This is according to Yahya Abd Al-Ahad Zanolo from Italy, who took part in the 29th edition of the International Islamic Unity Conference held in Tehran a few weeks ago, with the theme of "Muslim World’s Current Crises”.
Below is a rough transcription of what he said over the issue during an interview conducted by IQNA.
IANQ: Would you introduce yourself and tell us about your background and responsibilities.
Mr. Zanolo: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah! My name is Yahya Abd Al-Ahad Zanolo. I come from Italy and I am a member of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, in Italian called "Comunita Religiosa Islamica Italiana” or "COREIS”, which is the only community established by Italian Muslims about 30 years ago.
IQNA: The International Islamic Unity Conference is particularly aimed at consolidating peace, unity and sense of solidarity within the Muslim world. Do you have any comments on the subject?
Mr. Zanolo: Well, as the beloved Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Without doubt, my Ummah will never be gathered upon misguidance.”
I think this is the principle the Muslim community should stick to. Whatever unity that is not related to political power, but rather connected to spirituality deserves praise and appreciation.
As of today’s challenges, which are very different from the past from some points of view, we should find a new kind of cooperation between East and West. In the west, we Muslims are extremely challenged in what we call "Jihad al-Aql” or intellectual jihad because we find that one of the main enemies of Islam, and of religion in a larger scale, is the kind of thinking that was born in Europe some centuries ago and that is related to some philosophical and rational movement that is against all sorts of divine teachings. This dangerous school of thought is now being spread everywhere in the world. So we must do a very tough job in trying to make people understand first what religion is, and secondly, what Islam is as the last and most complete religion. It is a multiple task and we desperately need the support of different parts of the Ummah. Therefore, the International Islamic Unity Conference is a big opportunity to establish more cooperation.
IQNA: You have just pointed out the significance of primarily reintroducing and defending religion in general and then embarking specifically on Islamic faith as the last and best one. What would be the role of interfaith dialogue in achieving this target?
Mr. Zanolo: We in our community always stress interfaith dialogue across Italy and Europe as it is an essential part of Islam itself. We do not have to find something else outside Islam because Islam is the last manifestation of "Dinul Qayyim”, which includes, and protect, all previous religions. Religious dialogue is also an integral part of Islamic history. For this reason we in our community have many times discussed the issue with different faiths, especially Abrahamic community and Christian community as it is represented by Vatican, trying to highlight the things that we have in common in particular monotheism and shared values.
IQNA: Let’s turn to the massive number of refugees, mainly Syrian Muslims who are going out of their way to cross European borders in the hope of finding a better place to live and survive dire consequences of devastating war. How do you deem European countries’ reaction in response to such a humanitarian crisis?
Mr. Zanolo: The first thing to clarify in this respect is to keep things separate. There are social, political and security issues to be taken into account, which are critical and thus must be treated delicately by those who are in charge of it.
The issue becomes particularly delicate when it comes to Islam and Muslims as many European citizens follow prejudice and biased views towards Muslim immigrants.
Another thing to be accounted for is that, given the terrorist attacks in Paris and historical background, many Europeans are afraid of what they call "Islamic invasion”, the idea that has led to Islamophobia at the present time.
In the meanwhile, it seems, at least to me, that humanitarian aspect can be regarded as the key element in order to cope with refugee’s crisis appropriately, regardless of political interests and ideological orientations. Above all, refugees are humans who are in desperate need of food, shelter, and other basic supplies.
IANQ: Let’s move on another hot issue affecting Islam and Muslims in today’s world, Islamophobia. On the one hand, the world is witnessing some takfiri terrorists who shamelessly keep killing civilians and innocent people, including women and children, putting terror, violence, and sectarianism into action in the name of Islam in the four corners of the globe, while they often know nothing about the religion. One the other hand, Western media and politicians, especially domineering powers, are taking advantage of the chaotic situation in the region in order to spread Islamophobia throughout the world to ensure their own interests.
What’s your viewpoint on this complicated issue?
Mr. Zanolo: As you said, the phenomenon is considered as one of the biggest challenges Muslims have ever faced, particularly in the course of the past few years. There are many cases showing the practice of Islamophobia in Europe, including Italy. For example, we are receiving in our Islamic community reports indicating rejection of Muslims’ job applications and interviews simply for being Muslim. This is also the case when they want to publish books or even taking part in a conference or seminar.
We are living in a critical moment, but are trying to take it as an opportunity to have more chances to make people understand the real nature of Islam since Islam has nothing to do with crazy, degenerated people of terror who are illiterate, ignorant, and merciless.
We Muslims in Italy are making especial efforts to invite people of different backgrounds to our mosque so that they can meet Muslims and learn about Islam, which has considerably contributed to the birth of European culture and civilization. Citizens need to realize that what is happening now is the result of mischievous measures dating back to some decades ago and maybe even more because we have to go back to colonialism to see what some western countries have done in certain Islamic countries, manipulating their educational system regarding the real principles of Islam, changing the original function of Ulama, transforming them into politicians who do not have real knowledge of spiritual tradition of Islam.
IQNA: How is it possible that human rights bodies in Western societies turn a blind eye to racial discrimination and religious inequality imposed on Muslims by means of Islamophobia? Is such a human rights violation a proof of double standards which are politically motivated?
Mr. Zanolo: Some groups and parties such as far right wing political movements, who use Islamophobia as a tool for political exploitation, are responsible for violation of human rights when it comes to the Muslim community in Europe. But I do not think that establishing an Islamic political movement in Europe would be a real solution to tackle the issue as it does not seem to alleviate the situation. Any solution in this regard needs to be applied in the long run. We must work especially in the field of education at schools, universities, etc. to build good representatives of Islam in each district and area.
IQNA: And the final word. Given the current situation of the Muslim world, are you optimistic about the future of the Islamic Ummah?
Mr. Zanolo: We are experiencing very difficult times. So we have to work hard in order to stick to the essential, i.e. Islamic Shariah and Fiqh, demanding help from Allah the Almighty, staying confident that the Creator will definitely help us. There are also spiritual and theological considerations by our masters as our role models. It is highly important that they deeply understand the present atmosphere and perform jihad-al-akbar or jihad-al-nafs, which is the struggle against the inciting self.