It was my privilege to represent the Parliament of the World’s Religions at The Alliance of Virtues for the Common Good conference, convened recently in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and its President, Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, the conference was an outgrowth of the Marrakesh Declaration, a document drafted by bin Bayyah and ratified by almost 300 Muslim religious leaders, scholars, and heads of state in January 2016. While the Marrakesh gathering advocated for the rights of religious minorities in Muslim-majority nations, The Alliance of Virtues, explained the Shaykh, was intended “to explore the ways in which the three great Abrahamic faiths can offer their shared values in the service of peace.”
Muslims, Jews, and Christians were represented well, both on the planning committee and among the invited conferees, numbering almost 400 from around the world. Prominent Muslims on the program included Imam Mohamed Magid (Executive Imam, All Dulles Area Muslim Society, and Chairman, International Interfaith Peace Corps) and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (President, Zaytuna College, and “the Western world’s most influential Muslim scholar”). Well-known Jewish figures included Rabbi David Saperstein (former Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy, Union for Reform Judaism) and Rabbi David Rosen (former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee). Representative Christian leaders were Dr. William Vendley (Catholic scholar, and Secretary General of Religions for Peace International) and Dr. Bob Roberts (Baptist author, and Senior Pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas). The wisdom and character of Parliament trustee, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi (Director of the Secretariat, Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers) was especially evident as he presided at each of the conference sessions.
The three-day program featured speeches, panel discussions, banquets, and breakout sessions—all designed to inform and embolden the participants to work together as followers of these three historic religious traditions to help create a better world. Accordingly, the conference concluded with the ratification of a well-drafted Washington Declaration, which appears below. The impact of this gathering and especially of the declaration it inspired will hopefully be felt around the world in the months and years to come.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation. (Isaiah 52:7)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called into one body. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15)
Good and evil cannot be equal: repel evil with that which is better, and your enemy will become as a close and warm friend, but only those who are steadfast in patience, only those who are blessed with great righteousness, will attain to such goodness.) Qur’an 41:34-35)
On January 27, 2016, in Marrakesh, Morocco, Muslim scholars and leaders from ten dozen countries affirmed in a landmark statement that the oppression of religious minorities is contrary to Islamic values and called for equality of citizenship, regardless of faith tradition, in Muslim majority societies. The Marrakesh Declaration was inspired by the famed Charter of Medina which had, 1400 years earlier, recognized the equal rights and responsibilities of the residents of that holy city.
This week, in Washington, D.C., more than 400 representatives from the three Abrahamic faiths assembled in the spirit of another initiative that came to fruition on the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century of the Common Era. The Alliance of Virtue was formed in Mecca, and included in its embrace the Prophet Muhammad, prior to his mission, and leaders from a variety of ethnicities and religions. The Alliance was conceived and implemented to support the rule of law and to ensure fair treatment for the vulnerable and disadvantaged throughout the Meccan community.
The vision we propose now is of a revived Alliance of Virtue, global in nature, open to men and women of every faith, race, and nationality, and dedicated –like its earlier namesake – to joint action in the service of sustainable peace, justice, compassion, and mutual respect. We take this step because we believe that individuals and communities need to move beyond mere tolerance and to dedicate themselves to a future in which all can flourish and in which all – empowered by faith – can build reconciliation and seek to heal the wounds of conflict and violence.
Inspired by the Holy Revelations sent to Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad (Peace be Upon Them), the leaders who formed the original Alliance were prompted to do so by unsettled conditions in historic Mecca. Similarly, the impetus for our Declaration can be found in today’s troubled world.
With heartfelt sorrow, we observe that armed struggle, terrorism, and other manifestations of conflict are the principal causes of civilian deaths, the displacement of populations, the suffering of innocent people, and the desecration of sacred places and shrines. Sectarian rivalries and religious prejudice contribute significantly and tragically to violence that – due to the relentless advance in weapons technology – poses an imminent and dire threat to the well-being of all people.
Despite some gains, there remain gross inequalities in the human condition: vast wealth contrasted with deepest poverty, chronic malnutrition, lack of access to education, deadly shortcomings in health care, and callous indifference – even among the outwardly pious to human pain.
