His Excellency, the Ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to Nigeria, invited me to a dinner on Sunday, March 14th. I arrived in time to see the arrival of a tranquil, aged man who walked in and took a seat close to me. We were exchanging pleasantries and small talk in Arabic, as the distinguished Sheikh did not speak English. Suddenly, he took me off balance when he asked me, “Where did you learn Arabic?” I told him I learnt it from the late sage and scholar of Islam, Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi (may Allah have mercy on him). At the mention of the name, Sheikh At-Turki replied, “Oh! You knew Sheikh Gumi! May Allah have mercy on him. That was a good man. He was one of the founding members of the Raabitah (a short name for the Muslim World League)”. It tells a lot about my late teacher and the mental acuity of the great scholar who could remember that detail in an instant.
That dinner was in honour of my questioner and his name is Dr Abdallah Ben Abdel Mohsen At-Turki. He was appointed Saudi Arabian Minister of Islamic Affairs, Waqfs (Endowments), Appeals and Morals in 1995 and in 2000 he became General Secretary of the Muslim World League (MWL). May Allah preserve him. He is in Nigeria to attend the International Islamic Conference organized by the MWL from 17th to 20th March at the Shehu Musa Yar’adua Centre. The theme of the conference is Security and Stability in the Face of Contemporary Challenges.
In 2014, Sheikh At-Turki gave a talk at a conference organized by the King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID). I want to share parts of that speech with you here:
In the Name of Allah the Most Gracious, the Most Compassionate. Gentlemen, I greet you at this encounter which brings together personalities keen on spreading peace in the world and on extinguishing hotbeds of conflicts and I thank those in charge of King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, led by the Secretary-General His Excellency Brother Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muammar, for organizing this meeting as part of the distinguished activities undertaken by the Center. These activities are an extension of the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, which laid down the foundations of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia accorded great importance to the topic of dialogue and to the dissemination of its culture, domestically and globally, and made it a priority in its cultural endeavours. In the area of dialogue, the efforts of the Muslim World League, which is a popular Islamic international organization, sprang from the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the activities of the World Islamic Dialogue Conference in Makkah Al-Mukarramah, and the Madrid World Conference, to lay down the firm foundations of a successful and sincere dialogue. These conferences were followed by other encounters, such as the global encounter in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, the Vienna and Geneva encounters, and others.
The phenomenon of violence is deeply rooted in history which is replete with accounts of peoples enfeebled by oppressive foreign or local powers, and forced to throw their citizens into the flames of crushing violence in countless numbers.
We are mostly interested in focusing attention on the reasons that contributed to the formation of the phenomenon of violence of various forms and manifestations, and on how to address them objectively and impartially. There are in our contemporary world many reasons that instigate violence in human beings or contribute to the formation of violent orientations. These reasons include injustice and aggression, violation of sanctities and religious symbols, adopting double standards in dealing with prominent issues, global justice influenced by nonobjective standards, and the proliferation of the culture of hate and discrimination on the basis of religious or national affiliation.
Religion comes to the limelight when we speak about instigators of violence, and justification of violent behaviour and acts. Undoubtedly, religion has a great influence on human beings’ behaviour and ethical orientations due to the inner value of religion itself and how it reflects in people’s perceptions. Those who show animosity against religion interpret every aggressive behaviour as being religious, based on the belief that religion plays a negative part in people’s lives and that it imparts them with aggressive and rancorous feelings that can never make peace with others. Therefore, it is believed that religion is the source and one of the main reasons of violence.
Unfortunately, this passive stance towards religion finds evidence, which it uses as a pretext, such as the persecution of the Rohingya in Burma, the horrific massacres against Muslim communities in Central Africa, the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation forces in Gaza, Jerusalem, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the sectorial violence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other areas, and the hostile acts practised by a number of Muslim groups under the name of Islam and Jihad. This is an unjust perception of the religion revealed by Allah the Almighty through His prophets and messengers to various nations in various eras in time.
Religion according to the understanding of the Muslim culture, and as expressed in the messages of a large number of messengers, was revealed to worship only Allah, and to liberate people from the paganism fabricated by reason of ignorance and myths, purging souls of the ailments of rancour, envy, selfishness, conceit, hate, and of giving in to fanciful whims and restraining aggressiveness that takes over when one feels the absence of discipline. On the other hand, religion came to disseminate virtues and promote refined ethics, a love of goodness and treating others fairly and kindly, without discrimination.
There are in the Glorious Quran dozens of texts that stand evidence to this, including verse 90 of Surat Al- Nahl which says, “God enjoins justice and the doing of good and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy; [and] He exhorts you [repeatedly] so that you might bear [all this] in mind”
Based on a positive perception of religion, we hope that different religious leaderships would seek to give the religion the standing that befits it and to enable it to perform its true function in individual and collective lives, namely to pave the way for human beings to become more refined and more attached to their Creator in a relationship that constantly becomes more and more mature, charging the soul with a spiritual energy that disciplines behaviour and crowns the soul with virtue and noble values, and guides human civilization in an ethical and rational direction.
I also call on religious leaders to keep religion from being used to achieve personal ambitions or political purposes or sectoral intentions, and from being transformed into an energy that breeds rancour and animosity and instigates vengeance. I would like to articulate on this occasion that acts of violence perpetrated under the name of jihad by a number of networks which claim affiliation to Islam have no place in the Muslim religion and do not represent the intellect of the nation and the march of its civilization, the proof being that these acts are decried by the majority, prominent political and religious leaders and that in most cases, this violence is directed against Muslims who are the first victims to fall.
Therefore, we strongly denounce this behaviour and see in it a clear deviation from the path and guidance of Islam, and from the intentions of its message, which has been revealed to bestow mercy and bring light to human beings. May Allah the Almighty grant us success in our endeavours.