Ethical Approaches to Peaceful Coexistence Conference 2017
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The ‘Ethical Approaches to Peaceful Coexistence’ conference took place on 5th and 6th December 2017 in Cardiff, UK. The event was organised as a partnership between the Knowledge Exchange Program (KEP) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) and the Muslim Council of Wales (MCW).

The event was held at Cardiff’s City Hall and attracted over 100 attendees from around the world including the UK, Saudi Arabia Europe and China. At 9:45am, registration opened. Upon entering the hall, attendees were provided with drinks and refreshments.
The conference began with an introductory welcome by representatives of the three organisations involved in bringing the event together: Professor Medwin Hughes, Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David; Dr Abdullah Al Lheedan, Chairman of the Knowledge Exchange Program and a representative of His Excellency Sheikh Salih bin Abdul Aziz bin Mohammad Al-Shaykh, Minister of Islamic Affairs, KSA; and Professor Saleem Kidwai, OBE, General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Wales.

As the conference was divided into four panels, the first panel was introduced by Dr. Jeremy Smith, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at UWTSD. Dr Yasser Babateen, of King Abdulaziz University and KEP, presented the first talk of the day titled ‘Cultural Content in Language Education Programs between Promoting Openness and Instilling Bias’. This explored how learning a second language is an opportunity for openness and cultural communication between nations. Since language cannot be isolated from its culture and literature, language education programs therefore promote knowledge exchange and intercultural communication. As cultural content is a mixture of positive and negative elements towards other cultures, it is necessary to re-construct cultural content away from the problems of bias, confiscation, and negative circulation. Dr Babteen argued it is essential to use cultural content to promote the values of tolerance and dialogue. Dr. Babateen’s talk introduced important criteria that govern cultural content in language education programmes, in order to have a positive role in promoting the ethics of peaceful coexistence.

The second speaker of the first panel was Professor Gary Bunt from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David who discussed ‘Flaming, Trolls and Memes: Digital Dimensions of Coexistence in Cyberspace’. Professor Bunt considered how the prevalence of digital media has opened up opportunities for exploration and discussion on religious and cultural diversity issues. Substantial materials are generated by content providers that project notions of religious authority, identity and practice. These are often represented as normative behaviour for entire groups or communities. This can challenge other concepts of religious understanding and models of spiritual authority. Professor Bunt’s presentation examined how cyberspace provides opportunities for ‘negative’ and opposing perceptions to be articulated online, including through the ‘flaming’ and ‘trolling’ of opponents, and the generation of memes seeking to denigrate the practices and perceptions of others. Professor Bunt further proposed how cyberspace may offer opportunities to project positive messages representing dimensions of peaceful coexistence.

The third speaker of the first panel was Rabbi Monique Mayer who works with Cardiff and Bristol’s Progressive Jewish communities. Her talk ‘Coexistence Begins at Home’ shared her personal experience navigating the challenges of coexistence within the Bristol multi-faith community and within her own community following the eruption of violence in Gaza in 2014. She explained how lessons learned from the Shalom Hartman iEngage programme can provide useful tools for peaceful coexistence for us all.

After a short refreshments break, the second panel was introduced by Professor Bettina Schmidt from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The first talk of this panel was ‘Grasping Nettles, Keeping it Real’ by Catriona Robertson of the Christian-Muslim Forum. Ms Robertson raised the question of how we can bring a smart and strategic focus to inter faith relations instead of relying on platitudes and hand-wringing. Furthermore, she highlighted the issue of deciding where to position ourselves within a fast-moving context.

The second speaker of the second panel was Dr Zeid Aldakkan, of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and KEP. His talk ‘Knowledge Exchange Program (KEP) Approach to Peaceful Coexistence’ introduced KEP to the audience; a programme started at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, KSA, for the purpose of extending hands to followers of other faiths. Dr Aldakkan shared how KEP aims to present the tolerant, peaceful Islamic culture to others as well as listening to representatives of other cultures and faiths for the common good. He explained KEP’s main objectives including clarifying the right image of Islam and its perspective on other religions and cultures, enhancing cultural communication amongst religious researchers, highlighting the role of Saudi Arabia in conveying the moderate message of Islam and building bridges of understanding and cultural communication.

After the second panel, a lunch buffet was served. Attendees also congregationally prayed the midday prayer (Zhuhr). After lunch, attendees listened to the keynote speech for the day. The session was hosted by Professor Kidwai of the Muslim Council of Wales, who introduced the keynote speaker, Dr Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia. Dr Ceric’s talk was titled ‘Ethics (Adab) and Morality (Akhlaq) as Bases for Peaceful Coexistence’. He expressed that, unlike other world religions, Islam today is in an unprecedented focus, equally by apologists and islamophobists. The apologists argue that Islam is a religion of peace (salām) and moderation (wasat), whereas islamophobists say that Islam is a religion of terror (irhāb) and extremism (tetarruf). The former quote from the Qur’an and the Sunnah to prove their point, while the latter take violent acts carried by some Muslims to prove their case. According to Dr Ceric, it appears no one is winning this controversial debate about a religion which has brought about so much good to world culture and civilization, but some people seem to be confused about its real message. Dr Ceric asserted that it is an imperative upon Muslims before anyone else to clarify this confusion through convincing ethical and moral arguments for a peaceful coexistence.

After a short break, Dr Abdulrahman al-Zaagy introduced the third panel. The first speaker was Dr Angus Slater from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. In his talk ‘Co-existence and Certainty – Historical and Contemporary Islamic Perspectives’, Dr Slater investigated the place and importance of discussions around certainty, hesitancy, and finality in the Islamic tradition, both historically and in the contemporary world. Using the context of inter- and intra- faith existence, Dr Slater explored the relationship between certainty about religious knowledge and obligations and uncertainty regarding the social implications of this knowledge.

The second speaker of the third panel was Ustadha Khola Hasan with her talk ‘Mutual Respect for Humankind and the World’s Ecosystems as a Quranic Paradigm’. Ustadha Hasan discussed the Quranic paradigm of respect for all humans and ecosystems as creations of a generous and benevolent God. Ustadha Hasan explored how scripture exhorts humans to respect difference and explore shared beliefs and interests in order to create peace and stability in society, the Hudaybiyyah Treaty being a typical Prophetic example of pursuing peace against the odds.

The third speaker of the third panel was Dr Adel Alsheddi, of King Saud University and KEP. His talk titled ‘The Basis for Coexistence in Islam’ stated that human beings are naturally all equal, despite being different in their beliefs, thoughts, culture, capabilities and opinions arguing that understanding this fact will bridge the gaps between different cultures and civilisations. This is why, Dr Alsheddi asserted, Islam calls all humans to know one another, both among Muslims and non-Muslims in order to live in peace and respect each others’ differences. He concluded there is a need for making alliances to support and achieve moral values and ethics, that each individual is special, and that cooperation and collaboration is important.

After a break for the sunset prayer (Maghrib), the fourth panel was introduced by Dr. Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The first speaker of this panel was Dr Abdullah Al Lheedan, of King Saud University and KEP. His talk ‘Law, Ethics and Peaceful Coexistence in Islam’ expressed that the dialectic of ethics in international conduct is prominent in existing literature on international relations. Islamic civilization, he said, holds high humanitarian principles, has an international scope, and has made a prominent contribution to world civilization in the fields of science, economics and social relations. Islam is a religion of faith and action, and the Qur’an and Sunnah are clear in establishing principles and adhering to objectivity in human relations, regardless of expressive formulations. Therefore, Dr Al Lheedan proposed, Islamic law is a flexible law that allows for the legitimacy of laws and regulations that violate its principles.

The second speaker of the fourth panel was Ms Ameira Bahadur-Kutkut from Cardiff Metropolitan University. In her talk ‘Being Muslim in the West: A Story of Other’, Ms Bahadur-Kutkut framed her viewpoint that coexistence gives everyone a seat at the table but not all seats are built alike. The Muslim seat at the table of ‘The West’ is often engraved with buzzwords such as integration, empowerment and reform, influencing the narrative of Islam’s place in the West. Ms Bahadur-Kutkut explored the cost and size of this seat at the table, and how that influences the way Muslims are able to shape their narrative in the West.

The third speaker of the fourth and final panel, was Dr Waqar Azmi from Remembering Srebrenica. His talk was titled ‘Learning from the Past for Better Coexistence: Srebrenica and its Vital Lessons for the UK’. Dr Azmi discussed the events of the Bosnian genocide. The lessons we can learn from the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica not only heighten our awareness of the dangers of intolerance in the contemporary world, Dr Azmi explained, but bring to the fore an appreciation of respecting religious beliefs and values. By learning about what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we can seek a powerful antidote to prejudice and hate that are growing ever more prevalent. Dr Azmi argued that by learning from Srebrenica, we see what unchallenged hate and the spreading of fear can lead to, and realise we must not become complacent in our own communities. Instead, we must work to build cohesion, coexistence and good citizenship, which have greater resonance than ever in our culturally diverse, global society.

