Muslims Convene at the United Nations for a Conference on Thought Leadership

For Immediate Release

UN Headquarters (Oct 8, 2018) – A conference entitled, “Reclaiming Intellectual Primacy & Promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies” was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on October 8, 2018 and was organized by The Shrine of Imam Hussain (AS), The Shrine of Al-Abbas (AS), Al-Khoei Foundation and the Alliance for Research and Scholastic Heritage.

This conference was convened to deliberate on the need for active engagement of Muslims in global affairs and envision how Muslims could be net contributors to providing solutions to the world’s many challenges.

This gathering attracted nearly 500 activists, academics, religious scholars, and Community members, who reflected on promoting “just, peaceful and inclusive societies” (16th SDG) in the Muslim world by way of preventing violence against, minorities as well as women and children (5th SDG) and revitalize “global partnerships for development” (17th SDG).

In his opening address, Sheikh Fadhel al Sahlani, the North American Representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani stated: “When the roots are deep there is no reason to fear the wind”, referring to the rich and strong traditions of Islam that will help it through crises.

In a special message, Prince Hassan Bin Talal (Jordan), emphasized that while we should not paper over our differences, our respect for each other can override those differences to help us have a common sense of purpose.

“Could it be that our marginalization and a muted voice in world affairs are all symptoms of an underlying cause – paucity of Thought Leadership?” asked Dr Hasnain Walji, (Director ARSH) as he introduced the first panel on Thought Leadership.

Prof. Vernon James Schubel (Kenyon College) Dr. Payam Mohseni (Harvard – Kennedy School), Dr. Hassan Abbas (College of International Security Affairs) and Dr. Riyadh Al-Ameedi (University of Babylon, Iraq) addressed the sessions on:

  • How to reaffirm the primacy of Islamic discourse to cultivate thought leadership.
  • Role can vehicles such as Policy Institutes play in facilitating the emergence Muslims as net contributors to the world’s Challenges?
  • Resources and strategies needed to incubate thought leaders of tomorrow.

Moderated by Syed Meesam Razvi, who is the UN Representative of the Al-Khoei Foundation and the Executive Director of ARSH, the next panel on Social Justice focused on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. (UN SDG 16)

Panelists, Sayyid Zaid Bahruloloom (Balaghi Academy at Al-Khoei Institute), Ms Zainab Al-Suwaij (American Islamic Congress), Ms. Najah Bazzi (Zaman International) Jehad Al-Asadi (University of Kufa) deliberated on:

  • Roots of Violence: Examining Socio-Economic Causes
  • Empowering Minorities, Women and Children through moral and material support
  • Approaches to Countering Islamophobia as well as religious Extremism
  • Ideological Roots of Religious Extremism in Muslim Literature

Agha Shaukat Jafri, (Director ARSH) offered a much-needed case for promoting religious and cultural Heritage to help foster peaceful societies. Panelists Jafar Amir Mahallati (Oberlin College), Dr. Mohammad al-Maliki (the Iraqi American Institute) Dr. Talal Kamali (Academy of Human Development and Strategic Studies at the Imam Hussein Holy Shrine) Dr. Mushtaq Abbas Maan Baghdad University presented their thoughts on:

  • Promoting, preserving, restoring and fighting against destruction of Muslim shrines and other heritage sites
  • The glorious examples are the Shrines in Karbala which have the power to attract millions and today Karbala is a venue for the largest annual gathering of humanity. This is a potent living force in exhibiting social justice based on the Ima Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions in Karbala.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Hasnain Walji acknowledged the great efforts by the many organizations, activists, academics engaged in making this world a better place for humanity and emphasized that this is not a new journey but just widening of the road to get more people walking in unison. “This is the vision of ARSH – to be an enabler and a facilitator toward such collaboration.”, he said.

The conference echoed in unison that time was opportune for us to take a lead on illustrating the unique and authentic contributions Islam can offer to the global institutional table, amplifying the significant contributions Muslims can make in Academia and Civil Society.

Dr. Sayed Moustafa al Qazwini (Shia Muslim Council) made an impassioned plea to form an Institute of Transformative Though Leadership to help articulate strategies and implement the vision of the Conference.

The organizers envisage that such an Institute has the potential create intellectual space for new energy to emerge to encourage the voices of emergent generations of Muslims who hitherto has been conspicuously absent in our national and international leadership cadres and engage a generation of Muslims who have come of age in an environment where they are fully acquainted with modernity, free speech, pluralism and human rights.

This inclusive institution comprising of men and women, intellectuals form academics as well as religious scholar form the Seminars could help Muslim Community forge a path towards an engaged Community as an active and engaged participant in global society serving both our brethren in faith and our equals in creation.

Ultimately, this transformative thought leadership initiative can help meet the challenges of the day, not with a unquestioning observance to convention nor with the fascination of the novel – but with a spirit of revitalizing pristine Islamic values and traditions, through concepts that derive their nourishment from the spirit of Islam which are at the same time fitting to the needs of time. That should be our tryst with destiny in this era.

Flags of Imam Hussain (AS) and Abul Fadhl Al-Abbas were unfurled and displayed at the conclusion of the conference.

Community based organizations such as Imamia Medics, Universal Muslim Association of America, Al-Baqee, Muslims For Peace, Aulia Council of North America, Mainstay, Ahl ul Bayt TV, Shia Rights Watch, Tehreek e Tarseel e Quran, Al-Mahdi TV and Vilayat TV also participated in the conference and echoed the sentiments of the conference. They, also enlightened the audience with the scope and the magnitude of their respective organizations towards Islamic causes.

Members of clergy representing Islam, Christianity and Judism provided both the spiritual input and impetus to the participants.