A historic document promoting moderation, diversity, dialogue and co-existence, and renouncing racism, extremism and discrimination
Islam is a divine religion which promotes peace, tolerance, and moderation. Islamic text, tradition, and history is full of examples which reveal peaceful co-existence, harmony, peaceful relations, mutual cooperation and co-existence of diverse religions and religious groups—from classical to modern eras.
In the noble Qur’an, a number of verses offer a distinctly modern perspective on tolerance, pluralism, and mutual recognition in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-community world. These verses reflect that Islamic civilisation is not made either for isolation or assimilation, but for interaction and co-operation. In other words, these verses reveal religious tolerance and diversity and pluralistic values. Some of these verses are mentioned below:
? “So [you believers], say, ‘We believe in God and in what was sent down to us and what was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and what was given to Moses, Jesus, and all the prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we devote ourselves to Him” (Q. 2: 136)
?“There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error” (Q. 2: 256)
?“We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good” (Q. 5: 48)
?“All people were originally one single community, but later they di?ered. If it had not been for a word from your Lord, the preordained judgement would already have been passed between them regarding their differences” (Q. 10: 19)
?“If your Lord had pleased, He would have made all people a single community, but they continue to have their differences—except those on whom your Lord has mercy….” (Q. 11: 118-19)
“Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. There truly are signs in this for those who know” (Q. 30: 22)
?“People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognise one another. In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware” (Q. 49: 13)
Historicaly, there are numeorus episodes which show cordial relationship of Muslims with non-Muslims. One such example is ‘Charter/ Constitution of Madinah’ (Mithaq-i-Madina) signed in 622 CE by the Prophet (pbuh), as the head of the Muslims, with non-Muslims of Madina. This Charter has been described not only as the “first written constitution” of the world but also the “first Constitution of democracy in the history of constitutional rule”. It is also interpreted as the basis of “plurality of legal systems” and a model to be emulated by modern societies. Prof Muqtedar Khan (Delaware University, USA) calls it, in the modern terminology, a “Social Contract” and an excellent manifestation of the Prophet’s affinity to “democracy and governance by consent”.
This Charter helped to eradicate the tribal structures which had been based on blood and kinship and people belonging to “different cultural, ethnical and geographical backgrounds lived together and made social unity”; therefore, the Madinah Charter is considered as “a perfect model of religious coexistence in the world”. Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, in his First Written Constitution in the World (1968, p. 18), mentions that the Madina Constitution was an “epoch-making innovation” which “brought with it very important, and—to Arabia at least—very revolutionary change and improvement, by providing the people with a central public institution for seeking justice, in place of everyone seeking it with the power of his own hand or, at best, that of his family.” For M. Minhaj Niloy (in “Peaceful Religious Coexistence”, Muslim World League Journal [MWLJ], Vol. 48, No. 10, June 2020, pp. 28-33), the “Charter of Madinah is the greatest example of social coexistence in diverse beliefs” which “was also implemented by the successive rulers of several Muslim territories in the history of the Islamic world”. Niloy also argues that “Islamic history evidently demonstrates that Muslims and non-Muslims lived together tranquilly, [and] peacefully” (p. 30).
Thus, historically there is much evidence to prove that Muslims and non-Muslims have maintained peaceful relations and lived in peace and harmony.
Taking insights from this very document, a recent example is the “Charter of Makkah”—a document which was declared in May 2019 in Makkah by Muslim World League (MWL) in an international conference entitled “Values of Moderation and Temperance” (27-29 May 2019 CE/ 22-24 Ramadan 1440 AH), and was approved by 1200 religious scholars and leaders who “represented 27 doctrines and sects from 139 countries under the umbrella of Muslim World League”. This ‘Charter’ was later awarded ‘King Faisal Prize’ as well.
MWLJ, both in the ‘Editorial’ and in a separate report of June 2019 issue, described this Charter as a “historic constitution” which establishes both “the values of co-existence among religions, cultures, races and sects in Islamic countries” as well as aims “at achieving peace and harmony of the humanitarian communities”. Inspired by (above-mentioned) ‘Madinah Charter’—drafted 14 centuries ago by the Prophet (pbuh) to “preserve the diversity of the Islamic nation and its coexistence”— ‘the Charter of Makkah’ includes “the comprehensive humanitarian principles and values of Islam that protect and preserve lives and dignity of all people without discrimination or exclusion”. Moroever, this Charter “represents a comprehensive constitution for the life of all humanity and the construction of our planet earth”; it rejects categorically “the racial expressions and slogans causing hatred and enmity”; condemns “all claims of arrogant superiority spread by some fanatic groups”; stresses “the importance of consolidating the noble moral values, promoting the supreme social practices, addressing the ethical, environmental and domestic challenges according to common humanitarian concepts together”; and warns, in strong terms, “against violating the human values and destroying the social systems by the argument of the personal freedom”.
For Sheikh Dr Muhammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa (Secretary-General of the MWL), “Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is the owner of the idea of the Makkah Charter and the staunch supporter and follower of all its phases”. The Charter, for Dr Al-Issa, “expresses the moderate principles and values of Islam that call for civilisational dialogue and communication in face of the ideas of extremism, hatred and civilised clash”. He describes this Charter “as an important road map for contemporary religious discourse by a raft of high-ranking scholars and intellectuals” (MWLJ, Jan 2020, pp. 7 & 12).
The ‘Charter’ received great media coverage in the Arab world. For instance, Saudi Gazette (one of the leading English newspapers of Saudi Arabia) in a news report “Makkah Charter fostering diversity, coexistence” (29 May 2019) described it as a “historic document” which is intended to “achieve peace and harmony among various segments of society”. The National (Abu Dhabi, UAE) in a news report (30 May 2020) described that “Makkah Declaration looks to promote tolerance and coexistence” and that it encourages “the pursuit of moderation and a balanced understanding of the Quran, which aims to promote grace and moderation for all of humanity.”
Al-Arabiya English (Dubai, UAE) in a report “MWL publishes ‘Mecca [Makkah] Document’ encouraging tolerance in Muslim societies” (29 May 2019) mentioned about this Charter in these words: “The seven-page long document has … instructions of tolerance and equality while repelling hate preachers and any sect considering the other ‘inferior’.” Similarly, Gulf News of Dubai (the biggest selling English newspaper in the UAE) in a report on “Makkah Document emphasises human equality” by correspondent Ramadan al Sherbini (30 May 2019) mentioned that the “Charter seeks dialogue to boost co-existence”;
repudiates and rejects “all forms of racism”; and it celebrates “human equality, tolerance and diversity”.
Some of the principles mentioned in this ‘Charter’ which highlight the basic pluralistic human values are peace, dialogue, tolerance, equality, mutual co-existence, religious and cultural diversity. It rejects inequality, racial discrimination, extremism, etc., and “offers Muslims around the world guidance on the principles that speak to the true meaning of Islam”. Some of these clauses/ articles mentioned in this ‘Charter’ highligting above-mentioned human values, are reproduced below:
• That “All people, regardless of their different ethnicities, races and nationalities, are equal under God” and that “religious and ethnic claims of ‘preference’” are totally rejected (Clauses 1, 2)
• That “Differences among people in their beliefs, cultures and natures are part of God’s will and wisdom”; therefore, “Religious and cultural diversity never justifies conflict. … Diversity must be a bridge to dialogue, understanding and cooperation for the benefit of all humanity” (3, 4)
• That any religion should not be defined “by the false political practices [or ideologies] of those claiming to be adherents” (5)
• That “Civilised cultural dialogue is the most effective way to achieve tolerance and understanding, deepen community ties, and overcome obstacles to coexistence”; therefore, recognising and respecting the “other’s legitimate rights and right to existence” and putting “aside preconceived prejudices, historical animosities, conspiracy theories and erroneous generalisations” is must (6)
• That all Muslims should work collectively “to prevent destruction and benefit humanity” and make efforts for advancing laws “to deter the promotion of hatred, the instigation of violence and terrorism, or a clash of civilisations, which foster religious and ethnic disputes” (8, 9)
• That combating “terrorism and injustice” and rejecting “exploitation and the violation of human rights” is incumbent duty on all indivual, which “is neither discriminatory nor partial” (11)
• That the “clash of civilisations that calls for conflict and the spread of fear between one another are symptoms of isolation and hegemony, caused by racism, cultural dominance and seclusion” and these are the “symptoms [which] work together to deepen animosity among nations and peoples, and prevent peaceful coexistence and positive national integration, especially in multi-religious and multi-ethnic countries ( 13, 14)
• That every individual, irrespective of his religion or ideological bent, must “promote noble moral values and encourage responsible social practices” as well as “cooperate in fighting moral, environmental and familial challenges according to concepts shared by Islam and humanity” (16)
• That all educational institutions, which form the social safeguard of a society, should make efforts for “promoting centrism and moderation, especially among youth” (20)
• That an/any “attack on a site of worship is a criminal act” and the “world must respond to such attacks with firmness of law, strong political will, and aunified stance against the mindset of terrorism that supports such acts” (23)
• That the steps and programs “to combat hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance, racial discrimination and environmental destruction require the solidarity of all responsible institutions”, including (non/ inter) governmental organisations and those active in humanitarian services (24)
• That the “empowerment of women should not be undermined by marginalising their role, disrespecting their dignity, reducing their status, or impeding their opportunities, whether in religious, academic, political or social affairs. Their rights include equality of wages and opportunity” (25)
• That “the identity of Muslim youth” should be enhanced and they should be protected them “from the ideas of a clash of civilisation, and block efforts to mobilise against those with whom we intellectually disagree” as well “raise awareness among youth and guiding them according to the Islamic values of tolerance, peace and harmonious coexistence” (27)
• That efforts be made for establishing “an International Forum to promote constructive dialogue among youth inside and outside Muslim communities”(28)
Having a look at all the principles declared in the ‘Charter of Makkah’, it will not be an exaggeration to call it a ‘historic document’ which fosters, and promotes, the values of peace, harmony, mutual/ peaceful coexistence, and encourages ‘dilaogue, not clash, among civilsations’. It is fair to summarise the above disussion about this Charter in these words: Inspired by ‘Constitution of Madina’, envisioned by the idea of ‘moderate Islam’, declared in May 2019 in Makkah, and approved by 1200 religious scholars and leaders of 139 countries, the ‘Charter of Makkah’ is a ‘Historic Document’ which fosters pluralistic human values.
In sum, the ‘Charter of Makkah’ nurtures the principles of diversity, dialogue, and tolerance and it stands as a clear message not just to the Muslim world but to the global community at large: ‘let’s put aside our differences and embrace religious diversity’ or in other words ‘Say YES to Plurality and Assimilation and NO to Intolerance and Discrimination’.
—The writer is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC for Women, Pulwama (J&K). Feedback at [email protected]