A blog of the Centre of Islamic Studies at SOAS, University of London
By Michael Mumisa (Shaykh)
In January this year (2016), the “Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities” was launched in Morocco amid much fanfare. It was described as a response to the persecution of religious minorities by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Key among the declaration’s proposals, and as a solution, was the development of constitutional laws based on the objectives of the Charter of Medina “in countries with Muslim majorities.” It was also argued in the same declaration that “the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), are in harmony with the Charter of Medina.” If this is indeed the case, then why not just call for the strict implementation of the UDHR in all Muslim countries?
When I first heard about the Marrakesh Declaration, I did not pay it any attention or bother reading it because I knew what to expect. This is not the first declaration of its type. After much campaigning against the UDHR by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and Pakistan on grounds that it did not reflect the diversity of UN member states in terms of their histories, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, member states of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) in 1990. It still remains the only Muslim declaration which has been formally endorsed by almost all Muslim governments. However, it is also a very flawed declaration which was not designed to protect fundamental human rights.
There has since been many similar Muslim or interfaith “declarations” including the “First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land” in 2002 which, like the Marrakesh declaration, brought together Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians, activists and political leaders to declare their “commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right of life and dignity” in Israel and Palestine. Yet today, relations between Arab and Jewish communities are at their lowest point. Similarly, in March 2014, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, alongside Al-Azhar University and representatives of a few NGOs, launched the “Alexandria Declaration on Women’s Rights in Islam”. However, none of all these declarations has so far resulted in concrete positive measures to achieve their stated goals. Instead, they have unwittingly provided PR cover to the various governments and religious establishments which signed them in the worst violations of Islamic principles and fundamental human rights.
It was only after I had been asked for an opinion on the Marrakesh Declaration that I decided to study the documents’ contents. It is our duty and responsibility as scholars not to be seduced by the usual razzmatazz that often accompanies the launch of such declarations, and to be able to see through the PR hype. Since what follows is not an academic paper but a think piece for publication on an academic site accessible to general readers, I am going to dispense with the usual academic conventions and analyse the Marrakesh Declaration documents with a non-specialist audience in mind.
Some of the documents are freely available on the Marrakesh Declaration’s official website. As someone who has always been suspicious of translations, I decided to closely read the original Arabic documents alongside their English versions, and here is what I discovered:
- There is what is described as the “Executive Summary of the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities”. This is available in English (2 pages), Arabic (2 pages), Dutch (3 pages) and Italian (3 pages).
- On a different page, on the same website, there is what is described as a “Booklet”. It is available in Arabic (32 pages) and English (16 pages). Oddly, the “Booklet” is not the original version of the declaration. It is Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah’s lecture notes. The lecture notes of the other speakers who attended the Marrakesh conference are not included in the “Booklet” or anywhere on the official website.
The original version of the Marrakesh Declaration upon which the “Executive Summary” is based was not available online. On 23 April, I sent an email to the organisers of the Declaration asking whether it existed. I finally received a copy of the original Arabic declaration on the 1st of May. After studying all the documents, it is clear that Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah’s lecture notes (the “Booklet”) form the basis of the declaration. This brings us to his “Booklet”.
The English version of the “Booklet” is described as an “Abridgment” of the Arabic “Booklet” and, as such, significant sections which are found in the Arabic version have been edited out of the English version, or have not been translated. This is understandable.