The Fourteenth General Conference : The Truth about Islam in a Changing World
The Reality of Islâm in a Changeable World
A Detailed Report on The Closed Sessions of the Conference The Reality of Islâm in a Changeable World
The Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs Committee held a two-day closed sessions headed by Dr. Ja'far Abdul Salam, the Secretary General of Islamic Universities Association and Professor of International Law in Al-Azhar University, and the membership of Dr. Ali Jum'ah, Professor Islamic Fiqh in Al-Azhar University and Dr. Reda Bedeir, Lecturer of Linguistics and Islamic Studies in English in Al-Azhar University. The participants in the sessions were a host of scholars and orientalists representing a number of countries such as Egypt, Germany, Palestine, Canada, Austria, Turkey, Britain, Italy, and Japan. They have met for two days during which they held talks and discussions which focused on: the relation with the other, human rights, and tolerance and diversity in Islam.
The First Day:
Dr. Murad Hofmann from Germany started the discussion saying: "Ignorance is the main reason behind enmity against Islam and the best proof of my claim is the positive impact of the September 11th Events in Germany where the sales of the translation of the meaning of the Glorious Qur'ân increased remarkably. There was great fear and anticipation of a clash of civilizations and this can be clearly seen in the reaction of some world leaders such George Bush who visited the Mosque and Tony Blair and Shrewder who appeared on TV holding copies of the Qur'ân in their hands. Therefore, I recommend Muslims to hold dialogues in which they show human rights in Islam and explain in detail the reality of the religion of Islam."
Dr. Murad Hoffmann added saying: "There is a gap in the relations between the East and the West and it should be a bridged. On the one hand, the East suffers from the Christian West and the East is constantly suspicious that the West is always plotting and concocting conspiracies against it. On the other hand, the West misunderstands Islam and thinks that it is the religion of violence and that it was spread by the sword. The solution for this problem can be attained via holding seminars and symposia through which different points of view can be exchanged. The East and the West must coexist side by side because what is common between them is more than the differences and they have lots of mutual interests."
Moreover, Dr. Murad Hofmann recommends the importance of relating the recommendations of this conference to the Glorious Qur'ân and the most relevant content to this effect is the meaning included in verse No. 48 in Surat Al-Mâ`idah which talks about the fact that it is Allah's will that there are always differences among His creation and if Allah wills to guide all people to the straight path and exterminate all types of differences, no one can deny His Divine will. This reflects that diversity in this universe is ordained by Allah, Glory be to Him. Dr. Hoffmann also recommends that it is vital for the Islamic countries to convene conferences that would open the door for dialogue around the issues we discuss today as well as any other relevant issues provided that such conferences are to be held in the capitals and cities of the West and I'm certain that the outcome of such gatherings would be of great benefit for both parties.
Dr. Stefan Wild from Germany said: "The sound judgment one passes on any religion can only be authentic by going back and tracing its sources. We can not judge a religion through the actions of its followers. Therefore, if I want to know Islam, I should not try to achieve this target via observing the Muslims' behavior. Rather, we should study the main sources of the religion itself. As a matter of fact, I would like look at the recommendations of the conference of last year in order to see how far they have been achieved."
Dr. Wild added: "It is very important for us to understand that in order to be able to successfully make the recommendations a reality we have to know and identify who are meant by such recommendations. This conference, for instance, is held by Muslims to talk about Islam and its reality. So, I think that they should direct their recommendations to other Muslims only because Non-Muslims would not be able to achieve such recommendations as long as the conference did not touch upon the reality of what Non-Muslims believe in due to political restrictions. Thus, I think the conference recommendations should be addressed in the first place to Muslims so that they can be attainable and it is no problem to send a message via such recommendations to Non-Muslims."
"One more comment I would like to make in this concern", added Dr. Wild "The recommendations should really replicate the content and discussions of the conference and they would be of no use if they were just abstracts and synopses of the researches and papers submitted to the conference. Any discussion or dialogue in this respect should take into consideration a number of criteria, namely: a version of generalization, acceptance of self-criticism and diversity. And diversity, to me, is of two types: diversity within the Islamic World and diversity that makes Muslims cooperate with Non-Muslims."
