On January 25-27, 2016, Muslim scholars and intellectuals from across the Muslim world convened in Marrakesh to discuss the protection of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. According to the website for the conference (Marrakeshdeclaration.org), it was held under the auspices of the Moroccan King and the Moroccan Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, and sponsored by the Forum for the Promotion of Peace in Muslim societies, a UAE-based think tank headed by Sheikh 'Abdullah bin Bayyah. It was attended by "hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from over 120 countries, along with representatives of Islamic and international organizations, as well as leaders from diverse religious groups and nationalities."
On January 27, the participants issued a closing statement, the Marrakesh Declaration. The declaration presents the protection of minority rights as integral to Islamic heritage and history, as reflected, for example, in the 7th century Charter of Medina. According to the declaration, this charter contains "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" (For the text of the Medina Charter, see the Appendix). The declaration states further that the situation of minorities in the Muslim world has "deteriorated dangerously" today due to the activity of "criminal groups" that "alarmingly distort [Islam's] fundamental principles and goals." It suggests to remedy the situation by reaffirming Muslims' commitment to the Charter of Medina, and invokes this medieval document as a basis for guaranteeing human and citizen rights in the constitutions of modern Muslim states. It also calls for "Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula."
Sheikh 'Abdullah bin Bayyah - the head of the UAE think tank that sponsored the conference - was prominently involved in similar initiatives in the past. In 2010 he initiated the New Mardin Declaration, which sought to address certain fatwas by 14th century Hanbali Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyya that are invoked as authoritative by the takfiri Salafi-jihadi movement. In 2014, the Sheikh was a prominent signatory of the open letter to ISIS "caliph"Al-Baghdadi that used Islamic sources to refute the Islamic State's religious doctrine and to condemn the torture, murder and destruction committed by this organization. However, both these initiatives failed to spark an intra-Muslim debate, let alone trigger significant action.
The Marrakesh Declaration's call for educational reform did have some resonance. Morocco's King Muhammad VI declared on February 6 that religious schoolbooks in Morocco must be reviewed. The Moroccan website illionweb.com commented: ÔÇ£When one admits that school plays a major role in shaping [people's] minds and social skills, one realizes [what] impact instruction based on radical Islam and Salafist ideas can haveÔÇª The King's orders will enable combating radical theoriesÔÇª They insist on the need to write curricula and schoolbooks based on the values of the Moroccan people and the fundamentals of the [Moroccan] national identity, while remaining open to [other] societies rich in knowledge. It is [now] up to the relevant ministries to take actionÔÇªÔÇØ
The day after the Marrakesh Declaration was issued, Prof. Sami Aldeeb, a Swiss-Palestinian expert on Islamic law, critiqued it on his blog. He claimed that the declaration would be toothless unless a series of fundamental legal were enacted by Muslim countries to truly end discrimination against their religious minorities. Without these legal measures, the declaration was merely "propaganda" and "a waste of time," he said.
Below are details on the Marrakesh Declaration and excerpts from Aldeeb's critique. The English translation of the Charter of Medina, the seminal work cited by the declaration is provided in the appendix.
The Marrakesh Declaration: A Commitment To The Charter Of Medina
The full version of the Marrakesh Declaration was posted on the website of the Morrocan government (habous.gov.ma) in French and Arabic; an executive summary (presenting the main points of the declaration but omitting Koranic quotes and the like) was posted on the conference's website (marrakeshdeclaration.org) in French, Arabic, English, Dutch and Italian.
The Marrakesh Declaration acknowledges that "conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one's point of view." As stated, the declaration invokes the 7th century Charter of Medina as a basis for guaranteeing human and citizen rights in modern Muslim countries, since this charter guarantees the rights of religious minorities and sets out "principles of constitutional contractual citizenship" (such as freedom of movement, property ownership, equality before the law, and mutual solidarity and defense). The declaration compares the Charter of Medina to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human rights, saying they are ÔÇ£in harmony.ÔÇØ The declaration calls on the people of the Muslim world 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." In also urges "Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula."
The following is the text of the executive summary in English:
"In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate
"Executive Summary of the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities
"25th-27th January 2016
"WHEREAS, conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one's point of view;
"WHEREAS, this situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole;
"WHEREAS, this year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him, and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith;
"WHEREAS, hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from over 120 countries, along with representatives of Islamic and international organizations, as well as leaders from diverse religious groups and nationalities, gathered in Marrakesh on this date to reaffirm the principles of the Charter of Medina at a major conference;
"WHEREAS, this conference was held under the auspices of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and 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;
"AND NOTING the gravity of this situation afflicting Muslims as well as peoples of other faiths throughout the world, and after thorough deliberation and discussion, the convened Muslim scholars and intellectuals:
"DECLARE HEREBY our 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; and that,
"The objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are in harmony with the Charter of Medina, including consideration for public order.
