Muslims urge peace, combat stereotypes D.C. conference focuses on Islamic plight in Balkans, ex-Soviet Union

August 05, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Islamic religious leaders from around the world will gather in Washington this weekend to condemn terrorism, call for peace, particularly in the Middle East and Kosovo, and to counter stereotypes about Muslims.

The 2nd International Islamic Unity Conference, sponsored by the Washington-based Islamic Supreme Council of America, will focus on the situation of Muslims in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans, on how they maintained their faith under Communist oppression and on the struggles they still face.

At a news conference yesterday announcing the conference, Rexhep Boja, who as Grand Mufti of Kosovo is leader of the Muslim community there, spoke of the conflict in which ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the Kosovo province are seeking independence from the Serbian republic that makes up most of Yugoslavia.

"As the result of the democratic choice for freedom and independence, the Serbs, they attack our nation, our people, our country," Boja said through a translator at the National Press Club.

"They destroyed more than 10,000 houses. They killed hundreds of innocent people, children and women. And now there are more than 300,000 people as refugees within and outside of Kosovo," he said. "I would like to appeal to all of you, and especially to the United States of America, to support the people who are now facing atrocities and genocide."

Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of America and chairman of the conference, said he wants to correct impressions of Islam as a religion of intolerance and violence.

The source of terrorism, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, is the "intellectual, cultural, or ideological understanding and beliefs" of a particular people.

"It is not religion. The religion itself is innocent of any terrorist action around the world," Kabbani said. "Religion did not come to kill people, either in Judaism, or in Christianity, or in Islam or in any other belief around the world. Religious beliefs did not come to kill people. But religious beliefs came to open the hearts for love and peace."

The association of Islam with terrorism particularly stigmatizes young people who were born in this country and have the dual identity of being American and Muslim, the leaders said.

"They feel ashamed and shy when the media labels them as terrorists, because they are not. They are Americans," he said.

This is why Kabbani said he formed the Islamic Supreme Council of America, which publishes the Muslim Magazine monthly and recently opened an office in Washington to increase its visibility.

"We found there is a necessity to begin to act quickly, as Americans to implement the real identity of Islamic beliefs," he said. "As there is a real identity of Jewish belief, as there is a real identity of Christian belief, we are trying to implement the real identity of the Islamic belief.

And this consists of mainstream Islam," he said. "Mainstream Islam is the Islam of spirituality, is the Islam of love, is the Islam of peace and tolerance, is the Islam where everyone must live with his neighbor in a very comfortable situation, good relationship without fighting, but with a constructive dialogue."

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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