Muslim leader denounces 'phobias' on both sides

9th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

LE BOURGET, France, May 8, 2006 (AFP) - The head of Islamic organisations in Europe on Monday denounced "phobias" against Islam in the West as well as Muslim hatred of Westerners, calling on the two sides to bridge their differences.

LE BOURGET, France, May 8, 2006 (AFP) - The head of Islamic organisations in Europe on Monday denounced "phobias" against Islam in the West as well as Muslim hatred of Westerners, calling on the two sides to bridge their differences.

"We denounce Islamophobia, which exists, but also the Western phobia of certain European Muslims," said Ahmed Al-Rawi, president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, at the end of a four-day Muslim conference held in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget.

"Some of our brothers feel that Western people and states stand always against them. It is wrong," he said. "It is our Muslim duty to build a bridge between West and East."

Some 130,000 people, according to organizers, attended the 23rd Congress of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), which wrapped up on Monday. The UOIF, generally considered a radical group, worked to present an image of moderate Islam that is open to dialogue with non-Muslims.

Al-Rawi hailed Britain as the European country where Muslims are freer to practice their religion and customs such as the wearing of headscarves by women.

"In the United Kingdom, where we are more than two million, there is less discrimination than in other countries. We may practice our religion completely. Young women wearing headscarves are very active at school or universities," he said, in an implicit criticism of secularism in France, where Muslim girls are banned from wearing headscarves at school.

He said his Islamic organisation was "cautious" about France, as well as Germany, for their "policy of integration which is not the most progressive".

Al-Rawi discussed the effects of the Iraq war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and the bombings last July in London on European Muslims.

"This has nothing to do with religion," he said, adding that "we condemn all these violences."

He called on Muslims in Europe to "support just causes".

"We are against the war in Iraq, as are 60 percent of the British, because it is illegal and not the way to fight the dictatorship," said Al-Rawi, a British national who was born in Iraq.

"We denounce oppression of Palestinians," he added.

Having participated in a commission fostering an Islamic-Christian dialogue with the Vatican, Al-Rawi also called for inter-faith dialogue, saying "communication is essential".

Dialogue was stressed in the conference's closing statement.

"We want to reassure the (French) national community that Muslims, contrary to what some seek to promote, are only looking to live in brotherhood and share in the common good," the statement said.

In France, the UOIF, created in 1983, grouped some 300 associations including the Young Muslims of France, which is active in city suburbs. It has worked as a mediator to cool tensions in these areas, where immigrant youth riots broke out last autumn to protest against unemployment and discrimination.

Lhaj Thami Breze, the UOIF president, expressed satisfaction with some recent "important advances" in France, such as a recognition of the country's Muslim population, the largest in Europe, and the building of new mosques.

The group plans to work against Islamaphobia among Westerners and also continue to push for a change to French law to allow Muslim girls to wear "discreet headscarves".

The conference also announced a new European forum of Muslim women, with representatives from 14 countries.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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