It’s no secret that religious persecution, particularly of Christians, has been a problem in the Middle East. It’s also been hard to find any Muslim authorities that were taking steps to curb the persecution.
That is, until now.
Toward the end of January, hundreds of Islamic religious leaders, scholars, and heads of state gathered for the sole purpose of affirming tolerance in the Muslim community. The gathering was held in Marrakesh, Morocco. And it was sponsored by the government of Morocco. Which is amazing in and of itself.
The result of this gathering is being called “The Marrakesh Declaration.” It’s a 750 word statement calling for the Muslim world to accept religious freedom and treat non-Muslims with dignity. You can read the whole declaration here.
What fascinates me is A) this is happening, B) the basis for the Marrakesh Declaration, and C) the diversity of religions present at the summit. But ultimately, this is a win for religious minorities, especially Christians in the Middle East. The question is, should Christians welcome this or be slightly skeptical?
Let’s face it, the history between Islam and Christianity hasn’t been sunshine and roses. You’ve got the Crusades, overrunning of the holy lands (and the indigenous Christians that lived there), oppression under both Muslim and Christian kingdoms, etc. Our relationship with Islam is pretty depressing. But that’s the past. For the most part.
Yes, atrocities still occur in the Middle East. Christians are still routinely persecuted by Muslims. The hurt is real. The reformation, however, is also real.
I’m no Islamic scholar, nor do I profess to know what it takes to create an Islamic reformation. But look at the Marrakesh Declaration and you can’t happen to see a flowering Islamic reformation. Take this section of the declaration for example…
“…we hereby: Call upon Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of "citizenship" which is inclusive of diverse groups. Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in Islamic tradition and principles and mindful of global changes.”
They’re pushing tolerance of religious minorities through the proper channels. The proper Islamic channels, that is. The foundation for this declaration is Muhammad’s Charter of Medina. The declaration claims that the charter is not only a suitable guide for Muslim countries to follow but that it aligns with global human rights (i.e. The United Nations).
Whether that’s true or not is up to debate. But the fact is, Muslim scholars and religious leaders are using Islamic codes to justify their “reforms.” I would argue it’s what Martin Luther did. The Christian reformation was not one of adding new theology. It was a reinterpretation. Think of the Marrakesh Declaration as a reinterpretation.
If you want to reform Islam, you have to be open to reinterpretation. You have to use familiar artifacts and theology that Muslims will accept. The Charter of Medina was written by Muhammad. It’s part of Islamic history. Therefore it’s the building block for reform.
For the cynical Christian, it might seem like just words. That’s fair. It’s not like the Muslim faith has done a great deal to counter persecution. But everything needs a starting point. This summit is that starting point.
What’s encouraging is that Muslims weren’t alone at this conference. Christians, Jews, and Sikhs were invited to attend, and many did. They wanted a diverse group. That says a lot.
It’s something we, as Christians can get behind, not to mention should get behind. We can’t complain about the persecution in the Middle East without trying to help those willing to fix it.