Dr. Suzanne Heine from Austria said: "The problem lies in the lack of religious awareness and we should cooperate and coordinate our efforts to increase it by resorting to the origins and sources of religion and deeply establish the right concepts in the hearts of people. I would like also to stress the significance of the role played by both the school and university to deepen the sound understanding of religion through the academic materials presented to the students. We have seen the fruitful outcome of such role in reality in our society via adopting a clear-cut methodology."
Mr. Kahild Higouchi from Japan said: "The number of the Japanese is about 120 million and there are more than 200 thousand creeds. The number of Muslims in Japan is about 70 thousand. They do not suffer from any inconveniences at all. There is an increase in the interest of the different means of the mass media in Islam in the aftermath of the September 11th events. Many symposia were held during which we did our best to convey the right image of Islam to the people. The curiosity of the Japanese people about the religion of Islam and Islamic countries and leaders increased. We will hold a conference in August this year in which we will open the door for dialogue between the different creeds and beliefs. We will seek the help and participation of the scholars of Islam from Egypt (Al-Azhar University), Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Islamic countries."
Mr. Higouchi added: "Some Japanese think that Islam has nothing to do with economics. Personally speaking, I have been working in the field of commerce for a long time. We do our best to correct this misconception as there are a number of companies that are run by Muslims and they apply the Islamic principles and instructions as regards the financial and economic aspects in order to correct such a distorted image in the minds of some Japanese people. The misconceptions about Islam constitute an obstacle on the path of Da'wah for propagating Islam. We should correct such misconceptions through setting good examples for these people, i.e. by transforming the instructions of Islam into good behavior as practical Da'wah is more effective and fruitful than verbal preaching. Via commitment to the principles and values of Islam reflected in every day conduct which confirms that Islam is a complete and perfect way of life, we can achieve the best results of preaching the word of Allah and propagate Islam. One of the best tools that should be manipulated in this regard is the common characteristics of morals between Islam and the Japanese society such as good relations with neighbors, hospitality, humbleness, moderation in human relations."
Bishop Emanuel from Turkey said: "The biggest problem and obstacle in the way between the East and the West lies in the wrong understanding the terminology which should be corrected and clarified such as what is the meaning of fundamentalism, Jihad, Shari'âh and so on. The clearest evidence to support my claim is the fact that the mostly repeated accusation directed to Islam is fundamentalism without any lucid identifying of the concept of fundamentalism or even an aware understanding of it".
Bishop Emanuel added: "I think that accusing Islam of fundamentalism is not valid because there are many fundamentalists among the Christians themselves and the problem here is what a clear definition of 'fundamentalism' is? This ambiguity of terms leads to misunderstanding and misuse of them. For instance, when the people in the West hears the term `Jihad', their reaction is always a negative one simply because they do not know the real and true meaning of Jihad in Islamic Fiqh. I would like to stress the fact that we, the followers of the Orthodox Church, have lived for a long time enjoying justice and tolerance under the Ottoman Empire which was far better than lots of the states of nowadays."
"As regards the relation with the other", added Bishop Emanuel "it can be divided into three levels, namely national, regional and global. We should do our best to unite the peoples and achieve peaceful coexistence via the exchange of dialogue. Concerning the national level, the relation with the other in such a context means the relations among the individuals of the same society and the dealings of everyday life among the members of such a society. Regarding the regional level especially at the present time in the aftermath of the September 11th events, the relation with the other means establishing dialogue between the diversified religions and countries. As regards the global level, all people talk nowadays about globalization and I would like to ask a simple question, namely what is the reaction of Islam and Christianity towards globalization?"
Bishop Emanuel added: "Concerning diversity, it is a blessing from my own point of view and laws that identify and preserve the rights of the other should be enacted. I'm certain that those fundamentalists would be the ones to reject diversity that we call for especially in Europe. For instance, Belgium has recognized Islam since 1973 Diversity should be considered in light of the circumstance of each country while preserving the rights of others in such countries. The only way to establish diversity today can be achieved by starting at schools and universities and correcting the course of religious education and correcting the misconceptions and preconceptions. It can also be attained through establishing dialogue between the Abraham religions." Dr. Ahmad S. Ad-Dijani from Palestine said: "The earth out of which we were created and to which is our return suffers from a lot of risks such as pollution and injustice. The best example of this injustice is the ferocious attack directed to Islam by the advocates of globalization who do their best to connect Islam with terrorism. I have really benefited too much from attending this session as I have learnt a lot throughout the speeches of my dear brothers and colleagues who conveyed to us a transparent image of the interaction among the believers of different religions. Based on such an image, my experience, the recommendation of Dr. Ja'far to transform the principles into action and the fruitful discussions of today, I would like to present the following points as a proposal for what should be done in this context:
First Point: It is an inquiry. Do we agree that our world nowadays witnesses a spiritual awakening before and after September 11th? This phenomenon has drawn the attention of lots of people and it has been the topic of many conferences and they talked about it in the European Union to the extent that a special division has been set up for religions and spiritual life. If this is the case, it is high time for us to initiate good and mutual work in this concern.
