ISNA’s Interfaith Dialogue and Collaboration Inspired the Marrakesh Declaration



(Plainfield, IN 4/5/16) – The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) has been working with interfaith communities for decades to enhance understanding and to promote dialogue between American Muslim communities and people of other faiths.  Through these strong interfaith relationships, our partners in this journey worked closely with us to affirm American fundamental values at a time when these values are threatened and sometimes compromised.

As anti-Muslim rhetoric escalated, ISNA’s interfaith partners came together to bring a moral voice to the discussion. They gathered in our nation’s capital in an emergency interfaith summit to protect and affirm our shared values, particularly religious freedom. The unprecedented summit gave birth in 2010 to Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a national campaign of interfaith communities and housed at the ISNA Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances – a reflection of the group’s commitment to counter anti-Muslim sentiment.

ISNA has engaged government officials and scholars in Muslim majority countries to find the best way to protect religious minorities. ISNA leadership approached Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, a renowned Mauritanian professor of Islamic studies, to lead and guide theologically based processes to protect religious minorities in Muslim majority countries based on the practice of Prophet Muhammad, particularly the Charter of Medina.

With Sheikh Bin Bayyah and representatives from Muslim majority countries, ISNA organized a symposium at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. on religious freedom to raise awareness on the issue. Conferences for Muslim scholars in Mauritania and in Tunisia followed the symposium to continue the conversation in Muslim countries on the importance of finding standards and protocol for full citizenship for religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. Such standards and protocol would be based on international law and be naturally reinforced by Islamic values, which fully recognize the rights of minorities.

Throughout the journey, ISNA kept interfaith partners and government officials, including the Obama administration, updated on this project. ISNA wrote a letter to President Obama briefing him on the progress of the project.

After five years, the global conference on religious freedom and minority rights in Muslim countries took place in Marrakesh, Morocco in January 2016 and produced the Marrakesh Declaration.

This year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between Prophet Muhammad and the people of Medina guaranteeing religious liberty for all regardless of faith. Additionally, this year marks the 226th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution whose first amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees the religious liberty of all regardless of faith. For almost 240 years, Americans have enjoyed the liberty to practice their faith freely and openly, similar to the citizens of Medina during Prophet Muhammad’s time.

Over the past 53 years, ISNA has helped American Muslims to build numerous places of worship, full time schools and institutions focusing on religious practices, civil rights, social development,  intellectual enrichment and political participation.  Through ISNA’s interfaith engagement and bridge building, people of other faith communities came to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community and establish a resourceful campaign sharing that name – Shoulder-to-Shoulder.

The Marrakesh Declaration is the fruit of the activism along with the collective commitment of Muslim leaders, communities, government and religious leaders working towards the Declaration.  The journey to the Declaration was witnessed by many of our Christian and Jewish partners who were in the forefront of establishing the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign.

In a statement, ISNA President Azhar Azeez said:

“After a great deal of work with our interfaith partners, we are very proud and excited to see the Marrakesh Declaration come to life. However, we know this is the beginning and we look forward to continuing the work with our interfaith partners as we strive towards the common goal of protecting minority rights.”

As the largest and oldest Islamic organization in North America, ISNA takes pride and joy from the creation and implementation of the Marrakesh Declaration during the conference held January 25-27, 2016. ISNA will have a seminar to continue the conversation and for strategic planning during its Annual Interfaith and Government Forum in Washington D.C. April 14-15, 2016. The forum will provide a platform for the work to continue with government and for interfaith and intra-faith leaders to implement this historical declaration.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is the largest and oldest Islamic umbrella organization in North America. Its mission is to foster the development of the Muslim community, interfaith relations, civic engagement, and better understanding of Islam.


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