New Age Islam
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Islamic Society ( 5 Jun 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim States Urged to Include Women and Civil Society to Counter Religious Intolerance




By Samar Fatany

06 June 2015

“From Resolution to Realization – How to promote effective implementation of the HRC Res 16/18” was the theme of the 5th session of the Istanbul Process that was hosted by the OIC in Jeddah, on 3-4 June 2015.

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution 16/18 focuses on “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion and belief”. During the two-day event, the participants who included representatives of OIC Member States, academics, legal practitioners, relevant UN Special Procedures, civil society actors and NGOs engaged in panel discussions, and debated the eight-point Action Plan contained in the 16/18 resolution. They exchanged ideas and shared best practices for effective implementation of the plan.

Addressing potential areas of tension between communities and the promotion of better understanding and dialogue was the theme of the first panel. One of the most prominent solutions offered during this session was the initiative to train government officials, religious scholars and community leaders to address the root causes of religious and racial tensions.

This initiative would be a welcome development as extremists among religious scholars have brainwashed many into resorting to violence and taking up arms against anyone who does not conform to their views. The role of religious scholars or “Ulema” is critical. They hold the key to the deescalation of tensions. For a very long time the Ulema had full control over schools and courts in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. They continue to control the spiritual and intellectual life of the majority of Muslims around the world; therefore; their role and their influence is quite significant. Unfortunately, initiatives to combat extremism and terrorist propaganda through the appointment of moderate Ulema have failed so far. The time has come to introduce new potential leaders among young Shariah graduates. Governments must promote and train a new breed of religious scholars who can counter the prevailing influence of hardline extremists who are responsible for fueling religious intolerance and sectarian rhetoric.  Decision makers must cooperate with educated and worldly Shariah scholars to lead the faithful to the true path of Islam that is based on the principles of tolerance, compassion and peaceful coexistence.

The panelists also discussed the importance of including the voices of women to counter religious intolerance and discrimination. They stressed the need to train and support women graduates of Shariah well-versed in Islamic jurisprudence in order to address the sectarian divide and violence that has erupted jeopardizing the future of Muslim children everywhere. Women have a right to play a pivotal role in protecting their families and saving them from the prevailing bloodshed. The importance of women’s participation in social and political affairs should not be downplayed for their actions emanate from a purely humanitarian stand.

The need to promote human rights education and intercultural dialogue was another topic of discussion. Not many people in the Muslim world are aware of the principles of human rights. They do not know their fundamental rights and extremists show no respect for the universal principles of human rights. Discrimination, oppression and injustice exist and decision makers should take heed and implement more efficient policies to address injustice in order to bring calm and harmony to the once peaceful Muslim communities around the world.

The panelists also focused on the role of civil society in preventing tensions.  The Muslim world can benefit from the presentations of best practices in the United States  and other developed countries in  establishing collaborative networks within civil society and introducing effective mechanisms to counter  potential areas of conflict. The experts urged member states to work together and engage civil society to include women, think-tanks, media, the business community and other NGOs to facilitate early response by monitoring adverse situations and alerting the government to potential crises.

The participants asked Muslim governments not to waste time in creating national mechanisms to strengthen national capacities for conflict prevention. They asserted that civil society can be a great asset to the state. They outlined civic practices that encourage the vulnerable and marginalized masses to participate more fully in public affairs. Governments are advised to initiate policies and strategies to include social safety networks and the early warning of disaster, speedy response, cooperation with indigenous organizations and disaster preparedness to protect society and prevent conflicts, tensions and adverse events.

The 5th meeting of the Istanbul Process provided a timely opportunity for stakeholders to address the dangers of religious intolerance and discrimination that are threatening world peace and global prosperity. The experts presented valuable solutions and outlined best practices to expedite the implementation of the Action Plan through promoting and institutionalizing the Istanbul Process. Hopefully, member states can effectively implement the recommendations and adopt the necessary policies to address the prevalent dangers of our time.

Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached