Islam emphasized common denominators underlying all religions and refuses any attempt to deepen the differences between them. Islam determined, as indicated and ordained in many verses of the Holy Quran, how to deal with non-Muslims, and how to deal with others religiously and intellectually.
The “Medina Charter” stated that “Christians will be granted as equal rights and responsibilities as Muslims”. It also stated that “Jewish have their religion and Muslims have theirs “. Moreover, it stated that they must seek mutual advice and consultation.
The coexistence that the Muslim Civilization in Al-Andalusia between the followers of Islam and other revealed religions witnessed for many centuries the practical implementation of Quran disciplines on how to deal with others.
In modern times, the West witnessed the emerging of many trends in the political and intellectual circles bearing open hostility to Muslims.
Today, there are also many types of messages to Muslims from the West, the first is aiming to depict “distorted image” of Islam, and the other is adopting “dialogue” and interconnection with Islam. Those adopting the later, distinguish Islam as religion and Islam as practice and human experience.
There is a fear in the West that radical political Islam being the alternative to their civilization, therefore, the conservative political elites in the West adopted the concept of the “clash of civilizations” rather than “dialogue between civilizations”.
As there is a wave of aggression in the Western speech towards Islam and Muslims, and another wave that is calling for dialogue, there are similar waves among the Muslim communities. There are those who are adopting confrontation with the Western society, and on the other side, there are those who underscore the importance of “dialogue”.
One could say that the conflict between the West and Islam is a reality in many interfaces and on many dimensions.
Improving the image of Islam and the stereotypes about Muslims in the West became an important issue requiring the exertion of tremendous efforts to halt the campaigns smearing the image of Islam within the Western community.
Calls to improve the image of Islam came through many official gatherings that held under the umbrella of the Islamic Summit, the Muslim World League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, the Islamic Educational, Cultural and Science Organization and other official organizations in the Muslim world.
The issue has been discussed several times during the Islamic Summit Conference. The final communiqué would normally express the Summit’s concern of growing bigotry and discrimination against Muslims in the West. As such, the participant countries would express their confirmation of the enhancement dialogue efforts to counter the islamophobia.
The Islamic Conference of Culture and Information Ministers recommended an integrated plan to correct the defamed image of Islam in the West. The conference emphasized the fact that the past few years have witnessed hectic campaigns against Islam, aiming to tarnish it image as cultural and religious reference of people in the Muslim World.
In the said meeting, it was also emphasized that the campaign against Islam is accelerating, and the campaign is penetrating to Western NGO’s as well as political parties and official organizations.
Simultaneously, a recommendation from the Foreign Ministers of the Islamic Cooperation Organization called on the international community to prevent discrimination against Muslims and to increase international awareness of the dangerous impacts of accelerating the rate of Islamophobia around the world. Ministers decided to constitute a special Islamic informative body, to improve the image of Islam.
As a result, the Islamic Cooperation Organization and the Arab League adopted a joint working plan to improve the image of Islam in the West.
On the other side, Muslim scholars and intellectuals have been calling on the Muslims World League to provide a “mechanism” to defend Muslims and counter the phenomenon of islamophobia, indicating that it is not only taking legal form in some European countries, but it is taking constitutional form, and it was developing to campaigns that are nurturing hate against Muslims.
Meanwhile, those competent and concerned with the relations between Islam and the West emphasized the absence of a platform of dialogue between Muslims and the West addressing Western public opinion, led to ignorance about Islam in the Western societies. The absence of such platform intensified the stereotyping about Muslims in the Western mentality.
The misunderstanding of the West about Islam is not new or an impact of specific incidents or events, it has deep roots and there are many factors that do feed and drive those misconceptions.
No one would deny the fact that those roots and factors were seriously aggravated by the 9/11 incident as the events were badly exploited against Muslims and negatively affected the opportunities of convergence between Muslims and the West from one side and hampered many opportunities of cooperation between the two sides from another side.
Many of those concerned with the relation between Islam and the West see that the West needs the Muslims, as world peace cannot be achieved without their combined efforts and cooperation. From another angle, the Islamic countries needs the West to benefit from its various development programs as well as its technological advancements.
Efforts have been exerted by Islamic World governments through its many different specialized agencies and organizations to improve the image of Muslims is in the West, and to enhance its relations with Western countries. That process has shown that there is a dire need of the participation of Muslim World NGO’s to support government efforts in that direction.
Such Islamic NGO’s participation will, be all means, keep pace with the polices of governments and official organizations. As a matter of fact, Islamic organizations are encouraging the international communities to establish joint ground and work together to manifest the danger of bigotry and discrimination against Islam and Muslim globally.
Here, it is essential to emphasize the fact that most of the discussions that took place over the past few years within the corridors of the United Nations and its specialized agencies have endorsed the importance of the cultural diversity and the fostering of dialogue between the components of the international community.
As a result, several Islamic NGO’s initiatives were created calling for more cooperation and dialogue between civil society organizations in the Muslim world and their counterparts in the West for the purpose of improving the image of Islam and Muslims and strengthen the relations between the two sides.