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Islamic Scholars Seek Dialogue With West • Friday July 11, 2003

Associated Press, July 11, 2003
SEAN YOONG, Associated Press

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia – Worried that Islam is being linked to terrorism, Muslim scholars at an international conference Friday proposed encouraging greater dialogue with the West and banning books that promote extremism.

Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawi – considered by many to be the Sunni Muslim world’s highest religious authority – said Islamic nations should “wholeheartedly open our arms to the people who want peace with us” and reject violence against the innocent.

“I do not subscribe to the idea of a clash among civilizations,” Tantawi said in a speech to nearly 800 scholars and representatives of nongovernmental groups from 34 countries. “People of different beliefs should cooperate and not get into senseless conflicts and animosity.”

Tantawi later told a news conference that people who commit terrorist acts in the name of the Islamic cause were wrong, stressing that “extremism is the enemy of Islam.”

Delegates at the three-day conference ending Saturday in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital, were discussing issues facing Muslim nations, such as disunity, terrorism and misconceptions about their religion.

The religion’s reputation was being marred by “extremists that hide under the slogans of Islam in deceit and propagate ideas that have no relation whatsoever to Islam,” said Sheik Husam Qaraqirah, who heads an Islamic charity association in Lebanon.

“We have to block them from channels that are meant to spread Islam,” Qaraqirah said in a discussion paper distributed to delegates. “Their books must be banned and lifted off the shelves of mosques, schools, universities and libraries.”

But Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in his address Thursday to open the conference, painted Europeans as rivals of Muslims, who he said were being singled out and humiliated by the international fight against terrorism.

Muslims “have not tried to catch up and surpass their detractors in knowledge and the capacity to produce arms, to have disciplined and well-trained forces for their defense,” said Mahathir, a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism but a fierce critic of the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The Muslims will never be able to bring back the honor and the respect for Islam … unless they become capable again of defending themselves,” he said.

But he said violence should not be used to achieve these aims, saying “our salvation will not be achieved by blindly killing innocent people.”

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