by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
The end of hegemonic politics at the national, regional and global level would help to create an environment that will be more conducive to the cessation of sectarian conflicts such as the Sunni-Shia conflict. Justice and equity within nation-states and across regions and the globe, especially the eradication of poverty, the reduction of socio-economic disparities, the provision of jobs and social mobility would undoubtedly also curb sectarian violence. So would respect for dissent and differences of opinion and space for popular participation in the political process.
On the 3rd of October 2013, a Plenary Session on “Sunni-Shia Dialogue” was held as part of the Rhodes Forum on the island of Rhodes, Greece. The Plenary stretched from 3.30 pm to 8.00 pm.
There were 9 speakers — Ali Alawi, Aly El-Samman, Asma Afsaruddin, Ghomali Khoshroo, Mohd Faisal Musa, Nader El-Bizri, Seyyed Javad Miri Meynagh, Syed Farid Alatas, and Yasien Mohammed. About a dozen participated from the floor. The moderator was Chandra Muzaffar.
The speakers and participants provided in-depth analysis and proposed solutions to the on-going Sunni-Shia conflicts in certain Muslim countries. Fresh insights emerged in the course of the deliberations.
The Session made the following observations about these conflicts.
One, the massacres that have occurred in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Pakistan in recent times targeting Sunnis and Shias represents a colossal catastrophe which threatens to tear asunder their social fabric.
Two, some religious elites and politicians in these and other countries have contributed to the escalating tension and violence through their bigoted, venomous misinterpretations of religious texts. Distorted rhetoric of this sort serves their narrow religious and political agendas geared towards the pursuit or perpetuation of power.
Three, Sunni-Shia conflicts, it is evident, are also being manipulated by regional and global political actors for their nefarious goal of dominance and control of resources and strategic routes and hegemony over states and regions.
In the medium term, the end of hegemonic politics at the national, regional and global level would help to create an environment that will be more conducive to the cessation of sectarian conflicts such as the Sunni-Shia conflict. Justice and equity within nation-states and across regions and the globe, especially the eradication of poverty, the reduction of socio-economic disparities, the provision of jobs and social mobility would undoubtedly also curb sectarian violence. So would respect for dissent and differences of opinion and space for popular participation in the political process.
The Plenary Session recommends to the World Public Forum that it plays a constructive role in addressing the Sunni-Shia Conflict in the following ways:
1) Revives and propagates the Amman Message of 2005 that calls upon Sunnis and Shias to rise above differences that separate them and emphasize the commonalities that unite them as a single Ummah.
2) Encourages institutions, organizations and individuals to educate Sunnis and Shias about the actual history and evolution of Sunni-Shia relations; the attempts at reconciliation between the two sects from the past to the present; the ethical manner in which disputations and differences were handled in earlier periods; and the fundamental affinities between Sunni and Shia doctrines and practices. The family, the school, the media and religious bodies and personalities in particular would have a critical role in education. Education should also aim at confronting extremist and fanatical ideas that breed sectarianism.
3) Supports any initiative that seeks to organize an annual international intra-faith meeting between Sunnis and Shias.
4) Endorses the publication of a book that contains the presentations and proceedings of this Sunni-Shia Session in Rhodes.
5) Communicates the concerns and proposals from this Session to international, regional and national institutions committed to inter-civilizational and inter-faith dialogue and understanding.
6) Arranges meetings with government leaders, religious elites, media practitioners, academics and activists to discuss issues pertaining to Sunni-Shia relations.
7) Encourages dialogues between Sunnis and Shias as a continuous exercise aimed at demolishing misconceptions and enhancing empathy between the two sects.
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