Tandile Kona, President of the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM) gives his impressions on his visit to Teheran where he attended a unity conference that focussed on Palestine, Islamophobia and the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
Towards the end of 2018 I had the opportunity, at the invitation of the South African representative of the World Forum for the Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, Seyyed Abdullah Hosseini, to attend the 32nd International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran. The conference, held annually around the time of the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) was under the theme, ‘Quds, Axis of Unity Among Ummah.’
Palestine was the buzzword throughout the conference and the Iranians lost no opportunity to tell of their support for the cause of the Palestinians throughout the years – and to call for all who attended to advocate for the Palestinian struggle against apartheid Israel. More than 200 guests from around the world, including former heads of states Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran who made a brief appearance, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Nuri al Maliki of Iraq, who attended the conference, spent the three days of the conference in discussions about how to further the Palestinian struggle, to counter global anti-Muslim influences and extremist groups like Isis and Al Qaeda.
Apartheid Israel and the United States came in for harsh rebuking for their repression of the Palestinians and their destabilising influence in the Middle East and the unjust sanctions imposed on Iran. These states, many speakers contended, are the sponsors of terrorists and extremists in the region and they are always striving to drive a wedge between Muslim states and peoples by exploiting the Sunni-Shia issue. In this, they are helped by the collaboration of some states in the region that see Iran as an enemy. More than any other country in the region, Iran continues to pay a heavy price for its consistent support of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
Speakers included the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, the general secretary of the forum, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki and the Iranian parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani and speaker after speaker, at the various venues and sessions that were held, called for the unity of Muslims. Part of the conference programme was a visit to the residence of the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran and to the shrine of Imam Khomeini. For me, the highlight of the conference was the awards evening, where the parents of the Palestinian martyr and paramedic, 21-year-old Razan al Najjar, were presented with a gift in appreciation of the bravery and courage of their daughter. It was a touching moment filled with emotion and anger at the unjust nature of her death.
The organisers of the conference announced their intention to host an African chapter of the conference in 2019. The conference is to be held in South Africa and the choice of the host country is informed by the recent events at the Imam Hussein Mosque in Verulam and the subsequent adoption of the Cape Accord as a response to the growing antagonism between Sunnis and Shias on the continent of Africa. These tensions are fuelled by sponsored tendencies that are imported into Africa and have the potential to damage the tolerance that exists amongst Sunnis and Shias in Africa. The idea is to adopt the Cape Accord or something akin to it and spread it to the rest of the continent.
The Iranians put out all the stops to ensure that the conference guests had a memorable stay in Iran. This included assigned guides who tended to the needs of the guests and many tours to different places of interests in and around Tehran. It was evident at every turn that they wanted to make a good impression. However, experience from many conferences of Muslims is that they tend to be nothing more than talk-shops that produce nothing tangible or no clear roadmap towards achieving their stated goals. Time will tell if this one will be different from the others. Many of us will be waiting to see if the conference was a sincere attempt at achieving unity or it was a just another public relations stunt. For the good of the Ummah, I hope it was the former.