"NOTING FURTHER that deep reflection upon the various crises afflicting humanity underscores the inevitable and urgent need for cooperation among all religious groups, we
"AFFIRM HEREBY that such cooperation must be based on a "Common Word," requiring that such cooperation must go beyond mutual tolerance and respect, to providing full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner that eschews coercion, bias, and arrogance.
"BASED ON ALL OF THE ABOVE, 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.
"Urge 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;
"Call upon politicians and decision makers to take the political and legal steps necessary to 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;
"Call upon 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 and to raise awareness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the success of these efforts.
"Call upon 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 denegation 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.
"January 27th, 2016"
Swiss Palestinian Expert on Islamic Law Sami Aldeeb Criticizes the Declaration
On January 28, 2016 , Prof. Sami Aldeeb, a Swiss-Palestinian expert on Islamic law, critiqued the Marakesh Declaration on his blog, Savoir ou se Faire Avoir ("To Know or to be Fooled"). The article states that, if the signatories of the declaration were sincere in their intention to stop discrimination against religious minorities in the Muslim world, they should have complemented their declaration with a set of amendments that must be made to the laws and constitutions of Muslim countries. These changes include constitutionally disestablishing Islam as the State religion; removing all discriminatory legal provisions favoring Muslims over non-Muslims in the area of ÔÇïÔÇïreligious freedom and freedom of expression and in the domains of marriage, guardianship of children and inheritance; establishing a unified law allowing members of all faiths to build their places of worship wherever they live; and removing religious references in personal documents and in laws defining eligibility for public service. "Unless the Marrakech Declaration is interpreted in the spirit at the legislative level, this declaration is pure propaganda with no significance, and is a waste of time," he says.
Below is an English translation of Sami Aldeeb's blog entry, provided by the author himself.
"If the signatories of [the Marrakesh Declration] were sincere in their intentions, they should have presented the following demands to the legislative echelon [in Muslim countries]:
"1) Remove the constitutional articles that make Islam the state religion. The state is an administrative institution that manages the affairs of the people based on citizenship, not religion. The state cannot have a religion: it does not pronounce the Attestation of Faith, does not pray or fast, does not pay zakat (charity) and does not make the pilgrimage [to Mecca]. These five pillars of Islam can only be performed by individuals. Considering Islam as the state religion means that it has priority over other religions and that the followers of Islam have more rights than the followers of other religions.
"2) Remove all legal provisions which distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims in the area of ÔÇïÔÇïreligious freedom and freedom of expression. This involves the removal of all articles relating to apostasy from the laws of Arab and Islamic countries, including from the Unified Arab Penal Code that was approved by all Arab ministers of justice. This penal code, published on the website of the Arab League, should be amended so as to conform with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.' At the same time, all fatwas issued by Islamic organizations on apostasy should be declared null and void. All legal provisions that prohibit the circulation of non-Islamic religious books in some countries and forbid proselytizing for any religion other than Islam should be abolished.
"3) Remove all legal provisions which distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims in the field of marriage, custody of children and inheritance. This involves the removal of all legal provisions relating to this area from the laws of ÔÇïÔÇïArab and Islamic countries, including from the Unified Arab Personal Status Code approved by all Arab ministers of justice [as part of the Unified Arab Penal Code]. These laws allow a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman from among the People of the Book [i.e., a Jew of Christian], but forbid the marriage of a non-Muslim man to a Muslim woman, and impose Islam on that the children of mixed marriages, without granting freedom of choice [in this matter] to the child's parents. They also bar apostates from marrying, inheriting and [receiving custody of] children. These countries must abolish all religious courts, unify the personal status laws, and adopt civil marriage. Furthermore, they must ensure that these laws conform to the first paragraph of Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says: 'Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.'
"4) Establish a unified law pertaining to places of worship, allowing all [citizens] to build places of worship wherever they are, including in Saudi Arabia, and to practice their religion. Moreover, abolish the law banning non-Muslims from Mecca and Medina, as well as the ban on naturalization of non-Muslims in some countries.
"5) Remove legal provisions that restrict individual freedom during Ramadan or in the performance of prayer, or punish individuals who do not fast or pray.
"6) Remove the reference to religion from personal documents and from laws defining eligibility for public service, including the presidency of the state and the various ministries.
"7) Guarantee the right to a decent burial for everyone, whatever their religion. The current system discriminates on the basis of religion and does not guarantee a dignified burial to those designated apostates.
