The Iman Foundation

London: Iman holds Inaugural Advisory Board Meeting

Thursday, 29 March 2012 6 more images

The Iman Foundation's highly distinguished International Advisory Board held it's inaugural meeting this week at the Reform Club in London. At the AGM there was an extensive discussion on Iman's activities to date and a programme for future activities was planned.

There was also an excellent discussion on countering extremism and sectarianism particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. Members of the Board who attended included Lord Hamilton, James Clad, Ambassador Mark Hambley, Dr H. C. Volker Faigle, Ralf Land, Rabbi Herschel Gluck, Yasmin Allawi, Mili Gottlieb, Frank Heinrich MP, Andrew Rosindell MP, and James Wharton MP.

Commenting on the meeting, Ribal Al-Assad, Chairman of the Iman Foundation, said:

"I was honoured and delighted to welcome members of our excellent board, some of whom came from across the world, to our inugural meeting, which was highly rewarding and successful. It is a real pleasure to work with such passionate, informed and distinguished people. I have no doubt that our core values and beliefs are well-founded and that dialogue and moderation provide the only chance of defeating extremism and hatred".

Ribal Al-Assad's speech to the board:

Good evening to you all.

It is a real honour to welcome you to London particularly when some of you have travelled from mainland Europe and the United States.

On Saturday I sat watching the evening news on the BBC.

As ever, it did not make happy viewing.

And as item followed item

I started to sketch out a series of causes of this tsunami of bad news.

Misery and pain resulted from racism and extremism, sectarian unrest , cultural disunity and mindless violence.

And it was only after compiling this list that I realised that we are doing together here at IMAN really is an antidote to them all.

It was a heart-warming moment.

But also an overwhelming one. Because it made me appreciate the enormity of what we have started and, more importantly, what we have set out to achieve.

It is no secret to any of you our mission is to challenge sectarianism and extremism to expose those who use the name of religion to promote hatred, violence and killing and to campaign for zero tolerance of extremism and sectarianism.

Nor is it a secret that we live in a world where generations have been deprived of an objective cultural education leaving a void that has been all too easy for Islamists and other extremists to fill.

And so we have our work cut out. But I am proud of our achievements over the past year. Because we have reached out to an extensive and eclectic mix of religious organisations and their leaders gaining support for our work, an understanding of their issues and the foundations for future advances across the political, cultural and religious spectrum.

Seeds have been planted, networks established and news spread. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we now have the confidence and support of partners across the globe.

In Egypt, these included a trip to Abbasiya to be received at the papal residence by the late Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Christian Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and to Cairo for a meeting with Sheikh Dr Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, a highly respected and influential Muslim scholar with whom we called on the Egyptian authorities to protect the rights of religious minorities.

A visit to Beirut to meet Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Kabbani, the Mufti of Lebanon and to meet the former Maronite Christian Patriarch Sfeir, the moderate Shia leader Sayed Ali Al-Amine and the former Mufti of Sour. This was equally enlightening. We focused on intra-Islamic and inter-religious dialogue and the need to challenge extremism by promoting mainstream voices

In China we were welcomed by Vice President Dr. Wen Jun and her senior colleagues at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. We had a meeting with Mr. Li Shenming, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing. We also met with the Head Monk at the Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing and the Head Monk at the Tanzhe Temple in Beijing and visited monks at the wonderful Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng.

Whilst in India we met with some cultural leaders at the India International Centre in Delhi.

In Germany we met with the authorised representatives of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) to the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union, Dr H.C. Volker Faigle, who is here today, and Pralat Dr. Bernhard Felmberg, at their headquarters in Berlin

Also in Berlin we visited a Synagogue, initiating dialogue with the Jewish community that continued earlier this year in London at a dinner with British Jewish leaders focused on challenging extremism and sectarianism.

In Brussels we met with the Bishop of Tournai, Monseigneur Guy Harpigny, to discuss Muslim / Christian relations.

An Iman Eid reception at the Palace of Westminster was attended by senior people from across the political and religious spectrum with a focus on celebrating links and partnerships across their respective cultures.

In London our upcoming events include dinner-discussions with the Coptic Christian and Catholic communities.

So here we are today.

With some time to focus on how best to benefit from these relationships and the momentum that we have created.

I wish I could open our AGM with a solution.

But of course that is not something that I can come up with just by myself.

It is why I am so grateful to have you all here and I look forward to gathering your ideas, generating plans and visualising outcomes.

From a personal perspective watching the ongoing effects of sectarian hatred in my native Syria is a constant reminder of the importance of our work. And I welcome any progress we can make towards inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue within the region.

There is no doubt in my mind that pluralism is the only remedy to Islamism and that ours is a mission that will not be accomplished through instruction but through education.

This includes the promotion of moderate voices in all communities, a louder pluralist presence in an international news that is all too often dominated by the word and actions of the extremist minority and the constant reminder that we represent an overwhelming majority of people all over the world.

As for the key question of how we will achieve it and measure it, I will defer to you all.

Your expertise, insight and advice have got us this far and I hope I have demonstrated my own determination to make the most of the direction you provide.

I have no doubt that our core values and beliefs are well-founded and that dialogue and moderation provide the only chance of defeating extremism and hatred.

The progress we have made to this point has made me very proud. We have dared to dream on a massive scale and have backed-up that dream with action. We want to be one of the great stories of the 21st century.

But that objective lies in the distant future. In the meantime, when we turn on the news this time next year let’s hope that our work will have been responsible for destroying some bad news at source and for ensuring that there is at least one item of ‘good news’ on the agenda.

Thank you.

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