|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Organization of Islamic Conference
Strongly condemning the recent burning of a copy of the Koran by the pastors of a Baptist Church in Gainesville, Florida, as an “outrageous and irresponsible act”, representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference Ambassadorial Group in New York today said the event spotlighted the need to bolster the United Nations and Muslim-led effort to promote worldwide interfaith and intercultural harmony.
Ufuk Gokcen, Permanent Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the Headquarters press briefing had been called following the Group’s emergency meeting earlier this week to draw attention to the “high importance” of the 20 March desecration of the Koran carried out by controversial Pastors Wayne Sapp and Terry Jones. It was also intended to highlight the Group’s “grave concern” that the despicable act had severely hurt the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world.
He said the Group particularly regretted that the burning had taken place in a church, “a sacred place itself”, and that it promoted hatred among religions and cultures. In that regard, the Group would caution that if the international community did not create the necessary conditions for ending such acts of bigotry and hatred, similar future incidents might deal a grave blow to the burgeoning movement towards interfaith and intercultural harmony.
The press conference was moderated by Sirodjidin M. Aslov, Permanent Representative of Tajikistan, and was led by Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, who said that in the wake of the Gainesville incident, it was most important to remember first, that the Koran advocates peace among all peoples and religions, and second, a broad effort was indeed under way to promote peaceful coexistence among peoples, cultures and nations.
He said that Pakistan, Turkey, Spain and the Philippines had been among the nations promoting such interfaith and intercultural harmony through the United Nations Dialogue among Civilizations. Most recently, that effort, which had long been supported by OIC, had been bolstered by strong input and support from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Citing other recent events, he recalled that, on 24 March, the Geneva-Based United Nations Human Rights Council had adopted a new, revised version of a resolution that had recognized, among other things, that there was intolerance, discrimination and violence aimed at believers of different faiths. He acknowledged that OIC had modified the long-standing resolution because over the years it had “unfortunately been construed as a belligerent text”.
The new version contained language that could be universally accepted and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had remarked on it positively following its adoption. “That was very important to us,” Mr. Haroon said, adding that OIC would continue its work inside and outside the United Nations “to show that we can all be part of the same world”.
As for the incident in Gainesville, he emphasized that the Koran was not merely a book; it was indeed the word of God, and it included scriptures from all faiths, including Christianity and Judaism. While there might be some differences with other Holy texts — as far as “crossing t’s and dotting i’s” — the Koran nevertheless stressed the importance of peace and forgiveness. The same could be said of the Bible and other holy books.
“So we believe that the three monotheistic religions should have respect for each other,” he said, adding: “We wish the world to be at peace.” Of the pastors that had burned the Koran, he wondered if they had even read it; and if they had, had they actually found anything in it that was so offensive that the book needed to be burned. He believed that an act that reduced the Koran to a pile of ashes must be seen as an affront to all religions.
It was not only unfortunate, but dangerous, because passions could be inflamed on all sides, leading to incidents “that are uncontrollable”. He noted that the incident had been protested around the world. Interfaith harmony must be about all religions; if there was a serious attempt afoot to bring all cultures together, “we must stop acts […] that drive people apart.”
Mr. Haroon noted that OIC had raised the incident with Washington, D.C., and the United States Government had been encouraged to keep a close eye on such incidents “towards ensuring the exercise of restraint, not restrictions on freedom of speech”. While the topic of today’s press conference might look out of place at the United Nations, he again said that, throughout the world, people had reacted strongly to the Florida Pastors’ actions. OIC, concerned that the fallout might have inflamed tensions, had acted to stop the matter from “getting out of hand”. In addition, many religious leaders and politicians in the United States had made efforts to reduce tensions.
Asked if OIC acknowledged the right to burn religious material, while recognizing the reprehensible nature of the act, he said that Muslims believed the Holy Koran could not be desecrated.
To a series of queries about the imposition of the death penalty under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws and Islam’s general edicts on apostasy, as well as whether OIC was prepared to support the entry of bibles or other holy texts into Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, he said he could only speak for the situation in Pakistan. There, many people were well read on many religions.
He noted that the country’s blasphemy laws had been written by the British and over the years, one amendment had been made to one clause to end antagonism between religions. That had become part of Pakistani law. In any case, he was quite certain that no one in Pakistan had received maximum punishment for blasphemy. Most accused could in fact be found living freely in the country, he said, adding that the Government was reviewing such laws and he would not pre-judge the outcome of the ongoing discussions.
One reporter asked whether the Group, or the wider OIC, would target — as it had the increase in such incidents as the one in Florida — the sharp uptick in Sunni-Shiite violence that, he said, had emerged during some of the recent anti-Government uprisings sweeping the Middle East. Mr. Haroon said that Islam was based on respect for all religions, as well as all people and, personally, he believed “this is a very important point that should be raised and discussed.”
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