February 8, 2016

Muslim leaders from around the world have adopted a declaration defending the rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries.

Participants said the Marrakesh Declaration, developed during a Jan. 25-27 conference, was based on the Medina Charter, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad and the people of Medina.

The declaration said the charter, instituted 1,400 years ago, guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith.

The conference included Muslim leaders from more than 120 countries, representatives of persecuted religious communities - including Chaldean Catholics from Iraq - and government officials.

The declaration said "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."

That deterioration has enabled criminal groups to issue edicts that "alarmingly distort" Islam's "fundamental principles and goals," it said.

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

It called on:

Muslim scholars "to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of 'citizenship' which is inclusive of diverse groups."

Muslim educational institutions to review their curricula to address material that "instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies."

All members of society "to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorities in Muslim countries."

Religious groups to remove "selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land."

The declaration called for cooperation based on A Common Word, a 2007 statement signed by 138 Muslim scholars and endorsed later by dozens of other Muslim leaders.

Addressed to then-Pope Benedict XVI and the heads of other Christian churches, the statement sought new efforts at Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the shared belief in one God, in God's love for humanity and in people's obligation to love one another.

With a large percentage of the world's population belonging to the Christian or Muslim faith, the Common Word scholars insisted "the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."

"The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the one God, and love of the neighbour," it said.

The 50 non-Muslim religious leaders at the conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, shared concerns over violence in the name of religion, limitations of citizenship, restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, and xenophobia, especially Islamophobia by members of their religions.

They also reaffirmed values shared with Muslims and asked forgiveness for past and current injuries for which their communities are complicit.

Conference organizers said they hoped to encourage Muslim nations to adopt the declaration as formal Islamic law.

The conference was led by Sheik Abdallah Bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies based in United Arab Emirates. It was held under the auspices of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.