Full speech of Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah delivered at the UN on Friday 14th July.

Friday, 14 July
ECOSOC Chamber
United Nations Headquarters,
New York

At the United Nations Headquarters today, Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah was invited to speak at the Launch of the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes. The meeting began with opening remarks by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres followed by a speech from Shaykh Bin Bayyah. (full text of the speech can be read below)

The Shaykh delivered his intervention from the role and perspective of religious leadership, through a theological and spiritual approach, highlighting profound religious philosophy and its exalted objectives, such as seeking out good reasons for peace and well-being, rather than justifications for civil strife and war, a critical need so as to neutralize instigations of violence and hatred, as well as provocation and tension that we see so prevalent in today’s age.

The program was hosted by Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General/Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide from The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. Five regional action plans were developed and presented by religious leaders and actors from around the world. These pioneering documents are the first to focus on the role of religious leaders and actors in preventing incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes and the first to develop context specific regional strategies with this objective. The meeting was designed to bring together Member States, the United Nations, international and nongovernmental organizations to adopt and launch the Plan of Action and the regional action plans and discuss strategies for their implementation.

Full speech of Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah delivered at the UN on Friday 14th July.
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious the Most Merciful
Prayers and Benedictions on the Prophet Muhammad and upon all of the Messengers and Prophets

His excellency, Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Antonio Guterres His Excellency, Mr. Adama Dieng
His Excellency, Faisal Bin Mu’ammar

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The subject we have gathered here today to discuss is extremely important in the life of nations ever since our species first walked the earth on this journey of stewardship. Ever since the time of the sons of Adam—Cain and Abel—the problem of violence has been the preoccupation of Prophets, reformers, and philosophers, as well as politicians and legal experts.

Despite that long-standing concern, violence and its incitement, in all of its dimensions—hidden and manifest, internal and external—continues to engender a most distressing disease and its cure remains elusive. Perhaps the most important problem is the abject failure of our contemporary civilization, which for the first time in history has placed our collective future in the hands of human ingenuity embodied in our weapons of mass destruction, the use of which is now determined by the impulsive desires and impetuous outbreaks of humans. This is the result of the absence of the ethical question: Why?

Esteemed colleagues, you have convened here to address one of this problem’s deepest roots, and to battle with one of its highest fortresses: I mean, of course, incitement to violence. Such incitement is a call to use force unjustly against individuals or groups of people simply due to their religion, color, ethnicity, or social class. Despite the many and varied approaches that have tried to address this issue over time—legal, ethical, and philosophical—it still remains clouded and requires experts to re-examine it, clarify its limits and remove the ambiguities surrounding it, weighing the ethical considerations on the one hand, and the legal ramifications on the other.

Approaching this from the role of religious leadership, I will speak about a theological and spiritual approach that is built upon profound religious philosophy and its exalted objectives so I may present a discourse that seeks out good reasons for peace and well-being, rather than justifications for civil strife and war, and that works to neutralize instigations of violence and hatred, as well as provocation and tension.

Since its inception in 2014, The Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies has exerted tremendous efforts in deep research in the foundations of Islam, and in our shared humanity, to restore forgotten traditions of peace, its neglected aims, and calling attention to long lost values, and long buried Islamic jurisprudence. The Forum’s goal has been to dismantle the violent rhetoric point by point, and concept by concept in order to make clear its faults and reveal its methodological errors, and to prevent this ongoing perversion that these misguided

understandings have caused due to an absence of authentic regulatory knowledge. The Forum has done this by deconstructing their arguments and reconstructing a correct understanding, so it can remove this ethical confusion that the discourse of incitement to violence has used, and to remove the garment of religious legitimacy in which it has been cloaked.

Among the most important initiative that The Forum undertook was to issue the historical Marrakech Declaration in January 2016, which addresses the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. Our hope is that this Declaration, based upon the Madinah Charter of Prophet Muhammad, will shed light on the history of Arabic and Islamic civilization, and contribute to the establishment of a new phase that can lead to a deep understanding of the religious legacies that can enable us to establish conviviality now and in the future. Thus, the Marrakech Declaration was built upon a religious text and used the legitimate tools of textual interpretation that reveals its authentic teachings of tolerance, harmony, and peaceful coexistence. This Declaration embodies the role of the religious leader in regards to his religious texts and heritage and historical analogies in search of sound foundations for mutual co- existence and a rejection of violence and hatred.

However, in looking at the French context in the 19th century that led to the legal formation of the crime of incitement to violence, we find that the definition of incitement become more complicated, and this leads us to call for an understanding of the connection between the principle of freedom of expression, which is held sacred in the current dominant civilization, and the principle of responsinbility for the consequeces of the expression itself. So despite any positive aspects this freedom may have, we hold the conviction that among the most important incitements to violence are those practiced by modern media outlets; they have mastered the art of broadcasting disputes, to such a degree that as soon as the conflict starts these media outlets begin to categorize the various sides, giving each an epithet to defend, and continue to broadcast day and night to the ignorant public who have no protection or immunity that can prevent them from responding to the call of wars and self destruction. And its been long said: wars begin with words.

For this reason, it is advisable that the intellectuals, philosophers, politicians, and legal experts review the principle of freedom of expression with a pragmatic approach that examines the public impact, especially in the developing countries where we see as a result of this misguided media thousands of victims who die. They are seeking a type of freedom they never acquire, and happiness they never attain. The net result is total destruction of peoples and places. Not to mention other elements such as political, religious, and ethnic sectarianism, the effects of which remain undeniable.

For this reason, I am calling upon the religious leaders from all of our various traditions to take resolute steps to remove these elements of incitement, and to distance these inflammatory interpretations from our religious practices. This is exactly what the Forum is engaged in by implementing accurately the Islamic principle of “commanding to the common good, and forbidding the socially reprehensible” within the constraints of Islamic legal tradition.

It is incumbent upon the religious leaders to grasp that an attack on any religion is an attack on all religions. We can use anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism as examples of this very problem. The reconciliation among religions without which, according to Has Kung, peace cannot be achieved, is not enough unless religious solidarity is realized.

Indeed, the establishment of the International Center for Counter Terrorism (‘Itidaal) in Riyadh toward this end represents an effective tool to counter hate speech.

Another important effort is that laws should develop out of the needs of the local environments they are addressing, away from laws that do not take into consideration the particularities of places, peoples and their differences. Moreover, they neglect the accumulations of historical and social grievances. Therefore, the call to freedom of desecration of sacred symbols, and denigration of human figures, that we know the very meaning of existence has arrived to us through them, this is also from the category of incitement to violence and hatred, and gives license to a breakdown of public order.

Along these lines, let me remind you of examples from some of the Arabic and Islamic countries in placing a legal and legislative framework to protect co-existence and counter violence, specifically the recent law adopted by the United Arab Emirates to counter discrimination, hate speech, and denigration of religions, because it takes into consideration the local context and clarity of purpose. So from one point of view it looks at the reality of the society wherein it is being applied; and, from another point of view, it aims to protect the society and immunize it against hate speech and incitement to violence.

In conclusion, I sincerely wish a positive outcome to your endeavor, and I fervently pray for your success.

Shaykh Abd’Allah Bin Bayyah
Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.
Abu Dhabi


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