A delegation of prominent Muslim scholars has praised the UAE for promoting the true principles of Islam and for discouraging extremism on the start of the annual Ramadan conference hosted by the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments. Thirty Islamic scholars from 17 countries are attending the conference, part of an Emirati Ramadan tradition of inviting scholars to share ideas and reach out to worshippers throughout the country.
On Sunday, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, underscored the scholars' role in spreading the message of moderate Islam, urging them to promote Islam's essential values of tolerance and mercy in their teachings while highlighting that the principles of Islam are based on friendliness, understanding and goodwill. It is the duty of scholars, he said, to guide Muslims to follow these principles through their teaching.
Sheikh Said Abdulshafi, a prominent Quran reciter, said: "There's confusion between orthodoxy and extremism, and the line is blurred. There should be more guidance about that. Extremism comes from fundamentalism, and thankfully the UAE is very good with that as it doesn't allow extremism, which comes from lack of understanding of Islam." The delegation includes five women, underlining the focus on moderation.
Sheikha Huwaida Bakir, a prominent female preacher, said: "Our interaction here breeds tolerance and understanding between the different Muslim countries. The UAE is one of the best examples of tolerance of mixed religions and backgrounds. Anyone can come here and live respectfully. "The UAE is special compared to the rest of the Gulf countries in that the ruling family is completely involved with its people. The ruling family and its people have the same goal: to live in a stable and tolerant country."
The UAE prides itself on promoting what it calls the "middle way", a moderate form of Islam, and the authorities are keen to export this approach throughout the Muslim world. Sheikh Khalifa told the audience: "The mandate of scholars is to preach what Allah loves and satisfies through modes that mirror the great teachings of Islam and its immortal message." Abdulmuti Mohammed al Bayyoumi travelled to France in June to meet a delegation of Christian and Jewish leaders as well as foreign office officials. France is considered an interesting example of how fundamentalism can spread. Its secular laws prohibit the state from building mosques so its Muslim minority, unable to finance mosques for themselves, receive the funding from extremist sources. "I was in France within a high delegation and our aim was to deliver the right picture of Islam in Europe, and to that regard we met with priests and rabbis in Paris as well as the foreign ministry," said Mr Bayyoumi. "The problem is not between Europe and Islam, or France and Islam, but between Europe and certain currents that are fundamentalist. "I'm sorry to say that our problem is with these currents, which are Muslim, moved from the Muslim world to the West with all its fundamentalism and chauvinism and all its flawed thinking." Some analysts say the UAE's efforts to promote the middle way of Islam is especially effective because it is vocal and transparent about its intentions. Hosting Ramadan conferences of scholars known for their moderate stance on Islamic issues provides a platform for the UAE to launch a global campaign that supports moderates everywhere. Mr Bayyoumi added: "The purpose of bringing us all together here is to promote the middle way. I've been at mosques and the cultural foundation, and here and there giving lectures. All of us are doing this to propagate the moderate way. "In the past the ulama would pay out of pocket to go meet others. They would join a caravan and spend months en route to meet their counterparts in India or Turkey or the Arabian peninsula. "So my ability to meet all these other ulama here in one place is a golden opportunity. This is the important role that the UAE is playing." firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com