By Jemal Oumar
A group of eminent religious scholars from across the Arab world gathered at the end of last month in Nouakchott to discuss religious moderation and craft counter-discourses to extremist thought.
“Mauritania will continue to embrace the policy of dialogue and intellectual debates with the young people who were recruited to violence and extremism to complete the successful dialogue that was held two years ago,” Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said at the opening of the January 22nd-24th forum.
“This conference will help dispel uncertainties, clear impurities, and explain the approach of reformist thought towards extremism,” he added.
Former Sudanese Prime Minister and religious leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, Egypt’s Montasser el-Zayat and Abdullah Bin Bayyah, a Mauritanian cleric residing in Saudi Arabia, were among the participants in the event, held by the Global Forum for Moderation in partnership with Mauritania’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
Faced with an unprecedented rise in violence, Arab and Muslim states need to establish multi-faceted strategies embracing dialogue based on reason and wisdom to put an end once and for all to this phenomenon, attendees emphasised.
The conference came at a “decisive stage in the nation’s struggle against extremism”, in which adherents of violent ideology “tarnished Islam, leading to serious social and ideological cracks”, according to Mauritanian Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Ould Nini.
“Victory against the proponents of extremism and terrorism will only be realised with the concerted efforts of all those who have an effect on the course of this nation based on the guidance and direction role that is based on disseminating Islam through persuasion and appeal to soul and conscience away from the language of violence, exaggeration and extremism,” he said.
The goal was to develop a discourse to counter the ideology of terrorist groups by dismantling the pillars of the militant takfirist ideology.
“The Muslim nation is in need of a moderate discourse that counters thought with thought in all religious and worldly issues away from violence,” al-Mahdi said. “This is because Islam was not spread through sword or force, contrary to what is being promoted about it, but through its tolerance and hearts’ acceptance of it.”
“Responding to the aspirations of peoples and real demands are the only way to get out of the current crisis in Muslim countries, and is an indispensable condition for achieving peaceful change and restoring the spirit of Islamic sharia away from violent discourse and takfir,” he said.
The seminar concluded with adopting the “Nouakchott Appeal” which stressed the role of women, youths, scholars and media in combating extremism. They urged religious thinkers across the globe to set aside “differences and get nations and peoples closer so as to avoid deviations”.
The participants also agreed to hold such events on an annual basis and focus in particular on steering youth to the right path based on moderate Islamic thought.
Marwan al-Faouri, Secretary-General of the Global Forum for Moderation, confirmed that moderation was “a core value that embodies justice in its highest meanings, rejects violence and relinquishes extremism”.
The conference featured lectures and presentations by prominent scholars. Discussions revolved around the role of educational institutions and family in confronting violent discourse, the role of young people in reform and the importance of the civil state in the concept of Islam. Participants also broached the concepts of walaa (allegiance) and baraa (disavowal).
What makes terrorists accuse other people of apostasy is their wrong understanding of the concepts of walaa and baraa, participant Mohamed Ould Abdullah said.
Lecturer Mohamed Ould Mahjoubi opined that ignorance, enmity, revenge, corrupt friends and the absence of mother’s role are among the causes of extremism. For his part, Mohamed al-Talabi, a member of the Moroccan Forum for Moderation, argued that faith and fraternity groups should be supported for Muslim youths.
“Extremists depended on divisions that no longer exist for Muslims, namely the division of land into the land of Islam and the land of kufr (disbelief). As Muslims, we are no longer isolated on an island. Therefore, we have to co-operate and deal with the outside world,” participating judge Abdullah Ould Ali said.