The “leader of the Islamic world”? The self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic world should at least practice some qualities such as uniting various communities of the Muslim world as well as creating bridges between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.
Does the Islamic Republic of Iran demonstrate such qualities? Religion is supposed to be a platform for personal faith and unity. But based on the evidence, religion has been a powerful tool that has been exploited for political and ideological purposes by Tehran since 1979.
Pursuing their own ideological and revolutionary agenda, the Iranian leaders also attempt to undermine other Muslim governments or non-state actors that are viewed as competitors to Tehran’s religious rule.
The ruling clerics of Iran base their policy on the old divide-and-rule strategy. In Iraq, they pursue a sectarian agenda favoring the Shiites over the Sunnis – causing the country to be inflicted with continuous civil war. In Syria, Iran pits the Shiite militias against the Sunni population. Tehran pursues the same policies of exploitation in other nations too; Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, to name a few.
A true leader of the Muslim world and a true protector of the religion would put words into action; would put efforts into creating bridges between the Muslim communities; would unite the Muslims and non-Muslim groups.
Iran does not need to look far to see such initiatives being adopted. A recent example is the historic declaration, the Rapprochement Communiqué, which was issued in New York last week at a two-day inter-religious conference. The declaration aims at promoting groundbreaking dialogue between Muslim leaders from around the world and influential leaders of other faiths including Christianity and Judaism.
This kind of interfaith dialogue is appealing to communities and world leaders as over 400 influential people from 65 countries attended it. The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, called on Muslims and non-Muslims to stand against extremism and hatred. He also emphasized practicing peaceful co-existence. The Muslim World League, an international non-governmental Islamic organization based in Makkah, sponsored the “Cultural Rapprochement Between the US and the Muslim World.”
The Muslim World League, which was founded in 1962, is actively engaged in illustrating the real message of Islam, its tenets and principles, building bridges between Muslim and non- Muslim communities and propagating the religion.
A true leader of the Islamic world and a true protector of the religion creates bridges between communities.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
No statements such as Al-Issa’s have ever been heard from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who frequently bashes other nations.
Al-Issa said: “This distinguished civilized relationship over the years has revealed the grave error of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory that was based on stirring up hatred and racism and erecting imaginary barriers…But what is important is our understanding of the need for co-existence and cooperation in the light of this understanding to serve not just mutual interests, but to also serve all humanity, to promote social peace and intellectual security and to defeat evil, while enshrining the concepts of righteousness, charity, all without religious, sectarian, ethnic, political, intellectual or other distinction.
“Differences are an essential component of life. There is no reason why the uniqueness of every man, woman, and child should pull societies apart.”
To be considered a constructive player in the Muslim world, Iran needs, at least, to pursue one of the Rapprochement Communiqué’s eight recommendations including achieving “actual justice and accomplish peaceful coexistence among human societies,” as well as creating a “comprehensive and integrated strategic plan for coordination between organizations, centers, universities, and media institutions to oppose extremist ideology and protect societies from its effects, consequences, and repercussions on other parties.” If Iranian leaders believe they are truly the frontrunners of the Muslim world, it would be helpful to see similar initiatives from Tehran.
Since its establishment in 1979, the Islamic Republic has not conducted any efforts to unite the Shiites and Sunnis, or to create bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples showcasing the Iranian regime pursuing a sectarian agenda, militarizing and dividing communities, and inflaming tensions between religious communities.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh