World Muslim minorities colloquium sees opportunity to reposition the community

Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood,

Charged with the urge to ensure better and deeper relationships with fellow citizens across the world, members of Muslim minority communities – representing twenty countries spanning six continents – gathered in Paris, 29-31 March 2013. They assembled in their diversity – scholars, academics, professionals, entrepeneurs, leaders, activists and media practitioners – to find a common voice for more than 25% of the global Muslim community that exists in almost every country of the world. The objective of infusing in these societies greater dynamism, creativity, cohesiveness, respect and a cosmopolitan character is what brought the participants together, they being mindful of the Quranic injunction: God created the earth for the entire humanity (55.10).

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The Colloquium was conscious of it’s collective concern that, in some parts of the world, Muslims and their fellow citizens are drifting apart, that the space for inter-group engagement is diminishing, and that, at the heart of this process are the twin challenges of Islamophobia and extremism. The perpetrators of both of these misguided movements blame and disgrace each other and both need to be confronted and checked. Yet the Colloquium did not convene in despair. Instead, it convened because Muslims are seeing an opportunity to reposition themselves, rethink their relationships with fellow citizens, and better harness the resources at their disposal to participate in the decision-making processes in and mutually share the ownership of their countries.

This opportunity presents itself in the surge for more realistic freedom, democracy, human rights and dignity across the world – including in overwhelmingly Muslim societies. This opportunity also comes from a world drained and exhausted with decades of militarism and violence – to resolve political, social and economic problems. Most importantly, there is an opportunity as the world community emerges from the long night of suspicion, fear, antipathy and hostility after the tragedy of 9/11 – to reach out to each other in a spirit of empathy, healing and reconciliation.

The Colloquium resolved it’s determination to mitigate the mutual concerns, explore together where the opportunities will take them, and through honest dialogue – free of platitudes – find ways to enrich the spaces already occupied jointly: where Muslims live, work, pray and play and where their diversity enables their uniquenesses to form a creative whole.

Realising that these goals are not easy to achieve, the experiences shared by the participants over three days of deliberations spoke of multiple challenges ranging, among others, from immigration practices to rhetoric on Shariah. But the Colloquium was far more aware of the need for leadership. A transition may be afoot, if there is collective will. Leadership for Muslim minorities entails, amongst others, that:

– Muslims dialogue with fellow citizens about eliminating Islamophobia in attitude, word and deed – even as they reflect on how their existence – in name and often their silence – helps make them objects of fear;

– Muslims engage their societies about the contribution they continue to make to the nations they share – even as they evaluate whether their differences and number, that constitute them as a minority, are not in danger of casting them as the constant outsider;

– Muslims reassure the fellow global citizens – through verbal expression and praxis – that the teachings of their faith are unequivocal about the need to respect the intrinsic value, honour and dignity of all humans irrespective of difference; and

– Muslims invite the fellow citizens to walk the road of courage with them, together, as they manage the uncertainties of globalization and the vulnerabilities of a world mired in recession.

Deliberating upon it’s theme Living where we don’t make the rules, the Colloquium trawled the scripts and scholarship of Islam, reignited the values and objectives of the faith and reinvigorated the valuable traditions and treasures of Muslim history. It was convinced of the utility to live by the Maqaasid-us-Shariah (objectives and values of Islam), guided by the internal religious ethics and principles and accessing God’s promise of providing ease. Accordingly, the Ummah can (a) through intense internal consultation, arrive at a jurisprudence of citizenship and a paradigm of shared spaces to bring comfort to over 300 million Muslims living as minorities in varied historical and social circumstances and (b) partner with and warmly reassure all fellow citizens of the world. For this purpose, the participants renewed their awareness that the Quran ‘defines for us both the rights we should expect, and the responsibilities we should fulfill’: God enjoins you to be kind towards non-hostile co-citizens and, indeed, God loves those who are just (Quran 60.9).

The Colloquium realized that even as Muslims assert the right for the profession and practice of their faith, they must ensure the mutual enjoyment of that right; and as they seek the peace and security for themelves, they need to guarantee it to others. In their quest to be kind and just to those with whom they enjoy such mutuality, they express it through integration in society, sharing a common national identity and through practices of reciprocation. The Colloquium noted the good example of South Africa where Muslims participated in the struggle against apartheid, integrating with democratic values, mutual dignity and enrichment, thus demonstrating the potential for harmonizing the relationship between faith and society.

The Colloquium resolved to transform emotions into strategy, intentions into actions, and ambiguity into decisiveness. Guided by Islam, learning from an array of best practices drawn from a variety of countries and programs, and inspired to be ideal citizens of respective countries, the participants found themselves on the road to the ‘imaginative and creative rethinking of our identities and roles, committed to meeting the common social, economic and political challenges for the betterment of all our respective societies, and mustering the courage to defuse the potential for both Islamophobia and extremism’.

The Colloquium participants left Paris equipped with a network across the six continents to realize the vision of shared societies and a commitment to harness the power of a jurisprudence of citizenship. This network is charged with convening a broader and more representative gathering of Muslim minorities, to utilize the current moment of opportunity, to conceptualise and construct such shared spaces in which peace and security for all will be the basis of mutuality of faith and the plurality in citizenship. Such a positive and constructive approach will manifest in the methodologies that are developed for (a) the education of the community, (b) training of its religious leadership to ensure an effective response to the lived realities and the challenges faced by the emerging generations, and (c) the deployment of all forms of media for the correct projection of Muslim image and message.

This network will also be charged with structuring Muslim dialogue with fellow citizens of other faiths and cultures, ensuring ‘our engagement with people made vulnerable in a difficult and – sometimes harsh – world, and finding solidarity with those who are marginalized and alienated because they are different. In doing so, we exert ourselves, and exhort all Muslims, to rise above the heartburns and injuries we may harbor, and rather, to respond to the call of God to cooperate with each other in pursuit of the good and piety’.

Participants in the Colloquium:
Australia – Dr Sven Schottmann; Belguim – Dr Beddy Ebnou; Brazil – Sheikh Hassan Hammadeh; Canada – Dr Ingrid Mattson; France – Prof Ahmad Jaballah, Rim-Sarah Alouane; Germany – Prof Ibrahim El-Zayat; Hungary – Sultan Sulok; India – Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood; Nigeria – Imam Nurudeen Lemu; Qatar – Sheikh Ali Al-Quradaghi; Romania – Dr Abu al Ola Al Ghithy; Russia – Ahmad Azimov; Singapore – Dr Albakri Ahmad, Feisal Marican; Mohammed Nassir; South Africa – Dr Waheeda Amien, Imran Garda, Haroon & Yasmeen Kalla, Munier Parker, Amb Ebrahim Rasool, Tahir Salie, Rosieda Shabodien, Sheikh Hendricks Seraaj; Switzerland – Prof Tariq Ramadan; Tunisia – Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi; United Kingdom – Mudassar Ahmed, Dr Anas Al-Shaikh-Ali, Dr Mohamed Ashmawey, Khatija Barday-Wood, Sarah Joseph, Br Faruq Murad, USA – Salam Al-Marayati, Dr Mohammed El-Sanussi, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Dr Saieed Syeed, Dr Najeea S-Miller, Haris Tarin, Tayyibah Taylo,; Imam Pelamin El-Ami, Prof Ebrahim Moosa.

(Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood, President, Zakat Foundation of India [email protected])