This week, hundreds of Muslim and evangelical leaders gathered together in Morocco to make a declaration of religious freedom for all focusing on protecting minorities in Muslim countries.
It began when Bob Roberts, pastor of Northwood Church in Texas, hosted the Spreading the Peace Convocationwith his friend, Imam Muhammad Magid, “which was attended by nearly 200 imams and evangelical pastors.” It was the first national gathering of Christian pastors and Muslim imams. It was a time to “build bridges” and “share mutual concerns”acknowledging how the Christian majority treats minority Muslims in the U.S affects how the Muslim majority treats the Christian minority in Muslim countries.
Just this week, Roberts attended a Muslim conference in Marrakesh, Morocco where over 250 “Muslim religious leaders, heads of state, and scholars” gathered “for a groundbreaking summit” to draft a new declaration based on their historic Charter of Medina, according to Morgan Lee with Christianity Today.
“On Wednesday, the Muslim leaders released the Marrakesh Declaration: a 750-word document calling for religious freedom for non-Muslims in majority-Muslim countries [full text below],” Lee wrote. Muhammad originally wrote the Charter of Medina to promote people of various religions and faiths living together in harmony.
“Led by 80-year-old United Arab Emirates sheik Abdallah Bin Bayyah, who leads the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, and sponsored by the government of Morocco, the summit looked to Muhammad’s Charter of Medina when drafting the declaration. From the seventh century, the document gives instructions for governing a religious pluralistic state, and was issued shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina,” said Lee.
With the increasing violence of groups like ISIS, the leaders want to increase tolerance of minority religions in predominantly Muslim nations. It’s a long road to change attitudes of people and governments, but it is a major step in the right direction to fight against rampant extremism.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco opened with this statement read by Ahmed Toufiq, the minister of religious affairs, “We in the kingdom of Morocco will not tolerate the violation of the rights of religious minorities in the name of Islam. I am enabling Christians and Jews to practice their faith and not just as minorities. They even serve in the government.”
The Muslim leaders, partnering with Christian leaders, seek to protect Christians, Jews and other faiths from persecution using the common vernacular of religion to fight for religious peace for all people.
Pastor Roberts shared, “I’m blown away. This is a Muslim conference put together by the top sheiks, ministers of religion, the grand muftis of the top Muslim majority nations, and they came up with a declaration, literally using the language of religious freedom to declare that violence cannot be done in the name of Islam.”
The declaration states:
“[We] 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.”
Roberts has been building friendships with Muslims for many years. He believes in the “glocal” church, which is the idea that the local church must engage as a global church. This idea “assumes that the main players in overseas kingdom work are not trained cross-cultural missionaries or NGO professionals, but laypeople who take their current expertise (whether it be teaching, plumbing, electronics, or so forth) and use it to serve people in other nations,” Roberts shared in an interview.
He models the power of getting to know someone’s name and story without fearing their religion or background. There is movement in pre-emptive love, friendship, and community. And when leaders come together to work together for the common good there is courage and change.