I am often asked: “Where are the Muslim leaders and what do they do against terrorism, for peace and for the protection of Christians in the Middle East?”
Have you ever heard of the Abu Dhabi Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim societies? It is perhaps the most recent platform of international cooperation among the Islamic world’s institutional representatives, theologians, jurists, academics, intellectuals and spiritual leaders. The last meeting was held in December 2016. The first annual meeting of the Forum took place in March 2014 in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, promoted by the Foreign Minister shaykh ‘Abd Allah bin Zayed al-Nahayan and the shaykh ‘Abd Allah bin Bayyah.
It is necessary to look at this old spiritual leader, born and raised in Mauritania, who then moved to Tunis where he perfected his legal studies. Shaykh ‘Abd Allah bin Bayyah first held the position of Minister of Education, then Minister of Justice, and finally Vice President of the Republic of Mauritania. His extraordinary doctrinal preparation was recognized even in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he was the chair of Qur’an and Arabic language studies at the King ‘Abd al-Aziz University in Jeddah and he was appointed to preside over some of most well-known international legal councils. His training has always been accompanied by a precise reference to the spirituality and orthodoxy of Sufis contemplative orders.
Witness of knowledge both within and without Islam, shaykh Bin Bayyah has always promoted the opportunity of a public representation of this doctrinal identity for the benefit of the intellectual awakening of the Muslim world and in opposition to violent extremisms. Consistent with this perspective, Bin Bayyah was already actively present among the scholars of the first historic intra-religious document stating a shared plan among different schools of thought and worldwide Muslim representatives (The Amman Message, 2004) and he was also present in that about the dialogue between Christians and Muslims (A Common Word, 2007), as well as in the “Letter to al-Baghdadi” (2014), in which he debunks the claims of theological justification of the self-declared caliph of Iraq and Syria.
Hence, it is not a coincidence that those participating each year in Abu Dhabi at the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim societies are precisely the international representatives of this process of a shared plan, of sensitivity and doctrinal modulation started in Amman in 2004 partly in response to the September 11, 2001 tragedy and in order to safeguard the authenticity of the spiritual and doctrinal identity of Islamic civilization from al-Qaeda’s terrorism and the political movements’ corruption. Since 2014, this Forum was attended by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of the Hashemite family of the Kingdom of Jordan, the ISESCO Director, Professor ‘Abd al-Aziz Uthman al-Twaijri, the Minister of Religious Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco, Professor Ahmad Tawfiq, the shaykh of the mosque of al-Azhar in Cairo, Professor Ahmad Tayyeb, in addition to the consolidated network of Muslim intellectuals already known in the West and at the Vatican, such as Din Shamsuddin from Indonesia, Muhammad Sammak from Lebanon, Sayyed Ata Allah Mohajerani from Iran, Faisal bin Muammar, KAICIID of Vienna, Aref Nayed from Libya, Mustafa Sherif from Algeria, Yahya Pallavicini from Italy, Hamza Yusuf Hanson from the United States, Hisham Hellyer from the United Kingdom, ‘Abdellah Boussouf from Belgium and Muhammad Bechari from France.
What is striking about this opportunity for an exchange among influential Muslims coming from the various regions of the world is also the heterogeneity of some interpretations, for example, from Mufti Taqi Uthmani of the Dar al-Ulum in Pakistan to Muhammad al-Ruki, the rector of the prestigious University of Al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, from the Minister of Islamic Affairs of Sudan ‘Imar Mirghani Husayn to the general secretary of the World Islamic League Muhammad Abd al-Karim al-‘Issa from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In this universe there is a reflection of the complexity and unity within the diversities of the contemporary Islamic community. Differences that are not only of cultures, languages and nationalities, but also of nuances of shapes and interpretive priorities of law, politics, education and Islamic spirituality. All this becomes even more difficult and articulated when we deal with the relationship between tradition and modernity, East and West, religious nationalisms and secular state, identity protection and intercultural cooperation, interfaith dialogue and proselytism, human rights and religious duties. But is this not the case in Hebrew and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist environments?
We cannot deny that what contributes to cement this new phase of international concertation is the shared urgency to react all together to the degeneration of fundamentalism and terrorism that abuses of the Islamic form in order to destabilize the entire international system, including the Islamic world, to kill thousands of innocent people, including many Muslims, and to seduce thousands of young people with the false promise of making them become heroes of the jihad. Within this perspective, the accepted invitations to intervene as speakers in the Forum this year by the Special Adviser of the Secretary General of the United Nations to prevent criminal atrocities, Adam Dieng, and the Special Envoy of the President of the European Commission for the promotion of religious freedom outside the European Union, Jan Figel, are interesting.
Four concluding remarks: the importance of an interdisciplinary network, the fundamental contribution of Western Muslim representatives, the renewal of interreligious cooperation and the added value of spiritual schools.
The importance of an interdisciplinary approach is motivated by the awareness that the evil of terrorism strikes various areas of public life at the same time, and it is only through coordination between civil society, experts in education and security, religious representatives as well as national and international institutions that we will be able to seriously and effectively address this threat.
The role of Western Muslims in this situation becomes doubly useful. On the one hand, they can represent a constructive synthesis between Islamic identity and European context by acting as an antidote to those who claim to put these two realities in conflict. On the other side, Western Muslims seem to be able to contribute, within the Islamic community in Europe but also in the East, to a more harmonious relationship of the consistency of religious sensitivity with the various streams of secular thought, avoiding the confusion and exploitation of radicalism.
In January 2016, the network of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies participated in the organization of a major step hosted in Marrakech by the Kingdom of Morocco. In this circumstance, the platform has expanded, with the presence of rabbis and representatives of the international Jewish community, Christian priests and bishops of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity and it has produced the Marrakesh Declaration in which the freedom and dignity of every religious and cultural minority in the Islamic world is reaffirmed. To develop some relationships of the intra-religious dialogue also for the benefit of inter-religious dialogue means to accept the role of protecting not only the specificity of one’s own religion but also the right of every believer, creature and citizen in the world.
Finally, knowledge and respect for the authentic identity of the Islamic faith from the extremism’s falsifications cannot happen without the involvement of masters, spiritual streams and traditional theological schools, which provide education and consistency with the spirit of faith rather than the propaganda of formalism. The contribution of these scholars with their advice on the management guidelines of policies on freedom and religious pluralism becomes significant, particularly in the adaptation of the sacred dimension to the times and contexts for social cohesion, growth of the inner consciousness and noble role of the family of sincere and virtuous believers.