The present Conference is taking place under special international circumstances, at a new political watershed, brought about by the events of last September 11. And though universally condemned by both East and West, those despicable terrorist events have nevertheless had one benefit, if any: that of offering us such a historical and opportune occasion for the East and West to sit together and engage in a direct and straightforward dialogue over a momentous issue that should have been accorded our due consideration decades, if not centuries ago, and which has now acquired urgency with the advent of globalization. Today, in the wake of the events of September 11, it has become an issue of extreme urgency and inevitability.
Full credit here is due to the well-targeted initiative of Turkey which, moved by the prevailing international situation, called for this meeting which, we firmly believe, will come out with far-reaching results.
Today’s initiative marks a historical event, quite unprecedented in the annals of international relations or even in the history of mankind, aimed at a forthright exchange, as a preliminary step towards the achievement of mutual understanding, reconciliation, and resolution of certain differences resulting from a backlog of various misconceptions, misapprehensions and lack of knowledge about each other, a legacy which has been further exacerbated by stereotypical, negative perceptions that have been seeded in our minds on both sides by certain extremist fanatics without any proper fathoming of realities.
Among the positive peripheral outcrops of the September 11 events, there is the heightened desire of many in the West to learn about Islam and better understand its principles and perspective on life and the universe, having had no real opportunity to gain an insight into it in the course of their schooling. An important occasion has thus presented itself which the Islamic world needs to seize upon, with a view to project their faith and civilization and their objectives and conception of relations with others.
Before I elaborate any further, I need to point out that the events of September 11 have been unduly exploited by some, beyond their actual and real context. We did as a matter of fact openly condemn – as did the world at large – these contemptible terrorist events – which no religion, whatever creed or doctrine, be it political or intellectual, approves of. And it is quite unfair to link any faith with such a criminal act, let alone the faith of Islam whose principal trademarks are mercy, peace and tolerance, being a faith of fair balance which is totally abhorrent to extremism which it proscribes and urges against. Likewise, claiming that this appalling act was directed at the Western civilization bespeaks a high level of intentional misguidance. For indeed, those events were no more than an act perpetrated by a handful of individuals driven by their exasperation with a political reality which is both condoned and supported by the United States in the Middle-East. The events in question have indeed nothing to do whatsoever with either the Western or the Islamic civilizations. It is a matter of common knowledge that fanatics, though typically few in number, attract considerable attention through their extremist action.
Thus, to overstretch the implications of such a criminal individual act indiscriminately and attribute it to the followers of an entire faith or civilization who are numbered in hundreds of millions, is a totally unjustified tort, if not a premeditated act of malevolence aimed at maligning Islam and the radiant civilization of its people. This is a self-defeating undertaking. For as paradoxical as that may seem, such an indiscriminate generalization has the potential, actually, to lead to the fulfillment of the very objective sought by those who carried out the acts of last September 11th.
The Islamic world and Western Europe share such an impressive large scope and expansive background in so many spheres. The common denominators that bind these two worlds are legion, and it is our duty to further expand them and link them together. As for our dissimilarities, they have to do with finite and marginal issues which we can easily rise above. In point of fact, they can be a source of richness and diversity in perception, rather than a motive of conflict or discord. What may give reason for optimism is that international oratory and rhetoric in this early part of the new century supports cultural diversity and views it as a source of richness for mankind, and believes in the culture of dialogue, tolerance and nurturance of the spirit of coexistence between the various constituencies of the human species who share this Earth globe of ours, whose distances are so rapidly shrinking and whose frontiers are brought close to each other thanks to the genius and resourcefulness of Man. So much so that the world has indeed become more like a small village.
To go back to the common denominators that bind the Islamic world and Western Europe together, let me recall that these common denominators which tie us together are deep-seated and of profound bearing, having to do with matters of quintessential nature in the life of Man.
First: Among these denominators, special mention should be made of our shared spiritual reference, as Islam acknowledges Christianity which is the faith adopted by the majority in the Western world. Not only that. Christianity, in fact, emerged and bloomed first in the Middle East. And Islam, furthermore literally teaches Muslims and enjoins upon them, in the Koranic script, to be closest to Christians, to entertain relations of mutual affection and sincere amity with them. Also, Islam honours and venerates the Christian clergy and scholars, holds them in high regard and even exalts them. Thus, Muslims and Christians belong to the same spiritual reference. Both religions belonging to the same Household: that of Monotheism.
