LONDON, June 4: The two-day interfaith conference on ‘Islam and Muslims in the World Today’ began here on Monday with Prime Minister Tony Blair emphatically declaring that the voices of extremism are no more representative of Islam than the use, in times gone by, of torture to force conversion to Christianity, represented the true teachings of Christ.

He said Islam was not a monolithic faith, but one made up of a rich pattern of diversity, albeit all flowing from the same fount. This rich diversity needs to be more clearly appreciated and to inform our public debates more fully is something that this conference needs to debate.

Defending his decisions on Afghanistan and Iraq, he said many Christians disagreed with these two decisions. “Leave aside for a moment whether they were the right or wrong decisions. What is damaging is if they are seen in the context of religious decisions.

“The religious faith of either country was as irrelevant to the decision as was the fact that the Kosovo Albanians we rescued were Muslims, suffering under a Serbian dictatorship, whose religion happened to be Christian Orthodox; or in helping the people of Sierra Leone, 70 per cent of whom are Muslims.”

This point, he said, was an important point because it is crucial at a number of different levels. The problem between faiths and communities, as too often in life and in politics, is not where there is disagreement about decisions; but where there is misunderstanding about motives. In turn, this is often derived from a misunderstanding of a deeper sort: a basic ignorance about the other person's faith. “I recommend the book "The Muslim Jesus" to anyone interested in this aspect.”

Prince Charles in a message sent to the conference said: For more than 20 years I have been fascinated by the relationships between the Abrahamic faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. This fascination stems partly from the particular interest I have in the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity which makes up modern Britain. For me, this ‘unity through diversity’ can represent a great richness and a great strength for our society. But my fascination has been leavened with a concern that while there is much which binds the children of Abraham together, there is also much which prevents us from coming closer. This concern has been steadily growing. As long ago as 1993, some of you may recall that, as its patron, I gave a speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, in which I said:

"... I believe wholeheartedly that the links between these two worlds matter more today than ever before, because the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and western worlds remains dangerously high, and because the need for the two to live and work together in our increasingly interdependent world has never been greater".

He said he had hoped fervently to be proved wrong. “Sadly, events have shown that there was at least some truth in my analysis. Despite advancing these thoughts nearly 15 years ago, however, I have never subscribed to the view that a so-called 'Clash of Civilisations' is somehow inevitable. Indeed, I believe that by redoubling our efforts to promote tolerance and understanding, people at all levels of society can make all the difference. This, of course, is very easy to say. But I have a feeling that the 'doing' may also be within our grasp...”

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in a message to the conference said that he and President Musharraf have been in the forefront within and beyond Pakistan to support moderation and tolerance instead of extremism. “We believe that it is an essential issue of our times. To achieve this in an environment of freedom and rule of law is a challenge we all face in democratic societies.

He said his government engaged in educational reforms across the board. The attention is particularly focused on mainstreaming the Madressahs, which includes curriculum reform and introduction of subjects like science, mathematics and information technology. Today's societies are poly-ethnic and multi-cultural. Mainstreaming of minorities, therefore, is of crucial importance. Isolation and marginalisation are the destructive forces that affect the unifying fibre of nations and societies. We must learn to celebrate the diversities in our societies. We must do all we can to integrate minorities in our national mainstream.

“The onus of mainstreaming should not be only on the minority groups but should equally be the responsibility of the majority. To defeat and fight terrorism and extremism we must comprehend its true nature and its causes which are invariably political.

“Some terrorism is local, some is global, the campaign against terrorism whether local or global will not succeed until we pursue a comprehensive and holistic approach combining military, security, political, economic, social and cultural actions.”

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