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Under the Auspices of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Qatar Foundation Organizes a Seminar to Discuss a Report on Support to Muslims in the West

Dr. Tlili: "We need a new Citizenship Pact to integrate Muslims in Western Societies"

Yahya Askar
Al-Sharq
Tuesday April 8, 2008

Under the auspices of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the Consort of His Highness the Emir of Qatar, and the Chairman of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, the Foundation organized a Seminar to discuss a report on support to Muslims in the West. The report reflects the debates of the conference held in Salzburg, Austria in May 2007 on "Muslim Youth and Women in the West: Source of Concern or Source of Hope?"

Mr. Craig Field of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development was the moderator of the Doha seminar in which Dr. Tlili, Founder and Director of New York University Center for Dialogues and Lina Abduljawad, student at Georgetown University at Education City, Qatar participated.

Dr. Tlili presented to the participants in the Seminar the Salzburg conference report which addressed current issues of importance to the Islamic communities in the West, and the relationships between these communities and Western governments. The report raised some fundamental questions and tried to chart a course that would bridge the ever widening gap between Muslims and the West, a gap that continues to strain the relations between these communities and Western governments. Dr. Tlili explained to the seminar participants that the NYU Center for Dialogue engages the stakeholders in a sustained dialogue and raises important questions in order to arrive at common grounds to facilitate communication. The Center oversees in-depth discussions in which facts and statistics are used to draw a realistic picture about life as it is lived by Muslims. Dr. Tlili added that in the past seven years, and particularly since the events of September 11, Western governments have grown increasingly suspicious of Islamic societies in general, a position that could be somehow understandable given the mistrust that terrorism generated between Muslims and the West. The discussions that have taken place so far failed to take some facts into account, and did not advance solutions to overcome the feelings of mistrust that prevailed between Muslim societies and Western countries. Without clarity of vision, suspicions were bound to heighten.

Tlili said that Muslims in the West adopted a new homeland. Many of them came from different backgrounds often defined by varying past national experiences, customs and intellectual perspectives. Their perceptions of their religious beliefs heightened the apprehensions of Western countries towards these communities. This in turn did not make them feel that they were full fledged citizens in their new homeland. Tlili was of the view that the dialogue between Western countries and the Islamic World must concentrate on four elements: the relationship between Islam and the West, the intellectual movement in the Islamic world, governance and leadership in the Islamic world, and finally, who are the communities that live by Islam and how do their members think? In order to address the current situation, Dr. Tlili called for a new "Citizenship Pact" which must take into account the pluralistic nature of societies and must properly integrate Muslims in the West.

Dr. Tlili stressed the need to take into account the national experiences of Muslims who settle in Western countries and who often carry with them issues that are dear to the heart of their native societies such as the question of Palestine and the tension with an Islamic country like Iran. Muslims in the west are deeply affected by these issues. Terrorism also leaves a big dent on societies in Western countries, and impacts the way in which Muslims adapt to living in their new countries in the West.

Dr. Tlili drew the attention of the participants to the need to focus on Muslim youth and women in Western societies. The youth are not only the future, he said. While their fathers did not adapt well to living in the new societies, Muslim youth and women were more capable of adapting to the new communities, acquired the new customs and succeeded in upholding the laws more than their fathers did. When given the floor, Lina Abduljawad, the Georgetown student who represented Qatar Foundation at the "Muslim Youth and Women in the West: Source of Concern or Source of Hope?" conference, which was held in Salzburg said that the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development must sponsor projects that promote dialogue among religions and religious sects. By hosting the Doha Seminar, the Qatar Foundation played an important role in supporting academic work that aims at encouraging intercultural dialogue. The Center for Dialogues worked on promoting a better understanding between the Islamic and Western worlds and building bridges of communication among their constituencies. Ms. Abduljawad said that Georgetown University had programs, including the English language programs which allow students and interns to communicate and engage each other while learning. These programs have become a tool for promoting dialogue and facilitating integration in the Western world.

