Over 700 of the world’s leading Islamic scholars, academics, intellectuals, and researchers attended the opening of the fourth ‘Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies’, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The ground-breaking event is attended by His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, and led by H.E Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. Also present were H.E Dr. Dr Mohammed Matar Al Kaabi, the forum’s secretary general and chairman of the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments; H.E Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League; Dr. Ahmed Tawfiq, Moroccan Minister of Endowments and Islamic Affairs; Dr. Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, Indonesian Minister of Islamic Affairs; Dr. Sardar Mohammad Yusuf, Pakistani Minister of Islamic Affairs; and Undersecretary–General Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.
H.H Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
H.H Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance welcomed the esteemed guests and honored their congregation. In setting the stage he eloquently set the tone for the conversation of the first day:
“Studying human behavior has shown that throughout history, people have long regarded ignorance as the greatest source of fear and a threat that must be averted, sometimes by force. Some people even consider ignorance as the devil’s tool, which needs to be countered by all means possible. Unfortunately, we have noticed that fear of Islam bears some of these factors in many countries around the world. Throughout history, there were unsuccessful attempts at bonding between the different people and cultures. This unfortunate occurrence is still prevalent in this day and age, despite the widespread use of information and telecommunication technologies and mobility. The vast majority of people around the world are unable to see anything outside of their own narrow local interests and have little or no knowledge of other people or cultures. Hypocrites and ill-intentioned people often take advantage of this peculiarity to spread lies about Islam and Muslims (claiming that Muslims and immigrants are behind their economic hardships); while others see that attacking Islam and Muslims is their way to defend democracy and human rights. They falsely accuse Islam of not being compatible with these values, which results in an increasing fear of Islam in several communities, as well as in discrimination and prejudice against them. We also witness discrimination against Muslims in western media, publications, books or websites, which attack Islam and Muslims and intentionally conjure up false facts about them; citing the challenges and impacts of globalization, and the consequent marginalization of certain segments of society; as well as immigration, refugees and terrorist attacks, carried out by extremists that are not associated with Islam, in these countries.”
In light of these problems he ended his speech with seeds of hope:
“I am hoping that your discussions will yield suitable solutions and ways to eschew the negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims around the world. I also hope that this conclave will pave the way to effective communication with non-Muslims, through mutual visits, public diplomacy efforts; and also through writers, thinkers, universities, and the media; to allow the fruitful exchange of ideas with Muslims and allow everyone to live together in peace and harmony.”
On concluding, H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan expressed the Ministry of Tolerance’s readiness to spread knowledge and awareness about the different civilizations and cultures, to promote the deep-rooted human values and spread the culture of tolerance.
H.E Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah
For his part, H.E Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, engaged the members of the audience with the theological premises by which the Forum was making its contributions towards global peace with Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide:
“We need people of intellect and wisdom to unify under one umbrella to tackle the global issues of today. These people need to provide the true narrative of peace in Islam. This conglomeration is an opportunity in crystallizing this narrative and presenting it to the world at large. The Forum for Promoting peace, despite its characterization as being exclusive to Muslim societies, also regards the Muslim relationship with others within non-Muslim majority societies to be from among its concerns. This is due to the negative impact a strained relationship between the two has upon Muslim and non-Muslim societies alike. For we believe that the means which we adopt for promoting peace within Muslim societies, they are the very same means which spread peace within all other societies. Since the obstacles and impediments of peace are universal, regardless of location, and are a key reason for the growth of Islamophobia. We must concede that the craft of religiosity, which is a human craft, although originally possessing the capacity to manufacture peace, can also be manipulated and transformed to produce the likes of ‘dirty bombs’, destroying both life and property.
