Washington, 5 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, says the nations of the world need to stop equating Muslims with terrorism.
Kabbani made the comment Tuesday at a press conference in Washington. Kabbani and other Islamic leaders from around the world are meeting in Washington this week for a three-day conference on Islamic unity beginning on Friday. Over 25 religious leaders from Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia and many of the nations of the former Soviet Union are attending the conference.
Kabbani says the purpose of the gathering is to show unity among the world's leading Islamic leaders in support of world peace and tolerance, and against all forms of terrorism.
Says Kabbani: "The religion itself is innocent of any terrorist action around the world."
Kabbani adds that in addition to the conference, the religious leaders will use some of their time in Washington to lobby their causes to American lawmakers. He says several of the visiting dignitaries have already scheduled private meetings with members of Congress and officials at the U.S. State Department and other government agencies.
Kabbani says the reason for the outreach to U.S. legislators is, in part, because many in the world's Islamic community feel America should take a leading role in promoting peace.
Kabbani also says the United States needs to help the international community understand that Islam, by its very creed, does not support terrorism or violence.
Explains Kabbani: "Muslims are peacemakers. But it is not what we are hearing. It is not what they are labeling us. There is no religious terrorism.... either in Judaism or in Christianity or in Islam or in any other belief around the world. Religions and beliefs did not come to kill people. Religion came to open the hearts of people for love and peace."
Kabbani also says the United States needs to take a more active role in settling the problems in Kosovo and helping Israel and the Palestinians agree on a peace accord. He says the international community looks to the United States for leadership, and called Americans "the peacekeepers of the world."
The Grand Mufti of Kosovo, Rexhep Boja, agreed. He told reporters at the press conference that the people of Kosovo are looking to the United States to help bring a resolution to the crisis in Kosovo.
Says Boja: "Our people believe strongly that the country of freedom, the United States of America, will support and stand by them."
Boja says the people of Kosovo are tired of suffering and are weary not only from the current conflict, but from a half-century of oppression under communist rule.
Sheik Nafigulla Ashir, the Supreme Mufti of Siberia and the Far East of Russia, also spoke at the press conference.
He told reporters that helping people of all faiths understand each other and come together is critical, especially in the United States and Russia, two countries where people of many different faiths live side by side.
Says Ashir: "It is very important that now there is a higher council of Muslims in the U.S. which unify different Islamic organizations and people with different beliefs...The conference which will be held in a few days, will give us the opportunity to see the organization unite all Muslims, not only in the United States, but around the world."
The leaders all say they hope the weekend conference will bring worldwide attention to the beliefs and traditions of Muslims and correct any misconceptions that Islam promotes or condones terrorism.
Kabbani says: "Let peace be the religion of the 21st century."
During the conference, a number of panels will be held including one involving religious leaders from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union called "Islam Under Communist Rule." Another panel featuring 40 speakers will address the role of Muslim women in shaping the 21st century.
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is expected to address the conference on Friday.