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'Some countries changing the definition of Islam to suit their politics'

Delegates at the "Future of Moderate Arab Islamic Culture, which is being hosted by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, are exploring the roots of Middle East culture and its impact on religion.

ABU DHABI // A period of political upheaval in the Arab world has had repercussions for Islam and the ways it is practised and defined by society, experts say.

Delegates at the two-day "Future of Moderate Arab Islamic Culture" conference, which began yesterday in the capital, are hoping to discuss and record these changes.

"Future generations can only be saved through constant Islamic preaching and educational streams, which some Arab countries seem to be changing to suit their political thoughts," said Dr Jamal Al Suwaidi, the director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, in his opening speech.

He said Islam was inherently moderate but that this had been hijacked by ideological extremists, pursuing vested interests.

"The Arab world faces several challenges pertaining to their civilisation and identity, and the only way to save it is to hold the Islamic path and follow it," he said. "We need to establish an exemplary Islam based on peaceful living for all, respect for others and shunning bigotry and hatred."

The faithful have been largely divided between "westernised" secularism and more traditional Islamist thinking, according to Dr Hassan Hanafi, a professor and dean of philosophy at Cairo University. The professor said both camps had their own truths but that both were missing the bigger picture.

"Islam is a religion that offers benefits to all of mankind; it guarantees security of religion and family, peace of mind, and security of life and property," he said.

"The challenge the Arab world now faces is in establishing new meanings of Islam. The truth will combine all - it does not divide."

Dr Tayyeb Tizni, a researcher and academic from Syria, said extremism had been responsible for many deaths in his home country.

"The idea of a moderate attitude is absent there," he said, "although this is a basic of Islam."

Dr Hanafi said: "Islam does not teach us to take the side of the oppressor and the tyrannical, it teaches us to take the side of the poor and avoid supporting those who have stolen the riches of the nation."

anwar@thenational.ae

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