8 January 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference on forthcoming 2009 ‘muslim leaders of tomorrow’ doha conference


A new generation of community-based, forward-thinking Muslims from 76 countries would meet in Doha, Qatar, for a “Leaders of Tomorrow” conference next week, some of its members said at Headquarters today.


Speaking at a press conference sponsored by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Office were:  Rushda Majeed of Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow; Saleemah Abdul Ghafur, creator of Malaria No More faith-based programmes; Hussein Rashid, Professor at Hofstra University; Darya Shaikh of One Voice Movement; and Haroon Moghul of New York University’s Islamic Center.


Describing the forthcoming event, Ms. Majeed said that on the weekend of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., some 300 “dynamic, committed and civic-minded young leaders will get together to create change”, which, in the words of one of the participants, “cannot wait for tomorrow”.


Now was the time to move towards a space where Muslims would be known as people of peace, she said.  The conversation at the Doha conference would revolve around the issues of tackling violent extremism, religious authority in Islam, media engagement and dealing with competing values.  A special segment of the debate would be devoted to the topic “Is political Islam a threat to the West?”


She said the conference outcomes were expected to include an “Open Letter to the World Leaders of Today from the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow” -- a unique petition with policy recommendations addressed to both Muslim and non-Muslim leaders.  A specific focus would be placed on skill-building, and special sessions would be held on media engagement, leadership training and “movement-building”.  Another session would allow bloggers from around the world to share their experiences and skills.


The Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow programme had been initiated in the United States shortly after 11 September 2001, seeking to address the questions of leadership within the Islamic community, she said.  In 2004, some 125 young Muslim leaders had convened in New York for their first conference, which had focused on improving the image of their religion in the United States and on the American Muslim identity.  The programme had then expanded to the rest of North America and Western Europe, and in 2006, the second Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow conference had been held in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Titled “Muslim Integration in the West”, the event had stressed the need for Western Muslims to set their own agenda by finding solutions to problems that “all of us collectively face”, including the question “what is sacred”, freedom of speech and religious authority within Islam.


The four participants in the press conference spoke about their particular experiences and areas of interest, ranging from advancing gender equity within the Muslim community to inter-faith dialogue and empowering moderate majorities in Israel and Palestine.  “I don’t think I have ever been at a conference that convened Muslim leaders from so many countries,” Ms. Ghafur said about the forthcoming event.  “To see a group convene young Muslim leaders who are all contributing to public life in many different ways -- and extraordinary ways -- is unprecedented in my life.”


Recalling the 2006 Copenhagen conference, Mr. Rashid noted the diversity of the participants:  “You had various Sunni Muslims, various Shia Muslims -- progressive, conservative, liberal, reactionary, if you will -- but all coming together at the same table to talk about how we can make the world a better place.  And I am really looking forward to continuing those conversations at this conference now.”


The conference would seek to define a role for civil society and highlight the importance of personal responsibility among all citizens, Ms. Shaikh said, stressing the importance of those issues for Israel and Palestine.  Events in Gaza testified to the exclusion of moderates from the peace process in a situation that continued to devolve and spiral out of control.  What had brought the young Muslim leaders together was the desire to “recalibrate the conversation” taking place in Israel and Palestine and to “make sure that the discourse globally is progressive, constructive and focused on civic empowerment as well”.


Mr. Moghul added that, to him, Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow represented “very young, dynamic, engaged, visionary young Muslims”, seeking to bring about positive change.  They wished to see “a more democratic Muslim world, a more equitable Muslim world, a more dignified Muslim world, regardless of whether they live in minority communities or majority communities”.  The conference would be important in establishing connections among people, allowing them “to reach across and realize that they are part of a larger community” representing the diversity of Muslim voices.


In response to several questions, Ms. Majeed said all 300 participants would be listed on the conference website, and a comprehensive report on the event would be made available, as would its main documents.


Mr. Rashid added that, besides official transcripts, there would be live blogs from the various sessions of the conference.


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For information media • not an official record