Monday, 10 May 2010

Review of the Year 2009 - Turning Point for Peace

Review of the Year 2009: A Turning
Point for Peace in Global History


Dr. Mozammel Haque

The year 2009 is a turning point in the global history of progress towards peace and harmony instead of war and conflict. The terror which was unleashed by the former President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, in 2001 ended with the victory in the US Presidential election by Barrack Obama who came to power with the election campaign slogan “Time for change”. At the same time, from the east, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Saudi Arabia came with the initiative of peace and harmony through interfaith dialogue. Both these leaders had a vision to bring peace and harmony in the world through recognition of the existence of different religions, cultures, people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds.

These two ventures opened the doors of peace and harmony instead of war and conflict in the world. But the year 2009 also witnessed a rise of Islamophobia in the western world, particularly in Europe. However, in the United Kingdom, it came to light that the British Muslims are most loyal citizens. The British Muslims made a great progress in different fields during the year 2009 in spite of rise of Islamophobia in some sector and the rise of far-right extremists.

At the beginning it will be demonstrated how the speeches of the two great leaders as well as heads of state will make the change in the social and political environment of the world.

King Abdullah’s Historic Conference
for Dialogue to bridge gaps and establish peace

King Abdullah began this journey of interfaith dialogue in the Holy City of Makkah, when he called on all 57 Muslim Heads of State to meet in Islam’s holiest city to ponder the issues of extremism and call for a Muslim renaissance. The King reiterated that message in words and deed. The King traveled to Vatican and met Pope Benedict offering him peace and friendship on behalf of the Muslim world. The visit heralded a new era in the relations between two Abrahamic faiths. Abdullah’s mission to Vatican was perhaps the strongest message of peace and good will to emanate from Arabia since the dawn of Islam in Makkah.

In June 2008, King Abdullah hosted a first historic Interfaith dialogue conference of hundreds of Islamic scholars in the Holy City of Makkah to discuss ways of promoting tolerance and more robust interfaith dialogue with the outside world. This Conference brought together more than 500 scholars, thinkers, officials of Muslim organizations and dialogue centres and academics from all Muslim countries and Muslim minorities living in various countries.

King Abdullah called on Muslims to counter challenges of rigidity, ignorance, narrow-mindedness so as to make the world accommodate the concepts and prospects of the message of Islam. “We are the voice of justice and moral values, we are the voice of rational and just co-existence and dialogue, the voice of wisdom and admonition, and dialogue with the best way possible as Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, ‘Invite all to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and discuss with them in ways that are best’,” King Abdullah said. “The way to the others will be through the common values: the values that the Almighty has sent for man’s goodness, the values which discard unfaithfulness and that protect from crimes and fight terrorism, values that belittle lies and establish moral principles, truth, honesty and justice and enforce family ties,” the King said.

King Abdullah immediately within a month came to the West, to Europe and selected the most suitable country, Spain. The World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid took completely a new direction. All previous conferences for dialogue were held between religions where participants presented views of their religions. The Madrid gathering was completely different which assembled the followers of different religions, cultures and civilizations, who presented their views on issues facing mankind.

The conference focused on a common vision and principles acceptable to all as its aim was to focus on human issues and challenges facing the world and avoid theological questions. The conference stressed the need to build a bridge of mutual understanding and co-existence between various people so that the world would be free from the evils of war, injustice, violence, terrorism, drugs and depravity. Speaking about the Madrid conference, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City, said, “Since the very beginning of our meeting, King Abdullah has focused the objectives of this conference on Dialogue with a courageous speech when he declared: “If we wish this historic meeting to succeed, we must focus on the common denominators that unite us, namely faith in God, noble principles, and lofty moral values which constitute the essence of religion.”

Then King Abdullah went to the United Nations and told world leaders, in the first speech by a Saudi monarch to the United Nations in 51 years, that the time has come to learn from the unjustifiable bloodshed and destruction caused by fanaticism from religious and cultural differences throughout history, and to gather around common values “for a more peaceful, more just, and more tolerant world.”

King Abdullah called for dialogue as a good beginning for humanity and urged world leaders to open a new era of peace, leaving behind the bloody past, and mobilize their resources to fight poverty, provide treatment to patients and boost development. “We had enough of killings, enmity and rights violations,” the king said and added, “If countries in the world had turned to peace and kept away from wars and conflicts and spent their time and energy to fight poverty and engage in humanitarian work we would not have seen these diseases and poverty.”

President Obama Seeks a New Beginning
between the US and the Muslim World

Similarly, the US President Barack Hussein Obama issued an ambitious seven-point manifesto for better ties with the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in his long-awaited, long promised historic address to the Muslim world at Cairo University in Egypt. His 55-minute speech before a 3,500 invited audience of politicians, opposition leaders, scholars and human rights activists was the centrepiece of his journey. It was billed as an effort by the President to soothe grievances of more than one billion Muslims across the world.

President Obama quoted from the Qur’an, paid homage to the cultural and intellectual achievements of Muslims and noted his middle name and his father’s ties to the faith. President Obama paid tribute to Islam’s influence in culture and civilization in his well-admired speech in Cairo. Obama said, “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”

Weaving his personal biography and America’s biography into his speech, Obama said, “So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Rise of Islamophobia in Europe
These two great leaders attempted to bring some sort of calmness, peace and harmony, not only between the West and the Islamic world, but also between different cultures, religions and faiths. No doubt, it brought some sort of understanding at the international level but at the same time, the world unfortunately noticed rise of Islamophobia in Europe, such as Burqa in France, Hijab murder in Germany, Islamophobic Film in Netherlands, Minaret ban in Switzerland and rise of far-right in Britain.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy made his attack on a small minority of Muslim women in his ‘state of the nation’ speech, stating that the burqa was not welcome in France, home to the largest Muslim community in Western Europe – five million and growing. President Sarkosy said, “The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That's not our idea of freedom.”

In Germany, On July 1, 2009, Marwa Ali El-Sherbini, a pharmacist who was three months pregnant, was brutally killed in a courtroom in the German city of Dresden while she was giving her testimony on how the defendant known only as Alex W insulted her for wearing the hijab on a playground last summer. It was at this point that Alex W calmly walked across the courtroom and frenziedly stabbed her 18 times. Her three-year-old son Mustafa was forced to watch the savage attack on his mother who died on the scene.

The German Government has been sharply criticised for its slow response to the Islamophobic murder. Secretary General of Germany’s the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said the German neo-Nazis had been rousing up a climate of Islamophobia in Germany for years, which was led by the rise of far-right National Democratic Party in the country.

In Netherlands, Dutch Freedom Party MP, Geert Wilders, describes the Holy Qur’an as a “fascist book” and compared it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He has called for the Qur’an to be banned. Mr. Wilders also links the Islamic Holy Book to terrorism. The film ‘Fitna’ caused outrage across the Muslim world when it was posted on the internet in 2008. Mr. Wilders faces trial in his own country for inciting hatred. Earlier, this year (2009), a Dutch court ordered prosecutors to put Mr. Wilders on trial for inciting hatred and discrimination by making anti-Islamic statements.

In Switzerland, the proposal to ban the building of minarets had been put forward by the Swiss People's Party, (SVP), the largest party in parliament, which says minarets are a sign of Islamisation. The Swiss ban on the building of minarets has been treated with the derision it deserves as being totally irrational. There are only 4 minarets in Switzerland. Still, the majority voted to ban new ones being built. It breaches many of the fundamental principles that European civilisations have been built on.

The Amnesty International said, Swiss minaret ban would be discrimination against religion. “Contrary to the claims of the initiators of the referendum, a general prohibition of the construction of minarets would violate the right of Muslims in Switzerland to manifest their religion,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. She also added: “A ban on the construction of minarets while, for example, allowing those of church spires would constitute discrimination on the basis of religion.”

Former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, said: "The ban on minarets in Switzerland, a country that only has four minarets, is an attack not only on Muslims, but on the most basic freedoms in society.” "Let this referendum be a rallying call for all democrats - we must challenge Islamophobia and racism if we are to stop the far right," he added.

Britain is unique in Europe for its respect for Islam and other minority faiths and their practises. However, with the coming general election, there are dangers that Muslims may be ‘easy fodder’ to win cheap support. There are already indications that UKIP, under its new Chairman, Lord Pearson, may be prepared to play the BNP anti-Islam card.

