Muslims with a real understanding of their religion believe that the word and the essence of Islam emanate and preach peace, compassion, tolerance of all religions and beliefs, and respect for humanity and human dignity. These have been the fundamental principles of Islam since the Prophet Mohammed first spread its message over 14 centuries ago.
Furthermore, throughout history Muslims have promoted peaceful coexistence with their fellow human beings across the world regardless of differences in religion and culture. It cannot be denied that Islam's contribution to civilisation has been great, essential and irrefutable in all fields, and Muslims have always recognised other peoples' religions and great contributions to humanity.
Unfortunately, due to the rise of Islamophobia, mainly in the West, Muslims nowadays are facing various types of discriminatory acts, particularly by extremists and racists who irrationally equate Islam with terrorism based on false premises and assumptions.
These right-wing elements in the West unjustifiably claim that Islam opposes human rights, democracy and individual freedom to achieve political gains. Just as guilty are the fringe minority Muslim extremists and their twisted logic in trying to spread violence against non-Muslims and Muslims alike. However, Islamophobia and all forms of religious intolerance are irrational and unjustified because enlightened minds know that this kind of fear mongering and hate stoking only leads to tensions and violence.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which represents Muslims around the world and includes 57 Muslim countries, has repeatedly been loud and active in countering Islamophobia and all other forms of religious intolerance. It has been persistent in correcting misconceptions regarding Islam and Muslims in the West. In its official statements, forums, conferences, academic speeches and meetings, the OIC has clearly presented Islamophobia to be a damaging force against peaceful coexistence and mutual trust between cultures that negatively impacts the official relationships between countries.
Well aware of the clear and present danger of Islamophobia in exacerbating the Muslim-West divide, the OIC has collaborated with its counterparts in the West to combat religious intolerance, including Islamophobia, to create an atmosphere of mutual confidence and trust among peoples and communities.
In this context, the OIC has worked tirelessly with western governments, international organisations, NGOs and media to reach a mutual understanding about the best means to deal with Islamophobia and religious intolerance for the benefit of both the Muslim and western worlds. Of utmost importance among these collaborations were the OIC-US, the OIC-EU, and the OIC-UN cooperations, which were crowned with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution of 16/18 in 2011 titled "Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatisation of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion and belief". UN General Assembly Resolution A/66/167 also calls on all countries to combat intolerance based on religion. This was followed by the launch of the Istanbul Process with the objective of putting these international resolutions into full implementation.
Nevertheless, dealing with religious intolerance cannot be limited to the official level but should reach out to the grassroots level where the core problem exists and where more efforts need to be directed. Unfortunately, it is obvious that racist elements and Islamophobes in the West have for a long time embarked on well-orchestrated and well-financed campaigns to malign Islam and demonise Muslims in public opinion through distortions and fear mongering. Some media organisations have been among the key tools used by those dubious elements to spread Islamophobia in the public sphere.
Countering extremists and racists of all religions - whether in the form of anti-Islam, anti-Christian or anti-Semitism - is best served through dialogue and the exchange of views and information, in addition to sound government policies. The OIC believes that dialogue is the key to bridge the differences, build mutual trust among diverse religious groups and societies, and foster tolerance. In this context, the OIC has been a pioneer of the concept of "dialogue among civilisations" for almost a decade with the aim of reaching out to grassroots communities around the world.
However, reaching out to grassroots communities is not an easy task and requires immense resources. The OIC believes and calls for greater and more concerted efforts by community leaders, religious leaders, academics, various types of media institutions, and human rights organisations to address the scourge of Islamophobia and all forms of religious intolerance. It is an inclusive engagement that goes beyond diplomatic and political circles.
The OIC calls on the concerned parties to unify their efforts and take collective bold initiatives to prevent human conflicts based on religions and belief to build together a better future for the generations to come. It is our moral duty to take action now before the extremists gain more ground and cause further destruction and suffering.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation