- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

As Iraq teeters on the brink of civil war and remains unable to form a government of national unity more than four months after the elections, Jordan said it would host a conference aimed at defusing the volatile situation across its eastern border.

The Iraqi Islamic Reconciliation Summit will be held in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on April 22. The intent of the “summit” is to gather a large number of Iraq’s top religious and tribal leaders representing Sunnis and Shi’ites, Arabs and Kurds, in an effort to seek an agreement based on common religious principles. The first hurdles the conference will tackle will be to find a way to end the violence claiming dozens of lives daily and achieve a political solution that will end Iraq’s current strife.

The Iraqi Islamic Reconciliation Summit will be held under the patronage of King Abdullah II, and is expected to draw a large number of senior Iraqi religious and tribal leaders from all sects and walks of life. The conference organizers, Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought and the Arab League, say they hope the meeting “will provide a forum for Iraqi leaders to take a crucial step toward stemming the violence in Iraq.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah, said to be a 43rd-generation direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, and thus a member of the Aal al-Bayt (the Household of the Prophet) is expected to join the delegates in calling for “an end to bloodshed and religious tension in Iraq.” The summit is expected to culminate in a signed declaration stating that fighting between Shi’ites and Sunnis has no legitimate religious basis.

Moreover, given its position, due to unique social, tribal, economic and historical ties with Iraq, and especially since the beginning of the U.S. invasion, Jordan has given shelter and safe passage to millions of Iraqis. There are today more than half a million Iraqis living in the Hashemite Kingdom.

However, commenting on the Jordanian monarch’s good intentions aimed at peacemaking, one well-informed Middle East observer suggested as a first step the king might want to “stop facilitating insurgents from crossing back and forth into Iraq from Jordan.” Asking not to be named, he added: “The king could start off by putting a stop to the funding that finds its way from Jordan to the insurgency in Iraq.”

Organizers of the reconciliation summit say this meeting is a “necessary initiative to help bring the violence in Iraq to an end, establish a stable and fully representative Iraqi government and permit a peaceful and orderly withdrawal of coalition troops.”

In a communique released last Wednesday, organizers of a summit that may well be Iraq’s last chance for peace before it irreversibly falls into all-out civil war and a possible partition, say “peace in Iraq cannot be achieved without a political solution, and a political solution cannot, in turn, be achieved without a religious solution because fighting in Iraq has generally occurred along religious sectarian lines, especially among Iraq’s Arab Muslim communities.”

If we hadn’t been repeatedly told the fighting in Iraq was not a civil war, one could be led to believe that what was just described sounds awfully close to a civil war.

The Iraqi Reconciliation Summit is therefore seeking to involve religious leaders to help stress the point that the killing in Iraq — despite claims to the contrary by al Qaeda’s local franchise directed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — goes against the teachings of the Muslim faith. They hope to emphasize the fundamental principles shared by all Muslims.

This, the organizers say is a “critical step in diffusing civil tension and helping to clear the way for a final and permanent political solution in Iraq.”

King Abdullah is sparing no effort to make this conference a success. He has invited a number of major religious figures from the Islamic world, including the top religious figures from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, the Gulf and Iran. Egypt’s Sheikh al-Azhar, Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam, and the Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa are expected to join the king in denouncing extremist misinterpretations of Islam.

Misinterpretation of Islam “feeds the sectarian violence in Iraq,” states the communique. Together, Abdullah and his guests will reaffirm the underlying values and principles shared by all branches of Islam.

Participants expect to build upon the International Islamic Conference on “True Islam and its Role in Modern Society” hosted by Abdullah in July 2005. The outcome of that conference was more than 180 scholars representing 45 countries signing a “final declaration condemning the practice known as takfir (calling others “apostates”) used by Islamist extremists to justify violence. The signatories of the conference were supported by fatwas, or religious edicts, from 20 of the world’s most senior Islamic scholars. Those included the Sheikh Al-Azhar, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Iraq, the muftis of Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Oman and Sheikh Yusif Al-Qardawi.

The Amman Declaration recognized the legitimacy of all eight of the traditional schools of Islamic religious law (madhhabs): the Sunni, Shi’ite and Ibadi branches of Islam, as well as traditional Asharite theology, Islamic mysticism (Sufism) and moderate Salafi thought.

The declaration exposed so-called fatwas seeking to justify terrorism as illegitimate and outside orthodox Islamic religious law and in clear violation of Islam’s core principles. This consensus was adopted by the entire Islamic world at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit at Mecca in December 2005.

The forthcoming conference will utilize the Mecca agreement on religious principles as the doctrinal basis for the Iraqi Islamic Reconciliation Summit’s final declaration.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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