Second: The intellectual reference and cultural complementarity shared by the Islamic world and the West. As a matter of fact, the Arab and Islamic Orient has been the cradle of the old civilizations which bloomed in Mesopotamia, on the banks of the Nile, in Persia and in the remote parts of India, and it was in its lap that the Greek civilization, which forms the mainstream intellectual reference in the West and which did not emerge from a vacuum, was actually configurated. Later on, the Islamic civilization came and drew on the civilizations of the peoples in its region, in Iraq, Egypt, and Persia, as well as in other parts of the world, and condensed the essence of those civilizations in the elaboration of the Islamic thought which is anchored in the Islamic faith. Afterwards, Muslim scholars emerged and opened up to the Greek civilization and derived benefit from it through analysis, critical review and borrowing; and they came to be the best transmitters to the West of the Greek heritage in a lucid, detailed and improved form (the relation between Aristotle and Averoes, in this regard, offers a vivid and palpable example). They brought to the West their own intellectual and civilizational breakthroughs in all spheres of knowledge ranging from philosophy, mathematics and the zero, to chemistry, medicine, astronomy, navigation, literature, biology, optics, botany, ad infinitum. Muslim scientists have thus written one of the most inspiring chapters in the civilizational exchange among the human communities.
Third: The physical, geographic proximity, which is such that Europe and the Islamic World form two neighboring entities who share extensive territorial frontiers across Europe and Asia as well as across the Mediterranean. And if one adds to all this, the necessities of good neighbourliness and the need for coexistence, along with the powerful economic ties that bind them together, one easily realizes the importance of cementing the relations between these two constituencies, and the need to build bridges between these two worlds, as the closest and most harmonious of all human groupings.
What we differ in is nothing more than the injustice that the people of the Islamic world have suffered as a result of the colonial period in which some European powers exploited vast regions of the Islamic world in an arrogant and humiliating manner and with a contemptuous attitude that stirred in many Muslims powerful feelings of injustice and bitterness. What have been rekindling those feelings now are the painful vestiges of the colonial legacy that remains conspicuous to this day as is the case with the Palestinian people’s tragedy.
Western economic hegemony still casts a heavy shadow on the reality of Islamic states, which is manifested in many phenomena ranging from the low prices imposed on the raw material exports of the developing countries to globalization as the embodiment of that hegemony.
As for the subject of respect for public freedoms and human rights, a subject to which the Western world attaches particular interest, as an integral part of its social and political culture, it is in times of crises that the observance of such freedoms and rights is put to the test, and their respect should be upheld and implemented indiscriminately, such as not to arouse any doubts regarding the genuineness of those who profess such respect.
These are things which we hope will be transitory and that we will be able to leave entirely behind us once we find effective and equitable solutions to them so that we can proceed together towards the building of a common future.
This has been a brief but candid account of the past reality that has led us to our current plight and of our aspirations for a common future. Yet, I must also speak briefly of Islam, which is a religion that has remained unknown to many in the West as a result of the campaigns of hatred waged against it in the past under the impulse of ignorance or malicious and biased designs.
Islam, in fact, is the religion of peace, and the common greeting of Islam is "Peace be upon you". Islam is the religion of lofty morals as witnessed by the Prophet’s summary of his message to people when he pronounced his well-known Tradition: "I have been sent to perfect moral values".
Islam is the religion of tolerance and mercy as testified by the words of the Noble Quran encapsulating the Prophet Mohammed’s message in the verse: "We have not sent you forth but as a mercy to the worlds". Thus Islam is the religion of compassion on people, compassion on other creatures, and compassion on nature.
Islam is also the religion of friendly and harmonious interactions and relations among peoples as the Quran says: "We have made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another".
Islam is the religion that acknowledges previous monotheistic religions, the closest to it being Christianity as I mentioned earlier. But as the ultimate monotheistic religion, Islam encompasses all the qualities and virtues of earlier religions.
