When I speak in Europe or America, there is one question I always know is coming: Why don’t Muslim religious leaders condemn violence? I try to explain that even though the western media doesn’t report on them, they do exist. There are many Muslim leaders who speak regularly against violence and present Islam as a religion that supports peace and coexistence.
Last week, I co-organized a weekend in Istanbul with 120 of these Muslim leaders, with a focus on the future of Afghanistan. They tackled hot issues like violence, peace, the misinterpretation of Islamic texts and the role of Muslim religious leaders in promoting peace. Click here to listen to a radio interview about the event. Below is a press release I wrote along with my George Mason University colleagues ahead of the conference.
ISTANBUL, Nov. 30, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — From every province of Afghanistan, Imams and civil society leaders will meet together today with Islamic scholars for the first time during the Islamic Cooperation for a Peaceful Future in Afghanistan conference, an unprecedented gathering that opens today in Istanbul, Turkey. More than 80 Afghan scholars will meet with over 20 of the world’s most prestigious Muftis and Islamic scholars, with millions of followers across the world, from Pakistan to Indonesia.
The conference participants consider this gathering, discussion and commitment for peace and non-violence as the establishment of a historically significant point of reference for Islamic teachings of moderation, tolerance, peace and cooperation.
The conference is an academic forum created by the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) at George Mason University, together with a highly distinguished Afghanistan advisory board, Marmara University in Turkey, and the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. The conference is designed to foster and provide a safe venue for intensive conversations on peace, Islam and the future of Afghanistan. The conference opening will be observed by senior Turkish officials, senior diplomats from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), including U.S. President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy and the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Turkey.
The goal of the conference is to empower Afghan religious leaders who are committed to peace and cooperation, and help them create a tolerant civic space wherein the Afghan people and their leaders can jointly move toward stability, peace and prosperity.
Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-director of CRDC commented, “There are deep concerns about the use of religious interpretations—often misinterpretations—in justifying violence, particularly against civilians, religious leaders, places of worship, and cultural heritage in Afghanistan and beyond. I believe the participants hope for a responsible and pro-active role in peacemaking and peacebuilding via dialogue and non-violence.”
Neamatollah Nojumi, Senior Fellow of CRDC and critical architect of the project concluded, “This alignment of scholars inside and outside Afghanistan will give great strength to Afghan civil and spiritual leaders, and will set the foundation of a new spirit of cooperation with practical projects for nonviolent civil society that will be announced in the near future.”