Will religious minorities find true support among Muslim leaders?

February 4, 2016

“We believe it is possible to heal this illness from the pharmacy of the sacred law of Islam.” These words, spoken by Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, were, for me, the most memorable of the entire Marrakesh Declaration conference last week. In context, the “illness” Shaykh Bin Bayyah spoke of is the treatment of religious minorities in majority-Muslim societies.

On January 25-26, 2016, several hundred Muslim muftis, imams, shaykhs, scholars, legal experts, politicians and diplomats gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, for the purpose of drafting and issuing a declaration defining the rights of non-Muslims living in majority-Muslim countries. The conference was hosted by the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies under the patronage of King Mohammed VI of Morocco. The gathering included religious leaders and government officials from nearly every country with a significant Muslim population, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia to Iran to to the United States to Pakistan to Chechnya to Russia to Bangladesh. The geographical and theological diversity was remarkable.

I had the honor of attending the conference as a part of a small delegation of non-Muslim religious leaders that included Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Yezidis, Sabians and others. We were invited to observe the proceedings and provide commentary on the draft and final declaration that was issued by the conference.

The conference itself, however, was a dialogue within the Muslim community about the treatment of minority religious communities. In a fundamental way, we were not the audience for the conference: Muslim speakers were speaking to a Muslim audience about the demands of Islamic law for the treatment of minorities.

The gathering was a truly historic event—no one I spoke to at the conference was aware of another such gathering to address this issue, perhaps even in the history of Islam. The fact that a declaration was agreed upon at all, given the diversity of the leaders present, is a significant achievement.

Treatment for religious minorities under Islamic law

Shaykh Bin Bayyah laid out the theological framework and foundation for the conference. This foundation was based on the Charter of Medina, which according to Islamic tradition was a peace treaty drafted by the Prophet Muhammad to establish peace among the religiously diverse tribes living and around Medina.

From the history of the Charter of Medina and Islamic law, Shaykh Bin Bayyah articulated 10 foundational values of Islam for “dealing with others.” These 10 values are: kindness, honor, cooperation, reconciliation, human fraternity, wisdom, commonwealth, justice, mercy and peace. Shaykh Bin Bayyah’s presentation grounded these principles in human dignity and equality.

It is worth noting that the history of the Charter of Medina is a bloody one and isn’t exactly an example of peaceful coexistence and tranquility. Historians differ on whether the contract can be construed as a social contract or as a unilateral proclamation by Muhammad. Nevertheless, the Charter of Medina did provide a framework for a religiously diverse community to live side by side in relative equality.

In any event, there was broad consensus, at least in principle, among the scholars at the conference that these 10 values were indeed deeply rooted in Islamic law and tradition and that this Islamic tradition demands equal treatment of religious minorities.

The Marrakesh Declaration

The document that emerged from several days of marathon drafting sessions and negotiating on specific wordings is available online in English translation. Sections are included below, but the document is worth reading and considering in full.

The Declaration centers on the idea of “constitutional contractual citizenship” and articulates a number of fundamental rights including freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual solidarity and defense, and “principles of justice and equality before the law.” The Declaration also affirms the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating that Islamic law is consistent with these declarations.

The Declaration also issues seven calls to action. The legacy of this effort will depend entirely on the extent to which these calls to action are implemented, not just in one place, but in every country that signed on to the Declaration. The calls to action are as follows:

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 denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promotes hatred and bigotry;

Affirm that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.

What will the Marrakesh Declaration mean?

Will the Marrakesh Declaration be remembered as a flash in the pan or a significant turning point in the Middle East? Only time will tell. The Declaration itself is an important achievement and milestone, but the heavy lifting has barely begun. A declaration after all, is just talk. Would we celebrate the Federalist Papers without the U.S. Constitution?

The organizers of the conference are serious and committed to prioritizing this issue. Whether the countries represented by the other 300 attendees at the conference will also make these issues a priority in their own countries remains to be seen.

To the extent that the first step toward solving a problem is recognizing that there is one, the conference was a good half step. The Declaration itself is a powerful statement. But the speeches delivered by many of the delegates stopped short of acknowledgment of the seriousness of the issue today. An Iranian representative, for instance, held up Iran's experience of pluralism with Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, failing to acknowledge that until two weeks ago, a Christian pastor had been imprisoned for four years or that the Baha’is suffer brutal oppression even today in Iran. A Saudi representative focused on the treatment of Muslims in non-Muslim countries, despite the fact that the West has freely allowed the construction of hundreds of Salafi mosques, yet there is not a single church in Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, Shaykh Bin Bayyah expressed the situation religious minorities find themselves today in terms of a “disease” or an “illness.” I am hopeful that his assessment was heard and will be recognized in the years to come.

The response from the international community has been mixed. Some are hopeful that the conference will lead to real action. Others have argued that history gives us little reason to have hope that the declaration will lead anywhere.

What I will say is that after attending this conference, I am hopeful, even optimistic. It was a powerful thing to experience the solidarity of hundreds of Muslim leaders that are not happy about the way my community has been treated in the Middle East. The organizers of the conference hosted a serious, sincere effort to grapple with some of the most serious issues facing Islam today. There was a genuine spirit of collaboration and a willingness to work together to make the lives of religious minorities better. My prayers are with these men and women as they work within their own community for a solution. The Christian community in the region needs one desperately.

Travis Wussow

Travis Wussow serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel. Travis led the ERLC’s first international office located in the Middle East prior to joining the Washington DC office. He received a B.B.A. in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from The … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24