Sat, Dec 10, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Muslim leaders slam extremism

THE GUARDIAN , JERUSALEM

The leaders of more than 50 Islamic nations at a summit in Mecca called by Saudi Arabia's new ruler, King Abdullah, adopted an ambitious plan to combat extremism and poverty throughout the Muslim world on Thursday.

The summit was prompted by an admission that Muslim societies had fallen into a deep malaise.

"The Islamic nation is in a crisis," the leaders said in a final statement.

"We need decisive action to fight deviant ideas because they are the justification of terrorism. There is a need to confront deviant ideology wherever it appears, including in school curriculums. Islam is the religion of diversity and tolerance," the statement said.

The plan seeks to address what many see as the root causes of terrorism by "aggressively" confronting extremist rhetoric, including fatwas by unqualified clerics, promoting dialogue with other religions and fostering economic development in the poorer Muslim countries.

Other aspects of the plan include countering Islamophobia and setting up an Islamic fund to provide relief for natural disasters.

As a vehicle for this action plan, King Abdullah is trying to breathe new life into the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), under whose auspices the summit was held.

Founded in 1969, it is the world's largest Muslim body, with 57 member states, but has hitherto served mainly as a talking shop.

Though some observers remained sceptical on Thursday, Saudi officials said King Abdullah, in his religious role as Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines, has decided to give a moral lead.

They also pointed out that high oil prices had brought cash windfalls for Saudi Arabia which the king intended to use to push the plan forward.

There is also no doubt that many Muslim leaders have been shaken by Islamist militancy. One Saudi working paper at the summit, conceded that "an endemic problem currently exists in the Muslim world."

In what for the Saudis was extraordinarily frank language, it continued: "A vast majority of Muslim countries today face political, economic and social underdevelopment that has evolved into a major crisis. With the growing signs of displeasure and unrest from those suffering under poor national governance across the Muslim world, it is crucial for Muslim leaders to find viable solutions to the problems they are confronting."

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