Former Saudi justice minister and Muslim World League leader wants interfaith peace ‘through real-world action’

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One of the world’s largest moderate Islam advocacy groups says the time for sterile talk and dialogue is over – instead, the world needs concrete action.

The Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Dr Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, is considered by many to be the leading voice against political and extremist Islam around the world. Issa spoke with Fox News Digital about MWL’s efforts to connect with other faiths and bring about meaningful change in interfaith relations around the world.

“Interfaith cooperation is not just a token enterprise, Issa told Fox News Digital in an interview. “It must be actualized by action in the real world. It is this thought that informs the very soul and operations of MWL.”


Issa’s appointment as justice minister by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2009 was seen as a major step forward for the country’s liberalization. Saudi Arabia has long been a haven of Abuse of human rights, including the violent punishment of religious minorities and activists. Prior to the Justice Department, Issa served on the Grievance Tribunal – a judicial body that handles adjudication of religious and political crimes. The death penalty continued while Issa was on the board, but the number of executions began to rise after his time in the king’s cabinet.

After leaving office in 2015, Issa moved to MWL, where he is currently the Chief. However, the MWL is not totally separate from the government. The organization was founded in 1962 by Crown Prince Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz. It is based in Mecca and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to be its main benefactor.

Issa says his tenure as general secretary has focused on breaking down entrenched divisions and delivering real change.

“For example, we have long recognized the vital friendship and respect between the Muslim and Jewish faiths,” Issa said. “I led a groundbreaking trip to Auschwitz in 2020 during which myself and a distinguished delegation of Muslim scholars remembered the horrific crimes committed against the Jewish population during World War II. I knew this obligation, to challenge openly entrenched narratives of division and to stand in solidarity with my Jewish counterparts, would set a new precedent and bring about tangible progress in relations between Muslim and Jewish religious leaders.”

Propaganda billboard of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud on December 14, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)

Critics of the Muslim World League accuse Issa of watering down Islam in order to make it more progressive – sacrificing the reality of the religion’s spiritual claims for the sake of interfaith relations. Issa says his organization is not interested in twisting or tweaking Islam to fit modern international politics, but wants to stick firmly to the religion while embracing its capacity for tolerance towards other religions.

“The best example of how MWL’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue has not sacrificed fundamental tenets of Islam is our recent visit to the United States, where we engaged the evangelical Christian community in what is commonly referred to as the Bible Belt,” Issa said. Fox News digital.

“How can we disagree with our Islamic principles when the basis of these commitments, with Christian pastors like Pastor Roberts and Jewish leaders like Rabbi David Saperstein, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, was the Charter of the Makkah – a charter signed and endorsed by over 4,000 Islamic thinkers and 1,200 top Islamic scholars from around the world?” asked the Islamic leader.

The Makkah Charter is the crown jewel of the MWL so far – a document written, researched, edited and endorsed by over a thousand Muslim scholars from nearly every sect of Islam. Such a document is a rare example of inter-Islamic cooperation at a time when minority factions of the faith are under extreme threat of violence in many countries.

“The Makkah Charter is a set of pan-Islamic principles that supports and promotes anti-extremism, religious and cultural diversity, and calls for legislation against hate crimes and violence,” the website reads. the chart. “The document was declared at the end of a four-day conference organized by the Muslim World League in Makkah. It was endorsed by Islamic leaders from 139 countries and signed by approximately 1,300 prominent Muslim figures.”

Issa says that while communication is a good start, more concrete projects of interfaith cooperation are needed to turn words into actions.

MWL has established and funded charities in Africa to address the human trafficking crisis in partnership with other faith groups in the region. They are also the creators of the Mercy & Peace Foundation, which also crosses lines of faith to provide resources for victims of gender-based violence.

“While holding discussions with key Jewish, Christian and Catholic representatives – like the one I shared in 2019 with Pope Francis – is crucial to promoting mutual understanding, MWL knows that there is still more to be done. to achieve peace,” he told Fox News. Digital. “Our desire to operate large-scale global projects with and for different religions and nations is what allows us to go beyond conversation.”

“The International Relief, Welfare and Development Organization is one of the most important organizations in the MWL,” Issa said. “It provides aid to needy Muslim and non-Muslim communities around the world. In 2019, the IIRO successfully concluded the League’s Boreholes project designed to provide safe drinking water to communities in Ghana.”

The IORWD, formerly known as the International Islamic Relief Organization or the International Islamic Relief Organization of Saudi Arabia (IIRO), is a major NGO working in over 58 countries. The IORWD invests in healthcare, education, engineering and emergency services programs around the world. They also provide funds for Islamic studies programs in underserved areas.

However, the Saudi-funded organization has not run that long without encountering obstacles. The September 11 attacks on the United States through the Saudi government put it under the microscope of the world, and United Nations officials began to scrutinize the NGO from all angles.

After the terrorist attacks, two branches of the IIRO were accused of facilitating or aiding terrorist activities through Indonesia and the Philippines. The IIRO was added to UN sanctions list against Al-Qaeda in 2006.

The IIRO denied any wrongdoing and was ultimately cleared from the list in 2014.

Issa continued: “[The IORWD] has sponsored several health centers across Africa, including surgery centers in Nigeria, Senegal, Burundi and Zimbabwe. We continue to sponsor orphanages, providing educational materials, clothing and security to vulnerable children in Pakistan and elsewhere.”


Saudi flag in front of a mural on January 3, 2020 in Abha, Saudi Arabia.  (Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)

Saudi flag in front of a mural on January 3, 2020 in Abha, Saudi Arabia. (Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)

Asked about Issa’s own homeland in Saudi Arabia and its lack of diplomatic relations with major international religious communities such as the Holy See and Israel, Issa said the MWL was simply unable to influence political change at the international level.

“[MWL hopes to help in] build universal bridges that can help bring humanity together. All with the ambition to encourage civilizational dialogue built on the only force shared by billions of people around the world: Faith. The resulting political results are neither an objective nor a factor that MWL can control.”

However, Issa, head of the MWL, remains optimistic.

He adds: “The hope remains singular: to rally humanity under the banner of mutual respect, cooperation and trust – the foundations, according to MWL, require absolute and clear reinforcement in the midst of growing polarization, hatred, inequality, racism and the literal disease of ours and our planet.”

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