UNFPA Regional Conference of Islamic Faith-Based Organizations

Abuja, Nigeria
March 14-18, 2005

In the Name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful. May the Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon His Noblest Servant and Messenger

Opening Address by Shaykh Hassan Cisse UNFPA Regional Conference of Islamic Faith-Based Organizations

Praise be to God from Who’s Ability and Consent every praiseworthy task seeks light and has its completion; Who says: {O mankind! Fear your Guardian Lord, Who created you from a single person, created, out of it, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; Fear God, through Whom ye demand your mutual (rights), And be heedful of the wombs (That bore you): for God ever watches over you.} 4:1

Peace and blessings persist on the Spring of Divine Mercy, our chief and leader, the Prophet Muhammad, who was sent to be the source of mercy for all and sundry. God says: {We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures} 21:107.

Thus, we shall understand, my dear Muslim brothers, that the Holy Qur’an is confirming the unique origin of humanity and is, in accordance with the verse above, instructing the Muslims to respect the rights of the individual and to take care of the ties of relationship that human beings share. This concept was further consolidated by the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him, such as: (All of you have been the descendants of Adam, and Adam was made of soil).

Based on the above, the Islamic Faith-Based Network has assumed the task of instilling, enrooting and concretizing the ties of love and brotherhood among various religious leaders for the purpose of serving humanity and strengthening human relations. It is our desire to generate more cooperation among the members of the international community, without regard to differences of conviction, gender or color. The organization is working tirelessly within its hierarchies toward the goal of creating solutions for the problems that face the human community. In this view, our conference today has crowned the efforts that have thus far been carried out by many prominent social figures, such as spiritual leaders, erudite Islamic scholars, traditional rulers and emirs, through all the conferences, symposia, seminars, workshops and, indeed, all the meetings that have been convened for the purpose of finding innovative means of addressing global population and development issues that require resolution.

Intensive rounds of discussions have been held prior to this time regarding the reasons to create another organization for the same purpose. An extraordinary session was held specifically for executing the recommendations and decisions that emerged from the International Conference for Population and Development ten years ago. We must work together as partners to address the issues that matter to the African continent and to find satisfying solutions to the problems that concern us at the individual, family, regional, and national levels, and at the level of the continent as a whole.

Certainly, the brilliant philosophy and planning that have identified these concerns require that we put our heads together and work hand in hand with each other to the degree that religious convictions make it a duty incumbent upon us to offer each other good companionship and excellent neighboring. According to a Hadith narrated by Abu Dawud, the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, said: (The Archangel Gabriel, peace be on him, kept reminding me of the importance of the neighbor until he gave me the impression that he would one day come and say that the neighbor has the right for inheriting his other neighbor.) Based on the above, we can see that respecting the dignity of one’s neighbor is essential in the religion of Islam, regardless of the convictions of the neighbor, his gender or color. The Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, said: (The one that mistreats his neighbor will be deprived of being admitted into the Paradise.) Abu Hurairah, Allah well pleased with him, reported that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him, said: (I swear in the Name of God, a man will never have faith, he will never have faith, he will never have faith.) On being asked who? He, peace and blessings be on him, responded: (The man whose neighbor does not feel safe about his troubles, trauma and ordeals.) Reported by Ahmad, Bukhari and Muslim, the version of Ahmad has this addition: They asked the Prophet, peace and blessings be on him, the meaning of Bawa’iq’ he said: (Evils.) In another Hadith reported by Anas, Allah well pleased with him, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him, said: (The true believer is the man that spared all people from his trouble; and the true Muslim is the man that spared Muslims from the evil of both his tongue and hand, and the true emigrant is the one that emigrated and kept distance from wickedness, and I swear in the Name of God, the man that does not shield his neighbor from his trouble will never be admitted into Paradise.) reported by Ahmad, Abu Ya’ Ia and Bazzar.

God, the Great and Glorious, created human beings, then placed and enabled them to reside on the planet earth for the following noble reasons:
1. To be the representatives of God on earth as Holy Qur’an says: {It is He Who hath made you the inheritors of the earth…} 6:165,

2. To worship and serve Him, {I have only created Jinns and men that they may serve Me.} 51:56,

3. To develop the planet earth and to improve the conditions of living on it, God says: {Salih. said: ‘O my people! Serve God: ye have no other God but Him. It is He Who hath produced you from the earth and settled you therein}11:61. He further said to emphasize that He has established us here for perfecting and improving the life on earth: {Do not mischief on the earth after it has been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts) for the Mercy of God is (always near to those who do good.}7:56.

God addresses the creation in a comprehensive manner with no discrimination between one and another in order to make them feel the unity between them, so that each of them should love the other, respect him as well, and each of them should endeavor and make efforts to defend humanity at large, and to prohibit aggression and wrongdoing against any human being, and he should advocate for everything good towards every human being. It was to instill this concept in the Muslims’ hearts that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him, said: (Whosoever ate food to his satisfaction forgetting about his hungry neighbor, knowingly, ceases to be one of our respected members.) reported by Tabarani, and al- Bazzar through a sound chain of transmission.

As you can see, this Hadith is calling for the highest level of solidarity among human beings which, if adopted and implemented, would definitely result in a comfortable life here on earth. Since the provisions and means that are vested on the earth by its Creator are ample enough to satisfy the needs of the inhabitants of this planet, there would be no way in which life would get to its final satisfying stage without the poor people being taken into consideration in accordance with the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings: (You should convey to me the needs of those who cannot reach me among the poor members of the society, for you are shown mercy, sustained and supported by God for those who are poor and needy among you.) narrated by Tirmizi from Abu Darda’.
A Muslim is duty bound to love for others whatever he loves for himself, as reported from the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, who said: (Who among you will accept of me the following words and adopt and execute their meaning or teach somebody to adopt them and act according to them?) Abu Hurairah, Allah well pleased with him, said I will, O Prophet of God! So he held my hand and counted five things according to my five fingers as follows:

  • Avoid all unlawful things. You will, by so doing, offer the highest level of service to God.
  • You should be satisfied with what God has given you. By so doing, you become one of the richest people in the world,
  • You should be kind to your neighbor; you will become a true believer,
  • Love and wish for people whatever you love and wish for yourself. That will make you a perfect Muslim,
  • You should abstain from excessive laughing, for it renders the human heart dead.

In the light of the above, we can see that a single human being is representing the whole human race and to render good to him is tantamount to rendering good to the whole of human race, and also any aggression against him is aggression against the whole of the humanity. God says: {That was why We revealed a law to the Israelites that whoever killed a single human being, except as punishment for murder or other offences that attract capital punishment, shall be considered as if he had killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a single human life shall be considered just as if he had saved all mankind.} 5:32, and the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, solidifies the concept of this verse where he says: (The whole of the kingdom of creation is but the family of God and the most beloved one to God is the man that benefits God’s own family.) reported by Tabarani, Baihaqi and Abu Nuaim from Ibn Masud.
It is a paramount duty upon everyone that we try our best to see that we have carried out perfectly the tasks that our countries mandated to the (UNFPA) through the United Nations Organization, the task that is established on a basis with which all prominent religions in the world are in agreement, because all religions enjoin and preach the protection and respect of the five essential rights which are:

  • Life,
  • Intellect,
  • Religion,
  • Human dignity,
  • And material possessions.

The task of the (UNFPA) regarding population and development serves these purposes, and its success will guarantee a comfortable life for humanity, a satisfactory level of health care, and will provide an atmosphere that is conducive to religious sanctity and a sure way to achieve a productive life.
The program of (UNFPA) includes the following:

  • Executing recommendations that are agreed upon, taking full consideration of the sovereignty, rules and independence of every country, and respecting the priorities of every country in terms of development,
  • Respecting all the religious values, morals and cultures of every country with regard to the human rights that are recognized at the international level.

And a program of this character will definitely find a very warm welcome from every respected Islamic community, for Islam teaches religious freedom. God says: {Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error….) 2:256, and in another verse: (Let him who will believe, and let him who will reject….}18:29, in other verses: {If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people; but they will not cease to differ. Except those on whom thy Lord hath bestowed His Mercy: and for this did He create them…. } 11:118-119, and the history of Islam is a great testimony to this fact of free choice in terms of convictions. Islam never considers that disagreement will entail hatred, as Islam is not here to eliminate disagreements at all. On the contrary, it confirms that the human race will never agree on the same faith as it recognizes that disagreement as one of the natural profiles in life. The Holy Qur’an reads in connection with this: {If it had been thy Lord’s Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind against their will to believe!}10:99}, and, as such, a Muslim is expected not bear hatred against anyone and persecute against or traumatize anyone that might have a different conviction, for the divergence and variety is never against the Divine will. On the contrary, it is a Divine will. The will of God, Who is the Creator of the creatures, and: {Should He not know – He that created? And He is the Subtle and the Aware. {67:14}.

(UNFPA) says: there are more than five billion people in the world who either have conviction of one religion or another from among the religions that exist in this world. The largest religions among these have their followers in almost every local community. The mandate of the (UNFPA) focuses on most of the issues that all religions believe in and teach. There are about twenty seven [27] prominent religions on the globe, followed by more than five billion people, and these religions serve as part of the rituals that are related to human life, with disregard to their gender, on different occasions such as marriage, divorce, conversion , receiving newly arrived babies, funerals. All these occasions are shared by all religions. Regarding religious fellowship in the world, Muslims account for almost twenty [20] percent of six billion people around the globe, while Catholics are up to seventeen [17] percent, and Hindus thirteen percent [131] and there are other religions that have their existence in cities and townships, as well.

Among the convictions shared by all religions is the Oneness and the Uniqueness of God and that it is God that made human beings His representatives on earth. This Divine representation is one of the favors that are conferred on humans, and they are here to be examined and to be tested by God. The Holy Qur’an says: {It is He Who has made you the inheritors of the earth; He hath raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He hath given you: For the Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful..} 6:165.

The global religions have met at this point and the followers of these religions are concentrating their efforts on finding suitable methods for carrying out the tasks of Divine representation properly and perfectly, and added to the points that all the religions agreed upon to work together, is another point, which is respecting human dignity. God said: {We have indeed honored the children of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; Given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors above a great part of Our Creation.} 17:70

The (UNFPA) task is also related to population and development in terms of health care with relation to safe delivery of pregnant women and the responsibilities that depend on it based on gender equality in the initial creation and as part of human values. The two genders are originated from one origin. Holy Qur’an reads: {O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you iin the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you….. } 49:13, so the platform of claiming ascendancy, on God’s scale, is the platform of God-consciousness and piety, and not gender, seeing that God has made mention of woman along with man in the following verses: {The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another; they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, pay zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger . On them will Allah pour His Mercy, for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.} 9:71. Added to this is the guarantee of rewarding women along with men in respect to their deeds in the following verse: {But the believers who perform righteous deeds, both men and women, shall enter Paradise. They shall not suffer the least injustice. } 4:124, and as such the Holy Qur’an announces the Divine promise of rewards for deeds performed by the both genders, another verse reads: {Never will I suffer to be lost of work of any of you, be he male or female: ye are members, one of another.. . . } 3:195. The chapter al-Ahzab states the ten hierarchies of spiritual positions in which the two genders were promised the same rewards in the end. Here they are: {For Muslim men and woman, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s remembrance, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.} 33:35.

What we have now understood from these quotations is that the Religion of Islam does not belittle the position of women at all and that what a man can obtain through making efforts a woman can also obtain if she makes the same effort. This is why the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, said: (Women are the twin sisters of men.) It is also to be clear that we by gender equality we do not mean denying the peculiarities and particularities that each of the genders enjoys separate from the other, for despite the fact that women are equal to men with regard to rights and responsibilities, women are considered to be the first teachers from whom human beings receive training. As one Arabian poet states, “The mother is a whole training center and a school by whom a good, perfect and complete generation is trained.”

And the same tendency is supported by religious practices and cultures that have religious backgrounds, because if you look at the basics of benignity and benevolence, justice and kindness are among the characteristics that are being advocated and preached by all religions. The Holy Qur’an, for instance, enjoins on every Muslim to be kind to non-Muslims, let alone his Muslim brothers. God says: {God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loveth those who are just.} 60:8. As you see, the Holy Qur’an does not only enjoin Muslims to be just and fair to non-Muslims, it went further to demand from Muslims to be equitable, caring and nice to them and this way that Islam recommends is the most unquestionable way to develop peace, love, stability, development and prosperity in the, now, global village.

Islamic justice covers everybody including its enemies. God says: {O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is next to piety and fear Allah, for Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. } 5:8, and justice has also been one of the targets that were meant to be achieved by dispatching Apostles sent prior to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him. Chapter Hadid reads: {We have indeed sent Our own Apostles with clear proofs and convincing evidence and sent along with Revelations and criterions in order to serve as regulations and rules to the human lives and activities, We sent along with them also codes of punishing the guilty though tough but it contains much benefit for the conduct of human life. So that God will disclose those who shall help Him and His Apostles even in private. God is All-Mighty and All-powerful.}

