MAKKAH: The holy city — the direction the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims turn to five times daily to pray — had a festive air last night for two major reasons. One, the night preceding Ramadan 27 is considered highly significant in the Islamic calendar. And, two, almost all the heads of state of Muslim states from across the globe gathered for a summit called by the Islamic world’s respected leader, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, to unify and strengthen the crisis-riven Muslim world.
Turkey’s Abdullah Gul, Egypt’s Muhammad Mursi, Jordan’s King Abdallah, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahemdinejad, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Yemen’s Abdo Rabbi Mansour Hadi, Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas, Malaysia’s Najib Razak, Sudan’s Omar Bashir, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, Tunisia’s Moncef Al-Marzouki, Pakistan’s Asif Ali Zardari, Bangladesh’s Mohammad Zillur Rahman, all of them are here to discuss, plan and implement a policy that puts focus on finding denominators that are common to all Muslims. The king personally received them in a display of traditional Saudi hospitality.
This is the second time that such an extraordinary summit is taking place during King Abdullah’s reign. The first one was in 2005 here in Makkah. Much has changed since then and many Muslim countries have gone through a period of intense churning and some of them, specially, Syria, now find themselves in a “dark and endless tunnel.”
To lift the clouds of gloom and pessimism, King Abdullah called the meeting of Muslim leaders to chart a bright new course. His call met with immediate and instant response. In Makkah, last night the Holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque was bathed in bright lights. The giant Clock Tower glowed in green lights on a clear, moonless night. As the muezzin’s heart-warming voice reverberated in the mountainous city at Isha, the world’s leaders, sitting in the Al-Safa Palace next to the Grand Mosque, repeated Allah-o-Akbar after him.
According to a copy of the program provided to journalists, the king was to speak after the special night prayers called Taraweeh in which he is widely expected to pour his heart out with a call for burying all differences and focusing on what is good for the Muslims of the world. The leaders are then to join the Makkah imam in beseeching Allah to grant victory to Muslims and to end their sufferings — in Syria, Palestine, Myanmar, Afghanistan and everywhere else.
The Jeddah-Makkah Expressway was closed to local traffic as cars carrying the leaders and their delegations zoomed past security checkpoints. Security was foolproof. At the hotels in Makkah, special security officers were stationed, charged with inspecting every electronic item entering the building. Cameras, recorders and laptops had to be turned on and checked over in great detail by these officers. After passing inspection, each piece of gear was tagged with a special security sticker.
The conference is being held under the aegis of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which has 57 member states. Almost all states are being represented here, except Syria whose leader Bashar Assad is no longer recognized as the legitimate leader. Some of the non-Muslim heads of states, such as Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, are to take part in the deliberations through video conference facilities arranged at the Conference Palace in Jeddah.
Among the heads of states who arrived yesterday were Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Jordan’s King Abdallah.