On the role of media in the West and the way they report issues that are of concern to Muslims and their communities in European and Western countries, Ms. Abduljawad felt that media circles in the Western and European world did not have the necessary information about issues of concern to Muslims and their communities in Western countries. In many instances, they were only interested in doing business. Their impact is often negative in view of their preconceived and predetermined stands, often defined along stereotypical lines towards Muslims. Ms. Abduljawad believed that media circles contributed to the feelings of alienation and isolation among many Muslims in the West. By way of example, she cited the media portrayal of the riots that broke out in the French suburbs in 2005. These riots were packaged as ’Islamic’ despite the fact that they were economically driven.

Over sixty participants attended the Salzburg conference on ’Muslim Youth and Women in the West: Source of Concern or Source of Hope?’ among them political and religious leaders, decision makers, policy analysts, academicians, government officials and others.

The conference adopted conclusions that were translated into a plan of action for ease of implementation.

First: It was noted that Western media characterize Islamic groups whether they were in the West or in Islamic world along predominantly preconceived negative lines. Western media contribute to the wide-spread dissemination of misconceptions that adversely affect the relations of Muslims with other communities. To counter this negative trend:

  • 1- National media associations were invited to train media professionals so that they would be more reasonable and would better understand issues relating to Islamic groups.
    • a) Non governmental media organizations were also called upon to organize workshops in order to abort official attempts to clamp down on the freedom of the press.
    • b) National governments in the European Union member states and the West in general must neither organize nor sponsor these workshops; they should however support and encourage them.
  • 2-Media guides should be made available to journalists to provide them and other interested professionals with basic information and statistics about Islamic groups around the world. Media kits could include fact sheets or detailed academic studies. They should be easily and readily accessible to school teachers, public figures and local authorities.

Second: The conference must work on exchanging best practices, field studies and success stories on integration, security and religion related matters. Participants agreed that these practices constitute a good way to address these questions. In order to encourage this exchange, they suggested the following:

  • 1- The Center for Dialogues: Islamic World-Us-The West must facilitate interaction among governments in Europe, North America, the NGO community and other social institutions.
    • a) It should compile a catalog of best practices focusing on in-depth experiences and grassroots efforts, citing examples of the difficulties that the Muslim communities have faced.
    • b) The Center must also organize meetings between Muslim youth and seasoned experienced elders who can demonstrate to the young Muslim generation that Muslims in Europe and North America can be integrated into their societies and achieve success while preserving their Islamic identity
    • c) Given that this effort is a work in progress, the Center should convene follow-up meetings for conference participants to chart the progress made in general, and identify the success stories in each country.
  • 2- Governmental and social organizations should encourage dialogue among Muslim and non-Muslim communities supported by high level authorities.
    • a) Many participants were of the view that local authorities are more endowed with capacities than national authorities to develop and sponsor initiatives aimed at building the society. The responsibility for providing incentives, financial or otherwise, falls on governments which remain the best vehicle for promoting intercultural dialogue.
    • b) Local Muslim associations should organize activities to communicate with the public. Examples include iftar parties (breaking the fast meals during Ramadan) and cultural and religious festivals during the month of Ramadan. They can also work on creating partnerships with other like minded social organizations working on equal opportunity employment issues.
  • 3- Muslim associations, governmental and non-governmental organizations must engage prominent Muslim and non-Muslim figures, and successful individuals in sports, entertainment, politics and business in activities that aim at improving the image of Muslim communities.

Third, integration is not only a matter of security. It requires a rethinking of citizens' rights and duties, in addition to the desire to give a wider and more comprehensive definition of the ethnic, religious and traditional identity of the average citizen.

  • 1- National governments and the European Union must define success indicators through which the success or failure of the integration of a community in the society could be gauged. They should avoid combining religious and cultural integration in these benchmarks.
  • 2- Governments must work with other organizations to obtain statistics about the Muslim communities in each country. They must create the suitable conditions that are conducive to organizing voluntary statistics campaigns. The availability of reliable statistical information will improve the ability of national governments to design and implement effective general policies and measures.

 

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