Islamic summit must not fail the Ummah’s expectations

Kazakhstan foreign minister calls for unity in tackling Islamic world issues.

Leaders and Foreign Ministers pose for group a photo session at the 5th Extraordinary Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, 07 March 2016 [EPA]
Leaders pose for photographs at the Fifth Extraordinary OIC Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2016 [EPA]

When the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) holds its highest-level meeting this week, there will sadly be no shortage of serious challenges to discuss. Indeed, the unusually tight security we can expect around the summit in Istanbul – a city that has been the victim of recent terrorist outrages – itself underlines the severe threat to stability and safety of member states and their citizens.

There were, of course, plenty of problems to address when the OIC heads of state last convened in Cairo three years ago. The summit expressed its deep concern over the continuing tragedy of Palestine, the threat posed by violent extremism and the rise of Islamophobia. But today, the horizon seems even darker.

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We are no nearer to the two-state solution, which is the only way to address the hopes and rights of the Palestinian people.

Hopes that all-out civil war in Syria could be avoided have been dashed as the country has plunged into chaos and barbarity and millions have been forced to flee their homes.

Violence in Syria

The violence in Syria has also helped fuel terrorism, which is a growing threat around the world. Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Iraq, Belgium, France, Egypt, Ivory Coast, and Afghanistan are just some of the countries to have already felt its deadly impact this year.

The security situation in Afghanistan is again worsening. And far from a better understanding of the decent values of Islam, there is growing fear and suspicion.

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It is why the Istanbul summit on Thursday, attended, among others, by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is so important.

No country, no matter how powerful, can hope to tackle these problems on its own.


No country, no matter how powerful, can hope to tackle these problems on its own. Only by increased cooperation and promoting dialogue both within the Ummah and beyond can we make progress.

Unfortunately, a lack of trust between states, including some Islamic countries, is preventing the world from focusing its combined energy and effort on resolving the current challenges. 

It is not all bleak news: The agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme – which Kazakhstan helped to broker by hosting two round of talks – was a historic breakthrough and shows what can be achieved with patience and determination.

It is now crucial that no time is wasted in dismantling the sanctions regime. Iran’s re-entry into the global economy is a boost to the entire region.

The general ceasefire in Syria, agreed upon with the involvement of Russia and the US, and ISIL’s forced retreat, are also the first tentative signs of a way out of Syria’s catastrophe.

The Islamic and international community urgently need to work together to capitalise on these positive steps. Humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and those countries that are shouldering the highest burden of the refugee crisis must be stepped up.

A Free Syrian Army rebel fighter stands on a damaged Syrian military tank in front of a mosque, destroyed during fighting with government forces in the Syrian town of Azaz [AP]
A Free Syrian Army rebel fighter stands on a damaged Syrian military tank in front of a mosque, destroyed during fighting with government forces in the Syrian town of Azaz [AP]

Twisted ideologies 

Increased cooperation – from sharing intelligence to educating our young people – is also the only way to successfully tackle terrorism and root out the twisted ideologies on which it feeds.

I am sure we will again see a strong message from Istanbul that such attacks are against true Islamic values and a pledge to redouble our efforts to root out this cancer together.

But increased economic cooperation is also important to help create jobs and prosperity across the Islamic community. This will deny the extremists the despair they need to recruit our young people. 

Hunger is also a powerful recruiter for the extremists. The new Islamic Organisation for Food Security, set up at our initiative and based in our capital, Astana, can play an important role in preventing food shortages across the Islamic world. It is exactly the kind of cooperation we need to see across a wide range of areas within the OIC and beyond. 

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We need to work harder as well to foster understanding and respect between different faiths and cultures. It is something upon which Kazakhstan – which prides itself on having forged a tolerant society of people from many different backgrounds –  places huge importance.


It is why we host the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which has become an increasingly important platform to promote dialogue. We need to stress much more strongly that what unites the great faiths, including the shared decent values which underpin them, is far greater than anything that divides them. 

At a practical level, as well, this unity can help counter the threat and appeal of violent extremism. We are hosting a major international conference next month to bring religious and political leaders together to agree upon new steps to stop faith from being hijacked by criminals.

Nuclear weapons

There is an urgent need, as well, to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which we know they are actively seeking and will not hesitate to use. We need increased cooperation on nuclear security but also bold steps to prevent the spread of these weapons. I hope the OIC will throw its full weight behind the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.  

What is troubling is that rather than new efforts to bring our world together, we are seeing old divisions – including within the Islamic community – revived and widened. These divisions risk severely damaging all our hopes of peace and progress.  

Kazakhstan, since its earliest days as an independent nation, has worked tirelessly to foster dialogue and cooperation. We hope that if we are successful in gaining a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2017 and 2018, we can bring new impetus to the search for agreed peaceful solutions to the world’s challenges. 

They are certainly needed. Our world is facing very difficult times. But through increased cooperation and by resisting those who try to divide us, we can build a better future for all our citizens. I am confident that the Islamic summit in Istanbul will be another important milestone in this journey.

Erlan Idrissov is the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.