Second Point: Do we agree that the world, since the creation of man, has never witnessed a phenomenon like the one we experience today of fast communication, interaction and diversity? Compare, for instance. what happened along the history of humanity such as the literature of travels of Ibn Battutah and that of Marco Paolo and what we see today in TV on the spot. Our European friends talked about Europe which has about 30 million Muslims, some of whom are originally Europeans. The U.S. has about 7 million Muslims. I live in Egypt and see thousands of tourists who come every year and I have observed some of them who go to upper Egypt and this is really effective interaction. By the way, I watched a film called "Barakah" which was produced in the West and it contained 50 speechless scenes of believers of different religions expressing communication. How can we make use of this phenomenon? The Third Point: We have known the meaning of diversity which never means similarity as Allah, the Almighty, created people who are different and the only way out of what we suffer from now is by firm belief in the dignity of man and his freedom of belief as an application of the verse that reads: "There is no coerce in religion".
The Second Day
Dr. Ja'far Abdul-Salam opened the session by asking the participants to concentrate on the same issues discussed during the first day, namely the relation with the other, human rights in the Islamic East and the values of tolerance and diversity in Islam from the point of view of those who live in the West in particular. This is because one of the goals of the conference is to get acquainted with the opinion of Non-Muslims as regards the afore-mentioned significant issues with the aim of discussing them and concluding some positive resolutions. He also stressed the importance of listening to the representatives of countries where the majority of people are Non-Muslims such as Britain, Austria, and Germany. These sessions are held to listen to their views, have a dialogue with them, and respond to their inquiries and to get to know the intellectual development of Muslims in the western countries to which such Muslims belong. Therefore, the participants in this session should talk with an open heart and a broad mind about all what they think about Islam and Muslims in their country or in the world at large with special concentration on the main reasons behind the big problems between the Muslims and the West in our present time in order to achieve a compromise.
Dr. David Thomas from Britain (a lecturer in Theology Department in the Centre for Islamic Studies and the Relations between Muslims and Christians in Birmingham University) started saying: "The number of Muslims in Britain is about 2 millions and most of them have mainly immigrated to Britain during the last fifty years from Pakistan and India. Most of them resided in the industrial cities in the north of Britain and the middle in Birmingham whose population is about one million out of which 150 thousands are Muslims and the relation between those Muslims and the Christians is a peaceful one."
"As the time passed by", added Dr. Thomas, "a new generation of Muslims who were born in Britain and speak English as their mother tongue has emerged, which reflected a certain change that took place in the Islamic community in England. Fifty years were conceived enough time for Muslims to assimilate in the British society. But, this never happened, because Muslims did not only preserve their identity, but they also strongly consolidated it. Moreover, some of their demands to attain certain rights under the umbrella of the British law were positively responded to. Girls and boys were separated at school at a certain age as compliance to the principle of avoiding co-education in Islam. In addition, girls are free to wear the clothes that abide by the teachings of Islam together with labeling foods as Halal.
Concerning the rejection of some of the religious demands of Muslims, it is mainly due to the fact that it is not stipulated in the British Constitution to acknowledge a certain religion in the country. So, when Muslims presented a petition to court to ban publishing the book Satanic Verses written by Salman Rushdi, the court did not respond positively because there is no law that bans such publishing.
