Muslim scholars condemn 'sectarian war'

By Time of article published Jan 22, 2007

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By Faisal Baatout

Doha - Participants "condemn the sectarian war between Sunnis and Shi'as unfolding in Iraq, which is conducive to (its) fragmentation," said a statement issued at the end of a three-day conference on inter-Islamic dialogue attended by more than 200 scholars and thinkers.

The scholars from 44 countries, representing various Islamic sects, said the shedding of Muslim blood and attacks on Muslims' properties were prohibited in Islam.

Their statement, which followed often heated debates, denounced "crimes perpetrated along sectarian lines" and urged adherents of various Islamic sects to "respect" each other's sanctities.

The participants also said "Shi'a proselytization in Sunni countries or Sunni proselytization in Shiite countries" should not be allowed.

Leading Qatar-based Sunni cleric Sheikh Yussef Qaradawi on Saturday denounced what he described as "attempts to convert (Sunnis) into Shiism" in countries that are predominantly Sunni.

"It is not permissible for a sect to try to spread in a country that is dominated by the other sect," he told the conference.

Egyptian-born Qaradawi also accused Shiites in Iraq and neighbouring Iran of harbouring militias that kill and displace Sunni Arabs in Iraq, which is wracked by sectarian killings that claim scores of lives daily.

Qaradawi, who heads the international federation of Muslim scholars, announced on Monday that his organisation has decided to send a delegation to Tehran to hold talks with Iranian officials.

"It is Iran that holds the keys" to a settlement in Iraq, he said, adding that he would head the delegation and be assisted by Iranian scholar Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri.

However, Qaradawi defended Iran's "right" to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful ends, the issue at the center of Tehran's crisis with the United States, which accuses it of seeking nuclear weapons.

"Why does Israel have the right to possess military nuclear power whereas Iran is not entitled to possess peaceful nuclear power?" he asked.

One of the 10 recommendations adopted by participants called for "reforming educational curricula in a manner conducive to unity and rapprochement between sects."

They also called for the establishment of a centre in Doha that would bring together scholars from various Islamic schools to "monitor obstacles and violations, and devise the appropriate solutions."

Iran has been accused of backing Shi'a militias in Iraq that are believed to be behind daily killings and kidnappings of Sunni Arabs.

"Shi'a ulema (scholars) and Iran must speak loud and clear about what is happening in Iraq. They must stop the carnage in Iraq," said Aref Abu Eid, an academic from the United Arab Emirates.

Taskhiri, who chaired the closing session, blamed the escalating tension between Sunnis and Shi'as on the "real enemy" of both, an allusion to Israel and the United States.

Exiled Tunisian scholar Rashed Ghannoushi for his part chided the conference for "not saying a word to denounce the (US) occupation of Iraq or express support for the Iraqi resistance."

Some of the participants were sceptical about the usefulness of such meetings.

"Either the idea (of rapprochement between Islamic sects) succeeds on the ground, or let's stop talking about it ... in which case I would tell Sheikh Taskhiri 'close your forum and dismiss your employees'," Qaradawi said.

Taskhiri heads Iran's World Forum for Enhancing Relations Among Islamic Schools of Thought.

The participants "came with the intention of proving the other wrong and not listening ... which makes it tantamount to a dialogue of the deaf," Mahmud Azb, a professor of Islamic civilisation at France's Sorbonne university, has said.

However, conference chairperson Aysha al-Mannaei insisted such debates were useful even if at times they can become "sharp and overly frank".

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