Mobilizing Parliamentarians for Interfaith Dialogue and Freedom of Religion or Belief in Morocco

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I just returned from Morocco, where I represented the Humanists International at a conference on interfaith dialogue, June 13 to 15, 2023. The Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Kingdom of Morocco cooperated with Religions for Peace, the United National Alliance for Civilization and the Mohammadia League of Religious Scholars organized the event.

It was the first time that the IPU invited humanists or those from a no-faith tradition.

I have been interested in interfaith dialogue because such an initiative would improve knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and teachings of people from faith and not faith communities. Interfaith dialogue has the potential to foster harmony and peaceful coexistence of people from faith and no-faith communities

In 2021, I worked with the interfaith Mediation Center in Kaduna to organize the first dialogue between people of faith and no faith in Nigeria. It was a successful event. The dialogue presented an opportunity to explore and understand interfaith sameness and differences.

It helped participants appreciate that differences could be sources of strength and enrichment. Too often, people are brought up to think that their religion is the only true faith, their prophet the only true prophet, and their holy book a perfect book, the only true and sacred text. Incidentally, this is not the case. All religions are truth claims, and untrue or partially true in relative to others. All religions and philosophies represent human efforts, and imperfect attempts to make sense of life. The claim by each faith to be perfect, and to be the only true, eternally true religion is at the root of religious conflict and intolerance. Dialogue is necessary to combat prejudice, hate and intolerance, which often lead to violence and conflict.

So I was happy to represent Humanists International at this important event in Marrakesh. I thought it would be an opportunity to take this initiative to an international and global audience. Parliamentarians are critical to the realization of interfaith dialogue because lawmakers make or unmake laws that foster interfaith dialogue and relations. The conference featured plenary and parallel sessions on the situation of interfaith relations in various countries. Many speakers acknowledged that religions could be deployed for good or ill; that religion could be used for harmful and beneficial purposes.

As expected, delegates recounted how their countries have been tolerant and accommodating of other faiths. Parliamentarians painted good and glowing images of interfaith relations in their countries, but some faith organizations drew the attention of participants to some state violations, and how some governments undermine interfaith communications and conversations. They highlighted violations of freedom of religion or belief.

For instance, representatives of the Bahai faith drew the attention of participants to the persecution of Bahais in Iran. Others highlighted the oppression of religious and non-religious minorities in Iraq and other places. An Imam noted the hurting of minorities in Sweden. The event focused mainly on the Abrahamic religions. It was largely an interAbrahamic faith dialogue. There were more representatives of these religions than others. Presentations focused more on Christianity and Islam than African Traditional religions, Hinduism, and other faiths. I met only a representative of the African Traditional Religion from the Republic of Benin. In the course of the conference, I tried to understand the situation of interfaith relations and freedom of the region or belief in some countries.

Before coming to the event, I read about the situation in Morocco, that conversion was illegal in the country. I wondered how a country that prohibited a change of faith or belief could host an event on interfaith dialogue. So during the program, I spoke to some Moroccan attendees and tried to understand the situation of freedom of religion or belief in the country.They told me that Islam was the official religion, that people were ‘free’ to practice their religion.

They noted that Christians and Jews freely practice their faiths in the country. They were emphatic about Christians and Jews and did not say anything about other religions and faiths or about atheists and humanists. I asked them if Moroccans who were born into the Muslim faith could change their religion. They said, No. I asked them why people should not change their faith in a country that upholds freedom of religion or belief.

They said it was to maintain social stability. Social stability? While they told me that people in Morocco were not allowed to convert from Islam or criticize Islam, but they stated, with smile on their faces, that people could convert to Islam.
Morocco prides itself as a beacon of interfaith dialogue. But that is on the surface. That is on constitutional paper, not practice. As in many countries, there is no freedom of religion or belief in Morocco. And there cannot be a meaningful interfaith dialogue without effective mechanisms or guarantees for freedom of religion or belief.

Leo Igwe is a board member of Humanists International, UK

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