As Iraqi soldiers battle to recapture the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants, Muslim leaders from around the world pledge to beat back extremist ideology in other ways. They said the fight requires clerics to re-examine how they present their faith, eliminating outdated ideas and emphasizing tolerance.
The Iraqi military said it is advancing on Islamic State fighters who captured Tikrit in June of last year. Less than 150 kilometers north of Baghdad, Tikrit is the hometown of Saddam Hussein and on the road to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.
Mosul is also the largest city held by the Islamic State, which has taken large parts of Syria and Iraq since last June. Previous attempts to recapture Tikrit have failed, but authorities said Monday troops were already nearing the city center.
On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned of the attack and promised Islamic State fighters a “last chance” to abandon the group and be pardoned by the government.
On the same day at an international conference in Cairo, hundreds of religious leaders from around the world said they plan to fight the Islamic State with education and intellect.
Religious leaders read a statement saying clerics should re-examine how Islam is depicted in schools and books, eliminating outdated ideas like the prospect of a caliphate operating in the modern world.
The statement calls for youth education campaigns and for Arab countries to coordinate anti-terrorism efforts.
Other clerics like Ayman Farouk Abu al-Kheir, the sheik of the Abu al-Azyam Mosque in Cairo, say religious leaders should work to identify and cut the Islamic State’s considerable income as well as shut down its propaganda machine.
For the past nine months, the group has been publishing a glossy English language magazine and releasing videos of murders with Hollywood-style production values.
Akhmed Tamim, the mufti of Ukraine, said Islamic State leaders are not the pious Muslims they claim to be, but frauds playing on the weaknesses of their followers. Mainstream religious leaders, he said, should focus on exposing them.
Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a world leader in Islamic scholarship, last month condemned the Islamic State, urging education reform and unity among Muslims.
In Cairo on Saturday, Sheik Abdulaziz al-Nagar, the director of preaching at the Islamic research center at Al-Azhar, said preachers should stress that Islam is a religion of tolerance and that extremist ideologies wrongly interpret history.
What they teach, he said, looks at Islamic history as if it stopped cold in a time of chaos many eras ago.