The British society might be plunged into amazement at some events that take place in the world. People were confused when Hizbullah captivated Sorrie people in Lebanon and kept them as hostages some years ago and when they thoughts that Muslims attacked the World Trade Center in New York. Whether this is the truth or not, the Muslim Community feels greatly insecure. Perhaps this could be justified by the fact that every society contains extremists, and the British extremists called for expelling the Muslims because the situation there relies on a kind of peaceful coexistence between them and society in general. However, there are strong indications that the atmosphere will not be settled down, a fact which we often try to comprehend.
One of the most important positive developments that occurred in the aftermath of the September 11th events is the all-encompassing immense attention paid to Islam by the British society that looked forward to learn a lot about it. This was unexpected. From my own personal experience, for instance, I have been invited frequently to talk about Islam to limited and large groups of people. Maybe this is one of the outcomes of what happened on September 11th
After that, Dr. Ja'far directed the following question to Dr. Thomas: "Do you consider it a merit or a demerit that Muslims in Britain held to their own traits and ideas despite the passage of fifty years? I think man's preserving of his creeds and beliefs does not hinder him from social assimilation. I'm personally inclined to see that Muslims exert more efforts to assimilate the societies in which they are living, maintaining, in the meantime, their identity and beliefs."
"Concerning Salman Rushdi," Dr. Ja'far added, "he was not penalized for offending Islamic religion in his Satanic Verses book, I would like to say that the Egyptian law includes a provision that stipulates that there is a penalty for anyone who shows contempt for religions and such a law is not taken from the Islamic Shari'âh. We, here in Egypt, never permit any Muslim to offend any Christian and likewise, no one else is allowed to offend Islam. I do not know that the British law is different from other laws. Is anyone free to libel and slander religions and goes without punishment? I do not think that the British law would permit this. I know that it penalizes a person who libels and slanders another person, let alone religions."
Dr. Ja'far carried on commenting: "Regarding the positive developments in the aftermath of September 11th events, this is good news and we would like to hear more of it and how we can invest such developments in improving the relations among us. We want, via this conference, to reach a compromise and identify the denominators in order to attain the common interests that would be good for all parties and strengthen the relations among us as scholars and cultured people." Dr. Thomas responded saying: "I said it was likely or hoped that the Muslims would be assimilated in the British society, but it did not happen. The British society is characterized by diversity and Christianity is the historical religion but it does not have the same status any longer and there are also other religions that are much respected. Prince Charles asked that when he becomes the King to be given the title (the Custodian of Religion) not the custodian of Christianity and the religion meant to be protected by Prince Charles is any and every religion because he knows that there are other religions in England."
Dr. Thomas further added: "One of the most important religions in Britain is Islam and I think that after the passage of fifty years, it was expected that the Muslims would lose their identity and be assimilated in their new societies, but they did not. I think that it is the duty and responsibility of the British society to realize its variance and diversity and in the meantime the followers of the different religions inside the British society should realize and understand that the followers of any religion can stay loyal to their religion and at the same time be British citizens. This means that the Christians should be British Christian citizens and likewise, the Muslims in Britain should be British citizens and Muslims at the same time. The problem is that the Muslim thinks of himself as a member in the Islamic Nation and this transcends the boundaries or borders whereas the presence of Muslims within a certain society necessitates that they should respect the rules and traditions of the society where they live."
Dr. Thomas added: "The British Constitution does not acknowledge a certain religion as it is based on secularism. Therefore, when the Muslim claims a certain right and it is disapproved, this does not necessarily mean enmity or bias against Islam, but it is due to the fact that there is no provision in the constitution that provides such a right. I call upon the Muslims and the Christians in the British society to cooperate in order to convey a message to the world that there is a purpose behind the creation of man and that his life is meaningful. I would like also to confirm that Britain, out of experience, is convinced now there could be coexistence of the diversity of religions rather than assimilation."
Dr. Thomas concluded saying: "I have noticed that most researches and papers have some sort of consensus to talk about defending Islam and they stressed that fact the Islam is the religion of monotheism and I think that this is a bit exaggerated. I also suggest that instead of a dialogue among cultures, we should establish a dialogue among societies in order to attain variance and diversity within the Islamic countries themselves. There are a number of verses and Ahadith (Prophetic traditions) that are interpreted from the perspective of one point of view that is agreed upon without allowing a scientific and academic style to be adopted in the interpretation and explanation of the different meanings so as to demonstrate the diversity in the Islamic culture. Muslims should have more self-confidence and they should avoid the tone of defense. Moreover, Muslims use the term 'dialogue' without having a proper and clear understanding of its meaning because when you have a dialogue with someone, you should respect him, consider him an equal, and listen to him with care and respect. Muslims should be ready to take the risk and present all what they have even if it is wrong and they should be ready to accept what is right and true that may be presented by others."
