.....(Hal-ku-dhigyo Dhaxal-gal Noqday) = ..... President, C/raxmaan A. Cali: ''Jamhuuriyadda Somaliland dib ayay ula soo Noqotay Qaran-nimadeedii sidaa awgeed, waa dal xor ah oo gooni u taagan maanta (18/05/1991) laga bilaabo''...>>>>> President, Maxamad I.Cigaal:''Jiritaanka Jamhuuriyadda Somaliland'' Waa mid waafaqsan xeerasha u-degsan Caalamka! Sidaa darteed, waa Qaran xaq u leh in Aduunku aqoonsado''...>>>>> President, Daahir R. Kaahin: ''Jamhuuriyadda Somaliland waa dal diimuqraadi ah oo caalamka ka sugaya Ictiraafkiisa''...>>>>> President, Axmed M. Siilaanyo: ''Jamhuuriyadda Somaliland, Boqol sano haday ku qaadanayso helista Ictiraafkeedu way Sugaysaa! Mar dambena la midoobi mayso Somalia-Italia''.....[***** Ha Jirto J.Somaliland Oo Ha Joogto Waligeed *****].....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Moslim Countries: An Interview With H.E. Professor Dr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (OIC)

An interview with Arab News; Part 1: With the violence continuing in Syria, sectarian tension ever present in Iraq, Afghanistan still struggling to establish security and Somalia trying to have some sort of normalcy, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) certainly has a lot on its plate to handle. As if that’s not enough, there are also issues of economic hardships, natural disasters and internal strife afflicting some OIC member states from Africa to Asia. In this exclusive interview with Arab News, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu touches on the recent developments in the Arab world and spotlights some of the other issues, such as Muslim refugees, Islamophobia, human rights and Muslim minorities, which people might not be aware of as being also on the agenda of concern to the OIC.

The OIC has just organized with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the first international conference exclusively on refugees in the Muslim world. What is the significance of this conference and what are the key decisions that came out of it?

The International Ministerial Conference on Refugees in the Muslim World held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (May 11-12), was indeed a significant step in the course of the OIC endeavors in the humanitarian arena. It was an issue-specific conference with a sharp focus on one of the most important humanitarian files, the plight of refugees hosted by OIC member sates, who constitute more than 50 percent of the total number of refugees in the world. The conference was held under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and came as a result of the political will and resolve of the OIC member states to address this issue by highlighting its significance and underscoring the need for lasting solutions that will help in peace, stability and development.

The partnership between the OIC and UNHCR was crucial in this process, and it has been effectively generating momentum, which enriched and supported the process that led to the convening of the conference. In fact, the conference is not to be seen as a one-time event, but as part of an ongoing process to deal with the humanitarian concerns and actions related to refugees in the Muslim world. In this regard, the conference was also an opportunity to demonstrate the need for enhancing international burden-sharing and the need for providing more resources to the UNHCR by the international community to meet its obligations toward these refugee situations.

The Ashgabat Declaration, issued by the conference, is an important document that demonstrates the continued and enhanced OIC humanitarian activities in collaboration with the United Nations and other regional and international actors.

We were explicit in stressing the role of the OIC in this humanitarian domain and called upon all to work toward sustained and durable solutions within a process of burden-sharing and coordination with the international community.

The OIC secretariat will continue to follow up on actions on refugee matters as part of the activities of its humanitarian department and in line with OIC resolutions related to this important humanitarian issue.

Is there a concern that with the ongoing violence in Syria there will be more refugees, thus increasing the burden on the neighboring countries that already host thousands of refugees? What is the OIC doing for the Syrian refugees and internally displaced people?

The OIC is indeed concerned with the plight of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. In this regard, the OIC has been urging its member states and the international community to continue to provide support to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to enable it in its endeavors to effectively assist Syrian refugees. At the same time, the OIC strongly urges for political solutions to the situation in Syria that would stop the bloodshed and violence.

As long as the conflict continues within Syria, there is the likelihood of more refugees crossing into neighboring countries. There are also possibilities of seeing more internally displaced persons within Syria as a result of this conflict. That is why we call for a two-pronged approach. One is humanitarian, by mobilizing more international community resources to assist refugees and internally displaced persons; two is political, by finding political solutions to stop the conflict in the interest of Syria and the overall region.

At the 9th Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held this month in Gabon you announced that the ministers agreed to launch a media campaign including an OIC satellite channel to present the real image of Islam. Could you tell us more about this?

The media are a very important element in countering Islamophobia and presenting the real Islam, because they inform the public, shape its opinion and influence its attitude. Therefore, the information ministers of the OIC member states at their last conference in Gabon in April agreed to coordinate their efforts in highlighting Islamic issues, confront anti-Islamic stereotypes, and support Islamic causes. The comprehensive media campaign aims to combat prejudice against Islam and Muslim communities, especially in the West, with a view to foster respect for cultural diversity and religious pluralism, while raising awareness about the positive contributions of Muslims to promote tolerance and understanding.

The plan has short, medium and long-term goals including seminars, workshops, publications and productions, and one of the proposals is launching a satellite channel. The proposal is in the study phase, in which a committee has been formed to study the different aspects of the channel, and it will hold its first meeting soon.

How do you see the outcome of the Arab revolutions so far, especially with Islamic-based parties coming out as the winners in the parliamentary elections, which some in the West are apprehensive about what that might mean for democracy and human rights?

It is no surprise that the West, or at least some Western policymakers and observers, perceive with concern the victory of “Islamist” political parties in elections held so far in some Arab Spring countries. Indeed, what they tend to describe as political Islam has been perceived for a long time, and even used, as a scarecrow. But let’s face it, political parties referencing Islam in many Muslim countries have managed to offer an alternative to long-serving authoritarian ruling regimes, which were close allies of Western countries and which have failed to implement the principles of good and democratic governance.

Now, I think we should wait and see whether Islam-inspired political parties are serious about living up to their discourse on good governance and socioeconomic development. We should keep in mind that these parties have been democratically elected by the people, and as such, they have the legitimacy to govern. They will be judged for their policies and actions as well as for their ability to reform the style of governance against which the people have risen. We should not prejudge these parties just because we have some preconceived, distorted notions or understandings of the compatibility of Islam with democracy and human rights. We should also be careful about accepting as absolute what these parties might claim to be Islamic-based views and decisions.

What actions does the OIC take to preserve human rights in the Islamic world?

The OIC’s commitment to human rights is absolute. This emanates from the fundamental principles of the Islamic faith that has, at its core, the respect for human dignity and human life. The concept of human rights, as we know today, has evolved over the centuries out of the need for protection of fundamental freedoms of human beings, such as the basic right to life, food and shelter. It encompasses the broader concept of political, social, cultural and economic rights.

Because of this, the OIC started the establishment of an Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC), based on the mandate of the Ten-Year Program of Action and the new OIC charter adopted in Dakar in 2008 during the 11th summit. The statute of the commission was adopted during the 38th Council of Foreign Ministers held in Astana in June 2011 and entered into force following its adoption. What was envisaged to be achieved over a period of 10 years was accomplished in half the stipulated time period, which is quite an achievement. The 38th Council of Foreign Ministers also elected 18 independent experts composing the commission. The experts held their first session in Jakarta in February 2012, where they worked on developing a framework to strengthen human rights in the OIC member states.

How does the OIC view the violence against small Muslim minority sects and non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries, and what is it doing in this regard?

The OIC has constantly championed a culture of religious coexistence as a way of creating a world where the values of justice, cooperation and mutual respect prevail. The OIC has embraced the idea of a constructive and mutually enriching dialogue among and within religions as a counterweight to the doom and gloom prophecy of a purported clash of civilizations. I launched years ago an initiative in that sense and conveyed the idea to Western leaders and at international forums.

The OIC has strongly condemned violence and intolerance of other religious faiths and minorities as well as the destruction of places of worship, a practice that runs counter to the fundamental tenets of Islam. We condemned the burning of churches in Java, Indonesia, and more recently we firmly condemned the bombing attacks led by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

As for small Muslim groups and non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries, the OIC has never ceased calling for the imperative of guaranteeing and protecting the rights of all Muslim sects and non-Muslim minorities in Islamic countries in a spirit of tolerance and acceptance. We have insistently emphasized the need to focus on the shared values that bring together the adherents of the various denominations of Islam on the one hand as well as non-Muslims and Muslims on the other, as a way of fostering intra- and interfaith understanding and tolerance while promoting peace, harmony and stability. In this sense, we have always denounced any positions or acts that incite against or target non-Muslims or small sects in Muslim-majority nations.

We are in contact with the officials in those member states that have witnessed violent acts against their non-Muslim populations, and we are trying to help steer the society away from tension and toward harmony.

In a similar vein, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, which is an OIC subsidiary organ, endeavors to boost collective ijtihad (the process of deriving rules on contemporary issues from the Qur’an and Sunnah) in the field of Islamic jurisprudence as a shield against the proliferation of reckless and irresponsible individual interpretations that may prove detrimental to the image of Islam and Muslims.

What are your efforts to combat Islamophobia and extremism?

Islamophobia is surely one of serious concern for the Muslim Ummah, and the OIC has been seized with the issue since the day I took over the organization. Islamophobia came as a priority on the agenda of the 3rd Extraordinary OIC Summit held in Makkah in 2005, which mandated the General Secretariat to establish an observatory in the Ten-Year Program of Action to monitor the issue and take necessary steps to counter it. The observatory was created to monitor and sensitize the world about Islamophobic incidents and, at the same time, create an awareness campaign against Islamophobia. The observatory already presented four annual reports, and it has monthly reports that are available on the OIC's official website.

The main issues are related to desecration of cemeteries, mosques, Islamic cultural centers, the stigmatization of Muslims searching for work, in the work itself, and in the public sphere. In its latest report released in June 2011, the observatory dwelt extensively on the rise of the extreme right in parts of Europe and the United States and its consequences for the integration of Muslims therein. Incidentally, the recent report by Amnesty International released last month confirms the findings of the observatory on the rise of Islamophobia in Europe.

As part of the OIC’s efforts to counter Islamophobia, we have taken initiatives to organize and actively participate in various conferences that have taken place in member states and other countries. Our objective was and is aimed at removing the misgivings and distortion of image as well as highlighting the positive side of Islam and to initiate a dialogue among civilizations on the basis of historical reconciliation. I would mention, for instance, the successful OIC-Georgetown University Symposium on “Pluralism and Islam” held in Washington, D.C. in September 2007, an occasion for interacting with prominent think tanks and academic institutions in Washington and New York and for one-on-one meetings with heads of delegation of European and Muslim countries. Later on, the proceedings of the meeting were published in a form of booklet titled “Islamophobia and the Challenges of Pluralism in the 21st Century.”

Also, the OIC together with the Alliance of Civilizations, the Council of Europe and the British Council organized an open roundtable on “Addressing Islamophobia: Building on unused opportunities for mutual respect and inclusion” on the sidelines of the Alliance of Civilizations’ third global forum held in Rio de Janeiro in May 2010. The event aimed at holding an informed debate on how to address Islamophobia from a result-oriented perspective. Based on available data on discrimination and prejudice toward Muslim communities in various countries, it discussed how to concert efforts in order to bring citizens of various backgrounds together to build trust and social cohesion. All the speakers were unanimous that Islamophobia was a global phenomenon and a threat to peace and security for people of all religious and cultural backgrounds, and that it had to be addressed collectively.

