistence on their lands.

“It is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries,” the declaration concludes.

Yusuf, who founded a Muslim liberal arts college in Berkeley, Calif., says the purpose of this week’s meeting was to counter the extremist ideology that fuels groups like ISIS.

“We don’t have any power other than our intellect and our hearts,” he says. “And that’s what we’re fighting with. Ideas must counter ideas. You can drop all the bombs you want, but if you don’t pull up weeds by their roots, they just grow back.”

But this is not the first time mainstream Islamic scholars and Muslim government officials have tried to challenge extremism in the name of Islam. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution studies extremist movements. And he worries efforts by these traditional Muslim scholars may not reach the right people.

“One of the audiences you’re trying to persuade here are those who are on the fence, young, angry Arabs and Muslims who are looking for something to believe in,” Hamid says. “The problem with these kinds of status quo scholars and governments is that they are seen as illegitimate and not credible.

“If you want to convince people who are predisposed to radicalism,” he says, “you have to provide voices that they’re going to see as legitimate. 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.”


Executive Summary of the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities

25th-27th January 2016

WHEREAS, conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one’s point of view;

WHEREAS, this situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled 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;

WHEREAS, 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;

WHEREAS, 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 on this date to reaffirm the principles of the Charter of Medina at a major conference;

WHEREAS, this conference was held under the auspices of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and organized jointly by the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in the Kingdom of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies based in the United Arab Emirates;

AND NOTING the gravity of this situation afflicting Muslims as well as peoples of other faiths throughout the world, and after thorough deliberation and discussion, the convened Muslim scholars and intellectuals:

DECLARE HEREBY our firm 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; and that,

The objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are in harmony with the Charter of Medina, including consideration for public order.

NOTING FURTHER that deep reflection upon the various crises afflicting humanity underscores the inevitable and urgent need for cooperation among all religious groups, we
AFFIRM HEREBY that such cooperation must be based on a “Common Word,” requiring that such 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.


Call upon Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of “citizenship” which is inclusive of diverse groups. Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in Islamic tradition and principles and mindful of global changes.

Urge Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addesses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies;

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 Muslim World;

Call upon the educated, artistic, and creative members of our societies, as well as organizations of civil society, to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorites in Muslim countries and to raise awareness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the success of these efforts.

Call upon the various religious groups bound by the same national fabric to address their mutual state of selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land; we call upon them to rebuild the past by reviving this tradition of conviviality, and restoring our shared trust that has been eroded by extremists using acts of terror and aggression;

Call upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, villification, and denegration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry; AND FINALLY,

AFFIRM that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.

January 2016 ,27th



A historic three-day international conference on the future of pluralism in the Muslim world opened today in Marrakesh, attended by hundreds of scholars, religious leaders and clergy representing a broad range of religions and schools of thought within Islam, along with government officials from around the world. The Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities: Legal Framework and a Call to Action conference is hosted by the government of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, under the high patronage of King Mohammed VI.

Religion News Service reports that Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh clergy will participate in the conference alongside more than 300 religious and political leaders from Muslim-majority countries — including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran.

From the US, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Rabbi Burt Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, are expected to attend. And from the State Department, Acting Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Arsalan Suleman and Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia Knox Thames will participate.

The conference aims to produce a new declaration on the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries, putting the 622 C.E. Charter of Medina — the Muslim world’s first constitution, which spelled out the rights of minorities in Islamic law — within the context of contemporary views of human and religious rights as well as international treaties.

“The need to protect religious minorities is especially urgent in these turbulent times,” said former US Ambassador to Morocco Edward M. Gabriel. “And Morocco’s long history of peaceful coexistence among its Muslims, Jews and Christians, and the freedom of worship enshrined in its constitution make it the ideal setting for the conference’s important work.”

Adopted by referendum in 2011, the Moroccan constitution states that the country’s unity “is forged by the convergence of its Arab-Islamist, Berber and Saharan-Hassanic components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences,” and emphasizes Morocco’s attachment “to the values of openness, of moderation, of tolerance and of dialogue for mutual understanding between all the cultures and the civilizations of the world.”

The Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to inform opinion makers, government officials, and interested publics in the United States about political and social developments in Morocco and the role being played by the Kingdom of Morocco in broader strategic developments in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.

This material is distributed by the Moroccan American Center for Policy on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.