Mr. Ghanim Jawâd from Britain said: "The last ten years have witnessed a change in the structure of the Muslim community in Britain and this of course has a certain response by the people in power. The best example of such a response is the visit paid by Prince Charles to the Turkish Islamic Centre, the visit of Tony Bair to the Imam Al-Khou'i Foundation in London when we held a conference under the auspices of Prince Al-Hassan under the title (Islam and its Response to Terrorism), and the visit paid by the husband of the Queen to a number of Islamic institutions in last March. The Prime Minister's Office for Religious Communities held a meeting last November and there was coordination for selecting an activating committee for observing the development of events in Britain. The members of the committee represent five Islamic institutions that meet on Wednesday at the beginning of every month to discuss the issues related to religion."
"What is more important", Jawâd added, "is the change in the way of thinking of the British society towards the Islamic issues. Last Monday, the fourth channel in the British TV presented a program that covered what happened in Jenin Camp and the massacres and crimes committed by the Israeli troops there. The coverage of the topic was not biased. Another example is the article that was published about "Muhammad Ad-Durrah" (the unarmed helpless Palestinian child who was mercilessly killed by the Israeli guns) which made a big echo and a row on the part of the Jewish Lobby when such an article was mentioned by a British radio station which is specialized in tackling cultural and political issued and it hosts a number of personalities in order to present a balanced image taking into consideration that fact that the British community is a multi-cultural one. Last month, we most of us should have watched one of the biggest demonstrations which included 50 thousand persons in Britain to support the Palestinians. One of the most significant issues in this regard is the law of terrorism combat enacted by the government. We notice that the government, represented by the Ministry of Interior listens to the direct criticism of applying such a law and the attempts made to adjust it as it gives the police the right to imprison any person without having any evidence or proof that he is involved in any act that requires putting him into jail."
Furthermore, Mr. Jawâd added: "There is an escalation of the waves of the extremist right parties in the aftermath of September 11th events in which the seeds of grudge and racism can be seen. There were no incidents of great transgression but only minor ones committed against some women wearing Hijab as well as looking at them men wearing beards with rage. With the passage of time, the people in Britain changed their view especially after the publication of some news about the Muslim Community in Britain in one of the most popular and saleable newspapers in Britain). There is a high rate of unemployment in the Muslim Community despite their efficiency and experience. For instance, one of my daughters is a graduate of one the most reputable universities in London and she has an M.A. Degree. She submitted more than 72 application for work and most of them were accepted by email but when she appears for the interview, she is rejected because she wears Hijab. My other daughter has a degree in chemistry and she is always rejected for the same reason. I don't claim that this is the direct reason but there are indications that lead to that. Simply because the British law penalizes for racial segregation, whereas there is no penalty for discrimination based on religion and this is one of the requests submitted by the Muslim Community to the Cabinet in order to enact a law that combats religious discrimination too."
Mr. Jawâd concluded saying: "There is one more thing that raises suspicion which is the increasing focus on the Islamic Foundations, concentrating the observation of their activities and the frequent visits under unreal names. Despite our good relations with the government and we have a coalition with the other organizations, we notice some personalities come under unreal names to investigate about our activities. One of the most difficult things we have encountered is transferring technology to the Islamic World. In the past it was very easy to contact one of the efficient professors to teach in the universities of the Islamic World and this is covered discrimination among peoples. As regards the process of assimilation mentioned by Dr. Thomas, it is an issue that has many obstacles in the way because the first generation is still committed to his culture, values and customs and it is very difficult for them to give them up or abandon them. But the second and third generations have started the crystallization of a new form that is called the more tolerant and more flexible Islam with others because they hold the citizenship of this country, are proud of belonging to it and believe in many of its values. This struggle still exists and is not over yet between the first generation and the generation that came after that and it is a problem out of which we suffer at home because our children believe in values other than ours. Thus, the process of reaching a balance between the first generation coming from the East and the generation of today is very tough. Last but not least, I would like to give you the glad tidings that the British Islamic Council has been established to represent the Muslims and this is part of the mission that has been accomplished and it is part of a coalition of five organizations that represent the Muslims in Britain."
