Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!
This is no ordinary conference but a wakeup call for all those who care about the future of humanity. This past May, in the first high profile international conference I raised an alarm about what I perceive as ‘Islamic Meltdown’, the depopulation of the MENAregion where more than 4 million people have already perished in recent wars. Today, the Russians and the Americans, the French and the British areall united in bombing the cradle of our civilization where for centuries mosques and churches, synagogues and cemevis flourished side by side and where Christians and Jews, Muslims and other offshoots of the Islamic Ummah lived in perfect harmony. This rich civilization, my dear friends, is under attack.
Ladies & Gentlemen!
- Every nation lives with an idea. If the idea is muddled it results into chaos and confusion. Today, in the Middle-East as also elsewhere, Islam is at war with itself. The sectarian hatred that once lay dormant has come to a full bloom owing to the availability of social media and YouTube videos. We are left with no other option but to reconceive an all-embracing inclusive Islam beyond sectarian boundaries.
- It may be argued that the ideological dilution of Islam and its fragmentation into numerous opposing sects is no new phenomenon and that the Islamic civilization thrived despite its internal divisions in the fourth century of Islam. Earlier, our differences lay buried in polemical writings that were available only to the specialists and clerics. Ismailies and the batinisufies were known for hiding their books from the general public. Today, thanks to the internet, we can access the entire corpus of contradictory interpretative material that the divergent Islamic sects have produced and listen to as many hatemongers that the entire generation of our forefathers might not have even imagined. We are faced with a unique challenge. It demands from us a unique and equally effective strategy.
- Throughout history, the Arab-Islamic world has been a home to pluralistic society where various cultures, religions and linguistic tribes flourished side by side. Despite their affiliation with and patronage of the Islamic empire, the AleviBektashis, the Syrian Alevis, the Kurds, the Druze, the Nusairis and the Afghani/ Pakistani tribal chiefs always maintained some degree of autonomy in managing their tribal and regional affairs. A new reconfiguring of the Muslim world must not overlook this aspect.
- A review of our intra-religious understanding is need of the hour. No political or military solution can bring peace to the region unless the traditional intra-religious understanding is altered.Intra-religious dialogue, however, does not mean a fixed slot for the clergy. The traditional understanding of our sectarian moorings in fact holds back our ulema from thinking afresh. A radical, out of box solution can only come from reform-oriented, solution-seeking scholars willing to confront a paradigm shift. They need to build a whole new edifice of Prophetic Islam on our ideological ruins; an Islam wherein all divergent groups of Ahl-al-Qibla can find solace and refuge, be they Shia or Sunni, Ismaili or Ibadhi, Alevi or Druze or whatever.
- Intra-religious dialogue holds key to any durable peace between Riyadh and Tehran; as they are not just two competing nations but represent two ideological edifices at odd with each other. ‘Iran is our neighbor, we cannot change geographical reality and yes, who rules Iran? Syed Khamnaei, a man proud of his Arabian descent’ – such reconciliatory remarks by no less a person than HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal also suggest that the Saudi leadership is open to ideological reform and political reconciliation. They have already taken a lead in interfaith dialogues. But talking to other faith groups or taking them on board for a common program cannot be fruitful unless we put our own house in order.
Geographically, having been on the margins of the central land of Islam and not been a party to the conflict, Indian Muslims can ignite, facilitate and drive this reconciliation effort to its logical end. We have centuries long experience of successful living in pluralistic environment without any compromise on our religious identity. We lived under both Persian and Arabian tutelage; embracing the best of Arabian and Persian worlds. Our language Urdu is a perfect blend where the two civilizations meet.
Given our historical primacy in reconciliation and dialogue and our insight into the Persian and the Arabian minds, we can bring peace and reconciliation to the two warring Muslim nations. If they accept our mediation, we would love to host the First Muslim World Reconciliation Summit here at the Aligarh Muslim University – the Indian Muslim’s most prestigious seat of learning. However, we are not averse to an alternative venue if the logistics demand. The idea is to set the ball rolling without any further delay. The ongoing rampage and destruction in the MENA region is not only a Muslim issue, it concerns everybody who cares for our cradle of civilization and future of the human race.
(transcript of the speech: The Aligarh Platform for Rebuilding the House of Islam)