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The Muslim World's Growing Concerns: Palestinians, Rohingya in Myanmar, Kashmiris, Syrians, Afghans...

15 May 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

During last month's two-day summit conference in Istanbul, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation heralded their theme of ''Unity and Solidarity for Justice and Peace''. Now as organizations go, the OIC in my opinion is nothing more than a bloated bureaucracy with very little achievement in terms of real progress in the Muslim world. And I say that with confidence when I see the state of affairs of the Palestinians, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Kashmiris and their dream of a plebiscite, the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh, the Syrian refugees, and so on and on. Granted, the OIC puts out lengthy communiques on these issues but very little else.

It was thus refreshing to hear Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in addressing the gathering of more than 30 heads of state and key ministers from all member states say: ''I believe the greatest challenge we need to surmount is sectarianism. My religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shiites. My religion is Islam.'' Urging the heads of state gathered for the summit to jointly end sectarian divisions within the Muslim world and fight terror, Erdogan added that ''we should be uniting. Out of the conflicts, the tyranny, only Muslims suffer. This summit meeting could be a turning point for the whole Islamic world.''

Erdogan also brought up the militancy of Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) operating in Syria and Iraq and Boko Haram extremists in Nigeria as two ''terrorist organizations that are serving the same evil purpose,'' adding that the OIC had accepted a Turkish proposal to set up a multinational security organization center for all Islamic states to fight militants that would be based in Istanbul. ''We need to establish an organization to further strengthen cooperation in the fight against terror,'' he said.

The Turkish president zeroed in on the two biggest internal threats to the Muslim world. Granted that there has been an increasing presence of Islamophobia that has gathered momentum in recent times, but Islamophobia is not a Muslim invention. Sectarianism is. While terrorism has been in the headlines, it was important to see that the issue of sectarianism was brought up as a key agenda item and identified as a threat to the Islamic world.

There is great division in the Muslim world. While in theory Muslims should all stand united under one doctrine of faith, this is far from being the case. Inciting hatred and suspicion of other beliefs has increased along with terrorism. From villages and huts in different corners of the Muslim world, a new breed of clerics has sprung up, each promoting his own interpretation of our religion and distorting it to suit his tribal traditions. A lot of sermons reject anyone not conforming to such extreme views with some clerics going so far as to brand non-conformists as heretics! While some would say that the Sunni-Shia conflict is an age-old realism, many of us Sunnis growing up were never aware of such a conflict within our midst and would treat Shias no differently than ourselves. And the same applied to people who followed other beliefs. It is only within the last two decades that the fostering of sectarian conflicts has increased.

Today, we hear of Sunnis blowing up Shia mosques and vice versa. These people are promoting their distorted interpretations of Islam and invoking the name of Islam in the execution of their evil and barbaric agendas. An attack on or destruction of symbols of one's faith, be it a mosque, a church, a synagogue or a temple is a despicable act by those with reprehensible mindsets. Islam was not introduced as a religion to foster inter-faith disharmony. Neither were Muslims put on this earth to pass judgment on the beliefs of others. They are accountable only for their own deeds.

Islam has not taught us to react violently to those of other faiths. Nor does it condone the killing of the innocent or the destruction of property. But evil transcends the boundaries of religions and faiths. Such actions are used by individuals or groups on a power high to further their sinister agendas. And these actions can come from any faith. It doesn't have to be Muslims. We have seen and read enough of Qur'an-burning Christian pastors, of mosques, synagogues and other places of worship being attacked and the like to understand that there is evil all around that is not so easy to tag.

Wicked people of all faiths exist everywhere and with their deviate ideologies pose a living threat to peace and harmony among all faiths and beliefs. They use the blanket of religious authority together with the bullet and the bomb to promote their heinous message. It is our duty to stop them.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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