Special Report World Muslims Minorities Summit (Istanbul, April, 2018)

The Presidency of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Turkey organized, between the 16th and 19th of April, the World Muslim Minorities Summit. More than 250 representatives from 100 countries, in which the Muslims are a minority, attended the Summit, which took place in Istanbul.

The main aim of the summit was to connect and strengthen the relationship amongst Muslims as well as listening to their challenges and find ways to solve them together.

The inaugural plenary session was held at the Dolmabace palace. It was attended by all the representatives which included religious authorities, activists, journalist and writers in the field from the different countries.

The President of the Republic of Turkey, H.E. Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as the Prime Minister, H.E. Mr Binali Yildrim, the President of Religious Affairs, H.E. Mr. Prof. Dr. Ali Erbas, and the Chairman of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, H.E. Mr. Ismail Kahraman, attended the inaugural ceremony and delivered speeches in which there was much emphasis on the necessity of Muslims to work together to overcome their challenges, especially in countries where they are a minority, and to raise above the nationalism that so often divides the Muslim community. It was also mentioned that Muslims need to show a positive image of Islam and be proactive in their respective societies contributing to its general wellbeing and development to counter the bad image that certain marginal groups, claiming to be acting in the name of Islam, are portraying.

On the first day of the summit, the same in which the inaugural session was held, a panel under the name “Minority Muslims within the frame of past and future perspective” took place. Prof. Dr Ali Erbas, President of Religious Affairs of Turkey, headed this panel together with other respected scholars and intellectuals in the field.

The topics discussed in this dealt with the necessity of Muslims, and especially Muslim minorities to integrate into their societies. But an important difference was pointed between integration and assimilation. Integration is when people from different backgrounds can live harmoniously in the same society whereas assimilation is when a certain group is forced to abandon their fundamental beliefs and identity in order to be accepted.

In this regard, the importance of the identity of the Muslims in their societies was brought up to attention, and how role models that contribute in different fields to the civil society are needed. It was also mentioned that there is no fundamental antagonism between being from any country in the west and being Muslim because Islam is not nationality neither a culture, but a way of life the encourages the human being to achieve his highest possibility.

At the beginning of Islam Muslims where minorities in different situations, such as in Mecca or Abyssinia, and each situation required a different response, but it is clear that Muslims can live as minorities and at the same time be part of the social nexus.

On the second day two panels were held, the first one under the title “Issues Pertaining to Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of Muslims Minorities and Proposed Solutions” under the Vice President of Religious Affairs, Selim Argun, and the second titled “Minorities Within the Scope of Self-Criticize Approach: Discursion, Insufficient Education, Absence of Political Representation, Introversion” under Prof. Murtaza Bedir, Dean of the Faculty of Theology of the Istanbul University.

These panels were held in a u-layout table so that all representatives could intervene and express their opinions.

A summary of the points raised regarding the challenges of the Muslim Minorities in the western countries are: a lack of unity amongst the communities; insufficient education; a crisis of identity, especially amongst the youth, which in some extreme cases may lead to radicalization; the problem of nationalism within the Muslim communities; not enough role models; a lack of organized authorities; a rise in Islamophobia and, in some countries, policies that discriminate against Muslims.

The solutions to these challenges are long-term and some of them are deduced from the challenges themselves. Perhaps, more important, is to be proactive and contributing to each respective society in a positive way.

From the second panel, in which the participants engaged in an exercise of self-criticism, some of the issues in which Muslim Minorities need to make an effort to overcome are: the need to include more women at all levels of the community, the need to delegate and empower the youth, the necessity of ending the discourse that antagonize east and west, developing a more holistic education that merges together secular and religious education, the need to develop sustainable models for the Islamic organizations in the Muslim minority countries, both in terms of economy and man power, and the necessity to establish the necessary measures to have more political representation.

The panels of the third day were: “Demands and Needs of Muslims Minorities for Religious Services and Education” and “Demands and Needs of Muslims Minorities for Religious Publications”.

In these panels the participants expressed the importance of transmitting the message of Islam in the language of the countries where they live, so much in the khutba as in other different mediums and the need to have a more researched and thorough publications and educational programs that are both, holistic and answer the needs of the Muslims in their respective countries.

In the evening of the third day the H.E. the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, addressed the representatives of the Muslims in minority countries speaking about their role in representing Islam and stressing that they should count with the help of the Turkish people and government.

The closure and the announcement of the final declaration, which collected many of the points raised in the previous sessions, took place on the morning of the fourth day, Thursday 19th of May. This declaration emphasized the compassionate character of Islam and its ability to answer the needs of the humans at a social and personal level at every time and in every situation. Whenever we fail to understand this, is when radicalization and extremism appears, so we should work together and united to promote a correct understanding of the Deen of Islam.

The Seville Mosque Foundation is very grateful to the Ministry of Religious affairs for having given it the opportunity to participate in this important world summit and we hope that we will be able to put into practice all that we have learnt during it.