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OIC Summit Evaluates Current State of Islam - 2003-10-16

Leaders from the 57 nations of the Islamic Conference Organization have opened a two-day summit in Malaysia with a somber self-critique. The speakers blamed their weak influence in world affairs on a lack of unity and a slow response to changing times.

The outgoing chairman of the Islamic Conference, Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, opened the summit Thursday saying the Muslim world today is being targeted more than ever in the anti-terrorism war.

The Qatari leader says as a result, Muslim leaders must acquaint the world with the true Islam - which advocates justice, tolerance and equality. And, he says, they must address strategic issues like poverty and illiteracy.

The organization's new chairman, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, says Islam, which dominated the world 1300 years ago, has fallen behind because of a too literal interpretation of the traditions of the Prophet Mohamed. He says Islam is for all times. And times have changed.

"Whether we like it or not, we have to change, not by changing our religion but by applying its teachings in the context of a world that is radically different from that of the first century of the Hijrah [Muslim calendar]," he said.

Mr. Mahathir says the Islamic world should be able to unite at least on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And, he says, Muslims should use their brains, not brawn, to achieve their goals.

"Is it true that 1.3 billion people can exert no power to save themselves from the humiliation and oppression inflicted upon them by a much smaller enemy?" he asked. "Can they only lash back blindly in anger? Is there no other way than to ask our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of more of our own people?"

Mr. Mahathir notes that the Koran teaches against revenge and said Muslims should not alienate potential friends through what he called unIslamic acts. He called for a strategic retreat to develop new thinking on how to deal with the problem.

Speakers at the Islamic conference also urged solidarity with the Iraqi people following years of sanctions and war. And they called for cooperation in the struggle against terrorism along with a rejection of efforts to link it to any particular religion or culture.

OIC leaders are discussing a draft resolution that strongly condemns Israel for its recent military actions against Syria and the Palestinian territories and reportedly urges a greater role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of war-torn Iraq.