Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The parters of Peace: ALi Gomaa


The partners of peace

Ali Gomaa,
Jan 15, 2011, 12.00am IST
The terror attacks that shook America over 10 years ago left a scar on the face of world diplomacy and an obstacle hampering attempts to bring peace to our ailing planet through a much needed inter-religious dialogue.

9/11, the day on which 3,000 civilians were killed, marked the beginning of a struggle by Muslims to integrate into the world, particularly the West. The brutal attack, carried out by a few misled minds claiming to be fighting in the name of God, tarnished a great deal of the image of Islam. And as Muslims fight to crystallise the differences between radicalism and the noble teachings of Islam, western and eastern officials and commentators are baffled, wondering, "Where are the moderates?"

With only extremism highlighted, thanks to acts perpetuated by a few radicals, many are eager to see moderate representatives of the noble religion of Islam stand out in the Muslim world, and rise as partners for peace.

Reconciling Islam with the modern world has been particularly imperative for Muslims in a set of continuous attempts dating back to the 19th century, when what became known as the Islamic reform movement sprouted within
Al Azhar University in Cairo, the chief institution for Islamic learning in the world.

At Dar al Ifta, Egypt's supreme body for Islamic legal edicts over which i preside, we're in a continuous struggle to apply Islam to modern life. That's not because Islam doesn't fit in our modern times, for Islam is universal; the challenge lies in trying to find solutions to modern problems from within the Islamic doctrine, and consequently deriving new rulings from Islamic law pertaining to their application. We issue thousands of fatwas or authoritative legal edicts - for example, ensuring the right of women to dignity, education and employment, and to hold political office, and condemning violence against them.

We have upheld the right of freedom of conscience, and of freedom of expression within the bounds of common decency. We have promoted the common ground that exists between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other eastern religions. We unequivocally condemned violence against civilians during Egypt's own struggle against terrorism in the 1980s and the 1990s, and following the heinous crime of
9/11 and, most recently, the horrific church bombing that shook Alexandria a few days ago. We continue to do so in public debates with those who uphold extremist views of Islam; in training students from all over the world at Egypt's theological institutions; and also in our counselling of captured terrorists.

As the head of one of the leading Islamic authorities in the world, let me restate: The murder of civilians is a crime against humanity and God, punishable in this life and the hereafter.

While we must strive to reinforce the common principles that we share, we must also accept differences in our values and in our outlook. Islam and Indian civilisations have distinct value systems. Respect for our differences is a foundation for coexistence, and never for conflict.

Since his historic election more than two years ago, President Barack Obama has made it a point to reach out to the Muslim world. These overtures have been heard and welcomed by many including our Indian partners. But practical steps are needed to turn good intentions into a sustained relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Firstly, for Islam to be an active and moderate player in today's world, certified Muslim clerics must be recognised as the ones who speak for Islam. Too often, the media succumbs to the temptation to treat as Muslims those extremists who are representatives of nobody but themselves. We share the blame. The time has come for Muslim clerics to be more vocal and professional in their approach.

Already, massive headway is being made throughout the Muslim world in educating preachers and students of Islam, helping them engage more productively with the modern world. Meanwhile, Muslim clerics are reaching out internationally to take hold of inter-religious dialogue and improve interfaith relations, such as the Common Word and the
C1 World Dialogue initiative.

Secondly, it is necessary for our dialogue to be multifaceted. Beyond the immediate call to improve relations, there is a dire need to make our dialogue comprehensive, including scientific, cultural, economic and technological discourses. There should be stronger ties between Indian and Egyptian universities, research facilities and students.

Thirdly, a wise and balanced foreign policy should be the basis for improved relations. For the Muslim world, and particularly the clerical community, it is important that the rule of law prevail during times of conflict. There should be concerted efforts on both sides to respect international law and
UN resolutions. Most immediately, this needs to be applied to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A universal recognition of Israel can only be contingent on the Palestinian refugees' right of return and restoration of the occupied lands.

Even though it is a cliche to say that dialogue is a two-way street, it remains a fundamental point that is at risk of being lost. The responsibility of an improved relationship between the Muslim world and
India falls on both sides. I feel that this is not only possible, but also the only hope for a brighter and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren. With cooperation and respect, no task has been impossible for man.

The writer is the Grand Mufti of Egypt.

Jagdish Upasane

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