I would also mention that the unanimous adoption of the OIC-initiated Resolution 16/18 by the UN Human Rights Council in April 2011 and the UN General Assembly Resolution A/66/167 in November 2011 on combating intolerance based on religion and belief are a landmark beginning for the future on building a climate of trust between the West and the Muslim world. Resolution 16/18 and the process of implementing it, known as the “Istanbul Process,” aims to develop a culture of peaceful cohabitation among people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds without curtailing the freedom of expression, except when it comes to “incitement to eminent violence.”

Part 2:

There are some 500 million Muslims in non-Muslim countries including Russia, China and India. In this second part of his exclusive interview with Arab News, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), acknowledges their vital contribution to the Islamic civilization and says his organization is trying to strengthen the ties of the Muslim population of these non-OIC states with the Ummah. He also touches on the situation of women in Muslim countries and what the OIC is doing to empower women and change the stereotype of Muslim women.

What is the OIC doing for the Muslim communities in Russia, India and China?

I will give a brief overview on the situation of Muslims in these countries and our efforts to improve their conditions and create favorable conditions to strengthen their ties with the Muslim world.

The common denominator for Muslims in these countries is that Islam constitutes the second religion therein. Furthermore, Muslim populations in these countries are indigenous, not immigrant communities. In addition, their total number is estimated at about 250 million people, about 180 million in India, nearly 50 million in China, and 20 million in Russia. This means that Muslims in these three countries make up half of the Muslim populations in non-member states of the organization, who are estimated at 500 million people. Another significant common characteristic of Muslim communities in these countries is that they belong to different nationalities, cultures and races, who made effective and major contributions in enriching the Islamic civilization over the past centuries. Today they constitute a cultural and strategic depth of the Islamic world as a whole.

Everyone knows that Muslims in the era of the former Soviet Union, which spanned nearly 70 years, were subjected to harsh conditions because of their faith and have suffered intense persecution and repression. However, they held fast to Islamic civilization, culture and values in their daily lives. Conditions have changed radically since the 1990s, but they still suffer from tremendous pressure. We seek to overcome such pressure through our good relations with the Russian government. Today, our organization includes six central Asian Islamic countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the Russian Federation became OIC observer member in 2005.

I held a series of meetings in the Kremlin with the Russian president. We addressed many issues concerning the situation of Muslim communities in the Russian Federation in general. We have also prepared a plan to serve the interests of Muslims in Russia.

The Russian Federation is legally and morally responsible for finding just solutions to what happened to the Muslims within the Russian Federation and the Ukraine, for the Crimean Tatar Muslims and the Muslim Meskhetian Turks in Georgia, and for compensating them for the damages they sustained, as they were displaced during the different periods of the Soviet era to areas far from their countries of origin. They were stripped of their lands, farms and properties. Parliaments in both Ukraine and Georgia have recognized their right to return to their country.

We will continue to work with the states concerned and international human rights organizations to provide possible assistance to restore their rights at the earliest possible opportunity. We are planning this year to send delegations to see the conditions of Muslims in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Georgia and provide advice to deal with these thorny issues.

I have also accorded great attention to the situation of Muslims in India. I am exerting efforts to promote dialogue and rapprochement between our organization and the Indian government to discuss issues of common interest and concern to Muslims there. On the one hand, we have Islamic ministerial resolutions urging India to implement United Nations resolutions on giving Muslims in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir the right to self-determination. This is the only existing problem with the Indian government that remains unresolved. On the other hand, India is important and has cultural and historical relations with Islam and the Islamic world.

However, since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, conditions of Muslims in India have deteriorated. A government report published in 2006, entitled the Sachar Committee Report, confirmed that Muslims in India suffer very poor representation in various government jobs and have limited access to education, health and economic progress. However, Muslims in India have been able to overcome many difficulties. They have realized remarkable cultural, economic and scientific achievements. They entertain close relations with the Muslim world. India has been ruled by three Muslim presidents so far. Since its inception, our organization enjoyed close relations with Muslims in India; relations that we seek to improve and develop.

