15–17 APRIL 2003



In the Nam of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Your Excellency Mr. Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali,President of the Republic of Tunisia,

Excellencies,Ladies and Gentlemen,

Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatuh

It is singularly gratifying for me to start my speech by expressing deep appreciation and gratitude to H.E. Mr. Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, President of the Republic of Tunisia, for his timely initiative in hosting this symposium on the theme of Islam and Peace, and for his kind gesture in inviting the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to participate in its organizational arrangements and in its proceedings.

The importance of convening this symposium today does not only lie in its timeliness or the right choice of its theme—the topic of the hour for the Islamic world—but derives also from the fact that it sets a superb precedent, a fine tradition, and, hopefully, an inspiring model for other Islamic States to follow in contributing to the in-depth enquiry into the contemporary situation and conditions of Islam and Muslims at the threshold of this new millennium. Another major prospect is the opportunity provided for specialists and thinkers to reflect on what must be done for the good and prosperity of Muslims with a view to refuting the campaigns of narrow-minded allegations leveled at them.

It is also particularly gratifying for me to welcome this august assembly of eminent scholars, intellectuals, and researchers, who have so graciously accepted the invitation to participate in this symposium. I am certain that their proactive participation will enrich the deliberations with their intellectual contributions, insightful views, and extensive expertise and experience.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The title of the symposium "Islam and Peace" touches upon a fundamental facet of the basic sources of Islam. The five topics that have been selected to cover this theme constitute, as a whole, an integrated and adequate framework for the articulation of a realistic, pragmatic work program to promote the component of peace in Islam. In this way, the symposium will create new opportunities for the Islamic world to regain its pioneering, civilizational position and to enrich the march of 21st century man through the vast human, cultural, and peaceful contributions of Islam as derived from its noble, tolerant sources and its rich heritage, steeped in all the virtues.

But in this symposium, the distinguished participants will undoubtedly have the opportunity to elaborate on these foundations and their sources in the Islamic religious discourse. Suffice it to make these brief points here:

Islam is the religion of peace, because even its greeting is one of peace; its motto is human fraternity; its god is the most compassionate, the most merciful. Peace, fraternity, and mercy all contradict the concept of aggression. Just the number of times that the Holy Quran and the Noble Traditions of the Prophet refer to peace, mercy, and fraternity are too numerous to count.

What is more, people, in the eyes of our magnanimous religion, were created from one soul, for Allah says: "It was He who created you from a single soul. From that soul He created his mate." This constitutes, indeed, the cornerstone for human fraternity among the nations of the world, irrespective of their ethnic, color, or ideological differences. One of the main reasons, therefore, for the creation of man on earth is mutual understanding, rapprochement, and love. But piety and awe of Allah is the prime motivation for an upright moral, virtuous character. Again, Allah says: "Men, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another".

It is in this spirit of tolerance, open-mindedness, and enlightenment that Muslims lived their daily lives in the past. Today, their lives continue to be guided by these imperatives of mutual understanding, rapprochement, and love, because they do not just believe in their own faith, but, at the same time, believe also in the message of tens of prophets and apostles of earlier monotheistic religions. That is why they are entrenched, at the very source of their religious principles, in cultural diversity and civilizational osmosis. They see these ingredients, therefore, as only too natural in the light of the human and intellectual makeup of man from the dawn of primordial times.

The world has seen for itself how Muslims have taken on board ideas from others in numerous areas, even in that area where the majority of people would be most hesitant to engage in borrowing—and that is the arena of thought and ideology. By the same token, the world has also seen for itself what Muslims have contributed to humanity in terms of the rich civilizational heritage that underpins contemporary human civilization.

Since the advent of the Mohammedan message (Peace Be Upon Him), Muslims have lived as one body throughout their lands, from the edges of France to the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean islands. Imbued in human fraternity, they have steered away from any distinction between one race and another, one ethnicity and another or one ideology and another. Thus, Islam has abolished all boundaries of color, ethnicity, or nationality and has laid the firm, reassuring grounds for justice. That is why Muslims have been the pioneers in the field of intercultural dialogue, whose foundation stones they did lay many centuries ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Through all the above, I wanted to briefly highlight the basic principles of the philosophy of Islam that Muslims have embraced as a faith, policy, strategy, and practical experience. Yet, we find Islam today accused of entertaining a culture of fanaticism, aggression, and terrorism by glorifying death and martyrdom. How in the world could this have happened and why has it indeed happened?

I do not claim that I can, in this cursory tour, exhaust all aspects of this vast topic. However, our question is one that naturally and legitimately springs to our minds, and so is a question that, I believe, many of you will address in their research enquiries, with a view to probing the depths of these allegations.

Should we, in fact, consider these allegations as the continuation and even escalation of the Western Islamophobia that started with the crusades—propelled at the time by religious motives—and peaked in the last century in the guise of direct colonial occupation, cultural invasion, and economic exploitation? Or does the fault rather lie in ourselves and in the image we project of Islam to the outside world—that image which only reflects the cognitive perception that others have of us? Are we, in reality, the aggressors of others or the victims of aggression?