Dr. Mustafa Serich the Mufti of Bosnia said that Europe is not a Christian continent but it has Muslims and Jews as well. He provided a brief presentation of the history of the Muslims' sufferings in Bosnia where the Muslims there were left with two options: either to immigrate or to stay and raise the banner of Jihad. In fact about 4 million people from Bosnia immigrated and left their country for Turkey and those were the rich people whereas the poor stayed behind and they struggled for their land and survival. They were exposed to fierce massacres and merciless genocide. In the end both immigration and Jihad proved to be failures simple because the people of Bosnia were very poor as regards the number of troops and the armament too. The only resort was in Darul-Aqh, Darul-Abd and Darul-Sulh. Then Dr. Mustafa moved to talk about the issue of the dialogue and he inquired: which type of dialogue do we mean in this context? Is it political or religious? The difficulty in the coexistence of the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians is due to the lack of trust, the dysfunction of international law, the double standard dealings, and dishonesty.
Dr. Jan Vilaseal from Canada said: "I'm from a lucky country which had suffered neither colonization nor national claims as it is a multi-national country. We should acknowledge that we live nowadays in a changeable world and there must be a dialogue based on reason and we must look for a joint language for such a dialogue. There are a number of variables that should be taken into consideration in our changeable world, on top of which is globalization, and the speedy development both in the East and the West. In our incessant search for establishing dialogue between the East and the West, we should set a meticulous definition for the meaning of dialogue. As for me, dialogue means democracy as a dialogue is a strong language or means and it is sometimes difficult but in the end it saves us from the savage damage and results of wars.
"The second point", added Dr. Vilaseal, "to be taken into consideration in the dialogue is the acknowledgment and respect of the other and the dialogue should be based on the principle of equality with the other. This would encourage people to pause and think so as to accept self-criticism in order to know the points of differences, attain peaceful coexistence, and learn how to accept the other despite the differences because once we get to know the other clearly, differences could turn into variance and diversity which, in turn, leads to coalition. To me, difference is a great blessing and I personally do not like the term 'tolerance' because it has a negative implication. The third and last point is that we should avoid using words like 'victory', 'violence', 'colonization'. .and the like in language of the dialogue because such terms usually invokes painful memories and constitutes an obstacle in the way of dialogue. I appreciate and commend the dialogue of civilization for which the ISESCO is preparing."
After that Mr. Yahia Abdul-Wahid, from Italy, took the floor and said: "I will not discuss Berlsconi's declaration that the western civilization is better than the eastern because I, as an Italian Muslim, can not say that I'm better than the other because I'm Italian or because I'm a Muslim. But, I'll shed light on the structure of the Islamic Community in Italy and show how different they are from those in the UK. The Italian Constitution stipulates that Christianity is the formal religion of the state. The Italian government signed many agreements with several religious communities like the Anglican Church, the Jewish Community, and some Protestants and is presently holding discussions with the Buddhist Community together with the Orthodox. But it has not signed any agreement with the Muslim Community because of the insufficiency of Islamic institutions."
Mr. Yahia added that: "The only institution that is acknowledged by the state is The Jamei (Mosque) in Rome which was founded in 1974. it is regarded as a symbol of Islam and is quite respected by all ambassadors such as those of Belgium, London and Spain. Muslim ambassadors started to assume office in 1974. Before that year, no recognition of any Islamic Community was there. Immigration to Italy started also after 1974. So, it is high time we begin discussing how to support the Islamic Community and the establishment of a certain Italian body, for the interest of the Muslims, which would be acknowledged by government bodies. We're trying to find this institution, and the Minister of Interior agreed to establish it as we (The Jamei) are the only body that requested recognition of it."
