No 'conflict of cultures', Islamic leader tells EU Parliament

  

The Grand Mufti of Syria yesterday told MEPs that he did not believe in the conflict of cultures because "we are all building one culture", becoming the first religious leader to address the Parliament during the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, yesterday (15 January) told Parliament's Strasbourg plenary that perceived clashes of culture were instead conflicts of "ignorance, terrorism and backwardness". 

He stressed that although religion gave culture its moral values, "it is we who build civilisation", arguing that "we must create states on a civil basis" rather than a religious one. Moreover, he said there was "no such thing" as a holy war. 

Inter-religious dialogue is fast emerging as a central theme of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, with MEP and EYID rapporteur Erna Hennicot-Schoepges last week hinting that the Parliament may host a forum on the issue before the end of the year. 

However, Hennicot-Schoepges told a Parliament hearing on 10 January that the Council and the Commission were initially hesitant about promoting inter-religious dialogue as part of EYID, preferring instead to refer to the word "belief". 

Charter for European Muslims 

Meanwhile, around 400 Muslim groups signed a charter last week (10 January) outlining their rights and responsibilities in European society. 

The charter contains 26 points, among which are clauses aimed at dispelling myths surrounding the link between Islam and violence and clarifying the term 'jihad'.

Ibrahim Elzayat of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, which co-ordinated the charter's compilation after launching the project in 2000, described the signing as "a message to government and the rest of society" that is "also directed at Muslims within Europe." 

In a separate development, a UN project designed to combat terrorism by promoting "cross-cultural understanding", particularly between the West and the Islamic world, began its first forum yesterday in Madrid. 

The 'Alliance of Civilisations' initiative, co-sponsored by Turkey and adopted by the UN in 2005, was proposed by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in the wake of the Madrid bombings in 2004. 

Positions: 

The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, told Parliament's Strasbourg plenary that "there is one single culture" in the world, that of humankind. 

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering said "peaceful coexistence between cultures and religions, both in the European Union and in relations with peoples in all parts of the world, in particular on the other side of the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, is both possible and essential." 

Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe  (FIOE) spokesperson Ibrahim Elzayat said the charter signed last week "describes how we should act as positive citizens in the societies in which we live and not be a threat." 

European Parliament Vice-President Mario Mauro described the charter as a "code of good conduct for Muslims", pledging them to "help create harmony and well-being in our societies and fully play the role of citizens in upholding justice, equal rights and respect for difference."

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford criticised the EYID for being "confused in its objectives" and "too focused on religion", saying: "The year of inter-cultural dialogue should be about more than window-dressing. We need to engage in serious debate, not just have speeches from an eclectic range of public figures".

Baroness Ludford also expressed disappointment that the Grand Mufti of Syria was invited to address Parliament, stating: "It would have been more appropriate to invite someone from inside Europe to speak about Islam and thereby send a signal that MEPs regard Islam as a mainstream European religion."    

Timeline: 

15-16 Jan. 2008: UN 'Alliance of Civilisations' forum takes place in Madrid.

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