UAE Forum Promotes Dubious Islamic Peace (Part III)

As earlier demonstrated, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) annual Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies (FPPMS) promotes a whitewashed Islam in the service of, among others, UAE interests. Unsurprisingly, FPPMS speakers often focus upon defending a supposedly humanistic Islam against “Islamophobia,” even as some of the speakers’ own comments and biographies reveal Islam’s darker sides.

United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback set the tone during his opening address to the recently held December 5-7, 2018 FPPMS. “Increased religiosity cannot be equated with radicalization towards violence. Piety cannot be seen as an indicator of one’s propensity towards terrorism,” stated the former Kansas governor. This implication that increased piety has no danger to activate Islamic doctrines such as jihad came from a man who signed a state law to prevent sharia encroachment upon constitutional rights.

Brownback’s remarks suggested rather that good always comes from zeal in any religion, including the “Abrahamic faiths,” the questionable neologism that conjoins Islam with Judeo-Christian beliefs as equal descendants of patriarch Abraham. In this quasi-neoconservative theology, these “faiths hold a unique position in the world,” with a “belief in the God-given dignity of every single soul.” These religions “offer an inspiring transcendence that leads their followers to seek beyond themselves for the betterment of others and the world.”

While praising FPPMS as a “noble effort to promote peace, greater understanding…religious respect and caring all over the world,” Brownback tried to give an Islamic justification for the “Golden Rule.” “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself,” he quoted from Islam’s prophet Muhammad, although Islamic doctrine traditionally restricts equality to Muslims, to the exclusion of subjugated non-Muslims. “It’s time to call an end to all killing done in the name of Abraham” and “oppose the use of violence in the propagation of the faith,” Brownback concluded, without naming the believers guilty of such violence.

Regular FPPMS organizers and participants echoed Brownback, including the American Muslim convert Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, who lectured that the “Abrahamic peoples share profound areas.” Islamophile American evangelical pastor Bob Roberts stated in an interview that the “reason religions teach peace and tolerance is because that’s the teaching of God,” an unsubstantiated universal ecumenism. “We are afraid of others” not because of doctrines such as jihad, but merely because “inside humanity there is this sense of tribalism” today.

Such comments were monotonous variations on a theme, given the report on the previous year’s forum from 2018 FPPMS speaker Amineh Hoti, the Cambridge University-educated daughter of American University Professor Akbar Ahmed. Her report repeated the ubiquitous distortion that the “word Islam comes from salam, which means ‘peace,’” while she presented Muhammad not as a warlord but as a Arabian New Age guru. To be “Muslim means having highly idealistic moral values and being tolerant of all others” according to Muhammad’s example, “who would have dialogue and alliance with people of different faiths,” she wrote.

Hoti similarly reported that Yusuf at the 2017 forum’s gala dinner argued that Muhammad “avoided wars.” Yusuf discussed that Islam “brought peace and calm because it focused the struggle not so much with others but with the self.” However, the Islamic canons supporting this proposition are weak and/or fabricated, contrary to a wealth of Islamic canons supporting jihad holy war.

At the dinner, Hoti quoted FPPMS’ founder, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, suggesting discredited root causes theories about socioeconomic disadvantages causing terrorism. “Terrorism and extremism is not limited to one religion. It sometimes has its roots in poverty,” he stated. He alternatively indicated that baseless fears motivated concerns about Islam, as people “regard that which is unknown to them as a threat.”

Bin Bayyah’s views reached absurd lengths with respect to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a longstanding source of jihad and religious cleansing. Hoti stated that he

worried too about how Muslim countries are being portrayed in the West, especially Pakistan as it was constantly unjustly targeted and labeled. It was not possible or logical that two hundred million ordinary Pakistanis were anything but normal good people.

Hoti concluded that Islam, and not any victims of its doctrines, should be the primary concern, and indicated that criticism of Islam should remain restrained. The 2017 FPPMS

highlighted the need to overcome the fear of Islam, and how to encourage peace by building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. At its heart, the conference served to teach how to coexist while being truly respectful of each other.

The 2018 FPPMS conference booklet accordingly contained the Washington Declaration of an Alliance of Virtues for the Common Good from FPPMS’ February 2018 Washington, DC, conference. The declaration’s language is reminiscent of international campaigns to criminalize criticism of Islam as “hate speech.” The text declares that all people “share a responsibility to foster international and inter-cultural understanding and to oppose any effort to convey information that is false or defamatory about any ethnic, racial, or religious group.”

