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May 25, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 721

International Islamic Conference: Genuine Call for Tolerance or Reiteration of Hollow Slogans?

May 25, 2004
Special Dispatch No. 721

In late April 2004, representatives of 65 countries convened in Cairo, Egypt for the 16th International Islamic Conference, which was dedicated to "Tolerance in the Islamic Culture." Non-Muslim European observers were also invited, among them Belgian Minister, Hans Niessen, [1] who found much to criticize in the conference proceedings and resolutions.

When, citing time constraints, the organizers denied Niessen an opportunity to comment, he accused the Muslims of a "lack of transparency and failure to maintain a serious and honest dialogue with others, which has resulted in a clash between them and the West and brought about the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan." He stated that "the conference discussions were pointless, the research it presented was purposeless, and the participants spoke demagogically and no more." He called on Muslims to present practical examples of tolerance in various areas, and not to settle for words, hollow slogans, and glorification of bygone eras of Islam. [2]

Writing on the liberal website Elaph, Dr. Kamel Al-Najjar reviewed Niessen's statements and added his own harsh criticism of the conference. The following are excerpts from his article: [3]

'The Conference's Resolutions and Recommendations [are] Clichés that Recur Year After Year'

"If we look at the conference's resolutions and recommendations, we find nothing but clichés that recur year after year, to the point where they can almost be predicted even before the conference convenes. This year, the conference emphasized its rejection of all forms of violence and extremism, and condemned all terror operations taking place in the world, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

"The conference clarified that the security chaos in Iraq would end only with the end of the [U.S.] occupation, when the Iraqis are able to put together a government in accordance with their wishes. [The conference also] called on the Sudanese to stand together against all the conspiracies being hatched against them and their unity.

"As for democracy in Muslim countries and the rights of the Muslim woman, the conference approved investing additional efforts in deepening a democratic perception and in removing obstacles preventing its establishment, and called on the Muslim countries to uphold the women's rights that are set out in Islam."

'The Conference did not Address the Violence Recommended by the Writings of Our Muslim Forefathers'

"I will attempt to examine these resolutions in order to see whether Mr. Niessen was correct in accusing the Muslims of declaiming hollow slogans lacking in actual content. In looking at the first resolution regarding the condemnation of violence, we find that the conference did not address the violence recommended by the writings of our Muslim forefathers, which we consider an important part of Islam: violence and blows for 10-year-olds who are not punctilious about praying, beating women suspected of misconduct, or correcting a deviant act we encounter [on our own] instead of calling in the police to do so, and beating people with a rod on Fridays to urge them to hasten to the mosque. Perhaps some think that such blows are not violence, but education for children, women, and others. However, according to the concepts of modern education, it is the worse kind of violence, because it implants in children the thought that blows are the quickest way to get what you want."

The Conference Didn't Criticize Violence Against Non-Muslims

"The conference also condemned all kinds of terror, particularly the bombings in Saudi Arabia. But we heard no such condemnation when Muslim terrorists bombed the Bali nightclub, in which hundreds of young Westerners who had nothing to do with politics and what is happening in Palestine were killed. We heard no such condemnation when Islamists bombed a Jewish synagogue and the British Consulate in Turkey. And we also hear no condemnation of any kind when a Palestinian blows himself up in an Israeli nightclub or bus, killing himself along with dozens of innocent civilians.

"We are not saying that the Palestinians have no right to struggle against the occupation. But the struggle must be against the occupying forces, not civilians. [Furthermore], we heard no condemnation by Muslims of the terrorism being committed by the Al-Janjawidgangs, that are supported by the Sudanese government [to act against] the non-Muslim natives of Western Sudan."

'Every Year the Conference Calls For the Shura [Council] – Which No Arab Government has Honored Since the Dawn of Islam'

"When the conference participants talked about democracy, they called for additional efforts in deepening the perception of democratic values. We do not know where they want to deepen this perception, as the Islamic peoples, particularly the Arabs, have no need of this. They understand what democracy is and have been demanding it for several decades.

"If the participants were referring to Muslim rulers, particularly the Arabs, they should have gathered enough courage to address them directly, without evasive maneuvering, and called for the removal of the obstacles preventing the establishment of democratic parties and grounding democratic rules.

"The obstacles are obvious and well-known; they are the dictators, the Ba'ath parties, and the Islamic parties that control the fate of Sudan and Iran, and they are the kings and princes [who rule other parts of the region].

"Every year the Islamic conference calls for upholding the principle of the Shura [council]– which no Arab government has honored since the dawn of Islam. No one knows what the Shura is, or how to implement it in the world of today, because we have had no actual experience in implementing it."