To close the conference, Dr Abdullah Al Lheedan of the Knowledge Exchange Program, Dr Abdul-Azim Ahmed of the Muslim Council of Wales, and Dr Catrin Williams of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, were invited to provide some reflections and commented on the calibre and diversity of the talks presented. Although conference speakers had been presented with plaques of engraved Welsh slate at the end of each panel to thank them for their contributions, further contributors were presented with gifts by the three partner organisations following the closing remark and the event was concluded.

Cultural Activities for Speakers and International Guests

On the second day (Wednesday 6th December 2017), a programme of activities was available for speakers and contributors to the conference, and twenty guests from the Knowledge Exchange Program, the Muslim Council of Wales and University of Wales Trinity Saint David attended. The day started in Cardiff Bay, beginning with the Senedd, the home of the National Assembly for Wales and the heart of Wales’ political decision-making, where guests were given a VIP tour. The tour guide explained the background of both the building and the Welsh Assembly, explaining the focus on sustainability when building the Senedd, and also how the building is built entirely out of Welsh products, demonstrating the focus on the Welsh economy.

The symbolism of the Senedd was also explained; the building is comprised of mainly glass, which is seen to demonstrate the transparency of Welsh politics. The building is also freely accessible to the public; people are able to visit at any time and observe debates.

Following this, the guests passed the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, being given a brief explanation of its activities and significance.

Guests were given a tour of significant religious buildings while the religious diversity of Butetown and the Bay was discussed. The guests visited Noor ul Islam Mosque in Butetown, the site of one of the oldest mosques in Wales. Those who wished to do so were able to pray, and guests were given an overview of the history of the mosque and the role it plays in the community. The tour then visited St Mary’s Church, a high Anglican church a stone’s throw away from the mosque. The orientation and history of the church was explained by Fr Dean Atkins, the priest in charge of the Church. He also gave a brief overview of the religious diversity in Butetown and answered questions from the guests.

After that attendees visited Cardiff Castle where they were given a tour of the house. They saw a range of rooms including the Arab Room, the banquet hall, the library and the private dining room, and the functions and history of each room were explained by the tour guide. Professor Martin O’Kane from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David gave a deeper explanation of the famous Arab room, pointing out key features of the room to the guests and explaining the history of the creation of the room, including what it would have been used for. The tour also included a visit to the spectacular Roof Top Garden, a room whose walls are depicted with illustrations of the life of the Prophet Elijah (or ‘Ilyas’ in the Quran), a significant figure in the three Abrahamic faiths. Attendees were introduced to the fascinating history behind the architecture and design of the room, including the painted tiles that were inspired by Pompeii and the perfect Hebrew inscribed around the room. Professor Martin O’Kane’s input added an advanced academic and interfaith dimension to the visit to the Castle, and informed guests of the rich history of both Cardiff and the Castle itself.

Inter-Faith Dinner 2017

The Muslim Council of Wales with the support of Knowledge Exchange Program held the annual inter-faith dinner in City Hall, Cardiff on Wednesday 6th December 2017.

The event with around four hundred guests in attendance. Amongst these were politicians, faith leaders representing various religions, local councillors, third sector groups, educational institutes and local and national media organisations.

The event was opened with a reading from the Quran in Arabic by Shaykh Yaqoub Kutkut which was translated into English and Welsh and a passage from the Bible, also in English and Welsh, read by Rev. Aled Edwards.

From then on, the floor was handed over to two Muslim Council of Wales volunteers, Ms. Arooj Khan and Mr. Ali Amir, who jointly hosted the evening in Welsh and English respectively. They introduced the keynote speakers, Dr Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia and the Most Rev. John Davies, Archbishop of Wales. Each gave their reflections and ideas on the theme of this year’s dinner ‘Celebratiing Differences’.

Next, the evening moved on to the annual awards presentation. The Muslim Council of Wales this year decided to honour five individuals for their outstanding contributions to public life and inter-faith relations. These were Mrs Jane Hutt AM, the Welsh Assembly Member for the Vale of Glamorgan, Mr Peter Vaughan, QPM, Chief Constable for the South Wales Police, Mrs Samina Khan, the Equality, Diversity and Community Development Manager for Cardiff and Vale College, Professor Medwin Hughes DL DPhil DPS FRSA, Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and His Excellency Sheikh Salih bin Abdul Aziz Al-Shaykh, Minister of Islamic Affairs, KSA. The keynote speakers for the evening were also given awards marking their achievements.

Then, Professor Medwin Hughes, Vice Chancellor of the Univeristy of Wales Trinity Saint David, Dr Abdullah Al Lheedan, Chairman of the Knowledge Exchange Program, and Professor Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales also signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the three organisations to agree to work on joint projects, including the translation and publication of articles, books and research papers, academic exchange and organising shared events, over the next five years.

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