Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
A massive Islamic gathering filled the halls of the Fairmont Hotel in Cairo. The 12th session of the Islamic Summit is expected to deal with all major issues facing the Islamic world, from Palestine and Syria to the issues of minorities in different countries.
The issue of Islamophobia also figures high on the summit’s agenda. It had created negative impressions not only about Muslim individuals but also about government institutions. The phenomenon of Islamophobia has become quite tangible as reflected in the aggressive practices against some Muslims as well as in the growth of extreme right wing parties in the West that seek to reduce the number of Muslims in their countries. Some of these parties have even called for expelling them from Western countries.
This reflects a new reality and there are some people in the West who warn against the growing number of Muslims, saying it would endanger the demography of European countries.
However, it is illogical to hold the other responsible for erroneous voices heard from the West. The provocative actions and statements of some Muslims have provided a breeding ground for Islamophobia to flourish. There are centers to monitor such statements and actions to describe Muslims as enemies of the other and that they lack tolerance and openness.
Demagoguery is also used as an easy means for winning public support as described by Gustave Le Bon in his book “The Psychology of Peoples.”
In order to win popular support, politicians and men of religion often try to arouse their emotions. Demagogues use emotion-arousing slogans and provocative statements to achieve their vested interests.
The crowds, as Le Bon thinks, do not think rationally, but listen to those leading them and they have a weak memory. Many such provocative speeches and statements by some Muslims have damaged the community’s image without any actions from their part.
This applies to people on both sides. For example, when American extremist pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an, the main English Church condemned the act and said it reflects his personal opinion. There are statements by politicians that reflect fear of Muslims.
Although the extremists on both sides are very few compared to others, they get big media publicity. Here comes the need for the voice of reason and wisdom to overcome emotions and for seeing things entirely instead of looking at the distorted portions.
The keynote speech made by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, which was read out by Crown Prince Salman at the summit, was strong in its content, calling a spade a spade. The king referred to the issue of Islamophobia and said: “People use the freedom of expression and opinion to attack Muslims and their sanctuaries without any ethical or legal deterrent that incriminate them. So, we demand all member states of the OIC to support the proposal submitted by Saudi Arabia at the United Nations to issue a resolution condemning any state, group or individual who defame the divine religions or prophets and messengers including the most toughest deterrent punishments of such acts.”
We hope the summit would support the king’s request and call upon the United Nations to play an active role in preventing Islamophobia.
An international monitoring center established by the OIC is a right step taken to deal with the issue. The Cairo summit, in its communiqué, is expected to describe Islamophobia as a threat to the culture of peaceful coexistence and tolerance between societies and religions. There is a call for setting out a unified strategy to enact regulations that would prevent religious hatred and intolerance.
The summit will also call for ending intolerance between the various religious schools of thought among Muslims, fighting extremism and branding followers of other schools as infidels. This support the call made by King Abdullah at the emergency Islamic summit in Makkah to set up a center in Riyadh for dialogue between the various religious schools of thought in order to strengthen Islamic unity. The move is significant as some people use these sectarian differences to make political gains.
When Muslims take part of the responsibility for Islamophobia, some media organizations in the West and Dutch politicians have contributed to deepening negative stereotypes against Islam and Muslims.
Muslim countries also face political, economic and social problems. Poverty and civil wars in some Muslim countries are used by the media to tarnish the image of Islam. Actually, there is big disparity between Islam and the present situation of Muslims. Muslims should be able to deal with the media in a modern and reasonable manner.
The summit is held under the theme “New challenges and growing opportunities.” It is time for Muslims to bank on their common achievements instead of exploiting the sectarian differences. There are opportunities for individuals and civilizations and there are people who are experts in making use opportunities, one after another.