"8) Eradicate all the Islamic norms pertaining to jihad and to related practices such as the abduction of women, the imposing of the jizya tax, the requirement that members of religious sects that 'have no religious scriptures' must either accept Islam or die, and other practices that violate international conventions, particularly the Geneva conventions on war.
"9) Reform textbooks, from kindergarten to university level, and modify the content of media programs and mosque sermons that is contrary to the above requirements, and declare as null and void all fatwas that are contrary to these requirements.
"Unless the Marrakech Declaration is interpreted in this spirit at the legislative level, this declaration is pure propaganda with no significance, and is a waste of time."
APPENDIX - The Text Of The Charter Of Medina
The following translation is presented in Guillaume's The Life of Muhammad.
In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.
(1) This is a document from Muhammad the Prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them.
(2) They are one community (umma) to the exclusion of all men.
(3) The Quraysh emigrants according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit within their number and shall redeem their prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers.
(4-8) The B. ÔÇÿAuf according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit they paid in heatheism; every section shall redeem its prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers. The B. Sa ida, the B. ÔÇÿl-Harith, and the B. Jusham, and the B. al-Najjar likewise.
(9-11) The B. ÔÇÿAmr b. ÔÇÿAuf, the B. al-Nabit and the B. al-ÔÇÿAus likewise.
(12)(a) Believers shall not leave anyone destitute among them by not paying his redemption money or bloodwit in kindness.
(12)(b) A believer shall not take as an ally the freedman of another Muslim against him.
(13) The God-fearing believers shall be against the rebellious or him who seeks to spread injustice, or sin or animosity, or corruption between believers; the hand of every man shall be against him even if he be a son of one of them.
(14) A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer.
(15) God's protection is one, the least of them may give protection to a stranger on their behalf. Believers are friends one to the other to the exclusion of outsiders.
(16) To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided.
(17) The peace of the believers is indivisible. No separate peace shall be made when believers are fighting in the way of God. Conditions must be fair and equitable to all.
(18) In every foray a rider must take another behind him.
(19) The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God.
(20)(a) The God-fearing believers enjoy the best and most upright guidance.
(20)(b) No polytheist shall take the property of person of Quraysh under his protection nor shall he intervene against a believer.
(21) Whoever is convicted of killing a believer without good reason shall be subject to retaliation unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood-money), and the believers shall be against him as one man, and they are bound to take action against him.
(22) It shall not be lawful to a believer who holds by what is in this document and believes in God and the last day to help an evil-doer or to shelter him. The curse of God and His anger on the day of resurrection will be upon him if he does, and neither repentance nor ransom will be received from him.
(23) Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to God and to Muhammad.
(24) The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.
(25) The Jews of the B. ÔÇÿAuf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.
(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the B. al-Najjar, B. al-Harith, B. Sai ida, B. Jusham, B. al-Aus, B. Tha'laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the ThaÔÇÿlaba and the B. al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha ÔÇÿlaba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.
(36) None of them shall go out to war save the permission of Muhammad, but he shall not be prevented from taking revenge for a wound. He who slays a man without warning slays himself and his household, unless it be one who has wronged him, for God will accept that.
(37) The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally's misdeeds. The wronged must be helped.
(38) The Jews must pay with the believers so long as war lasts.
(39) Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document.
(40) A stranger under protection shall be as his host doing no harm and committing no crime.
(41) A woman shall only be given protection with the consent of her family.
(42) If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God and to Muhammad the apostle of God. God accepts what is nearest to piety and goodness in this document.
(43) Quraysh and their helpers shall not be given protection.
(44) The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib.
(45)(a) If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on the Muslims it must be carried out except in the case of a holy war.
*Nathalie Szerman is head of the French Department at MEMRI.
 For more on the Marrakesh Declaration, see MEMRI Daily Brief No. 76, Marrakesh: Steps Towards A Solution Or Confusion?, February 6, 2016.
 Ibn Taymiyya's condemnation of the semi-Islamized Mongol Ilkhans as no better than infidels (kufar) set the stage for the much later takfiri extremists of the 20th century and beyond to declare any Muslim they disagreed with as infidels deserving death. See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 76, Marrakesh: Steps Towards A Solution Or Confusion?, February 6, 2016.
 See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1205, Delegitimizing ISIS On Islamic Grounds: Criticism Of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi By Muslim Scholars, November 24, 2015.
 Illionweb.com, February 8, 2016.
 Blog.sami-aldeeb.com, January 28, 2016.
 The Unified Arab Penal Code was drafted in 1986 by the Arab League, but has not been adopted by any Arab state (Rudolph Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law, Cambridge UP, 2005, p. 153).
 A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad ÔÇö A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1955; pp. 231-233, http://www.constitution.org/cons/medina/con_medina.htm.