Ministers Islamic Conference: Part 1
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editor's note: In December, 1969 at the initiative of King Hassan II, the first Islamic Summit in history was convened at Rabat, Morocco, following the criminal burning of the Mosque of Al Aqsa at Qods.
The conference aimed at two objectives: 1 -to confer a universal dimension to the Palestinian problem, and; 2 — to encourage the Muslim community to make an examination of conscience and bring about a return to its source.
On May 9, 1979, the 10th Islamic Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs opened at Fez, Morocco in honor of that nation's dominant role in the Muslim Renaissance and the fact that Morocco's history throughout has been merged with that of Al-Islam. (In the Middle Ages, Morocco was one of the cornerstones and bases of the expansion of Al-Islam.)
In this symbolic setting, ministers of Foreign Affairs from 43 Islamic states, as well as many other key dignitaries and Islamic leaders, met to resolve their positions on certain economic and political issues affecting the conditions of their Muslim brothers.
Attending this historic conference in the status of observer was World Community of Al-Islam President, Wallace Deen Muhammad.
The following is an exclusive interview granted Bilalian News Assistant Editor Wali Ak-bar Muhammad.)
BN: Brother Imam, what was your purpose in attending the 10th Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Fez, Morocco?
WDM: The purpose of our participation on my part was educational more than anything else. I felt that being an observer there would enrich my own knowledge of the state of affairs in the worldwide Islamic community.
I also felt that it would improve our image in the eyes of the Islamic groups around the world, such as Rabata, the Muslim Student Association (MSA), the World Organization of Muslim Youth (WAMY), and other huge organizations like the World Muslim Conference, and the World Muslim Congress.
BN: Did you have any opportunity to travel in Morocco other than at the conference?
WDM: Yes I did. The extent of our movement during our stay in Morocco was very limited because most of our time was given to attending the conference itself. However, I did get a chance to walk in the area where the conference was being held and to see that Morocco is a very, very attractive tourist country.
The scenery there is very beautiful. It's not like many of the countries in the Middle East where there is a lot of beautiful desert but not many beautiful oases.
Morocco is just like one big beautiful oasis — beautiful trees, beautiful flowers, beautiful terrain.
The mountains are not bare and rocky and ugly; they are not even rugged looking. The mountains are tame looking. Most of them are covered with greenery — very beautiful pleasant scenery that gives you a feeling of serenity. To tell you the truth, I wanted to stay there after the conference and enjoy that beautiful country.
The people there are warm, hospitable people. They have a long tradition of being real spiritual people in their faith and the religion, a people that are strongly Islamic.
I found most of the people to be very warm, very hospitable and the food was excellent. Very excellent food of high recommendation, especially the feast we had after our visit to the ceremony at the dam-site.
BN: What would you say interested you most at the conference?
WDM: Now I think the things that interested me most during my stay in Morocco were the concerns that were spelled out at the conference. Number one — the King, himself. Number two and number three — the tourist attractions.
If ever I go in that direction again, I intend to take my wife with me and stay in Morocco as tourists for at least a week.
It's a beautiful, beautiful place. It looks like parts of California, parts of Florida, parts of Georgia; it's just beautiful. You don't miss the United States too much when you are in Morocco.
BN: Can you tell us more about the conference concerns you mentioned?
WDM: I can picture the conference concerns as a tree — a tree with roots, trunk and branches. Like the taproot which goes down deep to plant the tree, the basic essential concern was unity and solidarity which was clearly key noted — Islamic unity and Islamic solidarity.
I would say that branching off from the taproot — like anchoring roots that really hold, and give strength and meaning — the position, the concerns and the renewed commitments expressed in the conference to support the Palestinian rights, and the liberation of occupied Islamic land. Special concern was expressed for the desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
You will recall that it was set afire and it was believed that the Israelis set fire to the Holy Mosque. The Muslim spiritual sentiments for these Holy Places were expressed by a number of delegates addressing the conference.
That mosque there represents the first Qiblah, which means the first center of geographic focus in the Muslim world. Like we know, the Holy House at Mecca is the Qiblah for the Muslims, but before the Holy House of Mecca was given to us as a Qiblah, the Holy Site at Jerusalem was the Qiblah.
The Muslims can't forget the Quran tells us that Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) attention was turned to Jerusalem as the first Qiblah, and the holy precincts of the Kaabah became the second Qiblah — or the house at Mecca became the second Qiblah.
Muslims, too, can't forget that the ascension of the Holy Prophet which is called the night visit, marked the mosque at Jerusalem as the place of spiritual and religious significance to be assocated with the Kaabah and the mosque at Mecca. The Prophet (PBUH) was taken up from the holy precincts of Mecca, the Kaabah, in a vision or in an ascension, to the heavens and to our Holy Mosque at Jerusalem.
As we know, Jerusalem has been dominated by non-Muslims in the history of the Islamic community and the history of Islam, but for the most part those holy precincts have been under the care of Muslims. Allah tells us in the Quran that the mosques are to be maintained by Muslins — Believers. So no Muslim can rest knowing that non-Muslims are in charge of mosques.
