by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 7, Sha'ban, 1427)
The unity of the Ummah has been a major theme of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Majma-e Taqrib Bain al-Madhahib al-Islami (Organization for Convergence between Schools of Thought in Islam) convenes an annual Unity Conference to discuss themes of relevance to all Muslims. This year’s conference took place from August 20-22. ZAFAR BANGASH, director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), was there.
This year's Unity Conference in Tehran, organized by Majma-e Taqrib (August 20-22), was about the problems and responsibilities of Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries, but two themes dominated conference proceedings: Hizbullah's victory over Israel, and the continuing mayhem and turmoil in Iraq. Some 90 delegates from 32 countries attended the conference, at which several hundred papers were presented dealing with minorities in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Europe and North America. Naturally very divergent views were heard, with each region showing a different picture. If hitherto Muslims in Europe and North America had escaped the kind of persecution that was directed against Muslims elsewhere, now they have also had to face serious problems in a more direct way.
But first let us deal with Hizbullah's victory and the problems in Iraq. There were representatives from both countries, although not in any official capacity. Hizbullah's victory was savoured by Muslims from all parts of the world in a manner that revived memories of the early days of celebrations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. More than a quarter century ago, Muslims from all parts of the world converged on Tehran to celebrate what is referred to as Deh-e Fajr (Ten Days of Dawn) celebrations, based on the Qur'anic surah al-Fajr (s.89). These are still celebrated, although some of the novelty has subsided with time. Since then Muslims have suffered many disasters: the eight-year Western-backed Iraqi-imposed war on Iran; genocide inBosnia; the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq; and the longstanding tragedy of the Palestinian people at the hands of the zionists. Thus Hizbullah's victory came as welcome news amid so much suffering in the Muslim world. It was all the more remarkable because a small number of Hizbullah fighters armed with light weapons defeated the most powerful military machine in the Middle East. The feeling of brotherhood and the joy with which this victory was greeted were truly heartwarming.
If Hizbullah's victory was celebrated and applauded, events in Iraq were mourned. There was apprehension that events were spiraling in a direction that would have disastrous consequences for the Ummah. While there was much manipulation by the occupation forces, especially the Americans and the British, with Israel's spy agency Mossad also being very active, deliberately instigating or actually carrying out attacks, the two major players in the country—Shi‘as and Sunnis—are also not without fault. This is all the more depressing because Iraq has never before had any significant sectarian conflict: of its six million married couples, nearly 1.5 million are mixed marriages between Shi‘as and Sunnis. Further, there is not a single family inIraq that does not have a member—a cousin, relative and so on—from the other group. Thus such sectarian conflict is both surprising and worrying. It threatens to tear the very fabric of society, dividing the country along sectarian lines. This will be disastrous for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, because it will unleash forces that may not be easy to contain. The US andBritain would like nothing better than that; creating mayhem in the Muslim world is one of their primary objectives, but it is for the Iraqis to work together and not become tools of the Americans.
These concerns were reflected in the final resolution presented at the concluding session of the conference.
1. To preserve the identity of Muslim minorities, it is important for mosques, schools and homes to play their proper role and urge Muslim minorities to participate fully in the cultural and social activities of the community.
2. The conference urges Muslim minorities, especially those residing in North America and Europe, to be aware of their responsibilities in reviving Islamic culture and values through the following activities:
2a Living in harmony within Western society without abandoning their own values;
2b While being fully involved in cultural activities, avoiding those issues that lead to discord or division in society;
3. Developing and promoting unity among different minorities in non-Muslim countries through dialogue;
4. Emphasising cooperation between organisations in Muslim countries and Muslim minorities for the protection of their rights;
5. Cooordinate Islamic activities: the conference urges the Organization of the Islamic Conference to establish a permanent committee and grant every Islamic organization membership in it, to hold regular meetings of this committee and to work to preserve the rights of Muslim minorities;
6. Projecting the correct image of Islam and Muslims in school textbooks in non-Muslim countries, by seeking the advice of an expert committee. The role of this committee will also be to identify such material and to notify the appropriate authorities to rectify such distortions;
7. Correcting the negative stereotyping of Islam and Muslims in the Western media, to develop a long-term plan and to utilize all modern technical means;
8. Concentrating on the education and guidance of young Muslims in non-Muslim societies by providing proper educational material and utilising their spare time in sport and other cultural activities by organising cultural seminars. Such cultural seminars and activities should be held in Muslim countries to strengthen bonds between Muslim minorities and Muslim countries.
9. Awareness of the rights of women to provide them with opportunities to fulfill their rights and obligations so that they can fully utilize their potential and talent.
10. A scientific census of Muslim minorities and their centres in non-Muslim countries and identify their intellectual abilities in order for them to utilize their talents fully through scientific and research centers.
11. Establishment of awqaf in non-Muslim countries and find ways and means to utilize their resources fully; to provide opportunities for those individuals who are involved in administering such activities and to provide them training and education; to establish new institutions to provide the means to help them as well as the charitable organizations in these societies.
