CAIRO: The idea seemed upside down at the beginning. Russia sponsors a conference on Islam: Tradition and Ethics not within its own borders, but in Egypt. The conference began Sunday with an inaugural session at the Russian Center of Science and Culture in Cairo and then continued its three-day sessions until May 23 in Alexandria.
More than 35 participants came from Russia, the Caucasus, Turkey, Germany, Austria and Turkey as well as from across Egypt.
The idea originated at The Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. And as Borisovich Rostislav Rybakov, director of the institute, explained at the inaugural session: We were speaking of holding the conference with the officials of the International Institute of Peace in the Caucasus and my scientific secretary, Yolina, said: What about holding the conference in Cairo? I told her: Are you crazy? But the idea emerged and we decided to hold the conference in Cairo when we were drinking beer at a café in Northern Ossetia.
Aytav Erkam Tufan, secretary general of the Platform dialogue Eurasia-Turkey, told The Daily Star Egypt, Russia has a special interest in approaching the Muslim world and Moscow tries to bring the Christian west together with the Muslim east on common grounds of ethics and tradition.
This is a positive trend, and we as Muslims should encourage it, added Tufan, who announced in his statement that he is the grandson of Mohammed Ali Pasha.
Tufan also explained that binding Islam to terror is not right. According to him, most of the bloody events in the Middle East have more to do with imperialism.
Interaction among cultures will save our world that is taking a shadowy color, Rybakov said. Choosing Egypt was no mere chance, Egypt is the cradle of civilization … and Cairo is the capital of the Arab and Islamic world, he added.
Russian diplomat Alexander Grachev, speaking on behalf of the Russian Ambassador to Egypt, highlighted the importance of dialogue at a time of crises between the Muslim and Christian worlds and within each world. Grachev also lauded what he called popular diplomacy. Knowing the truth is in the interest of everybody now … and your participation is in the interest of the two sides [Christians and Muslims], he went on.
For his part, President of the Austria-based international association Peace through Culture – Europe Willhelm Augustat, blamed Muslims for doing so little to explain the real values of Islam in Europe.
What we know about genuine Islam in Europe is so little, he said.
Muslims should be treated as believers and those holding guns as terrorists, suggested Yuri Sultanovich Sidakov, chairman of the board of the International Institute for Peace in the Caucasus (Republic of Northern Ossetia – Alania, Russia).
Sidakov spoke of the efforts his institute made to stop the blood bath in Northern Ossetia, especially after the influx of more of 100,000 Christian and Muslim refugees after the events that took place in the Chechen Republic and the Caucasus, including Tajikstan and Georgia.
Since 1998, we act under the banner: Islam without weapons, he said, adding that his institute has a great deal of experience in convincing people and victims to shun the idea of revenge and continue to live in peace and harmony.
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in a letter sent to the conference, praised the decision to hold the conference in the sacred land of Egypt. “Egypt enjoys cultural diversity as well, he said.
At the end of the conference, Nikolaevich Yahkhontov, director of the Russian Center of Science and Culture in Cairo, pointed out that the world is becoming smaller and smaller and with the quick movement of information and people, new mixtures of rich traditions and values appear.
“We also want to shed light on Russian culture for people who are not familiar with it, he said. “The conference will be the start of a wider dialogue between different categories of people in society throughout Russia, Egypt, and elsewhere, he added.
The conference mulled over four topics from May 21 to May 23 in the Russian Cultural Centre in Alexandria, namely: Islam, tradition, and culture in a global era, ethical principles in social and religious relations, cultural heritage of the traditional oriental societies and Islam and the problems of oriental studies.
Russia is home to 20 million Muslims.