Azerbaijan: A protagonist of global Islamic solidarity

By Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood for

The title of an international conference organized in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on December 21, 2017 was “2017: Year of Islamic Solidarity: Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue”. It is imperative to note that Azerbaijan became a free country as recently as just 26 years ago. Yet, it has proactively played leading roles in many fields of the Islamic world. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan had taken charge in 2003. One year ago, he announced that the year 2017 will be celebrated as the “Year of Islamic Solidarity” and this conference was organised to conclude the year-long celebrations.

Support TwoCircles

Cultural capitals of Islamic World: Role of ISESCO

After the recitation from the holy Qur’an, Ilham Aliyev apprised the delegates that Baku has since been included among the cultural capitals of the Islamic world. This work of selecting cities as Islamic cultural capitals is handled by ISESCO: International Islamic Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization whose central office is located in the Moroccan city of Rabat. Many cities of the world spanning Arab, Asian and African countries have been so recognised; the holy Makkah tops the list while Madina, Najaf, Sharjah, Tripoli, Ghazni, Iskandariya, Asfahan, Tashkent, Kuala Lumpur, Kuwait, Jakarta, Dhaka, Lahore etc are the other listed cities.

Unfortunately, no Indian city could find place among the World Islamic Cultural Capitals. Efforts should be made to get enlisted one or more of the following Indian cities: Hyderabad, Bhopal, Lucknow, Srinagar, Kolkata, Mallapurram, Aurangabad, Old Delhi, Rampur, Aligarh, Agra, Murshidabad, Bijapur, Junagarh, Karnool, Surat, Malda, Dhubri, Kishanganj, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Barpeta, Rajouri.

The first ISESCO conference was held in 1982 at Fez (Morocco). In addition to the permanent membership of 54 Muslim countries, Russia, Thailand and Cyprus enjoy the status as Observer. List of other countries which would get the Observer status till 2025 have already been announced. In this matter, the Indian Ministry of Minority Affairs and India Islamic Cultural Centre should activate themselves through the Ministry of External Affairs. Besides, Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Hamdard University, Maulana Azad National Urdu University and Kashmir University should get in touch with ISESCO whose Charter mandates supporting higher educational institutions to establish special purpose academic and research centers.

Special envoys and other delegates at Baku Conference

Special envoys of the Presidents of Iran and Turkey, Pope Francis, Patriarchs of Russia and Georgia and Director General of ISESCO attended the Baku conference. Among the scholars of other countries who participated in the conference were myself and a representative of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar both from India and delegates from Japan, USA, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizistan, Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Palestine, Morocco, Germany, Iraq, Indonesia as well as the representatives of many international organizations belonging to different faiths.

Mutual support among Muslim societies

The Azerbaijan President said that in order to make the Islamic ummah stronger from within ‘we (must) support each other in the United Nations’. We should promote each other’s culture and strive to ensure that the followers of all the faiths in the world have equal rights. The President has been trying that a project germinates under the aegis of UNO to establish an international organization of world cultures; he emphasized that the cultural plurality should be a source of world’s enhanced delight.

Sports and Infrastructure

As a part of this movement the International Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation has been working with 59 member countries headquartered in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. The first event was held in 1985 in which teams of 34 countries had participated. During 2017 these sports were organized in Azerbaijan in which 50 countries participated. Thus, Azerbaijan has been working to promote world peace and international reconciliation. With excellent neighbourly relations it is in the process of laying cross border gas pipelines. The country is also trying to make itself an international transportation hub.

Trump’s Jerusalem decision flayed, ISIS condemned, Rohingyas supported

Delegates of all the countries attending the Baku conference expressed their happiness for the celebration of 2017 as the Year of Islamic Solidarity. On the other hand, they registered their displeasure at Donald Trump‘s decision to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem. The conference condemned the state sponsored violence in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslims and pleaded for refugees relief throughout the world. The Iranian delegate said that ISIS is the creation of fascist forces and it is our duty to overpower it.

Ground level actions discussed to promote Islamic solidarity

The Turkish delegate strongly advocated American roll back of the Jerusalem decision. Many Christian leaders said that it is unjust to link Islam with violence and added that, respecting each other, we should jointly work in the fields of education and culture. Other delegates emphasized the revival of Islamic values with mutual efforts. The syllabus of educational institutions in Muslim societies must contain the lessons of Islamic solidarity. There should be a federal organization of Islamic universities. Muslims in different parts of the world should be helped and supported in solving their problems.

Azerbaijan’s spiritual leader Sheikh al-Islam Allahshukur Pashazadeh expressed happiness that the representation in the conference had geographically covered the entire world. He cautioned that in no way religions should be used to gain political mileage. There must be a group of people among us who invites people towards virtue and forbids evil. The contents of school syllabi need to be examined occasionally.

Preserved Tablet (Lauh Mahfooz): Sanctum sanctorum of all faiths

Hindu spiritual figure Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s emissary Jyoti Ramaya argued that we must emphasize values and minimize the significance of the practices and rituals. Through my PowerPoint presentation, I drew the delegates’ attention to the theological narrative that before creating the world the Almighty had stocked all His upcoming revelations in the Preserved Tablet (Lauh Mahfooz) and these were brought down to the worldly sky during a specific night which later came to be celebrated as the Night of Power (Lailatul Qadr). Some Quranic commentators opine that during such nights, revelations were sent to all the prophetic recipients. After the world came into being the messages were taken from the Preserved Tablet and were revealed to various Prophets in different parts of the world and in various phases of human history. Thus, the Preserved Tablet is the sanctum sanctorum of all the religions across the world. Nowhere else do we find such a strong scriptural mandate propounding inter-religious affinity.

The Quran also says: “Had your Lord willed, He would have made all the people a single community”. But God didn’t do so as He decided to continuously test the human beings whether we develop sufficient space for each other in our hearts. That is why the Quran starts describing God as Rabbil Aalameen that is the Creator and Sustainer of the Worlds and concludes indicating Him as Rabbin Naas which means the Creator and Sustainer of the Peoples; the scripture did not confine God as Creator and Sustainer of Muslims. Thus, it is the responsibility and duty of the world Islamic community that it unites itself and imparts to the world the lesson of solidarity and brotherhood especially to the politicians and the governments. That is what the Azerbaijan President trying to do and he deserves our support and collaboration.

*The author is President, Zakat Foundation of India.