Iraq’s faith leaders have stressed their own commitment to maintaining peace efforts through dialogue rather than military means.
The High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq met for three days of closed-door dialogue in Beirut recently to address ongoing sectarian violence in the country.
The summit was arranged by The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, a British charity. The talks were funded by the Danish government.
Sheikh Zuhairi, chief religious advisor to the Iraqi prime minister, called on religious leaders in Iraq to remember their responsibilities.
“The Islamic leaders have a duty to initiate a new and faithful generation – a moral generation – in Iraq,” Zuhairi said.
Sayyed Jawad Al Khoei is a senior officer in the Al Khoei Foundation, a humanitarian organization.
His father was murdered by the late Saddam Hussein’s regime and his uncle was murdered in sectarian violence in 2003, just one week after participating in peace talks with Canon Andrew White held at Windsor Castle.
He restated his commitment to peace talks but questioned the commitment of Western leaders to maintaining peace and security in Iraq.
Recognizing that Iraqi religious leaders also have a key role to play, he added, “The violence is created on the streets. So in the schools we have to think about how to increase dialogue between children so they know there is no difference between Sunni and Shia. We must enlist the help of the media in this also.”
He went on to suggest that religious leaders might use social networking sites as well as Friday prayers to get this message across to young people.
The High Council includes a carefully selected panel of senior religious leaders from across Iraq’s sectarian divisions – Sadrists, Kurds, Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims – holding the greatest political influence.
Delegates included Sheikh Abdulhaleem Al Zuhairi, chief religious advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Ayatollah Abu Ragheef, senior advisor to Muqtada al Sadr.
Canon Andrew White, vicar of St George’s Church of Baghdad and president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, chaired the talks.
“There has been so much violence in the name of God; now we need to create peace in the name of God,” White said.