On January 25-27, 2016, Muslim scholars and intellectuals from across the Muslim world convened in Marrakesh to discuss the protection of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. According to the website for the conference (Marrakeshdeclaration.org), it was held under the auspices of the Moroccan King and the Moroccan Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, and sponsored by the Forum for the Promotion of Peace in Muslim societies, a UAE-based think tank headed by Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah. It was attended by “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.”
On January 27, the participants issued a closing statement, the Marrakesh Declaration. The declaration presents the protection of minority rights as integral to Islamic heritage and history, as reflected, for example, in the 7th century Charter of Medina. According to the declaration, this charter contains “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” (For the text of the Medina Charter, see the Appendix). The declaration states further that the situation of minorities in the Muslim world has “deteriorated dangerously” today due to the activity of “criminal groups” that “alarmingly distort [Islam’s] fundamental principles and goals.” It suggests to remedy the situation by reaffirming Muslims’ commitment to the Charter of Medina, and invokes this medieval document as a basis for guaranteeing human and citizen rights in the constitutions of modern Muslim states. It also calls for “Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula.”
Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah – the head of the UAE think tank that sponsored the conference – was prominently involved in similar initiatives in the past. In 2010 he initiated the New Mardin Declaration, which sought to address certain fatwas by 14th century Hanbali Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyya that are invoked as authoritative by the takfiri Salafi-jihadi movement. In 2014, the Sheikh was a prominent signatory of the open letter to ISIS “caliph”Al-Baghdadi that used Islamic sources to refute the Islamic State’s religious doctrine and to condemn the torture, murder and destruction committed by this organization. However, both these initiatives failed to spark an intra-Muslim debate, let alone trigger significant action.
The Marrakesh Declaration’s call for educational reform did have some resonance. Morocco’s King Muhammad VI declared on February 6 that religious schoolbooks in Morocco must be reviewed. The Moroccan website illionweb.com commented: “When one admits that school plays a major role in shaping [people’s] minds and social skills, one realizes [what] impact instruction based on radical Islam and Salafist ideas can have… The King’s orders will enable combating radical theories… They insist on the need to write curricula and schoolbooks based on the values of the Moroccan people and the fundamentals of the [Moroccan] national identity, while remaining open to [other] societies rich in knowledge. It is [now] up to the relevant ministries to take action…”
Read the entire critique and review at MEMRI.