Islamic Perspectives

Paris Colloquium on Muslim Minorities

Paris: Alarmed by the woes brought to humanity by Islamophobia and extremism, and seeking to identify and maximize the opportunities of dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation with fellow citizens, Muslim minority leaders, scholars and activists from 20 countries held a 3-day colloquium in Paris during 29-31 March, 2013. The initiative was launched by the US-based World of All Foundation in association with the Qatar-based International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) under the theme “Living Where We Don’t Make Rules”.

South Africa remains a global model for how Muslim minorities should integrate into society, said the founder of World for All Foundation and the current South African ambassador to the US, Ebrahim Rasool, during the Paris meet. Rasool said South African Muslims have made social cohesion look fairly easy since the advent of democracy. Each country represented at the colloquium experienced varying degrees of difficulty when it came to its Islamic identity. “If you listen to the Muslims living in France, you get the sense of stifling secularism and the country is even moving towards banning any outwardly Muslim form of dressing” he said. “There is a huge infrastructure deficit in Europe as there are not enough masajid and madaris for the Muslim communities present in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and the like.” South African Muslims often take this type of infrastructure development for granted, he said. Across the board, we need to win the battle in order to develop indigenous teachers at madrasa, because there is a complete mismatch between those scholars… and those on the ground.”

The theme of the colloquium “Living Where We Don’t Make the Rules” distinctly discussed the Muslim dilemma in relation to countries and societies where Muslim are a minority. Renowned scholars from both the minority and majority Islamic countries attended the event. Eventually, there were 22 countries including places such as Russia, Romania and Brazil. Each country related their experience through various degrees of discussion.  “We were surprised at the fact that individuals such as Sheikh Ali Qaradaghi of the IUMS, Sheikh Rashid Ghannoushi and Tariq Ramadan were able to spend the three days discussing and tackling the issues related to the theme extensively. We all left the event inspired and with great direction as to what is required within our countries,” the ambassador said adding, the WFAF and IUMS are set to establish fiqh councils, which would be drawn from the local population and push very strongly for women’s representation.
The involvement of women in this initiative is integral as the West often views Islam as a religion of gender bias. “In countries like the US women are venturing to the moon, whereas in Saudi Arabia they are not even allowed to drive,” he said. The second element that they hope to introduce is a programme to develop indigenous ulama and teachers so they are able to engage with the local Muslim learners on a similar level.

“Sheikh Rashid Ghannoushi related the importance of Muslim involvement in their own countries and South Africa was seen as a shining example, as Muslims are part of the highest reaches within government, the law as well as other professions.” The head of the Democratic Muslim Caucus from the Obama Administration of the US was also present at the colloquium.

“The next broad area is to convene a multi-cultural, interfaith conversation and a representative of the Italian Muslim population was present as well. They had met with the new Catholic Pope Francis I and had begun to lay the basis for a dialogue between the world of Islam and the Catholic world to see where the over-arching values are, where we differ theologically and how we can manage that in order to create a more spiritually and materially equal society.” (Excerpted from a report by Aqeelah Bawa -- vocfm.co.za).


The following declaration was issued at the end of the colloquium:
We, members of Muslim Minority Communities, drawn from six Continents and 20 countries, gathered in Paris from 29 to 31 March 2013, moved by the urgency to ensure deep and lasting relationships with our fellow citizens across the world. We have gathered in our diversity as Muslim scholars, academics, professionals, entrepreneurs, leaders, activists, and media practitioners, to find a common voice for  more than 25 percent of the global Muslim Community that is present in almost every country of the world. This fact asserts eloquently that almost every society is multicultural with its Muslim citizens integral to it. Whether these societies will become dynamic, creative, cohesive, respectful and cosmopolitan is what has brought us together, for we are mindful of the injunction: “God created the Earth for all humanity.” [Qur'an 55: 10].

We have been convened by the World for All Foundation and the International Union of Muslim Scholars because of our collective concern that Muslims and their fellow citizens are drifting apart, that the space for engagement is diminishing, and that, at the heart of this process are the twin challenges of Islamophobia and Extremism. The one reinforces the other, and we need to confront both. But we have not convened in despair. We convened because we are also seeing an opportunity to reposition ourselves, rethink our relationships with fellow citizens, and harness better the resources at our disposal to participate in the decision-making processes, and share in the ownership, of our countries.

 This opportunity presents itself in the surge for freedom, democracy, human rights and dignity across the world, including in Muslim societies, creating a synergy with us who have enjoyed these over many generations where we are citizens. This opportunity also comes from a world drained and exhausted from decades of militarism and violence to resolve political, social and economic problems. Most importantly, there is an opportunity as we all emerge from the long night of suspicion, fear, antipathy and hostility after the tragedy of 9/11, to reach out to each other in a spirit of empathy and healing, reconciliation and resolve.