Islam is the religion of peaceful and courteous dialogue, because through a considerate and positive dialogue the truth can be reached. The Quran says: "Call men to the path of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation. Reason with them in the most courteous manner ".
Islam is the religion of science and knowledge because our Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) advocates the quest for learning and acquisition of knowledge as the duty of all Muslims—male and female—in view of the fact that scientists and scholars are the ones who most realize the magnitude of the Creator, Allah, as explained by the Quranic verse: "Of Allah’s servants, scientists fear Him the most".
In this brief account, I cannot do justice to this subject. But suffice it to say that Islamic civilization, whose foundations have been built on the precepts I have described, epitomizes all those truths and has been able for more than one thousand years to take pride of place at the helm of world civilizations, to enrich the progress of those human civilizations, and assume a unique role in fostering human progress and intellectual osmosis in all fields of knowledge.
It is with such dynamism and forward-looking momentum that Islam was able to spread from the frontiers of Indonesia to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and from the Indian Ocean in the south to the Chinese borders and central parts of the Russian Federation in the North.
Let me repeat once again that our meeting today in this historic joint forum is a rare opportunity, which we must turn into a genuine fresh start to put back relations between the Islamic world and the Western world on track and enhance them to the proper level commensurate with the culture, civilization, concepts, and values of modern man, not least because we share so many of these values.
In order to do so, we have to inaugurate between ourselves a positive dialogue not only to overcome the current crisis, which we see as transitory, but also to establish the foundations of dialogue for our future and for the sake of posterity. That is why we would want this dialogue to be also a strategic one that takes into account the basic economic as well as the political interests for the short and long terms and we would want this dialogue to be a civilized and equitable one based on the common human values that we share and that are derived from the core principles of our two complementary civilizations so as to arrive at true multiculturalism and diversity instead of absolute and universal globalism.
In order to reach that goal, we must build upon the foundations of that common future in a gradual, scientific, and pragmatic manner based on mutual respect, equality, recognition and acceptance of the other, with each partner rightfully proud of their history and their present without turning them into pretexts for fanaticism or animosity towards the other. We would want this dialogue also to be based on the propagation of the culture of tolerance, the desire for coexistence, and bridging the gaps between the two partners without either of them claiming the monopoly of wisdom or absolute knowledge. Since we are seeking through this dialogue to lay the firm foundations of a global, all-inclusive edifice and to formulate universal human values, we must further avoid any obsolete or mundane stereotypes or prejudices.
In order for our work to be fruitful, the dialogue we seek must be inspired by careful and long study, must have stamina, and must not be confined to government or state officials but must also include the popular sections and all levels of civil society organizations.
We must also seek radical solutions and reasonable explanations for certain negative patterns that have become fossilized in the minds of some in both camps over many years. It is an auspicious fact that there are no valid or fundamental reasons for conflict or difference between us.
Of great help to us in this connection, are the fair and well balanced positions adopted by the European Federation vis-à-vis many of the Islamic just causes, foremost of which, the Palestinian people’s longstanding ordeal under the Israeli occupation and their continued deprivation of their legitimate rights to self-determination and to the establishment of their own independent State on their fatherland. Such positions will, no doubt, be of assistance in achieving rapprochement between the two parties’ views, as they have to do with the most sensitive matters in their relations.
That is what prompted the Islamic world to initiate the idea of dialogue among civilizations, or intercultural dialogue, as an alternative to the idea of the inevitability of the clash of civilizations, which was erroneously predicted by certain Western thinkers as an extravagant product of their intellectual indulgence and which does not have to be humanity’s preordained fate if we are to listen to the voice of reason, not emotion, and act in the inspiration of an enlightened vision, away from incitement to hatred and xenophobia. Islam can take pride that one of its scholars, namely Al-Beirouni, was simply the first in human history to call for intercultural dialogue more than one thousand years ago and to lay practical plans to conduct that dialogue.
Terrorism—though it is the hot issue of the hour—was in fact addressed by the Islamic world almost ten years ago as it laid plans to combat it when the Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference adopted The Code of Conduct on Combating Terrorism and followed it with the adoption of an International Convention on Combating and Eliminating Terrorism. These steps show the determination of the Islamic world, even before the events of September 11, 2001, to deal resolutely with the phenomenon of terrorism and to eliminate it in accordance with the teachings of our religion.
