JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Representatives of more than 50 Islamic countries met on Tuesday ahead of a two-day summit, with delegates saying the world”s largest Islamic organization must reform if it is to deal with the "great challenges and dangers" it faces.
Foreign ministers and senior officials of the 57 states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference opened discussions to prepare for the summit, which begins Wednesday and is expected to forge a plan to reform the group and give it more clout.
"The Muslim nation is facing great challenges and enormous dangers targeting its cultural foundations and religious creeds," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in an opening speech Tuesday.
The summit "will forge a comprehensive plan to overcome the obstacles that block the aspirations of our nation and consolidate concepts and principles of tolerance and intercultural dialogue," he said.
Al-Faisal said that during the summit, Saudi King Abdullah will propose a plan for reform "spreading virtue, tolerance and brotherhood between people."
The OIC meeting, which opens in Islam”s holy city of Mecca on Wednesday and continues in Jeddah on Thursday, was called by Saudi”s King Abdullah.
"We all have hope that the summit … will enhance (the Islamic countries”) ranks and restore the self-confidence of the Islamic world," the king said in statement carried by Saudi state media.
The leaders are also expected to discuss plans to combat terrorism, which has targeted many members of the OIC, as well as the situation in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan.
In his opening statement to the ministers Tuesday, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu warned of what he described as increasing "Islamophobia." "This has led to a complete distortion of Islam and the whole Islamic world has become a victim of this phenomenon," he said.
Ihsanoglu, a Turk who took over as OIC head in January, also proposed a plan for restructuring the 36-year old organization over the next ten years so it can take a more active role in international affairs.
"The long periods of crisis that hit the Islamic world has led to the disintegration of its inner power and the continuation of crises among the Muslim countries," he said.
Ihsanoglu did not give any details of his plan. But delegates at Tuesday”s meeting said he is seeking to remodel the OIC along the lines of the European Union or the United Nations in a bid to give its members more power.
The 57-nation group has had only an advisory role, with annual summits that often serve as little more than a discussion group.
Delegates at Tuesday”s meeting said Ihsanoglu was seeking to convince the OIC to ask for a seat at the U.N. Security Council for the Muslim world, and that his proposal focused on issues of human rights, democracy, women and conflict resolution in Islamic countries, as well as restructuring the group”s secretariat to give it more powers.
But ministers might not be prepared to endorse all of the proposals.
"There is a lot of wishful thinking in this paper, the Islamic countries are not ready to take such a big dose of reform … not yet," the delegate said.
All delegates spoke on condition of anonymity because the document has not yet been officially released.
The OIC, which was founded in 1969, is based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.