The Organization of the Islamic Conference summit which was held in Mecca drew together prominent Muslim leaders, despite their political and sectarian differences. We saw King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia shake hands with Iranian president Ahmedinejad in front of the Kaabba, leaving us to interpret the reunion of a Sunni and a Shiaa leader, at a time when the region is quickly drifting towards sectarian conflicts which threaten the lives of more than a billion and are motivated by political and personal considerations.
In his speech, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz called for forgiveness and friendship. He was the first leader to oppose sectarianism amongst Muslims and he was the first who extended his arm to Iran, during Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency, and assisted it in hosting the Islamic conference when the previous summit in Islamabad had recommended otherwise. During Mohammad Khatami’s time in power, King Abdullah restored bilateral relations with the resumption of flights between the two countries and the appointment of a Saudi ambassador in Tehran. The Saudi monarch broke Iran’s isolation and a number of Arab and Muslim countries followed suit.
The summit would have succeeded if it had concentrated on one issue instead of ambitiously opting to give inadequate attention to a number of topics in its concluding statement. By that, I mean tackling the rapid descent into conflict and bias and putting an end to sectarian fighting between Sunnis and Shiaa throughout the Islamic world.
Governments need to address the issue in its early stages before clashes break out and it becomes too late. If these countries agree on a plan to combat the sectarian hatred spreading in forums and intellectual and religious gatherings in several countries, they will save the Muslim nation from untold tragedy. It is not difficult to put an end to the criticism of certain sects and their followers when a clear policy which holds instigators to account is adopted.
Opposing sectarian hatred is crucial because the danger is internal; standing to it would save each country from the worst. It would also save the Muslim world with its multitude of people and different beliefs. What we hear today of minor disputes is a warning of possible sectarian wars whose roots are growing in a number of Muslim countries. Based on intellectual disagreements or electoral competition, sectarian conflicts draw people from inside the border and beyond.
The Islamic summit addressed the issue carefully. It should have showed more courage and honesty in its confrontation with sectarian-minded individuals. This is a general concern not confined to a single country. It requires clear laws to be adopted to deter peddlers of hate and sectarian conflicts. The summit should have agreed on laws that forbid sectarian disputes, armed and ideological, hidden and overt, and consider it a crime whose perpetrators are to be punished, irrespective of their status.