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A Step Toward Religious Freedom for all Christians

Freedom of religion is important to Canadians and Americans and is guaranteed by the Constitutions of both countries.  No one can be prohibited from worshipping as they wish. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that right for Canadians. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensures religious freedom for people who live in the U.S.

People of faith are angry when they hear that people in any nation of the world are prohibited from worshipping and living out faith as they choose. Similarly, we wish that religious prosecution, usually of religious minorities, would end in all of the countries of the world.

It certainly has been true that the rights of Christians and other religions have not always been protected by Muslim majority nations, just as Muslims and Jews in the U.S. and Canada have faced intolerance and bigotry. It should be said that attacks in Muslim nations have often been carried out by independent terrorist groups which are as dangerous to those governments and other Muslims as they are to Christians. Similarly, hate groups in the US and Canada pose threats to the welfare of us all. These groups are very difficult for governments to eradicate.

On January 25-27, 2016, Muslim leaders from many countries met in Marrakesh, Morocco to determine how to ensure that the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries would be guaranteed.

Muslim leaders from around the world, including scholars, jurists, religious leaders and government officials, approved the historic Marrakesh Declaration on safeguarding the rights of religious minorities in Muslim nations. The declaration was motivated by the increased violence and persecution faced by religious minorities across the Muslim world, particularly Christians in the Middle East. Rooted in the Medina Charter, the Prophet Muhammad’s law establishing a multi-faith society in Medina, the declaration comes at the end of a three-day conference in Marrakesh on the rights of religious minorities in Muslim nations led by Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah and sponsored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

“Today, there are unfortunate circumstances for religious minorities in Muslim majority countries,” said Shaykh Bin Bayyah, the President of the Forum for Promoting Piece in Muslim Societies. “For this reason, we put forth a new contract with old roots that will respect their private lives and under which they can enjoy the freedom to practice their faiths.”

The Marrakesh Declaration draws on traditional Islamic Law to assert that Islam requires the protection and full citizenship rights of religious minorities in Muslim nations. Organizers hope to encourage Muslim nations to adopt the declaration as formal Islamic law.

The declaration calls for the “full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner that eschews coercion, bias, and arrogance.” It states “that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries” and calls for “restoring our shared trust that has been eroded by extremists using acts of terror and aggression.”

The declaration also calls upon “representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification, and denegation of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry.”

Simultaneous to the drafting of the Marrakesh Declaration, dozens of interfaith leaders adopted their own declaration in support of the Marrakesh Declaration and committing themselves and their communities to the work of ending anti-Muslim bigotry.

William F. Vendley, Secretary General of the World Council of Religions for Peace, said of this effort, “The Marrakesh Declaration offers heartfelt encouragement to the believers of the world’s diverse religions. It makes unmistakably clear that Muslims recognize the God-given dignity of all human beings. The values enshrined in the declaration are shared by diverse believers around the globe and these call us to act together to protect and care for one another.”

More than 250 Muslim leaders, representatives of historically persecuted religious communities, interfaith allies and government officials convened in Marrakesh  for this groundbreaking conference. The conference included presentations from leading Muslim scholars, a statement of support from the United Nations, discussions with representatives of the U.S. government and the formal drafting and signing of the declaration.

The conference went a long way to encourage Muslim nations to ensure that they protect the rights of religious minorities, including Christians.  The next steps include urging Muslim nations to codify the Marrakesh Declaration. Nations, like Tunisia, had included in its constitution, guarantees for religious minorities. It can be done. 

Members of the CRC can urge Muslim nations to adopt the Marrakesh Declaration at the same time as they welcome Muslims in our countries, ensuring that they do not face anti-Muslim bigotry.

[Image: Flickr user Laszlo Ilyes]

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