In light of this goal, the first venture is to correct the language and conceptual notions used within Islam that have been distorted and manipulated to suit personal and political agendas. For these reasons, the Forum is launching an encyclopedic project whereby the precise notions of Islamic terms can be preserved and safeguarded from alienation. The second issue is dealing with rigid rules and concepts need to be reflected by reality. The temporal dynamics of man and communities need to be captured by the Shariah to help deliver localized solutions that are inspired by its universal framework. In the absence of such knowledge, reflection and practice Islamophobia and radicalism will prevail. However, since Islamophobia is the twin side of radicalism, the eradication of one will automatically relieve us of the other.
We need to implement a three-stage process where each stage is not a static process in of itself but are rather continuous cycles that evolve alongside each other. The first cycle involves setting up the internal home in which we as Muslims unite under the reincarnation of peace in knowledge and practice. Let us start by first cleaning our own house. The second is critical dialogue with a wider community where the interface of Islam and other narratives is made accessible and permeable. Without such activities, Islam and Muslims will remain in an existential vacuum. The third is making an alliance with these wider communities as a collective force in combatting global problems that infiltrate the Muslim world. We should acknowledge that we have mutual values through which we can build our relationships on and help pave the way towards global peace. It is with this in mind that I would like to like to update you our new project called the American Peace Caravan. In this endeavor, we are selecting local community leaders, imams, rabbis and priests who have come together here in the Emirates and have fostered strategies whereby the correct message of Islam can be distilled back in their communities. This Abrahamic project is expanding and will eventually be actively shaping the Muslim image in 50 American cities, with the blessing of God.
Through the process of positive rapprochement and corroboration in doing good we hope will manifest the opening of a new era for relations between the family of Abrahamic religions. Likewise, that it may serve as a new period of cooperation between people of luminous minds for the correct realignment of mankind’s trajectory. When religions make peace and reconcile then this establishes the spirit of peace in the world, facilitating the prospects of achieving justice, virtue and treating injustices. For just as the Swiss theologian, Hans Kung said: ‘there will be no peace among nations without peace among religions’.”
H.E Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al Issa
H.E Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, followed through with his insights:
“Peace and harmony are common in the Islamic terminology, and consistent with Muslims’ behavior and worship. However, political and media interests have often undermined and impeded peace, fueled by human souls fabricated hatred and the absence of communication skills. Peace involves tranquility, hope, and intellectual harmony. Our inability to communicate or to conduct civilized dialogue causes us to stray from peace.”
Al Issa referred to misinterpretations mentioned by His Excellency Shaykh Bin Bayyah, which marred the real concept of Islam:
“Jihad has never been anything else than self-defense to protect freedom of worship. These concepts have been distorted and falsified, and led to terrorist regimes, which caused what is now known as ‘Islamophobia’; while it is well-known that extremism and terrorism often appear and disappear across all religions and cultures.”
Dr. Ahmed Tawfiq
Dr. Ahmed Tawfiq, Moroccan Minister of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, praised the forum and the United Arab Emirates for hosting this prestigious event. Elaborating on “Islamophobia”, he indicated that political approaches to peace should not be absent from the intellectual perspective: “Religious scholars have an important duty to acquaint people with their responsibility in times of peace and war, and are in charge of advocating patience, respect for rights and nonviolent means.” He also lauded the efforts exerted by the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies to correct concepts and the image of Islam, which would prevent the discourse on sedition and spread peace and tranquility.
Dr. Abbas Shoman
H.E. Dr. Abbas Shoman, Deputy of Al–Azhar Al–Sharif, expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, led by H.E Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, in promoting a culture of peace and for choosing this important topic. He cited the similarity between this forum and the Alliance that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) sponsored, despite the differences, in terms of the time, place and people. He also highlighted how Islamophobia is caused by the repulsive practices of some Muslims. Another reason is the refusal of some Muslims to integrate into those communities they live in. This fear of Islam is also evident in racist and violent positions of the West towards Islam and Muslims, as evidenced by the recent decision regarding Jerusalem and Palestine. The decision, which was unanimously rejected by the world’s scholars, undermines efforts to achieve world peace.
