The leader of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world’s largest intergovernmental body after the UN, announced on Tuesday that his organization is working on a new initiative to overcome sectarian differences being exploited for political purposes in the Middle East.
The initiative aims to diffuse sectarian divisions in Muslim countries and help shore up unity among member states, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin ?hsano?lu told a group of reporters in Ankara.
“We talked about this [division] during the OIC’s emergency meeting in Mecca two weeks ago and have decided to revive the consensus agreement the OIC brokered in 2006 among Iraqi groups,” he added.
The Mecca Agreement, signed in 2006 in Mecca under the auspices of the OIC, is a 10-point compromise deal reached by major Iraqi factions in which Muslim Shiite and Sunni groups called for an end to the bloodshed and sectarian violence. The document calls for the safeguarding of the two communities’ holy places and the defense of the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq. The OIC reconciliation conference at which the Mecca Agreement was signed had helped to stabilize Iraq.
?hsano?lu said that Mecca Agreement may be used as a template to solve differences along sectarian lines in different countries. He said the agreement brokered by the OIC certified both Sunni and Shiite sects as “legitimate groups” under Islam and as such acted as a historical reference for building a consensus among the 57 member countries of the OIC. Leaders of Muslim countries at the Mecca meeting agreed on a document called the “Mecca Pact” and mandated the secretary-general “to develop the appropriate mechanisms and measures” to implement suggestions made by leaders, one of which was to overcome sectarian and religious tensions in Muslim countries.
Commenting on Syria, he said the regime is using the sectarian divisions for political purposes and underlined that religion and politics should not be mixed. “We have never seen religious wars in the Muslim world as opposed to ones that occurred in Europe,” he said, noting that there is no single church or religious authority in Islam. “What we see in different parts of the Muslim world is that some are trying to fan sectarian divisions to advance their own political goals,” he added.
?hsano?lu warned that there is no single nation within the OIC that has a pure structure in terms of ethnic and religious differences. “We have always had different groups living next to each other in our member states and these are our richness,” he stated.
The OIC head cautioned that “today, some are trying to add a political dimension to these sectarian differences. We have to overcome this threat and the OIC is the perfect platform to confront this challenge.” He urged that there should be a clear line of demarcation between religion and politics. “Otherwise we will see numerous problems emerging in our societies,” he added.
?hsano?lu said that during the Mecca meeting earlier this month Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz proposed establishing a center for dialogue among Islamic schools of thought to reach a common understanding. “This proposal was accepted by the OIC members and it will operate under the framework of the OIC,” he said, predicting that the Riyadh-based center’s work will help diffuse sectarian divisions in Muslim countries.
The OIC leader also disclosed that the organization will run a fundraising campaign to help out Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey and Jordan. “We sent a delegation to inspect the refugee camps in Turkey in the past. But Turkey said at the time that it could handle the refugees on its own. Today, however, the situation has drastically changed as the number of refugees in Turkey has exceeded 80,000,” he explained, noting that the OIC will immediately dispatch a mobile field hospital to help Syrian refugees in Turkey.