"As regards the reasons behind our seminar", added Mr. Yahia, "which concentrate on the relation with the other and diversity, I would like to say that we have made some successes in Italy during the last five years in this respect, particularly in the field of education. In 1997, I was appointed as a Muslim member in a committee established by the Italian Ministry of Education. Such education which includes different cultures aims at introducing the religion of Islam to the children at school. It is a multi-dimensional and a multi-cultural change that exposes the child at school to different cultures that he experiences within the Italian society itself. The problem lies in the change from one-dimensional education to a multi-cultural one. We are not against coeducation because we want neither the Muslim nor the Jew, for instance, to be introvert. But we must face the reality and acknowledge that there are different and diversified cultures and there is no problem in being exposed to cultures other than yours as this is the best way to understanding among the elements of the same society. This is what I try to discuss with the Jewish Community and the other communities that are irreligious. We have made success because we made the society respect the other cultures and creeds, and be open to what is called global education or globalization of education so as to ally and cooperate together."
Mr. Yahia concluded saying: "I'd like also to say that we are facing a problem similar to that discussed by the Bosnian Mufti, namely prejudice against Muslims. Concordance is a real problem scholars face, i.e. how you could be a Muslim from the western perspective? How you could achieve concord between your Islamic creed and your attempt to keep your religious teachings on the one hand and the nature of practical life in the secular Italian society on the other. The existence of the Anglican Church in Italy, a force that is not ignorable, leaves an inescapable impress on society. So, it is normal to link between Italy and Christianity. Thus, I'm regarded as a strange person. People find it very strange for me to be an Italian and a Muslim in the mean time. They see that as extremely funny and unacceptable and I cannot be a distinguished Italian citizen because I'm a Muslim, nor could I be a distinguished Muslim because I'm an Italian. In the end, I repeat what the Mufti of Bosnia said: by the beginning of last year when the UNISCO resolution was issued in Paris about Muslim minorities, the European Islamic conference - a non-governmental organization acknowledged by the EU-was established. We are striving hard to upgrade this situation in cooperation with deputy chairman so as to clarify our message that the Islamic identity is considered part of the European identity, a topic which is still prone to discussion. We have to concentrate on the issue of the Muslim minorities all over the world. Efforts are also exerted to establish an Islamic organization in Italy which defends Muslims and claims their rights."
After that Dr. Muhammad Shamah, from Egypt, said: "I've listened to many discussions yesterday and today. Each speaker presented a report about the relation between Muslims and Christians in his country and how they can coexist. Some of them asked for definite measures to be taken like issuing a certain law or general principles on which the dialogue must be based. Today, Dr. Thomas said that he wanted to define certain points of common interest between Muslims and Christians to be adopted. However, I think that they are all based on reports and speeches and do not contain any definite points. I will show you now a concept of those points which we should all acknowledge and work for putting them into force in the international system so that the dialogue would be constructive,
1. Muslims, Christians and Jews must acknowledge that all humanity has one origin and that no race should disdain the others, no people should contempt the others on account of color, race, creed. or cultural power. This principle is not against the interest of those who do not believe in religion as they can adopt it and admit that all people are equal,
2. That Allah has sanctified man is a principle that must be acknowledged because man should not be humiliated regardless of his nationality. In addition, mass media must stop disdaining any specific culture and politicians and thinkers must neither openly declare nor allude to inferiority of the others' cultures and propagate for the superiority of their culture,
3. The idiosyncrasy of every people should be respected. Communication should be based on exchanging information and experience, rather than on the predomination of one culture over the other or the imposition of one people's traditions on the rest,
4. Acknowledging the Other: Islam acknowledges other creeds as religions, regardless of the fact they are not heavenly in essence and that they are radically different from it concerning their beliefs and provisions. Similarly, the others should also acknowledge Islam a religion even though they do not believe in it, because recognition makes the other feel an equal footing of dialogue,
5. Freedom of creed: no one should force the others into embracing his creed. People should be free to liberally adopt whatever doctrine they like,
6. Justice: To administer justice, every people must be given the right to live at home without being exposed to any aggression or any attempt to be dominated by others,
7. Freedom of expression: restrictions in this field render matters more ambiguous with the result that peoples become unaware of what others think which in turn helps conspiracies and sedition's break and
8. Equality: No country should be favored over other countries. This necessitates the admission of the right of every country to use its nature resources. Resources should be divided equally among the peoples of the earth so that each one of them gets enough subsistence to lead a good life adequate to the man who has been dignified by Allah.