There were some incidents of violence and targeting Mosques by the far-right extremists in Britain during the year 2009. Communities Secretary, John Denham, MP, conjured up visions of a return to 1930s fascism, following the rise of far-right groups, who are provoking violence and targetting mosques. He drew parallels with Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF), uniformed as ‘Blackshirts’. “The tactic of trying to provoke a response in the hope of causing wider violence and mayhem is long established on the far-right and among extremist groups,” Denham said following the latest clashes at the new Harrow Central Mosque.

Achievements of British Muslim
Community During 2009

Though there is rise of far right groups, Britain is a country which has opened doors to Muslims for hope and glory, for their successes and achievements. During the year 2009, British Muslims made some progress in different fields of life, such as politics, media, both broadcasting and printed media, religion and culture. This was possible due to their loyalty and law-abiding and peace-loving character. Recently, Gallup conducted deeper studies in three European nations – the United Kingdom, France and Germany. In England, Germany and France, the three countries surveyed, Muslims are twice as likely as the general public to suppose that Muslims are loyal citizens.

The survey found that 77% of British Muslims were loyal to Britain compared to only 36% of the general public. However, nearly half of the British public (49%) said British Muslims were not loyal to Britain. Contrary to the prevailing stereotype, more British Muslims (67%) prefer to live in mixed neighbourhoods than the British public (58%). British Muslims have more confidence in democratic institutions than the general public: judicial system (76% against 55%), financial institutions (62% against 56%), honesty of elections (83% against 57%) and national government (40% against 32%). However Muslims have less confidence in the military than the general public (52% against 86%).

The first important achievement of the British Muslim community is the formation of Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB). The British Muslim community itself proactively took the initiative to deliver a self-regulating body. As a result, Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) was formed. MINAB aims to work with mosques to understand the needs of their communities and help them to deliver their services to the highest possible standards.

In political participation, first ever Muslim joins Privy Council and for the first time Muslim is appointed as Cabinet Minister. A Muslim MP, Sadiq Khan, son of a bus driver, became the first ever Muslim to join the Cabinet as the Minister of State for Transport. The 38-year-old father of two is also the first Muslim to join the Privy Council. He was named as one of the most influential politicians in London in a series of lists compiled by the Evening Standard. The description in the paper reads, “The first Muslim privy counsellor attends Cabinet regularly and is increasingly making an impact.”

In broadcasting media, the BBC has appointed its first Muslim head of religion. Aaqil Ahmed becomes jointly the head of Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Religion TV. His biggest project at Channel 4 was the recent 8 part series on Christianity: A History, which included programmes presented by Howard Jacobson and Cherie Blair.

In printed media, Mehdi Hasan, Channel 4 News Editor, has been appointed as the new Senior Editor (Politics) at New Statesman. Since joining C4, Hasan has commissioned five different ‘Dispatches’ documentaries. Hasan commissioned the C4 ‘Dispatches’ film, ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim’, which addressed the issue of rising Islamophobia since 7/7. Hasan joins New Statesman in June, 2009. At 29, he is the youngest editor in commissioning at C4 and has been nominated for the Royal TV Society Young Journalist of the Year Award.

For the first time in its 90 year history, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) has elected a Muslim to lead the 17,000 strong trade organisation. Suleman Khonat from Blackburn was voted in as the new National President at the NFRN’s Annual Conference in June, 2009.

In religion and culture, Hijab uniform for Fire service Muslim workers. The Lancashire Fire Service unveiled on March 2009, thirty a new uniform designed to increase recruitment of Muslim women. The uniform which includes full-length skirts, Hijab and long-sleeved shirts is designed only for wearing round the station and for outings such as school trips. For the first time, women will get their own fire-fighting suit designed to protect their upper body.

Besides the above achievement and success by the Muslim community of Britain during the year 2009, another very important event took place in the area of religion, i.e. the second extension of the East London Mosque at Whitechapel, East London.

Shaykh Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the Head Imam and Khateeb of the Masjid Al-Haram of Makkah al-Mukarramah launched second extension of the East London Mosque on the 4th of August, 2009 and unveiled the plaque of the foundations for the second phase of the East London Mosque, Whitechapel, London. After unveiling the plaque of the Mosque, the Head Imam of the Haram led the Maghreb prayer and gave a short speech to a congregation, with over 15,000 people. Shaykh Al-Sudais mentioned about Tauheed, the Oneness of Allah and said that we have to follow the Book of Allah the Almighty, The Holy Qur’an and to follow the Sunnah, the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him.) Allah the Almighty sent him to us as the Mercy for the whole Mankind. We have to follow his character.