Dr. Lukman Hakim Saifuddin
Dr. Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, Indonesian Minister of Islamic Affairs, lauded the UAE, under the wise leadership of H.H Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, for hosting this forum to promote peace and tolerance. “This timely forum plays a significant role, and is highly needed in both the Islamic and international community,” he said. He also denounced the American decision, to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, stressing that such a decision will undermine world peace. He also expressed the Indonesian government’s strong condemnation of this unfair decision, which is in violation of the United Nation’s resolution. He highlighted the challenges of this critical stage in history and pointed to the difficult task that is bestowed on the country’s scholars, to defuse potential conflicts. He acknowledged that extremism is often the result of misconceptions among some Muslims, and stressed the need to address the problem of hatred against Islam and Muslims, which falls within the ‘clash of civilizations’ concept. He called upon scholars to spread awareness in people, to correct the true image of Islam, and to foster communication between Muslims and non-Muslims to promote bonds of love and tolerance between the different communities. “We need to put an end to hegemony in the world, and promote respect between religions and civilizations, which would ultimately contribute to achieving peace,” he continued.
H.E. Adama Dieng
H.E. Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, lauded peace efforts exerted around the world and informed the public about the new integrations between the UN and the Forum:
“I am thankful to Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah who has courageously paved the passage towards transforming the Muslim world towards a trajectory of peace and tolerance. Additionally, the UAE has become a driving force for the promotion of peace in this region and beyond. More than ever, the world needs to learn how to live together again and display the growth it needs with love and compassion. It seems that humanity has forgotten its roots of existence; what unites us is far greater then what divides us. It is with this in mind that I am pleased to announce that The Forum is a ray of hope in determining what can unite us and build peace harmony instead of fostering hate and conflict. The UN has no doubt that the Forum has and will keep on playing a big part in shaping the trajectory of the Muslim world in its goal towards global peace. Accordingly, The UN and the Forum will be integrating together in building Islamic educational curricula that will be implemented across the Muslim worlds. It is in this context that we can show leadership and create leaders whereby our collective efforts can sustain the dignity of human beings in light of the many travesties and difficulties the world is facing. Whatever our ethnicity or religion, we are all human beings, desiring peace, security, happiness and a good life for our children. We have a responsibility to accept that we can belong to different ethnic groups, follow different religions, but listen to one another and learn from each other.”
H.E Dr. Mohammed Matar Al Kaabi
Towards the end of the opening ceremony, H.E Dr. Mohammed Matar Al Kaabi, the forum’s secretary general and chairman of the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments, ended the day with a conclusive summary of the day’s insights:
“Peace in modern times has become a desire of many people but has become strangulated due to much turmoil of the intellectual and political planes that has plagued of the Muslim worlds. Unless we educate, respect and protect our values and our citizens, internally and externally, we will forever be in a perpetual state of unrest in which terrorism and fundamentalism brew with more strength. We need to foster a language of Islam by which Muslims and non-Muslims do not fear our values, our heritage nor our religion in its comprehensive scope and application. The goal of Islam is to maintain a state of happiness that nurtures a valued society in which brothers and sisters accommodate one another with peace and respectful recognition.”
In his remarks, Pastor Bob Roberts, Founding & Senior Pastor of Northwood Church, USA shed light on two main points; the first is that we are afraid of one another and the second is that we don’t know what to do about it and how to build bridges that will allow us to be together. He noted that if we are going to do something different in this world for our children and grandchildren then we need to learn new ways of how to relate.
He mentioned that he is often asked if he was afraid being among all these Muslims, and his answer would be ‘NO.’ He noted that just like Muslim scholars say that there are extremists that call themselves Muslims who hijacked Islam there are also some extremists who hijacked Christianity and he won’t accept this anymore. He stressed that the biggest challenge is not how we intellectually discuss the differences we have in our religions, but how to relate to one another and how to learn to love one another.