December 7, 2005

Muslim leaders in Mecca say Islam facing crisis

By Souhail Karam

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King
Abdullah appealed to Muslim leaders on Wednesday to unite and
tackle extremists who he said have hijacked their religion.

At a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference
(OIC) -- the world's biggest Muslim body -- in the holy city of
Mecca, Abdullah said the world's 1 billion Muslims were weak
and divided, a description echoed by other leaders.

"It bleeds the heart of a believer to see how this glorious
civilization has fallen from the height of glory to the ravine
of frailty and how its thoughts were hijacked by devilish and
criminal gangs that spread havoc on earth," Abdullah said.

Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 al Qaeda hijackers who
killed 3,000 people in the United States on September 11, 2001,
is battling a wave of militant violence at home.

U.S. critics have blamed the kingdom's strict Wahhabi
school of Islam for fostering extremism but Saudi officials say
they are tackling the militants through a tough security
crackdown and a campaign to win over militant sympathizers.

Abdullah called for greater educational efforts to promote
tolerance. "I look forward ... to the spread of a moderation
that embodies the tolerance of Islam," he said.

The king was speaking at the start of a two-day summit in
Mecca of the 57-member OIC, convened to address what he said
were grave dangers facing the Muslim nation.


"We don't have the luxury of blaming others for our own
problems," OIC Secretary-General Ekmelettin Ihsanoglu said in a
speech which also portrayed the Muslim world confronting one of
"the most critical eras of its history."

"Helplessness dispossession, marginalisation, all of these
lead to the growth and spread of extremist ideas," he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also issued
a solemn warning, saying Muslims across the world were in a
state of "disunity and discord" worse than an any time in 14
centuries of Islamic history.

"Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Sudan and similar places, are
living in fear under threats of war and violence," he said.
"Many more are living under threats of poverty and

Insurgents in Iraq have killed thousands of people in
attacks on U.S. troops, the government they helped install and
against Iraqi civilians.

Iran and Syria face U.S. pressure over Tehran's nuclear
plans and the assassination of a former Lebanese prime
minister, while several impoverished Asian and African states
were also attending the talks in Mecca.

Algerian presidential representative, Abdulaziz Belkhadem,
said reform of the OIC's charter had not been updated in 36
years, adding: "The current era is full of challenges and
Muslim nations must rise to these challenges."

The Mecca gathering aims to encourage political and social
reform in Muslim countries by endorsing a 10-year plan for
better education, faster economic development, more trade,
religious moderation, and more rights for Muslim women.

It will also try to breathe new life into the OIC, which
has been largely ineffectual since it was set up 36 years ago
with the stated aim of recovering East Jerusalem from Israeli
occupation after the 1967 Middle East War.