12. A comprehensive programme to utilise the talent of Muslims in non-Muslim countries.
13. Encouragement of Muslim investors and entrepreneurs to cooperate in economic ventures with Muslims in non-Muslim societies to make Muslim minorities financially stable.
14. Protection of the legal, social, cultural and economic rights of Muslims in Europe and to enable them to live in peace and harmony by formulating programmes through the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other Islamic organizations.
15. Establishlishment of fatawa centres in non-Muslim countries and to promote harmony in their activities.
16. To urge non-Muslim countries to respect the beliefs of Muslims and to guarantee them the same rights as other citizens have; further to urge them not to discriminate against Muslims in any way.
17. Preservation of the Islamic identity of Muslims, by cooperation between Islamic cultural centres in Europe and Islamic universities in Muslim countries so that they can benefit from the latter's experience and have coordination among academics and scholars.
18. In order to implement these recommendations, the Conference urges that similar conferences be held all over the world to discuss the role of Muslim minorities. For this purpose, committees of specialists should be established to make recommendations.
19. The 19th Islamic Unity Conference urges support for the fatawa of ulama and resolutions of the Proximity Conference because the majority of madhahib firmly believe in following the principles and rules of Islamic Shari‘ah based on the Qur'an and Sunnah to overcome the challenges facing them by promoting unity. It also urges Muslims to refrain from highlighting minor fiqhi differences that create discord in the Ummah. Finally, this Conference in supporting the activities of the Proximity Conference urges more cultural conferences to promote unity among Muslims.
20. The 19th International Unity Conference makes the following announcement regarding the issue of Palestine:
a. The whole of Palestine is sacred land for all Muslims. The Zionists have occupied this land through aggression and act as a tool for Western imperialism against Muslims. These powers use the Zionist entity to continue their traditional enmity toward Islam and Muslims and promote their own selfish interests. By bringing people from all over the world to settle inPalestine, these powers want to dominate the world of Islam, exploit its resources, and keep Muslims divided. By launching frequent wars against Muslims, the Zionists do not refrain from perpetrating any crimes in order to promote the objectives of Western imperialism.
b. This Conference condemns the crimes being perpetrated against Palestine and Lebanon by the zionists, backed by the US, which supports state and individual terrorism in all parts of the world to promote the agenda of Western imperialism.
c. This Conference urges ulama, scholars and thinkers everywhere to condemn zionist crimes and to work toward the elimination of zionism by utilizing all means at their disposal.
d. The 19th Islamic Unity Conference condemns any links with the zionist entity, urges all Muslim governments sever links with the occupiers of al-Quds and support the democratically elected government in Palestine. It also urges all freedom-loving people worldwide to condemn zionist crimes, to stop zionist crimes against the Palestinians, to work toward the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland, to demand the unconditional release of Palestinian prisoners held in zionist jails, and to work for the restoration of Palestinian rights in their homeland.
21. This Conference salutes the valiant struggle of the Palestinians and Lebanese, and firmly believes that these mujahideen have restored the honour and dignity of the Ummah. Since they are struggling for the honour of Islam, it is incumbent on all Muslims to respect and support them. This Conference applauds the great victory of Hizbullah against the Zionist army by demolishing the myth of its invincibility, rubbing its nose in the dust and teaching it an unforgettable lesson. This Conference urges all Muslim thinkers and ulama to support the support the victory of Hizbullah and to end all doubts and differences about it so that it can continue the struggle to achieve its noble objectives. The victory of Hizbullah can be a source of unity for the Ummah so that it is able to successfully face these challenges and defend its identity, culture and civilization.
22. This Conference strongly condemns the continuing American aggression and promotion of sectarianism in Iraq, and considers it the direct result of US aggression. It urges all Iraqi groups to frustrate such conspiracies and oppose foreign occupation through unity and brotherhood. It further urges all Iraqis to respect the rights of all citizens and work toward the development of Iraq, which had contributed so much to progress and civilization of the Ummah in the past. The Conference calls upon Shi‘a and Sunni ulama to establish a charter based on common principles in order to protect the honour, life and wealth of Muslims and to consider these sacred for the purpose of frustrating the designs of those who want to exploit minor differences between people.
23. The Unity Conference condemns the double standards practised by Western governments. In particular, it condemns their support for and development of the zionist state's nuclear programme while hindering Iran's peaceful nuclear programme, which is in full compliance with international agreements as well as International Atomic Energy Agency regulations. Finally, this Conference supports the scientific progress of the Ummah to break through the backwardness that has been imposed upon it.
24. This Conference thanks the Islamic Republic of Iran for declaring this as the year of the Messenger of Allah to promote understanding of his Seerah. And in using this opportunity, it calls upon the Conference to choose suitable topics for the twentieth international conference. The Unity Conference also expresses gratitude to the Rahbar, Ayatullah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, for providing wise leadership and guidance in promoting unity and Islamic brotherhood in the Ummah. The Conference also thanks Majma-e Taqrib for its untiring efforts in promoting unity by organizing such conferences and prays to Allah that He will help the Ummah to follow the Qur'an and Sunnah of the noble Messenger of Allah (saw) to achieve its glory and greatness.