These are the concepts which I deem basic to the rules any conversant parties should abide by if they want to have a dialogue. We will have to accept them and apply them when we commence to converse with a view to approaching general formulas that should by all means be adhered to by every party even by force when necessary. I was hoping that this gathering would have included those who are in charge of conducting dialogue between religions. I think we have Dr. Ah As-Saman with us and he is specialized in this field. The afore-said principles must be the basic pillars of holding the dialogue, which, I think, will not be confined to Christianity and Islam, but will also include Judaism and other creeds."
After that, Dr. Ibrahim Badran commented as follows: "How can we formulate a new international system void of the menace we are facing now? I presume that all of you have seen the dead bodies of the Palestinians and of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international system has never actually witnessed such corpses and dead bodies before, even during the two world wars. However, now we witness the spilled blood and the dead bodies without a war launched. The question is: where does that come from? Is it due to the inadequacy of religion or the failure of culture? This is done by some western groups who claim that they are the pillar of modern civilization. And Israel declares that it is the representative of the western society and a part of it while we live under the danger of the nuclear threat and the catastrophes that will take place soon besides the conflict over water in the next century following those over oil."
"I wish we could establish", added Dr. Badran, "rules for stable coexistence. We want to examine the common problems to come out with solutions set by the scholars. There is actually an immense gap between the rich and the poor. 80% of the peoples of the earth own 20% only of its natural resources, while only 18 countries whose population does not exceed 20% of the people of the earth own the rest of the resources. Believe me, you will never be able to save the world from devastation if each party sticks to his position and refuses to offer the poor, conflicts will erupt continually, particularly with the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and the rich's harassment of the poor to get more wealth and seek their own interests."
Dr. Badran went on saying: "GATT agreements are close examples. International trade agreements also expect that the third world will get a tiny percentage of profit (80 billion dollars) if the agreements were executed for its own interest. Meanwhile, the share of the U.S. and the EU is incredible. It ranges from 200 to 300 billion dollars. We are aware of the tough economic besiege imposed upon our countries presently, so now can we set solutions for this problem which lead some of us to kill others? Moreover, the U.S.A. modifies the international law and the whole universal system so that legitimate rights would be branded terrorism despite the long-lived settlement of Geneva treaties and the resolutions of the Security Council!"
The chairman of the session Dr. Ja'far made a final commentary in which he asserted that the world has got to figure out some solutions to the current issue of prejudice, murder, destruction and monopoly of wealth by only 20% of the world population whereas the rest of the world suffers from poverty, epidemics and the scarcity of resources . He suggested that the edifice of the international society must be established on practical justice which administered by plunging into the core of the problems and solving them. Therefore, this seminar aims at approaching a concrete reality of human rights instead of the double-standard of treatment. Human rights are not exclusively confined to U.S. and Israel, but they are inclusive for all human beings, by virtue of the UN charter and the provisions of the International Law.
Finally Dr. Fawziyya Al-Ashmawi, from Switzerland, said: "the attacks of September 11th elucidated that the Swiss people are completely ignorant of Islam. It suffices to tell you that all editions of the translations of the meanings of the Glorious Qur'ân into German and French were sold out after September 11th, which explicitly indicates that the Swiss people heavily flocked to learn about Islam. I suggest that Muslims must play a positive role by buying an area in the foreign newspapers like the French 'Le Mode' and the British 'Newsweek' etc. Such an area should be dedicated to explain the message of Islam, its tolerance and principles."
The seminar was concluded by a proposal to form a committee to formulate the suggestions that reflect the efforts exerted and the opinion exchanged during the conference period of this seminar and the procedures that can be taken in the future. The committee was formed of the following members:
Dr. Murad Hofmann
Dr. Jan Vilaseal
Dr. Ali As-Samman
Dr. Nabil Badr
Dr. Reda Bedeir
to formulate the suggestions that the seminar presents to the conference which agreed on the following proposals:
1. The Glorious Qur'ân confirms the value of diversity included in the verse 48 of Surat Al-Ma'idâh where Allah, Glory to Him, says: If Allah had willed, He would have made you one united nation ...
2. The Islamic countries should hold conferences about Islam in the European countries and the west in general.
3. Dialogue should be held between believers of different creeds and cultures that is based on equality, respect of the other and objectivity in presenting facts.
4. Selecting definite topics for discussions and dialogue (such as diversity, democracy, human rights, free thinking, and women's status), evading generalization, acceptance of the other and self-criticism.