Arab societies must address sectarianism: scholars

By Mohammed Ghazal in Amman


Panelists discuss the role of religious institutions in promoting diversity and social cohesion during a November 1st and 2nd conference in the Jordanian capital. [Photo courtesy of UNDP Jordan]

Arab societies must intensify their efforts to promote tolerance and pluralism in order to buttress themselves against extremist groups that seek to sow the seeds of sectarian discord, Arab and Islamic scholars gathered in Amman said.

Participants at the two-day "Inter-religious Dialogue on Diversity, Tolerance and Social Cohesion in the Arab Region" conference, held November 1st and 2nd, sought to promote social cohesion based on shared citizenship.

Over 100 participants from 25 countries attended the conference, organised by the UN Development Programme and the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID).

They discussed the pivotal role of religious leaders and institutions in enhancing pluralism, tolerance and social cohesion within the framework of a regional programme of action that takes into account the needs of Arab communities and seeks to open channels of communication between segments of society.

"The civil state has existed since the advent of Islam, and the city of Medina was the basis of it, as it was home to people of various races and religions," said Minister of Endowments, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places Wael Arabiyat.

"Pluralism is a universal norm," he said at the opening of the conference. "No human can survive alone, without co-operation with others."

"A person needs to benefit from the knowledge, strength and capacities of others in his life," Arabiyat said, adding that pluralism and interaction with others add beauty to the universe, and dialogue saves humanity from conflict.

Dialogue should be encouraged

Arab countries ought to "engage the youth in discussions and dialogues on religion", Al-Azhar Observatory co-ordinator general Mohamed Abdel-Fadeel told Al-Mashareq on the sidelines of the conference.

"The youth ought not be left out of discussions on matters of religion, because their involvement in dialogues would enhance their understanding of Islam and its noble values, and thereby inoculate them against extremist ideas," he said.

These ideas have no basis in religion, he added, stressing the need to activate the role of youth centres in Arab countries to promote dialogue and discussion.

Promoting the values of tolerance and co-existence forms the foundation of a strong society that is able to face challenges, Abdel-Fadeel said.

"Dialogue between all spectra of society is very important to counter any phenomenon that calls for violence or extremism," KAICIID senior advisor Mohammed Abu-Nimer told Al-Mashareq.

With conflict, everyone loses, he said, adding that in recent years, religion has been exploited in many Arab countries to bring about sectarian exclusion.

"On the other hand, there were good responses from religious institutions countering these calls and attempts , and we want to see more of them," he said.

"We, at the conference, aim to come up with practical plans and measures to be taken to ensure success in this matter," he added.

There must be greater efforts to promote moderation and the principle of tolerance and co-existence that are enshrined in Islam, Jordan Interfaith Conference co-founder Hamdi Murad told Al-Mashareq.

"Extremist groups interpret religious texts to suit their interests and whims," Murad said, stressing that Muslim scholars in Arab and Islamic countries must collaborate to a greater extent in order to reach youth.

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