A conference of leading Islamic scholars from around the world convened in the Saudi Arabian cities of Jeddah and Makkah last week to condemn the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and express their support for a comprehensive resolution to the war that has ravished the country since 2001.
The conference attendees, participating at the invitation of the Saudi government which organized the Muslim Scholars on Peace and Stability in Afghanistan event in concert with the Organization of Islamic cooperation, declared that the ongoing violence and killing of innocents is in contradiction to the teachings of Islam.
According to OIC Secretary General Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, 105 prominent Muslim scholars and more than 200 representatives from 57 countries participated in the conference.
Notably absent from the event were representatives of the Taliban, despite an invitation issued to them by the OIC. An official of Afghan Intelligence told The Media Line that, The Taliban also ignored Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's offers for dialogue.
A momentary glint of optimism was dashed recently when regime forces and the Taliban agreed to a holiday cease-fire during Eid-al-Fitr, the Islamic festival marking the end of the month-long Ramadan fasting, but answered a request from President Ghani to extend the time-out with an aggressive renewal of hostilities that have left scores dead or wounded since the cease-fire lapsed.
The apparent strategy of the Saudi organizers was to utilize the clerics who preach to the grass-roots of Islamic society, and, as typically the leaders of the local mosques, interact with and build the confidence of their congregants on a personal level. Prominent at the conference was a 35-member Ulema delegation from Afghanistan.
The Islamic clerics, commonly known as Maulana, Molvi or Ulema in Islamic society, are respected interpreters of the Holy Quran, lecture in mosques, deliver the weekly sermon on Friday and teach at the Madrasses, the religious schools related to the mosques. They also officiate at religious ceremonies from birth to death, earning multi-generational respect and influence in conservative and rural communities.
Mullah Qasim Haleemi, spokesperson of the Afghan Ulema Council, told The Media Line that from time to time the Ulema Council stresses the need for reviving the peace talks to end the ongoing conflict with the Taliban.
Another Ulema Council member, Hafiz Abdul Qayyum, told The Media Line that, the Ulema Council had already declared terrorist attacks to be inhuman and illegal. “The killing of innocent Muslims is not permitted in any religion and has no religious justification,” he added.
The Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation is the second largest inter-governmental group after the United Nations with a membership of 57 states spread over four continents. It works to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and interfaith harmony among the world, and has permanent delegations to the United Nations and the European Union.
The visitors were embraced by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who affirmed his nation’s empathy with the suffering of the Afghan people since the beginning of their crisis and throughout its civil war.
“Today, we are optimistic that your efforts will contribute to closing the page of the past and opening a new page in Afghanistan that would achieve the aspirations of the Afghan people for security and stability, and this requires adopting the approach of dialogue, reconciliation, and tolerance as dictated by our Islamic religion,” Saudi King Salman was quoted as saying.
Addressing the closing session, Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, Secretary General of OIC, thanked the king and his crown prince for the efforts being exerted to hold this conference.
He said that the conference provided a platform for scholars to discuss the crises “from a legitimate perspective to achieve security, peace, and reconciliation…through dialogue, transcending wounds and renouncing all forms of violence, extremism, and terrorism incompatible with Islamic religion.”
According to the declaration issued at the end of the Islamic conference in Saudi Arabia, “Based on the texts of the Quran and the tradition that Islam is a religion of peace and mercy, that the believers should all be merciful towards one another, and that their blood, property, and honor should be protected against aggression, we hereby affirm that the suicide attacks targeting innocent people, and that killings among Muslims are all acts that are prohibited by Allah and His beloved Messenger under texts that are conclusively clear and well-established, whereby Allah says ‘And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is hell; he shall abide in it, and Allah will send His wrath on him and curse him and prepare for him a painful chastisement.’” Religious scholars denounced the Taliban-led insurgency and suicide attacks in Afghanistan for causing casualties and damages to the innocent civilians.
The Saudi conference was the second attempt this year to declare the Afghan conflict forbidden under Islamic law. Clerics from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia had assembled in Indonesia in May, but to no apparent avail.
In spite of the upbeat statements emanating from the conference, reliable intelligence sources speaking under the condition of anonymity advised The Media Line that many Pakistani religious scholars were invited to attend this conference, but the majority of them refused. One of the Pakistani invitees who could not be identified because of fear told The Media Line that “We disagreed with the contents of the invitation letter [because] in which all groups operating in Afghanistan have been declared terrorists.”
Also according to a Pakistani intelligence source, Maulana Sami ul Haque, who is known as the “Father of Afghan Taliban,” had personally acted to prevent the Pakistani clerics from attending the Saudi summit. Among them were Maulana Anwarul Haq, the deputy chief of Madrassa Haqqania; and Maulana Idrees, a senior teacher at Haqqania. Both were permitted to attend the Indonesian conference but were barred from Jeddah and Mecca.
For their part, the Afghan Taliban strongly rejected the Saudi-based summit declaration. In a statement, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said that, “Every minor and elder of Islamic Ummah know that Afghanistan is under American led invasion for the last seventeen years, the country has been invaded, the sovereignty has been snatched, some unknown and criminal individuals have been imposed upon this nation by force of airplanes and killings. Islamic Conference, scholars and the host country should have demanded [that the] American invaders, NATO, and their playmates to stop the bombardment.”
Mujahid pointed out that the idea of religious pressure was already invoked by the American military commander Nicholson and that the day before the conference U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis expressed appreciation for the conference to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In a frontal challenge to the King of Saudi Arabia and an apparent slap at the United States, on July 7, the Taliban spokesperson expressed the hope that the Saudis will change course and instead provide support for Afghanistan “as they did against the Soviet Union. The Afghan nation is still thankful to the Saudi Arabia for their assistance in Jihad against Soviet Union invasion.”
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