Muslim Leaders in Central African Republic Unite to Support Social Cohesion

26 February 2016

Meeting in Vienna, Austria, at the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) from 25-27 February, leaders from the Muslim community in the Central African Republic unanimously agreed to work together on a range of common issues, including supporting the return of all refugees, from any religious background, who have been displaced by the recent conflict in the country.

Over 40 religious leaders, representatives from Muslim women and youth communities and civil society met in a facilitated dialogue to explore how the Muslim community in the Central African Republic, which has been challenged by internal divisions in the past, could cohesively address the problems facing Muslims in the aftermath of the civil conflict that devastated the country.

The meeting was also attended by a number of international observers, including noted scholar Sheikh Bin Bayyah, U.S Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein, Ufuk Gokcen, OIC Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York.

To express support from CAR’s Christian communities and the government, the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, Reverend Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, and the Minister of National Reconciliation and Political Dialogue H.E. Lydie Florence N’Douba actively participated as observers.

KAICIID Secretary General, Faisal Bin Muaammar, congratulated the participants for their courage and openness in dialogue: “We must agree that we take from this terrible crisis an opportunity to rebuild this nation as the citizens wish to see it. The Central African Republic prior to the crisis was a model for positive interreligious coexistence: you have a chance to rebuild that model, to rebuild a nation where every citizen has an equal share in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”

The Secretary General noted that the Centre has a long-standing commitment to supporting social cohesion in the Central African Republic through its programmes in the country to strengthen the Interreligious Platform, as well as the dialogues the Centre has organized and hosted since 2014, and will continue to host in the future.

Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, urged greater unity among Muslim peacemakers, “Peace is the path to justice and revenge must be replaced with honest discussions, questions, and dialogue. All Muslim and Christian groups should have tolerance. All must agree on a goal, and this goal should be peace. The Christian and Muslim groups should have groups from within their communities that represent them and are able to speak on their behalf to advocate for peace”.

Ambassador David Saperstein said that he was honored to participate in this noteworthy conference, and expressed his confidence that it would help rebuild diversity and unity in communities in CAR. Ambassador Saperstein encouraged the particiants, saying, "Today, in my opinion, we begin the process of discussing one of the most important questions about CAR's development: what will be the role of the Muslim community and how can we facilitate a return to the harmony and brotherhood that existed in the past, and which has been broken by recent violence, and reinvigorate the social cohesion so vital to CAR’s future."

Before the civil war erupted in March 2013, the Muslim population of the capital, Bangui numbered 122,000, most of whom have fled. More than one million people have been displaced since the conflict began. More than 6,000 people were killed in sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians in the country.

As the country undertakes a process of reconciliation and transition to democratic governance, the Muslim community is seeking a cohesive approach to the challenges of re-integration, and of building a role for Muslims in the secular state. The Christian-Muslim dialogue process, which is underway, also depends on a cohesive Muslim platform for success.

The participants at the meeting agreed that the Muslim community faces a number of challenges. Returning refugees should be re-integrated into society, and enjoy access to housing, education and work. Women’s and youth inclusion in the peacebuilding process is far from complete. Lack of educational and economic opportunities for youth, increases  growth in crime, as well as drug addiction and trafficking. Extremists could exploit youth’s marginalization to increase recruitment.

The participants were concerned by systemic state discrimination of Muslims, and highlighted the citizenship law’s implentation to deny Muslims full citizenship. They also expressed concern that Muslims are often denied access to jobs on the basis of their religion.

The participants agreed to form a follow-up committee to implement the outcomes of this meeting, which were formulated in an action plan.

The dialogue, co-organized by the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), with the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, was aimed at helping participants identify needs like capacity-building for Imams, women and youth, and devise concrete ways to meet these needs.

The meeting forms part of the Dialogue Centre’s ongoing programme in the Central African Republic. In addition to the intra-Muslim dialogue and capacity building process, the Centre is also training Christian and Muslim religious leaders in dialogue.

About the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID)

The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) is an intergovernmental organization that promotes dialogue to build peace in conflict areas. It does this by enhancing understanding and cooperation between people of different cultures and followers of different religions. The Centre was founded by Austria, Saudi Arabia and Spain. The Holy See is the Founding Observer. Its Board of Directors comprises prominent representatives from five major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism). The Board designs and supervises the Centre’s programs.