The objective of this symposium, in my view, is to win the peace for Islam and Muslims. This places on our shoulders an onerous responsibility that lies, first and foremost, in the necessity of assessing our position in this world of the twenty-first century, to accurately gauge our true weight, and, therefore, to determine what role we want to play therein. Have we, in truth, done that, or are we even fully prepared to do that before the disease spreads too far?

This is, indeed, an immense subject for which the minds of leaders, politicians, thinkers, researchers, and specialists must be mobilized. Suffice it to say that our top priority at this stage should be to work on ways and means to narrow the gap between Muslims and others through a carefully considered methodology that harnesses modern reasoning; expands the abundant commonalities between Western and Islamic values and ideas; avoids whatever may repel others; and takes advantage of any forums available for intercultural dialogue. Our demeanor there should be proactive by seeking to expand such forums and move from the narrow ivory tower of intellectuals and experts to the wider arena of the social masses, pushing forward the idea of a civilizational communion until it gains ground as the universal culture that underpins everyone’s conduct and relations. In such an endeavor, the entire spectrum of civil society institutions can play a seminal and pioneering role.

If it is relatively simple to identify the broad outline of such an approach, its application on the ground poses, in contrast, a daunting challenge. For one thing, it requires of us to start with a blunt, dispassionate process of soul-searching, ending in putting our fingers on the shortcomings that have made us today a meek nation. Let us examine whether that shame has been brought on by our political weakness, our scientific or social backwardness, or, yet still, our religious bigotry. Let us see whether we have faithfully applied the tolerant principles of Islam or even developed the details of this faith, beyond its immutable essence and tenets, to espouse the necessities, realities, and concepts of modernity and the age of contemporary, civilized communication. Let us tackle head on the direct influence of the revolution in information and communication technologies on our status and image, and on others’ perception of us. Let us forge innovative ways of engaging a dialogue, girded by wisdom and good counsel, with extremists and fanatics amongst us to stop their religious fervor and zeal—which might be well-intentioned—from submerging our image in the eyes of the world.

It is also imperative for us to identify the impact of the migration of millions of Muslims from their countries to work in the West, and of the consequences of their direct, spontaneous, and abrupt encounter with Western societies, in such huge numbers.

In our endeavor to win peace for Islam and Muslims, our efforts must be informed by highly-effective, Islamic solidarity, for such solidarity is alone apt to take us to equitable and acceptable solutions of the just Islamic causes that we have, in certain parts of the world, inherited as the legacy of the past century.

In our endeavors for peace, we must also look to the opposite side, where others stand who do not subscribe to our faith. Our scrutiny should seek to understand their political and religious discourse and discern their true views of us and the motives thereof. Are these the vestiges of olden and bygone eras? Or has the old missionary enmity of the church shifted to other grounds? We must also get to the bottom of the claims advanced by some on the inevitability of a civilizational clash whose prospective targets are us; and ascertain the truth of the conviction proclaimed by others in noble and universal, human values based on the principles of human rights, justice, and solidarity, among others, to the point of denying the existence of “the other” in affirmation of one, all-inclusive humanity. Let us then really test how far these paradigms color their relationships with us?

Yet another task we must fulfill is to urge the other, particularly in the West, through his governmental and grass-roots organizations, to undertake a parallel process of self-criticism and historical examination of his viewpoints on Islam and Muslims in the light of modern concepts and values to do his part in the attainment of this desired cultural communion.

Those are indeed the steps that can pinpoint the syndromes as well as the root-causes of this hostility, if indeed this kind of deep-rooted hostility exists. Such a diagnosis will determine how we approach the reality on the ground to work an ideological rapprochement through peaceful dialogue and impartial debate so that we can eventually bridge the gaps separating the two sides by emphasizing any and all means that unite them whether they be economic, political, or religious. It is by this and similar methods that we can gradually build confidence; propagate the spirit and culture of peace; and spread the idea of acceptance of the other, for the good of all humanity.

I would not wish to overstate or belabor my discussion of self realization and the process of assessing our place, weight, and future role in the world, because the crucial question is what will we do to be an effective part of the world around us; to keep Islam on the track of peace; to win over, for ourselves, our civilization, and our values, the respect and appreciation they deserve; to continue the march of Islam that has persisted over fourteen centuries of history, most of which it strode in the vanguard of nations as the pioneer of science, civilization, and progress in the world.

I am certain that many of you will touch on similar issues to these. The premises I have laid out so far, however, are sufficient for me to conclude that the work of this symposium, and the discussions we are about to embark upon on the theme of “Islam and peace”, is a momentous task that promises practical, useful results. Among these, the key result for us to attain is to articulate realistic and workable programs of action; and this we can do if we make the most of this forum for that purpose.

To that end, let me, in conclusion, wish your deliberations a resounding success in achieving its desired objectives.

Wassalamu Alaikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatuh