Monday, September 17, 2012

Hate speech and the Makkah Summit

Much of the negative comments leveled on the Islamic Summit in Makkah earlier this month was born before its convention. The cynics declared it “dead on arrival”.

We may excuse their expectations if we review the results of previous summits, like the one also held in Makkah in 2005. The summit, then, laid down the blueprint called the Ten-Year Program of Action which “envisages joint action of member states, promotion of tolerance and moderation, modernization, extensive reforms in all spheres of activities including science and technology, education, trade enhancement, and emphasizes good governance and promotion of human rights in the Muslim world, especially with regard to rights of children, women and elderly and the family values enshrined by Islam.” Little progress has been achieved since in all of the above issues. 

I beg to disagree, however, with those who thought the results have not justified the effort, this time. 

The fact that many leaders convened around the holiest Muslim place on earth, on the holiest night of the year, cannot but be good for the Muslim nation “Ummah”. With the prayers of 1,500 million Muslims, Allah may join our hands and hearts around His word and cause. 

The final statement puts its finger on the most important injuries of the Muslim body. 

The Syrian government’s legitimacy has been annulled by 56 Muslim nations. This opens the doors for support — directly and indirectly, overtly and covertly, military and civic — to the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army. This also means that the whole Ummah is now taking the side of the Syrian people, loud and clear. 

The statement also focused attention and shed light on the genocide in Myanmar against the Muslim minority. Light is criminals’ worst enemy — the more we know the less space and free movement are available to them. Beside, more help is expected, with Islamic charities and institutions getting Myanmar’s permission to help and observe. 

The summit coincided with the 43rd anniversary of the arson attempt on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which triggered the convention of the first Islamic summit in Morocco in 1969, and the creation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (renamed Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2005). 

The most important achievement, in my opinion, is the condemnation of hate speeches and religious and ethnic agitation, which led to infighting and disunity among Muslims and threats to non-Muslim minorities. The initiative of King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to establish a center in Riyadh for inter-sectarian dialogue will help much in facilitating understanding among various Islamic schools of thought. It will confirm what has already been recognized: Muslim sects are eight, not just four. And Shiites are as Muslim as Sunnis. The conference also calls of the member states’ support for and emphasis on inter-religious, inter-cultural dialogue, initiated by King Abdullah in 2008 and adopted by the United Nations.

I was happy to see King Abdullah seating Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next to him in the grand reception and the two of them standing side by side to greet arriving delegates. The image showed unity between the two Gulf powerhouses.

The majority in both countries may subscribe to two different sects, but they are both Muslims, worshipping the same God, following the same Prophet (pbuh), reading the same Qur’an, and praying towards the same “Qibla” — Makkah. What unite them in geography, culture and history — not to mention economic and development interests — are far more important and beneficial than what separate them.

Such cooperation and understanding could only benefit the Ummah and the region. Burning issues, like Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, need more good faith and better lines of communication among major regional players, including Egypt and Turkey.

Actions should follow the declaration of intents. All of those issues are important and urgent. Let’s hope that the establishment of the dialogue center would start before the Haj season, so that Muslim scholars could begin their first mission in such holy event and place which Allah meant for such cooperation and collaboration. And laws criminalizing hate speeches would follow. 

Supportive calls and statements from religious leaders in Makkah, Qatif, Najaf, Qum, Cairo, Ankara, Tunis and Beirut should be echoed by solid work on the ground. Intellectuals and opinion leaders must support governmental work with initiatives of their own. 

I am working now with a Mideastern group representing different faiths and ethnicities, Muslims and non-Muslims, to establish a think-tank in Beirut, advocating the spirit of peaceful coexistence, tolerance and dialogue. Join us. Pray for us.

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