It is regrettable that the mass media in the West seem intent on linking the terrorist act perpetrated by any Muslim with Islam—so much so that the term "Islamic terrorism" has now become common currency—without linking the terrorism perpetrated by a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Jew with their religion. Yet, it is a matter of common knowledge that terrorism has no religion, no country, and no people, and that it is the product of extremism and fanaticism, selfishness and greed, oppression and injustice, inequity and despair.
In this context, an international consensus needs to be reached on the concept of terrorism and its definition and specific profile so that everyone may be clear about the responsibilities they need to assume in the fight against it. In addition, actions targeted against international terrorism should be carried out within an international framework, under well-defined and agreed international criteria.
In our aspirations for a common future, we must build upon our common past which was marked by the genuine communication and interaction of our two civilizations, because it is well-known that dialogue between the Islamic and Western civilizations is a time-honoured and well-established tradition that prospered and bore fruit in the give and take of long centuries of history. The institutes of Alexandria, Sicily, Constantinople, Cairo, Cordova, Baghdad, Fez, Boukhara, Samarqand, and Isfahan were all in communion through intellectual osmosis between the ideas of Avicenne, Ibn Rushd, Razi, Al-Beirouni, Faraby, and those of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Leonardo De Vinci, Kopler, Copernicus, Galileo, and many others. It is from that rich history of intellectual communion and osmosis that modern civilization arose in the sixteenth century and subsequently.
Whilst we look forward with anticipation to the future, we also have to realize that we shall have to live together in this part of the world for a long time to come, given our geographic proximity which we cannot will to be otherwise, and in view of the countless interests that we share. In this connection it is worth our while to recall that one reliable source has recently indicated that, by the year 2030, the European States will need over 35 million immigrants as a substitute manpower, to offset the downward trend in the demographic structure, and to meet the needs of the senior citizens who will be retired in their home countries, if Europe wishes to maintain the same standard of living it currently enjoys. Most of these emigrants will have to be attracted from the coastal states of the Mediterranean and other neighbouring Islamic countries.
Such a reality ought to prompt us, as of now, to prepare for this unquestionable prediction, if we really wish this oncoming mixing and blending to be founded on sound and healthy grounds, and to take place under ordinary and manageable conditions, free from obstacles and psychological shocks, just as was the case for the past multiple successive waves of human exodus witnessed here and there across the globe; with one major difference, namely that this forecasted emigration should be well planned, ahead of time, in a well-thought out manner, such as to make it a smooth and healthy one.
The first step to initiate this aspired goal is to stimulate the thought of specialists from both sides and seek their ideas for us to travel down the path that would lead us to our targeted objective, to establish a steady and sustained interaction between broad sections of the community members of both sides, and to benefit from the modern facilities of communications and radio and TV media resources, such as to smooth our progress along this course and steer us away from negative stereotyping.
The Western world is called upon to assist us in ensuring that the ideals of social, political and economic equity prevail across the world, in imparting a human face to the phenomenon of globalization, and in resolving so many interlaced world issues upon which the future of mankind will depend, such as the problems of combating disease, poverty, illiteracy, and deterioration of our environment, etc.
One way to achieve this, would be to assist the Islamic world to better benefit from their mineral and fishery resources under adequate and equitable conditions, and to sell their raw materials at prices that are reasonable compared to those applied for industrial goods. It is likewise of particular significance that we reexamine the debt issue which is sapping the energy of many States, depleting their resources in an excessive way, and leaving them hostage to backwardness and poverty.
It is well-known that, if political or economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few people, dialogue will not only be difficult but also sterile. All this, provided good intentions prevail, and subject to the necessary sacrifices, is bound to give rise to a real and authentic peaceful and civilized coexistence, a political consensus, and a world economic openness that would alleviate the burden of the chronic economic and social crises endured by two thirds of the world community today.
This would enable us to bring forth the necessary change, and unlock the doors for our posterity and future generations to live together in a world founded on mutual respect, equity, and recognition of the other, a world where peace, calm, and serenity shall reign supreme, as well as justice, democracy and welfare.