The pervasiveness of conflict, injustice, and hardship constitutes a direct affront to the aspirations of the three great faith traditions to which we – who have gathered this week in Washington – adhere. The gap between our shared hopes and a wounded world constitutes a warning to which we must respond.
Though mindful of our differences, we are called by the ethical values we hold in common to embark on a new course informed by old wisdom, a journey that begins with the knowledge that all humans come from a single origin, that each is endowed by our Creator with intrinsic human dignity and related inalienable rights, and that we cannot love and serve God if we fail also to love our neighbors – including the strangers in our midst.
Recognizing that our shared values are more important than our differences, and that we are strongest when we act together, we pledge to combine our best efforts to foster unity where there is discord, aid the impoverished, tend the vulnerable, heal the poor in spirit, and support measures that will ensure respect for the dignity of every human being. We will be guided in this endeavor by convictions that flow from our deepest theological understandings:
All people, regardless of faith, are entitled to religious liberty. There is no room for compulsion in religion, just as there are no legitimate grounds for excluding the followers of any religion from full and fair participation in society. This principle is prominent in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and is intimately associated with the United States, where the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom preceded even the adoption of the federal constitution.
All people, men and women alike, are entitled to equality and due process under the law. All are entitled to freedom of movement within their states, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom from political persecution, freedom from torture, the right to seek political asylum, the right to nationality, and all other internationally recognized human rights.
Each government has an obligation to respect the dignity and related rights of all who dwell within its jurisdiction. Each should employ its resources to address the root causes of inequality and to create opportunities for people to make full use of their energy and talents to provide for their families and contribute productively to society. Each should be a faithful steward of the natural environment, which we hold in trust for future generations. Each state has a duty, per the United Nations Charter, to refrain from aggression or attempting to subjugate others and to cooperate in resolving disputes peacefully, lawfully, and justly. Governments should respect, promote and implement international human rights standards.
People from all sectors – including public service, religion, business, academia, civil society, and the arts – share a responsibility to encourage international and inter-cultural understanding and to oppose any effort to convey information that is false or defamatory toward the members of any ethnic, racial, or religious group.
We believe that religious leaders have a special responsibility to ensure that the tenets and teachings of our faiths are not distorted for wrongful purposes and that, on the contrary, they provide a living example of God’s love at work in the world. In light of that responsibility, we reject the polarization that leads to conflict and war. We are determined to deepen our solidarity and thereby ensure that religion is a force for reconciliation and harmony. We pledge to work across confessional divides in support of values that are central to each of our faith traditions, including peace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, justice, and truth.
Together, we can help the world to understand that differences of doctrine are no bar to cooperative deeds; on the contrary, these differences enable us to address shared challenges from diverse vantage points and through a variety of strategies. In that spirit, we promise to exchange ideas, train and encourage our congregants to engage in joint projects and advocacy, form partnerships with relevant national and international actors, reach out to the leaders of other faith and ethical traditions, and create a model of collaboration that people of all religions can pursue in support of the common good.
In reviving the Alliance of Virtue, we proceed in the belief that, for all the ignorance, enmity, and perplexity that plagues our world, love remains a more powerful force in shaping human behavior than hate, hope is more resilient than fear, and the desire to build will ultimately prevail over any impulse to destroy. We go forward seeking God’s help to liberate us from the snares of prejudice and narrow-mindedness – to give us ears that we might listen across differences, hands that we might reach beyond boundaries, and minds that are open to the thoughts and needs of our fellow human beings.
May God’s blessings enlighten and inspire us all.
We call for the establishment of an Alliance of Virtue to grow and implement the Washington Declaration.
We call for the provision of one billion meals to feed the communities that have been made vulnerable by the violence and conflict that challenges us on the path forward.
We call for the creation of a multi-religious body consisting of prominent religious actors to support mediation and reconciliation that will act in accordance with our shared values to build peace in the world.
We will establish a committee to adopt these recommendations that reflects the fullness of diversity in our communities and across the world.