However, what concerns us today is how to launch a constructive and strong dialogue with the Indian government in order to establish systematic relations in all fields. This is what I will seek to realize in the near future, God willing.

Did India apply for a full membership or observer membership, knowing that the country has 150 million Muslims?

The OIC finalized its criteria for full membership and observer membership recently. Any member state of the United Nations can apply for either full membership or observer membership, subject to fulfillment of the conditions enumerated in the criteria. The OIC, however, has not received any request from India in this regard.

How are the OIC's relations with China?

Regarding our relations with the People's Republic of China, they evolved rapidly over the past two years. My meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Riyadh on Jan. 15, 2012, constituted an important turning point in the evolution of these relations. We were able to agree on a common strategic vision for various issues at both the multilateral and bilateral levels, particularly with regard to Africa (Somalia and Darfur) as well as Afghanistan. I sensed China's interest in contributing to the implementation of the OIC-sponsored railway line project, which will link Port Sudan on the Red Sea to Dakar, capital of Senegal, on the Atlantic Ocean.

At the level of our support to the causes of Muslims in China, we have made great efforts in this regard to contain the negative effects of the sanguinary events that took place in June and July 2009 in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which left hundreds dead and thousands wounded. Following these events, I have dispatched an OIC mission that visited the areas where the events took place in August 2009 and reported thereon to ministerial conferences. We have underlined the need to grant Muslims their religious, cultural and national rights as stipulated in the Chinese constitution.

In order to strengthen these efforts, I paid, in June 2010, the first official visit to China ever by an OIC secretary-general. The visit covered Xinjiang Muslim region. We held talks with senior Chinese officials on various issues.

During the visit, a framework was developed for broader cooperation in all issues. A joint statement was issued at the conclusion of the visit, which included recognition of the importance attached by China to the organization's role as an influential intergovernmental organization.

We also affirmed that the Muslims in China constituted, and still constitute, a bridge of cooperation and communication between China and the Islamic world. I met the prime minister of China again early this year, during which we discussed ways to develop relations between China and the OIC and implement joint projects. At the end of June, IRCICA (OIC Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture) is organizing a seminar in Beijing on "Muslims in China."

One of the frequent criticisms about the Muslim world is the unsatisfactory situation of women, and some in the West associate that with Islam. What is the OIC doing to empower women and change the stereotype of Muslim women?

One of the major challenges for us is the issue of empowering women. There is no doubt that as the most vulnerable segment of our society, women in the Muslim world suffer from difficulties and problems. However, it is not only women in Muslim countries who suffer abuse and discrimination; unfortunately, women are often the victims, even in the most advanced societies.

It is true that as part of their malicious campaign against Islam and Muslims, some Islamophobes associate women's oppression in some Muslim societies to Islam. We don't need to keep reiterating that Islamic teachings appreciate women's dignity, respect women and protect their social, economic, political and legal rights. Islam encourages and supports their participation in various fields of life. Indeed, the root causes of the problem for women stem from the traditions and customs that each society practices and often wrongly elevates to the level of compulsory religious commandments that everyone has to abide by.

The OIC's vision and mission emanating from the teachings of Islam, the provisions of the Ten-Year Program of Action adopted by the heads of state and government, and the OIC Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women (OPAAW) focus on the advancement and empowerment of women. The OIC firmly believes that women should have full access to education and participate actively in the decision-making mechanism and developmental process of society. Issues such as poverty among women, women illiteracy, violence against women, and bad living conditions should be addressed in a systematic and persistent manner through local and national policies and strategies to be implemented with enough resources in the member states. To this end, special focus must be given to promote businesswomen and women in the corporate sector. Women-oriented awareness-raising programs and cooperation between the governments and civil society institutions can tremendously contribute to the cause of women in the Muslim world.