This Colloquium is determined to mitigate our mutual concerns, explore together where the opportunities will take us, and through honest dialogue - free of platitudes - find ways to share the spaces we already occupy jointly: where we live, work, pray and play. We enrich all these spaces when our diversity enables our uniquenesses to form a creative whole.

Realising these goals is achievable, but will not be easy. The experiences we shared over the three days of deliberation speak of challenges ranging, among others, from practices on immigration to rhetoric on Shariah. But the Colloquium was far more aware of the need for leadership. A transition may be afoot, if we have the collective will. Leadership for Muslim Minorities entails, amongst others, that:

- We dialogue with fellow citizens about eliminating Islamophobia in attitude, word and deed - even as we reflect on how our behavior, behavior in our name, and often our silences, help make us objects of fear;

- We engage our societies about the contribution we continue to make to the nations we share - even as we evaluate whether our differences and number, that constitute us as a minority, are not in danger of casting us as the constant outsider;

- We reassure global citizens that the teachings of our faith are unequivocal about the need to respect the intrinsic value, honour and dignity of all humans irrespective of difference - even as we grapple with matters which trouble and frustrate us about some interpretations and practices that justify a resort to violence, condone the unequal treatment of women, and engender sectarianism amongst us; and

- We invite them to walk the road of courage with us, together, as we manage the uncertainties of globalization and the vulnerabilities of a world mired in recession.

 Responding to the theme: “Living Where We Don’t Make The Rules”, the Colloquium trawled the Scripts and Scholarship of Islam, reignited the values and objectives of our faith, and reinvigorated the traditions and treasures of our history. We are convinced that living by the Maqasidus-Shariah, our objectives and values, and guided by our ethics and principles, and accessing God’s promise of desiring ease for us, we can indeed unfold a Jurisprudence of Citizenship, and a Paradigm of Shared Spaces, to bring comfort to over 300 million Muslims living as minorities in varied historical and social circumstances, and reassurance to, and partnership with, all our fellow citizens of the world. In this, we are deeply aware that the Qur'an defines for us both the rights we should expect, and the responsibilities we should fulfill: “God does not forbid you in relation to those who do not fight you for your faith, nor from those who do not drive you from your homes, from being kind and acting with justice towards them. Indeed, God loves those who are just.” [Qur'an 60:9]

 Even as we claim the right for the profession and practice of our faith, we ensure the mutual enjoyment of that right; and as we seek the peace and security for ourselves, we guarantee it to others. In our quest to be kind and just to those with whom we enjoy such mutuality, we express it through integration in society, sharing a common national identity, and through practices of reciprocation. As one example, we have seen the Muslims of South Africa participating in the struggle against apartheid and integrating in a Democratic and Free South Africa, and we are inspired by the dignity they project and the enrichment they add to their nation, thus demonstrating the potential for harmonizing the relationship between faith and society.

 As Muslims, we need to transform our emotions into strategy, our intentions into actions, and our ambiguity into decisiveness. Guided by Islam, learning from an array of best practices drawn from a variety of countries and programmes, and inspired to be citizens where we live, we are set on the imaginative and creative rethinking of our identities and roles, committed to meeting the common social, economic and political challenges for the betterment of all our respective societies, and mustering the courage to defuse the potential for both Islamophobia and Extremisms.

 We leave Paris with a network across the six continents to realize the Vision of Shared Societies and a commitment to harness the power of a Jurisprudence of Citizenship. This network is charged with convening a broader, more representative, gathering of Muslim Minorities to utilize the current moment of opportunity to conceptualise and construct such Shared Spaces in which peace and security for all will be the basis of our mutuality of faith, and the plurality in our citizenship. An outcome of this necessarily has to be reflected in the methodologies we develop for the education of our communities and its religious leadership to ensure an effective response to our lived realities and the challenges faced by our emerging generations, and the deployment of all forms of media for the correct projection of our image and message.

 This network will also be charged with structuring our Dialogue with Fellow Citizens of other faiths and cultures, ensuring our engagement with people made vulnerable in a difficult and, sometimes harsh, world, and finding solidarity with those who are marginalized and alienated because they are different. In doing so, we exert ourselves, and exhort all Muslims, to rise above the issues and injuries we may harbor, and rather to respond to the call of God: “Co-operate with each other in pursuit of the good and piety!” [Qur'an 5: 2]

(Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood of Interfaith Coalition represented India in this colloquium. Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of The Milli Gazette too was invited but he could not get visa in time)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2013 on page no. 20

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