10 – 12July, 2001




Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is, indeed, a pleasure that my agenda has afforded me the pleasure of being with you at the opening of this symposium marking the start of a series of activities which the Islamic States Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) will undertake in the framework of its contribution to those of the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations. I would like, in the meantime, to refer to the extensive efforts successfully put up by the said Organization known for its leading role in the fields of Islamic culture. Let me recall, in this respect, the founding of ISESCO, some 20 years ago, when Morocco hosted a conference for this purpose in Fez (1982). Morocco, then, donated a sum that enabled it to embark on a new, creative work, arousing the interest of many statesmen and other people, so much so that ISESCO has, today, become a shining beacon of Islam, disseminating the enlightenment, cultural and civilization of Islam in the four corners of the globe.

Morocco, being the host country of this Organisation is known to be a bastion of Islam and its protector in this westward part of the Islamic world. It has always been keen in taking the initiative to foster joint Islamic action. The majority and most important Islamic summits were held on its soil. It is the host country, as well, of the Al-Quds Committee, chaired by His Majesty King Muhammad VI – may God preserve him, who took the mantle from his father the late King Hassan II, may Allah bless his soul, to continue his role to defend that Islamic City and the rights of the Palestinian people as a whole.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The subject of the current symposium, was a cause of concern and interest for Islam 14 centuries ago. More, rather than confining itself to a mere dialogue among the civilizations that existed at the time of the Message revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Islam fully interacted with those civilizations in line with its intellectual openness and tolerance displaying thereby a vivid and unparalleled example of communication amongst mankind. Likewise, it gave the world a revolutionary pattern of give and take among civilizations to the extent of creating a universal civilization rarely seen in history. That civilization was fortified by the rich diversity of the various civilizations and cultures of nations whose citizens embraced Islam. Hence, Islamic civilization became and remained for centuries the cornerstone of human civilization, later on constituting the basis of the contemporary one. From the early days of the Divine Message, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was advocating what Almighty God had revealed to him: "Come to common terms as between us and you", and "And argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious", "Say: "Produce your proof if you are truthful." Islam has also recognized ideological and cultural diversity: "To each among you have We prescribed a law and an open way", "And made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other", "If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people." Thus Islam has adopted discourse, listening, discussion and proof as a basis for persuasion and comprehension. Humanity as a whole reaped the fruits of this free exchange of ideas. The encounter between Islam and Greek philosophy had been one of the solid pillars on which contemporary western civilization was built. Moreover, Islamic civilization demonstrated its extraordinary capacity to assimilate a host of alien cultural elements and incorporate them in its structure without relinquishing its own principles.

No doubt that the Cultural Strategy for the Islamic World whose Consultative Council met in this place just a few days ago in whose arrangements ISESCO graciously played a considerable role, has energized this great intellectual paradigm that had been frozen during centuries of backwardness and feebleness, when it refused to surround the insistence on rigidly sticking to the Islamic heritage with a halo of sanctity. Its reasoning was that although this heritage had a connection with the divine inspiration, it was ultimately man-made, therefore open for examination and constructive criticism. Cultures that have the courage of self-criticism of their history and heritage are, indeed, those able to chart out their future in a creative spirit consistent with change without compromising their roots.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished participants,

The diversity of cultures and civilizations has had a deep effect on the enrichment of human heritage, which enabled mankind to shape and people the earth and come out with a civilization which, today, constitutes a common heritage of humanity as a whole. Similarly, winds of globalization which, backed by the power of finance, economics and Information Technology (IT), seek to impose on the world a single civilizational pattern, or, in other words, the hegemony of Western civilization, boosted by its spectacular achievements as compared to other civilizations, have altogether given rise to theories of imminent conflict and clashes among civilizations, pointing to Islam, in particular, as the candidate for such a would-be clash with Western or world civilization, as they allege.

No one can deny that such trends open old wounds dating back to about a thousand years, beginning with the Crusades and the fall of Andalusia, up till the Western colonization of the Islamic world culminating in the implantation of the Zionist entity in its hub. Most regrettably, many an orientalist and Western intellectual contributed to the creation and instilling of that psychological barrier in the public opinion of their respective countries. Most of their studies about Islam were rather characterized by bias and incrimination of this religion. Such an onslaught against Islam and its civilization has had a tremendous impact on the psyche of Western peoples whose consequences may be felt in this day and age. The relation between the West and the civilization of Islam and its peoples are still tense and shrouded in doubt and apprehension. In recent decades, the erroneous practices of groups identifying themselves, or being associated with Islam further projected the distorted image of Islam and Muslims, which exacerbated the ferocity of the assault against Islam bordering sometimes on hysteria. Western media campaigns accuse Islam of being intrinsically violent. They claim that the very Islamic creed is the prime mover of manifestations of violence. As a result, extremists in the West consider the presence of Islamic communities in their countries as a danger to their security.