The OIC brought together the ministers in charge of women affairs in the Muslim world through convening of the first Ministerial Islamic Conference on "Women's role in the development of OIC member states" in Turkey in November 2006. Its goal was to prepare strategies, standards, programs and goals to advance the status of women, which was followed by a series of projects and meetings. The second Ministerial Islamic Conference on the subject was held in Egypt in November 2008. It was a landmark event by the adoption of the OIC Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women (OPAAW), also known as the "Cairo Plan of Action for Women," which serves as the road map for the efforts toward the advancement of women.

These are good objectives and initiatives, but what of the practical and implementation part?

Well, to implement the OPAAW and Ten-Year Program of Action, a proposal to establish a specialized organ for women development with its headquarters in Cairo was approved in 2010. The OIC General Secretariat has been urging member states to sign and ratify the statute of this institution to start its functions. In the same vein, the Department of Family Affairs was established in the General Secretariat in 2009 to particularly deal with the issues concerning women, children and youth and coordinate the efforts of some relevant OIC bodies in this field.

The third session of the Ministerial Conference was held in Tehran in December 2010. It adopted practical mechanisms for implementing the OPAAW. The fourth session will take place later this year in Indonesia to follow up on the implementation.

Furthermore, the OIC General Secretariat has been coordinating its efforts with some member states and international organizations as well as non-OIC member states to promote the status of women and address various challenges ahead of them in the Muslim world. This ranges from extending support and assistance to women and girls in Indonesia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan and Somalia to undertaking mother and child health projects with the US in some OIC member states, beginning with Mali and Bangladesh.

OIC organs such as the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; International Islamic Fiqh Academy; and Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Center for Islamic Countries have also been implementing various projects on the matter. Similarly, the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry has initiated a comprehensive program for the economic empowerment of businesswomen of the member states to realize their economic potential.

The General Secretariat continues to work with member states and OIC-relevant institutions, in particular the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, to project Islam as a religion that guarantees full protection of women's rights.

The establishment of the OIC's Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission will also give a strong push to the cause of women and the protection of their rights, especially given that four of the 18 members of the commission are women.

Another criticism is the lack of or the restrictions on freedom of expression, and again linking that to fatwas and actions by some Muslim groups or individuals. How do you answer to those criticisms?

The allegation of restriction on freedom of expression in the OIC or the OIC wanting to impose limitations on freedom of expression is incorrect. The OIC is an international intergovernmental organization and committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments. It upholds and respects an individual's right to freedom of expression.

Whatever may be the Western perception, we strongly believe that this right should be exercised responsibly and not misused or abused to incite violence by contemptuous or malicious expression in written, verbal or visual depictions.

The various OIC resolutions, declarations and documents emphasize democratic principles and upholding human rights. However, the growing trend of Islamophobia that seeks to discriminate against and denigrate Islam through distortion and misperception, including measures taken in an institutionalized form and subjecting Muslims to face racially motivated discrimination and xenophobic treatment is an issue of great concern for Muslims and the OIC.

As for the fatwas, these are religious decrees that should be issued only by highly reputed scholars from prestigious institutions and who have extensive and in-depth knowledge of the Shariah laws, so we should ignore those marginal fatwas issued by dubious figures. We know that some Muslims and non-Muslims have referred to fatwas that supposedly restrict freedom of expression. Let me however refer to the fatwa issued by the International Islamic Fiqh Academy.

The fatwa clearly states that, "Freedom of expression is a right guaranteed in Islam within the framework of Shariah regulations." The fatwa then identifies what is meant by "the framework of Shariah regulations," which includes: not to offend others in a way that affects their life, honor, reputation or social standing; adhering to objectivity, truthfulness and honesty; committing to responsibility; to take into consideration the possible consequences; and that the freedom to express opinion does not contain attacks on religion or its rituals or sanctities. Fatwas do not apply to non-

Muslims, neither are they expected to comply with the proclamations therein. Non-Muslim countries have their own laws and regulations on freedom of expression, but I think we all can agree on a code of conduct that would prevent the abuse of freedom of expression and ensure its use in a responsible way to prevent expressions that impinge on the rights of others.

Source: Arab News

No comments: