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Kuwait Conf. Urges Better Muslim-West Understanding

Muslim scholars and Christian clerics meeting in Kuwait City for a three-day interfaith conference are seeking to bridge the Muslim-West divide through dialogue, co-existence and tolerance.

Kuwait Conf. Urges Better Muslim-West Understanding

"The 'We and the Other' conference is aimed at asserting tolerant Islam and proving that tolerance is in no way a cliché but a fact of life in Islam," Kuwaiti Minister of Waqfs Abdallah Matouq told the conference, which opened on Monday, March 6.

"Islam tells us that co-existence between peoples is based on mutual understanding and always seeks common denominators with the other. No one has the right to force a religion or language on the other," averred the minister.

Grand Imam of the Cairo-based Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi said "differences should make us stronger."

"The Noble Qur'an gives an ample room for difference in religions and encourages dialogue with the other and co-existence between peoples," he said.

The three-day conference is organized by the High Committee for Supporting Moderation at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Waqfs and Islamic Affairs.

It aims to underline the common particularities in creed, morals and culture and agree on them.

The conference also tackles means of enhancing inter-faith dialogue and boosting moderate viewpoints and co-existence.

It is being attended by a host of scholars and experts, chiefly Egyptian Mufti `Ali Jumu`ah and Sudanese Waqfs Minister `Esam Al-Bashir.

Chief from the "other" are Bishop Amanuel Gharreb and German Professor Meklosh Morany of Bonn University.

Dominant West

But some scholars partly blamed the West for failing to reach out to the Muslim world, accusing it of not respecting the cultural characteristics of Muslims.

"The problem with the West is that it neither recognizes Islam as a divine religion nor sees Muslims as part and parcel of this universe, let alone its reluctance to respect cultural characteristics of Muslims," Bashir said.

"How should the West be based on multiculturalism while it ignores the other?"

The minister accused the West of seeking to impose its civilization on the entire world.

Prominent Egyptian thinker Basim Khafaji said the Other "should not be fearful of Islam and Muslims."

He added that the Other "should let Muslims practice their freedom and should not impose on them any regime that they do not accept."

Khafaji also urged more understanding to the fact that "Muslims do not accept insulting religious symbols or Divinely-revealed religious," in a veiled reference to the Danish cartoons that lampooned Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

The United Nations, Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on February 25 urged respect for all religions, regretting the publication of the cartoons, which sent seismic waves across the Muslim world.

Amanuel had the same message for the Muslim world.

"I call upon my Muslim brothers to correct their perceptions about the Other and recognize his existence."

He also stressed the necessity of having an atmosphere that breaks the barriers and gives an opportunity for each party to have a close-up perception of the other.

"While having a dialogue with the other, dialogue etiquette [should be] based on knowing the normal standards in addressing the other regardless of his sect or race must be observed," said Morany.

On the sidelines of the opening session, a documentary titled "Western Perceptions of Islam and Muslims" was screened.

It was based on a study prepared by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Waqfs in the US, the Netherlands, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The study concluded that 25% of the samples which included researchers, scientists, intellectuals and lay people, have a bad image of Islam and Muslims.

Other 25% of the samples have a good image of Islam and Muslims while 40% do not have any information about Islam and Muslims.

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