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Call to promote China-Muslim ties

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu receives a memento from the president of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences.

By P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News | 07 Jul 2012

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) organized an international conference in Beijing recently, highlighting the long-standing history and cooperation between China and the Muslim world.

The conference titled “China and the Muslim World: Cultural Encounters” discussed topics such as the historical relations between China and the Muslim world, China and the Muslim World in global context, as well as topics related to art and culture.

The congress, which was held on June 28-30, 2012, was first of its kind with regard to the significant development it represents of the cultural relations between China on one hand and the OIC on the other.

The 57-member OIC is the second largest international organization after the United Nations with its membership spread over Southeast and South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, East and Southeast Europe, and various parts of Africa.

A key theme at the conference was the historical ties between the Islamic world and China. The first Muslims arrived in the seventh century and today there are about 20 million Muslims living in China. About 95 percent of the counties and most major cities in China have Muslim populations, said Jacqueline Armijo, an associate professor in the department of international affairs at Qatar University. Most are descendants of Muslims who settled there during the Yuan Dynasty, which lasted from 1271 to 1368.

Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of OIC, was a keynote speaker at the conference attended by prominent personalities and researchers from the Islamic world. “This would be a good starting point for a wider cooperation,” the OIC chief said. “As we agreed with Chinese officials, we will cooperate in different fields such as culture, economy and politics. We hope that we enhance our cooperation."

Ihsanoglu said the OIC recognizes and respects the People’s Republic of China. “It is considered a unitary multinational state built jointly by people of all nationalities, and the state protects the lawful rights and interests of the minority nationalities.”

He added: “China also upholds the principles of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China’s nationalities.” He expressed his hope that all the Chinese people would enjoy their cultural rights and religious freedoms to practice their beliefs.

Ihsanoglu added that it is notable that the Chinese authorities are promoting economic, political, cultural and social progress as well as ecological protection of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region with a goal to bring its regional per capita GDP up to the national average level by 2015.

The OIC secretary-general recalled that the OIC and China share common positions on many international issues and share concerns regarding peace and prosperity in the Middle East region.

Ihsanoglu stressed that throughout history, relations between China and the Muslim world have never faced substantial problems and he emphasized that it is more important today that these relations be developed for the interest of global stability.

The OIC chief quoted the Chinese prime minister who during their meeting in January 2012 said, “The relations between China and the OIC is of strategic importance and will not be affected by any problems in the region.”

In the same vein, Ihsanoglu pointed out that conducting the international congress in Beijing is the product of many meetings and months of planning, in reference to his visit to China in 2010 and visits by delegations from both sides.

Ihsanoglu expressed his confidence that the conference would contribute greatly to the reinforcement of the bonds of friendship and harmony among China and OIC countries.

"China and the Muslim world engaged in productive relations over a long period. They were the dominant players in global trade. It's only the last 200 years the West experienced success in global trade," said Ihsanoglu.

The three-day congress addressed countless aspects of cultural contacts and exchanges between China and the Muslim world from trade and travelers having moved between China and the Muslim countries to the arts and architectural influences, from translations of Islamic and Chinese philosophical and scientific works into each other’s languages to the present development of language studies and cultural relations.

Furthermore, because of the presence of scholars invited by the IRCICA (OIC Research Center For Islamic History, Art and Culture) from Asia, Arab countries, Europe and the US as well as Chinese academics, the congress reflected the state of research and teaching on these subjects not only in the Muslim world but globally.

The concept adopted for the congress was proposed by IRCICA considering the fact that China and the Muslim world, two major civilizations with distinct collective identities, have played active roles in the progressive history of world civilization.

“For about 10 centuries from the spread of Islam until the period of European expansion, the Muslim world and China were leaders of global commercial and economic activity,” an IRCICA statement said.

The evolution of studies on history of civilizations, history of culture, science and technology in recent decades, together with significant advances achieved in authentic research within each of the OIC countries and China about their own history and civilization, altogether brought increasing evidence of the wealth of resources and knowledge that were highlighted during the conference.

Islam has a rich heritage in China. Zguo Xinping, director general of Institute of World Religions says, "Islam in China has 1,300 years history as it was first introduced here in the Tang Dynasty. Now as we promote the concept of dialogue among different civilizations and religions under a global context, we are to hold such a congress to exchange ideas in an effort to build a more harmonious society."

Throughout history these two civilizations have shared a lot, with an intertwining of culture and communication.

Chinese Muslims have influenced and helped cultivate the course of the country's history. Today, the two cultures are joining hands as the country's global position continues to rise, bringing bright prospects to both groups.

The OIC secretary-general, meanwhile, discussed with Jia Qinglin, head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), ways and means to expand relations between the OIC and the People’s Republic of China.

Qinglin, who received Ihsanoglu at the People’s Hall in Beijing on June 28, emphasized the significant role being played by the OIC in taking the relations between China and the Muslim world to new heights.

Qinglin presented the stages of a cooperation plan in three areas (economic, political and cultural), starting with joint development, and through political cooperation driven by enhanced links for joint action such as to benefit regional peace and stability.

In the course of the meeting, Qinglin also stressed the need for cohesive relations between the two sides to be sustained at all levels, and under all circumstances. He further affirmed his country’s respect for the Muslims’ freedom of worship, noting that many developmental programs have been implemented for improving the living conditions of Muslims.

On his part, Ihsanoglu underlined the OIC’s firm position regarding its follow-up of the affairs of Muslim minorities across the world, based on a set of principles, in addition to the OIC’s keen interest in maintaining relations with the Muslim minorities, and keeping their conditions under constant review, through direct contact with the official channels of the countries where those minorities live. He reiterated that the OIC would not interfere in the internal affairs of countries that host Muslim minorities.

Ihsanoglu also met with Muratbek Imanaliyev, secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the Organization’s headquarters in Beijing, and reviewed with him ways and means to enhance bilateral cooperation. “There is ample room for the two organizations to work together,” the OIC chief said and invited Imanaliyev to attend the forthcoming meeting of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Djibouti.


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