Religious Freedom

Since its founding in 1981, ISNA has proactively engaged religious leaders, government officials, and civil society actors around the importance of religious freedom, both here in the United States and abroad. Due to the steps taken by religious leaders and public officials, progress has been made over the past decade to create legal protections for religious expression, often benefiting minority and historically marginalized communities.

Despite these gains, a variety of groups continue to face religious persecution in the U.S. and around the world. Pockets of totalitarian rule, conflict zones, and discriminatory practices remain, often leaving people of faith in life threatening positions should they choose to publicly (or even privately) practice their religion. Religious freedom is curbed by two primary modes–governmental restrictions and social hostilities. Ironically, religious identity is often used as justification for religious suppression and/or persecution.

Within Islamic tradition, both textual and historical examples explicitly support religious freedom. There are over 200 verses in the Qur’an that affirm an individual’s right to believe or disbelieve, and in the 256th verse of the second chapter of the Holy Qur’an, al Bakarah, God says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” In the Charter of Medina, created over 1400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad , God’s peace and blessings be upon him and his family, included provisions that contain principles of constitutional contractual citizenship, including religious liberty regardless of faith. The principles of the Charter of Medina provided a foundation for later documents, such as the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, the United Nations Charter, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In recognition of the 1400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, hundreds of Muslim scholars, intellectuals, and political figures gathered in Morocco in January of 2016 to draft and sign the Marrakesh Declaration, affirming the principles laid out in the Medina Charter. The declaration includes:

  • Full protection for the rights and liberties of all religious groups

  • Strong opposition to using religion to suppress the rights of religious minorities

  • Encouragement of a broad-based movement for the just treatment of religious minorities

  • Support for all religions, sects, and denominations to confront religious bigotry, vilification, and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promotes hatred and bigotry

Although progress has been made, a number of countries continue to persecute religious minorities in the name of religion and nationalism. We call upon all religious and political leaders around the world to offer a clear message of freedom of religion and to reflect upon the Holy Qur’an’s Prophetic example of coexistence as manifested by the Charter of Medina and the Marrakesh Declaration. It is when we draw closer to our religious traditions–not away from them–that we are then able to build stronger and safer pluralistic societies where freedom of religion is a central tenet of thriving nations.