Even though the Israelis have two very profound serious religious attachments to the site — Solomon's Temple and the Wailing Wall Muslims can't give up their interest in preserving the Holy Mosque and the Holy Sites for Islam — the religion of Islam.
As a Muslim understanding the Quran, I share those sentiments. I try to make my own judgments on the basis of factual information I receive, and history convinces me that Muslims have been more considerate in accommodating Jews, as well as Christians who have very special attachments, serious religious interests, in this site in Jerusalem.
Muslims have been more considerate and Muslims have been able to accommodate others and not cause them any undue harassment at the Holy Site. And the Muslims have been preserving those sites and caring for them for most of the modern history.
It is my belief that the Muslims should be given custodianship of those places in Jerusalem.
As I said, here are three great religions, all with very strong attachments and profound religious interests in these Holy Sites. So this was, I believe, one of the more touching concerns expressed at the conference — the concern for getting the Masjid Al-Aqsa, the Dome of the Rock, back into Muslim charge — getting that land, saving that precinct for Al-Islam and Muslim custodianship.
The plight of the Philippine Muslims also was a major, expressed concern. I met a revolutionary leader of the Philippine movement. He impressed me as being a sober-minded gentleman, but very strong, very determined and very courageous; like his people who have made great sacrifices to defend their right to independence — to an independent government.
The Turkish community of Cyprus is demanding to keep its political identity. They are demanding self-government.
I understand the Greek community of Cyprus and the Greek people are demanding that Cyprus become a Greek territory. If it becomes a Greek territory, under the Greek government, the Turkish community would just be a religious group in Cyprus, and that's what they won't accept.
The Turkish Muslims won't accept that. They insist on their own independence, and I was told by some of their representatives there that Cyprus has never been under the Greeks' rule. It always has been under the Turks except for the time when it was occupied by the British. They agreed to let the British run the island for as long as the British wanted to stay there.
There was some clause in the agreement, I believe, saying that if the British pull out, then the island was to return to the Turks.
This was an expression of the Turks' fear that the Greeks would use the island as a base against them.
So there is Greek-Turkish conflict there that goes back beyond the present Cyprus problem. That's what I have learned from the persons I talked to over there who were in positions that I think qualify them to report on the situation.
They also told me that the Muslims of Turkey are not asking for military aid. They are only asking for moral support.
I guess that's because Turks have a strong army and they would only need aid if the Greeks got more support than they were getting, so they say they are only asking for moral support.
I as a Muslim feel that I have to give them moral support. If a Muslim has enjoyed freedom of religion, it's asking too much for that Muslim to give up that freedom to a non-Muslim people they consider antagonistic or an enemy.
And I believe they consider, perhaps not the Greek people, but the Greek government to be an enemy. They didn't say that to me, but that was the impression I got.
I hope to visit Turkey and Cyprus in the future. There is a celebration in December at Konya, perhaps you will have some knowledge of Mevlani Jelaleddin Rumi who wrote "Mesnevi," and other books. He was a religious, Islamic spiritual kind of spiritual leader who formed a movement, gave birth to the Whirling Dervish who recite Quran and go around and around in a circle for hours, and hours.
Their activity was outlawed by the Turkish government and so was the activity of some other sectarian groups, but they are allowed to perform on this special day, and it will be somewhere, I believe, in mid-December. There will be a big festive demonstration and I hope to go there. I have never seen the Whirling Dervishes and I hope to go there for their celebration. It's held at Konya, the old traditional headquarters, I believe, where Mevlani Rumi, himself lived and preached.
I hope to go there for that ceremony and either on the way or returning I hope to visit Cyprus as a friend of the people there and as a moral supporter of the Turkish Muslims' interest in maintaining self-rule.
I hope that in some way my visit will bring the spiritual sentiments of the two great religions in Cyprus closer together so that unnecessary hostility will be reduced. I say
unnecessary hostility, because I know what these confrontations can produce. Confrontations can produce many, many unnecessary problems. Sometimes the problems produced as a consequence of some other situation become the stifling, choking smoke that prevents any progress from being made.
The air of bitterness, fanaticism and hostility does not allow any real progress to be made. Perhaps our visit to Cyprus — a silent visit; knowing my image in the world — may in some way help to clear the atmosphere there and make it more conducive to the safe, sober kind of negotiations I hope will take place.
We also witnessed an expression of conference support for the people of Eritrea.
I met with one of the leaders of the Eritreans and he too impressed me as a quiet, sober-minded, fine gentleman. The problem there seems to be more complex perhaps than it is for the Philippine people and certainly for the people of Cyprus.
I understand that their groups are not clearly defined. The large fighting force there contains some Marxists and some Muslims, and the Muslims are not too satisfied with the situation.
They blame the superpowers for their problems and as you know, I am not one to make any judgments or to say just what the situation is because I know that people can hold their own if they are prepared to make the sacrifices.
The African-American or Bilalian people have gone through some very dark and terrifying days. But I can see us coming through the darkest periods of our history insisting upon maintaining our own distinct, spiritual character.
(To be continued)