THE BLOG
02/09/2016 03:02 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2017

Morocco Hosts Conference on Protecting Religious Minorities in Muslim Countries - A First since the 7th century.

A vital and historic three-day international conference on the future of pluralism in the Muslim world opened on January 25th in Marrakesh. It was attended by hundreds of scholars, religious leaders and clergy representing a broad range of religions and schools of thought within Islam, along with government officials from around the world. The Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities: Legal Framework and a Call to Action conference was organized jointly by the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in the Kingdom of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies based in the United Arab Emirates, under the patronage of Morocco's King Mohammed VI.

What's intriguing is that this conference included the participation of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh clergy alongside more than 300 religious and political leaders from Muslim-majority countries - including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran.

The conference focused on producing a new declaration equalizing the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries, putting the 622 C.E. Charter of Medina--the Muslim world's first constitution, highlighting the rights of minorities in Islamic law-- in the broader context of human and religious rights as well as international treaties - is a significant step forward for the Muslim world.

"The need to protect religious minorities is especially urgent in these turbulent times," said former US Ambassador to Morocco Edward M. Gabriel. "And Morocco's long history of peaceful coexistence among its Muslims, Jews and Christians, and the freedom of worship enshrined in its constitution make it the ideal setting for the conference's important work."

Adopted by referendum in 2011, the Moroccan constitution states that the country's unity "is forged by the convergence of its Arab-Islamist, Berber and Saharan-Hassanic components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences." It reinforces Morocco's commitment "to the values of openness, moderation, tolerance and dialogue for mutual understanding between all the cultures and the civilizations of the world."

One of the tangible outcomes of the Marrakesh conference which took place January 25-27 was the Declaration which emerged from the Conference. It seamlessly combines the religious and cultural ethos and values of 7th century Islam at its inception -- even as it strives to modernize the faith and make it both understandable and more acceptable to both Muslims and non-Muslims. I was struck by the language and clarity of the Marrakesh Declaration and in particular with its nod to a global perspective incorporating various religions.

The Charter is excerpted below:
"On the 1,400 anniversary of the Charter of Medina, hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from 120 countries convened in Marrakesh, a constitutional contract between Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him and the People of Medina, which guarantees religious liberty of all people, regardless of faith. Their goal was to re-affirm the Charter of Medina which protected the constitutional contract between Prophet Muhammad and the people of Medina.

Conference participants moved by the plight of Muslims and members of other faiths made a firm commitment "to the principles articulated in the Charter of Medina, whose provisions contained a number of the principles of constitutional contractual citizenship, such as freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual solidarity and defense, as well as principles of justice and equality before the law."

The Charter of Medina provides a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, which are also in synch with the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Charter of Medina.

The conference stresses the need for urgent cooperation among all religious groups, and "the need for mutual tolerance, respect and full protection of rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner."

The Conference calls 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."

Further, the conference urges Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addresses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies;

There was a call to action for various segments of society including politicians and decision makers to take the political lead and establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens, and to support all formulations and initiatives that aim to fortify relations and understanding among the various religious groups in the Muslim World;

There was also a call directed towards the educated, artistic, and creative members of our societies, as well as organizations of civil society, to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorities in Muslim countries.

A call to action directed at the various religious groups bound by the same national fabric to address their mutual state of selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land; we call upon them to rebuild the past by reviving this tradition of conviviality, and restoring our shared trust that has been eroded by extremists using acts of terror and aggression;

Call upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification, and denegration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry; AND FINALLY,

AFFIRM that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.(Marrakesh, January 27th,2016)"

As a moderate Muslim woman, I would be truly remiss if I did not close out this blog without a special nod to Fatema Mernissi, author of Dreams of Trespass, Hijab and Husband among others. She was one of my all time favorite authors who lived a full life, wrote multiple books and was a passionate advocate for Muslim women's freedom. She passed away in November 30 of last year.

For Muslim women, she was an icon and an inspiration. Mernissi was the first to construct the concept of Islamic Feminism and set the stage for it to bloom by empowering Muslim women to live fulfilling lives at home and at work.

Click to hear Remembering Islamic Feminist Fatema Mernissi, an interview with Terry Gross.