Religious leaders across world meet in Abu Dhabi

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Religious leaders across world meet in Abu Dhabi
Participants during opening of 4th Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Abu Dhabi - Islamophobia is still alive, say leaders

By Jasmine Al-Kuttab

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Published: Tue 12 Dec 2017, 8:48 PM

Last updated: Wed 13 Dec 2017, 8:17 AM

More than 700 Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders from around the world gathered in the Capital to address the issue of Islamophobia and what steps governments are taking to tackle the "extreme issue".
During the fourth 'Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies,' held under the patronage of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr James Zogby from Zogby Research Services said hate crimes were not rampant in the US, until the Barack Obama election in 2008.
"People were targeting him (Obama) - that he was made to be foreign and different and maybe Muslim, and in 2010, there was an effort to paint the mosque that was being proposed in Manhattan as a victory issue that: 'Muslims are trying to conquer America'." He said in 2016, the issue was used again in the US elections.
"But the bad news is that one of them won (Trump), but the good news is that the reaction to President Trump and his promoting of this agenda has actually had a backlash effect in the poll that we just released for the first time since we've been polling about the American attitudes towards Muslims. The numbers are more than 50 per cent favourable to the one unfavourable."
He said that both democrats and republicans have recoiled against the president's rhetoric and the Muslim ban, as well as his "target against Muslims".
"So the problem, I think, does have the non-political component, but the good news is, I think we are winning the political battle here.
"Certainly we have a problem in the rhetoric that's coming from some people in the US, but more and more Americans are rejecting it and I think that's where I'm finding hope," added Dr Zogby.
He said that the anti-Muslim sentiment in the US is decreasing on several levels.
"If a Muslim American held a high governmental post, a greater number of people today say 'I'm confident this person can do the job,' than three or four years ago."
However, he said Islamophobia is still alive, but people are "embarrassed to admit" they are intolerant to Muslims.
Dr Besa Ismail, vice-dean to faculty of Islamic Studies, Kosovo, said her country is also facing a real issue of Islamophobia, and believes governments must start from the education system "before it's too late".
"From the communist areas, we have the most severe and aggressive racism towards Muslims. Religious freedoms and rights are severely restricted," she said, while sharing her experience in preventing Islamophobia. "Even after the war, this legacy of hostility is still surviving."
She said focusing on empowering Muslim youth and Muslim women "who face criticism because of their headscarfs" will have a great outcome in the battle against Islamophobia.
"The youth forms 70 per cent of Kosovo's population - any efforts to engage them in this ongoing practices is vital."
Dr Iman Qari Asim, member of the British Government's Anti Muslim Hatred Working Group, said Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders in the UK are working tirelessly to combat hate-speech.
"We have the 'Standing Together' initiative, which has the religious aspect, and myself and the Archbishop of Canterbury held a session where the public were able to ask any questions about faiths and about Islamophobia."
He said social action projects are crucial, as they help bring people and minds together, despite the different backgrounds.
"We had a project, where the churches provide a kitchen and the chefs are Muslims. It's bringing societies together to feed the poor."
"This makes faiths and religions relevant to people's lives and decreases the anti-Muslim hatred.
"Imams and Rabbis are now working together to show the pain and the suffering of both Muslims and Jews."
David Saperstein, director Emeritus, Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism and senior advisor to the URJ for Policy Strategy, said during his work with the Obama Administration, the government developed all kinds of tactics to deal with hate crimes. "All people should have the right to practise their faiths and must be protected."

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