Muslim scholars gather in U.A.E. to defend Islam

Conference delegates denounce fanatics who distort religion’s image

ABU DHABI: Dozens of Islamic scholars have gathered in the United Arab Emirates to defend their religion against accusations of fostering terrorism and to denounce groups of co-religionist fanatics distorting the image of Islam.

The six-day conference, hosted by the emirate of Abu Dhabi under the theme of “prophetic guidance in missionary work and guidance,” attracted an audience exceeding 500 people, with women accounting for over a third.

The head of the organizing committee spoke of the “deviant group,” a term used to refer to Islamist militants, saying “it distorted the image of Islam … (as it) persisted in destroying and killing.

“It became a must that Islamic scholars should come forward to make clear that Islam has nothing to do with that (killing),” U.A.E. Assistant Under Secretary of Islamic Affairs Hamdan al-Mazruwei told the opening session Monday night.

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

In the presence of two Christian clerics, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar – the highest authority in Sunni Islam – Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, said “we are required, as Muslims, to shake hands with whomever extends a hand to us in peace … regardless of whether this person is a Muslim.

“There is no coercion in religion,” Tantawi said, citing the Koran. “Forcing people into belief does not bring (new) honest Muslims, but rather hypocritical liars.”

Islamic clerics preaching moderation have been thrown on the defensive by Western accusations that Islam fosters extremism and terrorism. Such charges have intensified since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But some Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, are fighting their own war on domestic terrorism, embodied in groups of Islamist militants who regard local regimes as un-Islamic. “This is a group of people that deviated in their behavior. They belong (nominally) to the (Prophet) Mohammed’s base but they do not follow his steps,” said the minister of Islamic endowments in Sudan, Issam Beshir.

“Many individual fatwas (religious edicts) were issued, only to give the enemies of Islam pretexts to distort its pure image”, said Beshir, whose country figures on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“Anyone reading a couple of verses of the Koran installs himself as an imam issuing fatwas. … The (Muslim) nation is paying the price of these fatwas,” he said.

Noting that Muslims are divided on different issues, Bashir pointed out that “before having dialogue with the others, we (Muslims) should start an inner dialogue.

“We should accept pluralism in doctrines and opinions.”

Beshir said that Muslim countries recognize the need for reforms.

“We believe in reform … but this is based on our belief in the need for reform and not a result of succumbing to internal or external pressure,” he said.

Along similar lines, the Jordanian minister of Islamic endowments, Ahmed Heleil, said that “when we (Muslims) talk about the middle way of Islam … and respecting human dignity regardless of color or race, we start off from a mighty basis, and not out of fear.”

This is because “we are the best nation … We will always proclaim that we are a nation prided by Allah through Islam.”

The conference, which continues until Saturday, will feature meetings between invited scholars and preachers in different emirates of the U.A.E.

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