By Bakari Guèye
Muslim youths need religious guidance to counter violence and extremism, according to participants in a recent Nouakchott forum.
The 24th International Islamic Scientific Conference was held February 1st-3rd under the aegis of the Culture and Islam Group, in conjunction with the Islamic Organisation for Education, Culture and Science (ISESCO).
The meeting’s theme was “the role of Islamic youth, caught between aspirations for change and the demands of rationality”.
In a speech at the opening ceremony, Mauritanian Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Ould Neini emphasised the need to involve young people in development.
“Youths are the pillar of society. They are the catalyst in national development, and no healthy development can succeed without involving this segment of society; which requires young people to display greater rectitude in their thinking and greater wisdom,” the minister said.
Ould Neini recalled that Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz recently “stated the importance of focusing on youth as part of the national strategic plan to fight extremism, preaching dialogue and the comparison of ideas and evidence, calling on ulemas to formulate a unified ideological vision capable of contributing effectively to the purification of Islam, the religion of mercy, tolerance and openness”.
Cheikh Mohamed Havedh Ould Enahoui, who chairs the Culture and Islam Group, called on participants to draw inspiration from the prophet Mohammed: “This meeting will be an oasis, providing shelter for the disciples of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings be Upon Him.”
Ould Enahoui, one of the prime movers behind the forum, added that the goal of the conference was to encourage young people “to follow the right path”. “We have invited ulemas and learned men to help spread knowledge and to help spread the culture of unity, peace and forgiveness throughout the world,” he said.
Addressing participants, IESCO representative Abdallahi Ben Arafa drew the audience’s attention to “the importance of taking up the difficult challenges facing the Islamic world”.
“We want to see the consolidation of social dialogue and a rapprochement between the citizen and the state, to bring about social cohesion and fight the spread of illiteracy,” Ben Arafa said.
At the end of the conference there were a number of recommendations calling for “the achievement of social peace, the exclusion of violence and extremism, and the promotion of dialogue to safeguard the national interest and to spread the values of justice and equality, and to banish hatred”.
Several important figures took part in the conference, including Libyan Islamic Affairs Minister Hamza Abu Faris, Senegalese Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Bamba N’Diaye and 28 scientists from different countries across the Islamic world.
“Young people have a great need for meetings like this one,” according to Sidina Ould El Moustaphe. “In the face of the rise of extremist discourse and evil-minded groups trying to attract young men, a lot of awareness-raising work is needed. We need to make up for the lack of communication.”
Talking in similar terms, Béchir Ould El Hassan felt that there was “still much that needs to be done to make young people understand the dangers of extremism and violence”.
“Many of us have a poor understanding of religious discourse,” Ould El Hassan said. “Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace. There is no room for violence. Unfortunately, many people do not understand, and much more effort needs to be made to get that message across.”