If we are to refer to other religions, we find that the word ‘Sadaqah’ in the Hebrew language means justice. In its Aramaic origin, it means the concept of appreciation and thanks to the destitute and the poor man, and the same word in the Arabic language has the same meaning. And the words of [Adi and Ihsan] are utilized in the Holy Qur’an to mean, principally, kindness, tender-heartedness and sympathy. All these good things mentioned by the Holy Qur’an are supported by the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him, where he says: (Those who show mercy to the less privileged shall receive mercy as well from the Merciful Lord, show kindness and benevolence to those who are lesser than you, you shall receive benevolence from God Who transcends above all of you.) It is a sound Hadith. Another Hadith has it as: (Charity to a poor man has one round of reward while the reward is doubled if it is granted to a relative.) reported by Tirmizi from Salman ibn Amir. Abu Hurairah, Allah well pleased with him, reported that a man approached the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, and said: O Prophet of God, I have my own relatives. I take care of their being related to me but they maltreat me, and I am kind to them while they are malicious and vicious towards me, I tolerate their short-comings and they assault me,’ the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, said: (If what you say is true, they are those who are on the loosing side and you have a constant support against them from God so far as you continue on the same way.) narrated by Muslim.

The responsibility of (UNFPA) is in full agreement with these values and it is based on them that the organization works shoulder to shoulder with religious and spiritual leaders in order to serve their respective communities. As such, there are many values that the organization shares with the religion of Islam, based on which a network of religious organizations interested in population and development matters can play a vital role by discussing and exchanging views and experiences among religious leaders, governments, non-governmental organizations, women’s organizations and academicians. It is essential that religious and spiritual leaders address issues of concern to their people with the goal of finding solutions to problems, instead of crossing their arms and sitting back to play the role of spectators in the midst of ever increasing challenges. In their position as the heirs to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, they should try to bring their position to fruition through dialogue among themselves and between themselves and others, for the fact that the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, has had discussions in his mosque with the delegates of Najran who happened to be Christians. The city of Najran is between Mecca and Yemen, about seven day’s camels’ journey from Mecca. It was predominantly Christian when they received information about the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, through his Companions who migrated to Abyssinia. About twenty delegates went to meet with him. At their arrival in his presence, it happened that he was in the mosque. They sat before him and they asked everything they wanted to ask him. He responded to them and answered their questions and talked to them and discussed with them, while the people of Mecca were sitting around the Kabah watching what was going on. When the discussions were over, the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, extended his religious call to them and recited the Holy Qur’an to them, at which their eyes were shedding tears in torrents, whereby they embraced Islam and they recognized the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, through his descriptions in their scriptures.

The approval of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, of the entrance of members of this Christian community into the mosque and his discussions with them is clear evidence that Islam is extremely accommodative to others and very tolerant in terms of having discussions with people of other faiths. This is about having dialogue with others, but the dialogue between the religious leaders themselves is a religious duty as in the Hadith: (Whosoever does not care about the concerns of Muslims, he ceases to be a decent member of their community.) It is incumbent on them to cooperate with each other and to put their heads together in carrying out the instructions of this Qur’anic verse: {And hold fast all together by the Rope which Allah (stretches out for you) and be not divided among yourselves. And remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you; For ye were enemies and He jointed your hearts in love, so that by His Grace ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the Pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His signs clear to you that ye may be guided.{3:103}.

To close gaps between religious leaders and to discuss solutions and unite in the midst of different opinions is the most recommended way by Islam according to the saying of God: {.. . and fall into no disputes, lest ye lose heart and your power depart….) 8:46, and the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, said in explaining this verse: (Shall I not tell you about something that has more consideration in the community relations than optional fasting, optional prayers and optional charity?) They said yes 0 Prophet of God, he said: (To reconcile between the disputing and quarrelling parties, for the fact that quarrels and disputations brush away all blessings.) narrated by Abu Dawud.

Under the light of the above Islamic values, it is necessary that we concentrate on working together, supporting each other and discussing and debating matters of serious concern to us, to our people and the world over. God says: {. . .help ye one another in righteousness and piety but help ye not one another in sin and rancor.{5:2}, and this work together entails:

  • Putting strategies in place to promote women rights and to give them the consideration given to them by Islam , as men were also given.
  • Identifying public services that will satisfy the needs of the people.
  • Channeling public polices that will create and support suitable environments for the continuous improvement of the quality of life.

Already, discussions to determine how to establish means of cooperation to achieve the above goals at an international level, such as the conference of Cantevery in the United Kingdom in year 2000, and the conference in Nairobi, Kenya by religious leaders in 2002, wherein discussions regarding ways to fight against HIV/AIDS and issues regarding children took place.

These are our views as the representatives of the (UNFPA) and we hope that they are in agreement with your own views, as well as in keeping with your status as religious leaders. And I have no doubt that you have the means and the moral authority to manifest these shared views of ours and to implement them for the sake of prosperity and the development and improvement of our African Nations.

Thank you. Wasalamu alaikum.

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