A Christian Response to a Muslim Declaration of Rights for Religious Minorities

In response to the violence by ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab against religious minorities, more than 250 Muslim scholars and government officials from more than 120 countries met in Morocco January 25-27, 2016, and made the “Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Countries.” They based this on the Charter of Medina made 1,400 years before, when Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina with his followers and made a contract with the local people that guaranteed liberty for the Jews as long as they were loyal.

Marrakesh Declaration Mosque photo

The participants asserted that the historic Charter of Medina contained such principles as property ownership, justice, and equality of all before the law. With this precedent the contemporary group called on Muslim governments to provide full protection for the rights and liberties of religious minorities. This, they said, would require contemporary leaders to develop a concept of citizenship that is inclusive of diverse groups and that is both rooted in Islamic tradition and is mindful of global changes. Educational material should reflect this as well.

In our scriptures God has enjoined us to “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you” (Jer. 29:7), and our Lord said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9); so Christians should welcome such efforts toward peaceful relations. Here are a few of the positive aspects of the recent Muslim declaration and some of the challenges that they entail. First, the Marrakesh Declaration, by asserting that its proposals are based on the Charter of Medina, gives it credibility against ISIS, which has gained support from the historical precedent of the early Muslim wars of expansion and Muslim apocalyptic literature about wars in the End Times. However, the Jewish tribes were subsequently expelled, and the first 100 years of Islam in particular involved the conquering of Christians and other peoples. Thus we would do well to focus on what has led to good relations between our communities.

Marrakesh Declaration mosque people plazaSecond, the contemporary declaration calls for the development of a concept of citizenship that is rooted in Islamic tradition and principles and is mindful of global changes. This is helpful, but it may require adjustment to other articles in respective constitutions. For example, in 2006 article 2 of the Afghan Constitution said that citizens “are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rights within the limits of the provisions of law,” but article 3 said, “No law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” When an Afghan Muslim converted to the Christian faith, he was imprisoned and the government was torn between international demands for his release and local demands for his execution. The U.S. ambassador asked me to try to control the international Christians while the Afghan government controlled the radical Afghans. The convert then secretly escaped from the country.

Third, the Marrakesh Declaration called on scholars, intellectuals, politicians, educators, artists, and religious leaders to work toward the rights of religious minorities. This is the greatest challenge, since many of the countries involved have poor human rights records, are better at talking than acting, and are not respected by the youth who represent a major part of the population. Thus the Declaration is a great step forward, but our Muslim friends may need help in taking the necessary additional steps to realize its goals.

At least one of our alumni attended the Marrakesh gathering—Rick Love—the president of Peace Catalyst International. May we too be among those whom the Lord blesses for being peacemakers.

Read more about the Marrakesh Declaration here.

Dudley WoodberryJ. Dudley Woodberry is dean emeritus and senior professor of Islamic studies at Fuller’s School of Intercultural Studies and is considered one of the foremost Christian scholars of Islam. He has served as consultant on the Muslim world to President Carter, the State Department, USAID, and other U.S. government agencies. He has also been an active part of the Zwemer Institute for Muslim Studies and has served as coordinator and acting senior associate of the Muslim track of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Read more about his extraordinary life and work in the latest edition of Fuller Magazine.

To learn more about engaging Muslims missiologically, join us for one of three special Islamic Studies intensives Fuller is offering this summer. More information here.

Also join us for the Fuller School of Intercultural Studies’ 2016 Missiology Lectures, “Dynamics of Contemporary Muslim Societies: Christian Theological and Missiological Implications,”November 3-4, 2016. See the list of speakers.
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