Correspondingly, Washington, DC rabbi Bruce Lustig and National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA President Kathryn Mary Lohre both addressed “Islamophobia” as 2018 FPPMS panelists. The panelist and Baptist theology professor Robert Sellers, outgoing president of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, has previously written against “defaming the Prophet Muhammad, speaking ill of Islam.” Like Brownback, Sellers has written of the questionable theology that the “Quran rests upon the very foundation of prophets from Moses to Jesus that grounds our faith” and thus are “Muslims our monotheistic faith ‘cousins.’” Unsurprisingly, conservative American Southern Baptists left in 2004 the left-leaning Baptist World Alliance, where Sellers is a member of its Interfaith Relations Commission.

Religion News Service (RNS) CEO and publisher Tom Gallagher raised concerns in his panel presentation on religious education for journalists covering Islam, where he wanted a “positive angle on these stories.” RNS gives “training for journalists to help them learn how to cover these important stories, the language they need to use, the experts they need to rely on for these kinds of stories,” he stated. Yet the anti-Israel RNS Editor-in-Chief Bob Smietana has hardly distinguished himself with expertise in his attempts to subordinate reporting on Islam to political correctness.

FPPMS panel moderator Ed Husain and the Quilliam foundation he founded in the United Kingdom have also previously often opposed “Islamophobia” more than any jihadist threats. His fellow moderator, former British Muslim Labour Party parliamentarian Shahid Malik, has been the cochairman of the British organization Tell MAMA since 2014. The previous year, Tell MAMA lost government funding after making exaggerated anti-Muslim hate crime claims. Also, in 2013 Tell MAMA helped get Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller banned from the United Kingdom as “Islamophobic” hate group leaders.

Malik appears less sensitive around jihadists, as when Palestinian media reported him praising Hamas leaders during a 2011 Gaza visit. Along with other British politicians, Malik has addressed Britain’s Global Peace and Unity conference with its numerous pro-jihad/sharia connections, in 2008 and 2013. By contrast, he withdrew from a 2008 House of Commons meeting with Moonie cult connections.

Nevertheless, FPPMS could not completely ignore reality. Rabbi David Rosen, American Jewish Committee International Director of Interreligious Affairs, stated to the forum that the “Muslim world is uniquely threatened by the threat of violence in the name of religion.” Bin Bayyah had previously stated at the Washington, DC, conference that

these distortions and the ideologies that lead to violence are not novel phenomena particular to our age. Rather, they represent an inherited ideology found within the Islamic tradition and its history.

So much is evident from the pasts checkered with radicalism of Bin Bayyah, Yusuf, and the FPPMS speaker Sheikh Umar Al-Qadri, an Irish Muslim cleric. Veiled Red Lines Across USA CEO Manal Mohammed Omar recommended in a 2018 FPPMS interview that “women are the secret ingredient” for stability and peace. However, she has previously affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood- and terrorism-linked entities.

All too predictably, Omar claimed victim status for herself in a 2011 interview when she stated that “being Palestinian I am always aware of social injustices,” concerns she shares with 2018 FPPMS panelist Aisha al-Adawiya. “Palestine is on my mind” like the past South African anti-apartheid struggle, she stated at FPPMS, and people like her must address the not-so-authentic Palestinian cause “in order to be authentic.” Palestine has given her common cause with the radical Muslim-American anti-Semite Linda Sarsour, for whom Adawiya signed a 2017 statement of support for this “international champion of civil and human rights.” The Hamas-derived Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) honored its New York chapter board member Adawiya at the 2018 CAIR national banquet with a lifetime achievement award.

Perhaps most egregiously, the 2018 FPPMS featured the Islamic law scholar Muhammad Taqi Usmani as a speaker. Usmani, who has participated in other FPPMS events such as the 2016 Marrakesh conference, is a vicious supporter of jihad against non-Muslims, including American troops during the Iraq war. The alarming views of this Pakistani Supreme Court justice, who did so much to bring sharia laws on matters such as blasphemy to his country, also include support for jihad slavery.

Amidst such febrile individuals, rabbi and Brandeis University professor Reuven Kimelman offered brief relief in a FPPMS interview contrasting Israel’s often overlooked relative tranquility with a bloody Middle East. Yet “many Arabs and Muslims perceive Jews as foreign to the Middle East” and “as a threat to Islam,” he stated, such as the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose messianic claims compete against Jewish claims of divine election. Contrastingly, he linked FPPMS humanistic claims with Judaism in an anti-Iran front, for Judaism teaches that human cooperation, not Iranian Shiite apocalyptic scenarios, will bring the messiah’s coming.

FPPMS offers a confused potpourri of theological perspectives, befitting UAE’s varied political interests. Nonetheless, the UAE and other Gulf States are seeking to spread such interfaith outreaches, as the final article in this series will discuss. Human rights supporters should respond with President Ronald Reagan’s slogan to “trust but verify.”

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