On the other hand, the tragedies of the Islamic world, resulting from Western practices have worsened due to the double standards applied to Muslims when dealing with them on various issues, be it for the right of the Palestinian people to freedom, justice and self-determination, the gross violations of human rights committed against the Muslim peoples, or the diverse issues taking place or submitted for consideration in the international arena.

It goes without saying that such an attitude thickened the psychological barrier between the Islamic and Western worlds, which makes it incumbent upon us to remove it rather than doing things of a nature as to further consolidate it, like those references to a so-called imminent conflict among civilizations. It was for this reason that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) came forward with its historic initiative to conduct a global dialogue among civilizations in order to explore areas of constructive cooperation among those civilizations, and define the value systems and civilized behavioral patterns emanating from them, to be taken as a basic reference for the New World Order in the XXIst century. In that framework, H.E. Syed Muhammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Chairman of the Eighth Islamic Summit, officially submitted this initiative to the 53rd U.N. General Assembly which, thereupon, unanimously adopted a resolution designating the Year 2001 as Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.

Immediately, the OIC General Secretariat set out to consider the substance and possible items of such a dialogue and prepare both its context and methodology. It was decided, in principle, as a preliminary step, to organize an intra-Islamic dialogue prior to the global dialogue. Thus the Tehran Symposium was held in May, 1999, wherein agreement was reached on a course of strategy for the dialogue resting on the preparation of a "Global Document for Dialogue Among Civilizations" in which sublime values, moral principles shared by the civilizations, are to become a reference for international behavior in the 21st century. Stemming from it would be a 10-year Executive Program. The two documents were destined for adoption at a special U.N. General Assembly session.

Foremost among the guiding principles agreed upon during the intra-Islamic Dialogue, as a prelude to entering into one with the other civilizations, was not to regard the dialogue in question as a defensive position or an attempt to make the other abandon his religion or belittle his creed. On the contrary, the advocacy would be for recognizing the contributions of each of the other civilizations to the edification of human civilization and rejecting domination, on the part of any civilization, over the others, while insisting on the necessity for joint participation in charting a New World Order founded on justice, equity and peace.

The OIC General Secretariat convened expert meetings during which two universal documents were prepared to serve as a basis for the Dialogue, namely the Global Document for Dialogue Among Civilizations and its Executive Programme. The Document is based on the idea of the single origin of mankind. Equally stated therein is that the rise and flourishing of civilizations was made possible by the interaction among them, which enabled the humankind to people and develop the Earth, as centuries went-by, and establish an advanced human civilization in which Islam played the leading part. This civilization, today, represents the common heritage of the humankind. Furthermore, the Document affirms that the very diversity of cultures constituted rich sources for knowledge and that the dialogue aimed at promoting understanding among peoples, increasing tolerance of people of each other, seeking the common denominators of various civilizations and reinforcing their shared values while preserving the [overall] cultural heritage and the family institution, the latter being the pillar of human society.

As for the principles around which the dialogue would revolve, they are mainly equality among individuals and among nations as well, respect for human dignity, recognition of cultural diversity and the right of peoples to safeguard and develop their cultural heritage, ensuring security for all within the context of a New World Order, fostering the principle of justice and equality in international relations, denouncing hegemony, monopoly and exclusion, promoting human rights, establishing a New Economic Order capable of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, endorsing the culture of dialogue and understanding in curricula and purifying textbooks from slander of other cultures and of anything that may fuel the spirit of hostility and adversity among peoples, utilizing the mass migration of the people of a single culture in creating bridges for mutual understanding and cultural communication, opening an expanded dialogue on issues of social justice, studying the changes that took place in the value systems of various communities in a bid to promote the values that sustain the fabric of society and enhance its movement, such as truth, honesty and the honoring of promises, knowledge, good work performance and respect the value of time, and using such values as terms of reference when drafting and preparing a universal code of ethics against social ills.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished audience,

The commencement of the Third Millennium under the motto of dialogue augurs well for brighter future, given the fact that dialogue is a necessity for coexistence and international cooperation to prevent hegemony, aggression as well as the evils and injustices committed in wars. I would also say that the future of mankind is dependent upon staunch faith in the values of freedom, justice, solidarity and virtue. We are duty-bound to accept diversity and not to try to impose a single culture upon the world. We should rather press ahead in the quest for those common values inherent in the various cultures and act to stabilize them. From this foundation – the foundation of tolerance and acceptance of diversity – stems our call to the whole world to engage in dialogue aimed at promoting mutual understanding and constructive rapprochement among the various peoples of the entire world.

God bless you and may He crown your proceedings with success!