Assembled for the Yaum un Nabi celebrations hosted by the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana at the Windsor Forest Masjid yesterday, Muslims were told by President Bharrat Jagdeo that all people have a right to worship, a right that must be respected. Against this background,the Head of State expanded on policy issues relative to the Government’s approach to tolerance and respect for people’s religious views and practices.
The President alluded to his visit to the Middle East and made it clear that Guyana’s foreign policy focuses on expanding relations in a merging dynamic world, of which the Middle East is an important part. Jagdeo said, “The Middle East is a very important part of the future, not just because many people share their predominant faith in that part of the world, but also because it a very important source of investment and trade.” The latter, he said, will assist in helping many people in a material sense.
The President also referred to his publicly criticized visit to Iran and noted that the main criticism, that the visit will affect ties with the United States, was not a widespread view. “The United States never said to me that they were offended and I was pleased that President Obama named an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC),” he said.
The OIC is an umbrella body for about 50 Muslim nations.President Jagdeo lamented the fact that here, “we Guyanese” were “pontificating” on the effect of Middle East associations on relations with the United States. To this end, Jagdeo asserted that his administration practices an “independent foreign policy.” “We are not here to please any country…We are here to look after the interest of our people. Of course there is global solidarity, etcetera, but I am not going to determine our policies on whether the United States likes it or not,” he said.
The Head of State highlighted that there is a kind of mental slavery existing among some Guyanese, who, he said, are yet to emancipate themselves. He likened it to anticipating what “masters”, in this case the United States, would require, and subsequently working to advance the same. Jagdeo said, “Here in Guyana we have a group of people subscribing to what I call, the slavery syndrome, and have not emancipated themselves in thinking…Here we have people anticipating what the United States may want but Obama himself has spoken about opening up dialogue with the Middle East…Yet the locals here, they are defending the so-called interest of the United States of America.”
The President boasted of religious tolerance in Guyana and the ability of Guyanese to live together irrespective of diverse cultures. Jagdeo noted that human rights, tolerance and respect for people’s religions have been the core of messages advanced by industrialised and developed nations. He pointed to two recent cases in Europe’s “developed countries”; both widely publicised across the globe. The first in France, when the French President Jacques Chirac has said he supports a law that would ban pupils wearing religious headwear in state schools. This law would affect headscarves worn by Muslim girls, as well as skull-caps worn by Jewish boys. The law would also cover religious symbols like large Christian crosses. But religious leaders say the ban would be unfair because it would be taking away the freedoms to practice religious traditions.
The other in Switzerland, the most recent, November last year, when the people of Switzerland voted to ban the construction of minarets on mosques from which imams call the faithful to prayer. It was a decision that drew strong reactions from political and religious leaders across Europe. In a referendum, 57.5 per cent of Swiss voters, and 22 out of 26 cantons (provinces) supported the ban on the Islamic towers, despite official opposition from the Swiss government. Leaders of the Swiss People’s Party, which put forth the measure, called the construction of minarets a sign of “Islamisation.”
Muslim groups were joined by the Vatican in condemning the vote as a sign of religious intolerance, while a number of nationalist parties throughout Europe embraced it as a stance against the erosion of Western values. Though the government has said it will enforce the ban, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf suggested it could be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, over which Switzerland currently presides, should it be determined as running afoul of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Reflecting on this, the President questioned, “If you can’t allow architecture to survive and blossom in your country, how will you allow people to practice their religion?” He added that clear for all to see is the growing pattern of intolerance in those countries that often lecture on tolerance. Accordingly, Jagdeo observed that unless “we” demonstrate by example and show that Guyana has the model, where people can live and respect each other’s faith, then we would be failing in our task.
The Head of State opined that an understanding and general education will expand into respect for diversity. Also present at the celebration of the Holy Prophet Mohamed’s life and works were Sheik Abrahim Habach Imam, a Syrian native who works in Florida and Moulana Siddiq Ahmad Nasir from Georgetown. President Jagdeo commended them for their wealth of knowledge. “His (Moulana Siddiq Ahmad Nasir’s) lecture I am sure will lead us all to greater understanding of the Holy Quran, the life and the works of the Holy Prophet,” President Jagdeo said
Originally posted in Guyana Chronicle