The Council of Ministers recently directed its National Committee to follow up on King Abdullah’s initiatives for dialogue among followers of various religions and cultures. It is heartening to finally hear about a positive contribution to this cause. The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue which was established in Vienna in 2010 needs more support to carry out its ambitious mission.
The interfaith initiative needs to be renewed and given more serious political, financial, academic and media support to dispel misconceptions about the Muslim faith and to end the cycle of suspicion based on distorted information which attempts to demonize Muslims and to create a divide between Islam and the West.
The management of interfaith dialogue is not an easy task. It needs international experts to efficiently engage faith-based organizations, social activists, prominent religious leaders and advocates of peace who can actively address universal challenges and concerns with a more scientific, civil and humane approach.
It is important to establish cooperation with global organizations that acknowledge Muslim contributions and exhibit genuine goodwill toward Islam and Muslims. International Muslim organizations do not have enough backing to carry out their mission effectively. As a result, many religious scholars and specialists in the field have lost their enthusiasm to contribute.
Extremism is still prevalent in many parts of the Muslim world. It is important to promote moderate and reputable Muslim scholars to influence change and to expose those who instigate wars in the name of religion. Moderate scholars should be more vocal and should be given international exposure and support.
Religious leaders in the Muslim world need to effectively integrate the perspectives of traditional Islam with the realities of the 21st century. Human rights values should be integrated into our Islamic teachings. The debate among Muslim scholars and the lack of a consensus on Islamic teachings continue to undermine the image of all Muslims and to reflect badly abroad on Islamic culture and heritage.
We need to provide more opportunities for Arab and Muslim scientists and professionals to cooperate in global scientific and humanitarian projects and events. Muslim contributions in global initiatives can project the true image of Muslims who are peaceful and caring.
A coalition of academic institutions can also play an important role. Muslim and international educators, writers and book publishers if given enough support can be effective in confronting the teachings of hatred and the contempt and damaging stereotypes that are found in various religious school classrooms in many parts of the world today. Interactive workshops involving religious school educators and administrators can stimulate inter-religious thinking and promote moderate teaching models and literature.
What we also lack is a strong media campaign to counter the vicious attack on Islamic values and heritage. Media analysts urge the need to train Muslim journalists and seek expert advice from media professionals in the West who advocate peace. We need to establish strong cooperation with international Islamic organizations, like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the US Council of Muslim Organizations that provide the mechanisms to enable the American Muslim community to overcome their challenges. They offer advice and direction and institutionalize policies to protect the interests of Muslim communities. They support their mission by monitoring publications, films, cartoons and other damaging stereotypes that propagate hatred and contempt against Islam in Europe and the US. We need to learn from their experience and build our own media professionals and organizations to provide direction for our youth and expose the evil designs of our enemies who continue to threaten our security and social stability.
Cultural exchange can play a very important role in building bridges of understanding. Engaging Muslim women in interfaith and intercultural dialogue can also greatly contribute to erasing negative stereotypes about women in Islam.
A revival of King Abdullah’s noble initiative of interfaith dialogue needs a well-structured strategy on a global scale to confront the rise of Islamophobia and expose the extremist elements with vested interests who attempt to defame Islam and Muslims.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at email@example.com