The Marrakesh Declaration: Start of a New Era?

Muslim Peace Forum in Abu Dhabi: a Light during Dark Times

*The Marrakesh Declaration is based on bringing the Constitution of Medina to the 21st century.
* The Marrakesh Declaration has established a serious and honest dialogue among Islamic scholars and scholars of other religions and cultures.

Jeddah: For the past few decades, the world has become a much smaller place thanks to instant communications, social media and ease of access to information. In spite of this, the world is no nearer to eradicating acts of violence and terror which are largely inspired by ideologies of hate, racism and prejudice. It is these manifestos that promote tribalism, which in turn pose a threat to national unity and social cohesion, especially if certain sects in society start distancing themselves from their national identity.


As it stands, humanity suffers from a “tolerance deficiency”. Today, the only time tolerance is expressed is during diplomatic protocols, media campaigns and when world leaders express the dire need for tolerance in their speeches. This problem is not one to be sniffed at, because the previous century’s tolerance deficiency caused two world wars, tens of international wars, civil wars and the operation of religious minorities.


Tolerance has become a practical goal that all developed societies seek; it is no longer just a humanistic or religious virtue that one attempts to achieve. Most, if not all, religious and secular doctrines name tolerance as a necessity for harmony and peace. Nevertheless, the existence of multitudinous ethnicities and religions make it difficult for people to live in harmony. This is especially true in this age in which migration rates are moving at an unprecedented pace, which in turn has caused multiple culture clashes. As such, it is paramount that tolerance moves from just an idea and becomes a tangible reality.
In the past, the need for tolerance was necessary for many developing and underdeveloped nations which tended to have many from differing religions, groups, tribes and sects. However, many developed countries in the Western sphere now have a new need for tolerance as they have become new homes for people coming all around the world.


Western tolerance did not happen overnight; in fact it developed as a result of a long and grueling process to end the fragmentation that these societies experienced during the bloody religious wars. From there, a new philosophical doctrine of tolerance developed, and the English philosopher John Locke was among the thinkers who advocated for such ideas during the seventeenth century. In 1688, Locke wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration, in the document stated the key roles of a modern civilian state, namely the protection of the rights of citizens. He also refuted Thomas Hobbes’s view that religious uniformity within society was necessary for its functioning. On the contrary, Locke thought that civil conflict arises when government powers try to prevent people from practicing their own religion. As such, the freedom to openly practice one’s religious beliefs and the very existence of different religious groups in society actually prevent civil unrest, rather than cause it. Furthermore, in 1763 French philosopher, Voltaire, added to this philosophical base when he wrote the Treatise on Tolerance in which he called for religious tolerance within Europe and criticized religious fanaticism.
The works of such European philosophers became the basis of the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, which advocated tolerance as the universal principle to perpetuate the equal relations between states and to end the tendencies of hegemony, colonialism and the use of force.


Europe’s long history of violence and religious wars made it necessary for the establishment of a legal and constitutional legislature of tolerance, similar to those of the medieval Arab-Islamic world which understood the basis of tolerance early in its history, since the founding of Islam in fact. The signing of the Constitution of Medina is evidence of the Arab-Islamic world’s early adoption of tolerance.
The Marrakech Charter is an ambitious initiative that emerged out of the Muslim Peace Forum in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. The Charter aims to use the Constitution of Medina as a basis for Islamic scholars, which they will use to advocate for policies that would instill tolerance within Muslim societies many of which are suffering from tolerance deficiencies. Moreover, the lack of lawful and constitutional legislature that encourages tolerance within these societies has caused a widespread in religious fundamentalism, extremism and terrorism. In turn, this has caused a domino effect on Western societies which are experiencing a surge in far right extremism, white supremacist ideology and Islamophobia. The rise of such ideologies threatens the fabric in which European society is built on.


The Marrakesh Declaration has established a serious and honest dialogue among Islamic scholars and scholars of other religions and cultures. Moreover, these scholars have all come together to this “cultural workshop” to lay the blueprints for reviving the Medina Charter for the 21st century. This modernizing revitalization strives to clearly indicate the legal basis of citizenship and the rights of citizens regardless of their religion, ethnicity or sect. The head of this initiative is Sheik Abdallah Bin Bayyah, the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies and the Grand Mufti of the UAE. Significant religious leaders and scholars took part in the forum, which had the pleasure of hosting over 350 influential individuals. The forum was also honored to be blessed with the presence of His Holiness Pope Francis of the Vatican, who made a second historic visit to Morocco after his visit to the UAE. The Pope spoke at the King Hassan II Mosque in front of many esteemed individuals including King Mohamed the Sixth of Morocco.   The Pope stressed the importance of establishing a doctrine of tolerance that recognizes the value of human life. He went on to say that there needs to be full recognition of the rights of humans and citizens and those rights need to be supported by a legislative framework and state powers.


The forum in which the Marrakesh Charter was adopted had the following banner: The Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Lands: Legal Framework and a Call to Action. As such, the discourse that came out of the forum revolved around outlining the roles and duties of all citizens living in Muslim societies, as well as establishing the coexistence among all members of said societies. The plans of clarifying citizen roles and rebuilding coexistence will be based on the Constitution of Medina. The forum further emphasized the importance of renewing religious discourse, as well as the peaceful coexistence between all segments of diverse societies, lest the cultural clashes we see today will only become worse. The Muslim scholars also called for the consolidation of citizenship as the only means that a modern state can use to eradicate discrimination between people of differing religious backgrounds and protect religious minorities from persecution. The forum would go on to point out the important role those Muslim scholars and leading imams have in their societies and how they have to lead the way in promoting pluralism, equality and tolerance. They also need to correct certain misconceptions in religious doctrine which have been used to promote hatred, fundamentalism, division and extremism. Finally, the closing statement of the forum stated: “Religion must never be used to justify penetrating the rights of any citizen from any other religious background.” There is no doubt that this is an important first step that must be further built upon. If this initiative moves towards its full potential, then this exceptionally dark period of Islam’s history, which has seen the religion being used for fundamentalist teachings, can end and people will see the truly tolerant and peaceful teachings within Islamic doctrine.