WHEN THE PROPHET was invited to migrate out of the persecution of Makkah to Medina, he brought tolerance with him. Prophet Muhammad created a community in Medina with mutual respect for people of different tribal and faith-based traditions. He significantly checked infighting, intolerance, and chaos with one short document—the Charter of Medina.[i]
This charter “affirmed that those who were under its authority were one, cohesive, unified polity with all of its citizens enjoying equal rights and having the same duties. This document affirmed the unity of the society in terms of religious pluralism and freedom of religion.”[ii] The ratification of the charter by the people of Medina started a long tradition of religious tolerance and mutual respect in the Islamic empire that spanned many centuries and stretched many miles from southern Europe to western Asia.
Today, we are seeing the repeal of the Charter of Medina and a return to ignorance. In some majority Muslim countries, religious minorities lack basic human rights, rights for which the Prophet Muhammad advocated 14 centuries ago. These minorities face murder, enslavement, exile, intimidation, starvation and many more injustices.
The crisis that religious minorities living in some majority Muslim countries are facing cuts against the very core of the Prophetic tradition and an Islamic legacy of inclusion. Mohamed Elsanousi, director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, says that “Freedom of religion is inscribed in the Quran […] we need to get the message out and refute the ideas that Daesh (or, the Islamic State) and Al-Qaida are spreading.”[iii]
Taking this crisis to task, a number of prominent ministers and Islamic scholars from various countries, backgrounds, and schools of thought convened in Morocco at the end of January this year. The goal of the meeting of the great minds and policy makers of the Muslim world was to “begin the historic revival of the objectives and aims of the Charter of Medina, taking into account global and international treaties and utilizing enlightening, innovative case studies that are good examples of working towards pluralism.”ii
The Marrakesh Declaration
But the group did more than simply discuss the issues at hand and reaffirm religious freedom in Islamic thought. They also created a call to action in the Marrakesh Declaration.[iv]
The Declaration crafted by the more than 250 Muslim leaders calls upon Muslims from all walks of life to take meaningful action toward creating a peaceful, productive, and plural society. It calls on intellectuals “to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of ‘citizenship’ which is inclusive of diverse groups.” ii It urges educational institutions and authorities “to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addresses honestly and effectively any material that […] results in the destruction of our shared societies.”ii
Similarly, the Marrakesh Declaration calls on Muslim political leaders “to take the political and legal steps necessary to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens,” and calls on the movers and shakers in Muslim majority countries “to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorities in Muslim countries and to raise awareness as to their rights.” ii
The Declaration even calls non-Muslims to action in bringing about change for the betterment of their shared society. It urges non-Muslims “to address their mutual state of selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land.” ii It also calls upon non-Muslim religious representatives to, “confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification, and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry.” ii
If these groups heed the call to action of the Marrakech Declaration, the future for majority Muslim countries will surely be bright. But how can we, Muslim living as a minority, help?
What Muslims Living as Minorities Can Do
For the Muslims who live as a minority, we can act in the spirit of the Charter of Medina and the Marrakesh Declaration in our day-to-day lives by treating all of those around us as our brothers and sisters in humanity, even if they are not our brothers and sisters in faith.
As a minority and representatives of Islam, we must uphold our tradition of equitable and just treatment for all. We can do this by forbidding our brothers and sisters from oppressing people of other faiths, whether it is a brother who behaves dishonorably with a non-Muslim woman or whether it is a sister who is tempted to cheat the non-Muslim in business.
The Prophet said,
Help your brother whether he is an oppressor or is being oppressed.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, we help the one being oppressed but how do we help an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By seizing his hand. (Bukhari and Muslim)
We can also affirm our tradition by reminding each other that there is a reward for kindness done to any of Allah’s creation. This reminder is of the utmost importance for our brothers and sisters who are becoming ensnared by a hard-hearted worldview that can lead to extremism.
The Prophet said:
Allah is gentle and He loves gentleness. He rewards for gentleness what He does not grant for harshness. (Muslim)
And Allah warns:
Woe to those praying, who are heedless of their prayer, who pray to be seen yet withhold small acts of kindness. [Sûrat Al-Mâʿûn 107:4-7]
As Muslims living in non-Muslim majority societies, we sometimes feel the bitterness of injustice. But we must not turn a blind eye when it happens to those of another religious group. As moral agents when religious persecution happens, it is our obligation to come to the aid of those persecuted, to protect or to help rebuild places of worship, and to protect and defend the property and human rights of others.
(They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right – (for no cause) except that they say, “our Lord is God.” Were it not for God checking one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid His (cause)… for verily God is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might. [Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:40]
When religious freedom is at risk for one group, it is at risk for us all. The Marrakesh Declaration reaffirms the obligation to protect religious freedom and the rights of all citizens of the earth. It is up to each and all of us to answer the call to action in any country, in any capacity.