'The Conference Recommended Upholding the Rights of Women as Set Out by Islam' – Such as Polygamy and Female Circumcision?

"Nothing is new with regard to the fog that envelops the conference recommendations on the status of women. The Islamic countries' conference recommended upholding the rights of women as set out by Islam, and abandoning foreign practices that distance them [i.e. women] from realizing their rights. However, the participants did not specify the rights they seek to protect.

"Do they mean polygamy, or [the ban on] a woman's giving testimony in cases where a Koranic punishment is indicated, or [the ban on] a woman's being a leader, in accordance with [the Hadith stating] 'those led by a women will not succeed?'

"Or do they mean compelling women to agree to mutilation of their sex organs, by means of what is claimed to be circumcision [according to] religious law, on the instructions of the Prophet [Muhammad]?

"In 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, 138 million women and girls undergo this procedure every year, and according to Amnesty International, Egypt heads the list.

"When the Egyptian health minister tried to stop female circumcision, Sheikh Jad Al-Haqq 'Ali Jad Al-Haqq issued, in 1994, a Fatwa stating 'Circumcision is mandatory for men and for women. If the people of any village decide to abandon it, the [village] imam must fight against them as if they had abandoned the call to prayer.' Why haven't we heard the Islamic conference call for a boycott of this reprehensible custom that has nothing to do with Islam?

"It appears that Mr. Niessen was right to say that 'the conference discussions were pointless, [and] the research it presented was purposeless.'

"Muslim jurisprudents have had an opportunity to form a consensus regarding a renewal of some perceptions that are not grounded in the Koran [but that] we inherited from our forefathers – such as female circumcision, [assumptions regarding] women's unsuitability for leadership, and the like. But the conference participants resorted to conspiracy theories… They urged the Sudanese to stand together against the plotting against them. As if the world had nothing better to do than to conspire to fragment Sudan!

"[The fact is that] Sudan has been fragmented since its founding, and that it was only 19th-century British imperialism that collected the amputated limbs, [while] the policy of [Sudan's] Islamic government has ignited tribal extremism among the citizens."

'No Compulsion in Religion' Vs. 'The Verse of the Sword'

"The conference participants, particularly the [PA-appointed] Jerusalem mufti Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri, stressed Islam's tolerance, and said that Islamic history was full of [examples] of tolerance towards other religions. As usual, they cited Koranic verses such as 'There shall be no compulsion in religion' [2:256] and 'Contend with them on the basis of that which is best' [16:125]. But in other venues, most [of the speakers] have insisted that these verses are abrogated by the 'verse of the sword' [9:5]. [4]

"Such statements, of course, convince no one who has studied Islamic history, and who is familiar with [the Muslim Caliph] 'Omar bin Al-Khattab's pact with the Christians of Al-Sham [Greater Syria], or with how the [Muslim commander who conquered Egypt] 'Amr Bin Al-'Aass acted towards the Copts in Egypt. Instead of focusing on the present and attempting to change how Muslims act towards the Copts in Egypt in the 21st century, [the participants] harked back to a distorted Islamic history."

'We Give [the Apostate] a Chance to Complete the Prayers and Fasting He Missed, and then Kill Him, in Accordance with the Koran'

"We did not hear the Islamic conference criticize some of the sheikhs who sow hatred and hostility among the citizens, contradicting the tolerance in whose name they speak.

"When the late Sheikh Suleiman Al-Madani was asked during a lecture in Bahrain about involving all national factions [including Shiites and possibly non-Muslims] in [government] decision-making, he answered: 'I don't know what 'national factions' are. As far as I am concerned, only a Muslim can be a citizen. Anyone born to Muslim parents who has stopped believing in Islam is sentenced to death according to religious law, and according to the consensus of the clerics. If he declares that he has repented, we give him a chance to complete the prayers and fasting that he missed [during his apostasy], and then we kill him, in accordance with the divine punishment set out in the Koran. This is the religious law accepted by the clerics and jurisprudents. Therefore, how can I say that he is permitted to take part in decision-making, when I do not permit him to take part in life?'

"Is this the kind of tolerance called for by the conference participants? And if it is not, why didn't the Islamic conference refute these statements, which are absorbed by a large segment of our youth – particularly since the sheikh argued that all the clerics agree with him. Is there really consensus in Islam [in these matters]?"


[1] Hans Niessn is the Minister for Youth and Family, Heritage, Health and Social Affairs in the government of the German speaking Community in Belgium.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 2, 2004.

[3] www.elaph.com, May 2, 2004.

[4] Koran 9:5: "When the period of four months during which hostilities are suspended expires without the idolaters having settled the terms of peace with you, resume fighting with them and kill them whenever you find them, and make them prisoners and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush."

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