FaithWorld

Outgoing top Muslim envoy seeks accord with Christians

January 1, 2014

(Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu speaks during the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous)

The outgoing head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said on Tuesday some Muslim states should broaden rights for religious minorities. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who stepped down on Monday after nine years as secretary general of the 57-country group representing the Islamic world, also said Western countries should do more to combat an increase of prejudice against Muslims there.

Concern among churches worldwide for fellow Christians in the Middle East has risen in recent years as wars and Islamist rebels have killed or driven many from their homes there. The Jeddah-based OIC’s religious diplomacy was long focused on a fruitless effort to have the United Nations pass a global ban on insults to Islam. The fate of Christian minorities in Muslim countries rarely figured in its declarations.

“I have no doubt that there is room for religious freedom improvements in some parts of the Muslim world with regard to allowing non-Muslims to have access to their religious facilities or construction of such facilities,” Ihsanoglu wrote in response to questions by email from Reuters.

Christians in the Middle East frequently complain of restrictions or bans on churches there and their leaders, alarmed by the rise of hardline Islamists in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings, have tried to emphasise their long histories in the region and have urged their communities not to leave.

At his December 13 Vatican meeting with Pope Francis, Ihsanoglu said he stressed the need for “greater efforts from OIC member states to foster respect for religious pluralism and cultural diversity and to counter the spread of bigotry and prejudice”.

Ihsanoglu said both Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of the prestigious al-Azhar centre of Sunni learning in Cairo, expressed support in recent meetings for his proposal to foster better ties between the world’s two largest faiths.

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