A significant milestone was laid in the contemporary history of the Muslim world at the recent International Islamic Conference, held in Amman, Jordan from July 4 to 6, 2005. It brought forth a united resolve, rarely seen before, to tackle firmly the challenges threatening the Ummah's own internal stability, and even integrity, as well as undermining its historic role of constructive interface with other cultures and traditions, especially, though not exclusively, Christians and Jews whom Islam honourably refers to as the fellow People of the Book, ahl al-kitab.
Hosted by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with an inaugural address by His Hashemite Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the Conference brought together more than 170 religious leaders and scholars from 40 countries, from the main Shia schools - Ithna Ashari, Ismaili and Zaidi; the four Sunni schools - Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali; as well as the Ibadi and the Zahiri. The Organisation of Islamic Conference - OIC - was represented by its Secretary-General. The Institute of Ismaili Studies and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University, sent, as their delegates, Dr. Farhad Daftary, Professor Abdou Filali-Ansary and Shams Vellani.
Reflecting, thus, the historic plurality that the Muslim Ummah accommodates within the fundamental unity of Islam, the Conference in Jordan achieved a level of participation not matched in similar gatherings in the past. But the Conference was also a substantive departure in that it went beyond broad recommendations. Instead, it succeeded in forging an unprecedented consensus among these schools on the mutual acceptance of the legitimacy of various Muslim denominations held until now in differing levels of suspicion or hostility. The Conference, thus, marked a real break-through and a turning point, in the recognition of pluralism as a fact of Muslim history and heritage to be cherished as a blessing.
In advance of the Conference, messages and declarations had been invited from the leading Muslim authorities - Shia, Sunni and Ibadi - in support of the Conference goals. These included a message from His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
Among the other leading Muslim authorities and dignitaries, who had presented fatwas, were: Grand Imam Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Shaykh al-Azhar; Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali-Sistani, Najaf, Iraq; several Grand Ayatollahs from Najaf, Iraq; Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri, Iran; Dr. Ali Jummua, the Grand Mufti of Egypt; High Council of Religious Affairs, Turkey; the Institute of Islamic Fiqh, Saudi Arabia; Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Hamad Al-Khalili, Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman; Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad Al-Wazir, Zaidi leader, Yemen; Sheikh Ahmad Kaftarou (late), former Grand Mufti of Syria; Sheikh Said Abdelhafid Al-Hajani, Grand Mufti of Jordan; Sayyid Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon; Dr. Youssouf Aballah Al-Qardawi, Qatar
Presented at the Conference, and endorsed by its final declaration, these messages affirmed the principle that whoever is an adherent of one of the eight schools of Muslim jurisprudence - madhabib - is a Muslim who cannot be declared or treated as an apostate or infidel, and whose life, honour and property are inviolable.
Resolving that only those qualified within their respective schools of jurisprudence have the authority to issue fatwas, the Conference condemned forthright the practice among extremists of issuing so-called authoritative religious opinions encouraging violence against Muslims whom they accuse as infidels, and upholding and extolling acts of terrorism, whether directed against Muslims or non-Muslims, as not only illegitimate but an affront to all that Islam stands for (see also Sunday Telegraph, 24 July, 2005).