ISLAM RELIGION OF PEACE: RUSSIAN-SAUDI FORUM

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MOSCOW, May 25 (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - "Islam is a religion of peace," was the motto of a Russian-Saudi forum, which gathered in Moscow, May 24-25.

"It came as a joint anti-terror operation," said Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, aide to Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister.

Islam has no bearing on terrorism at all. To bring that point to the world once again, and work out an advice to the Muslim community on how to fight terrorism and anti-Muslim prejudice was the forum goal.

An initial advice came from Alu Alkhanov, president of Chechnya. He called to establish an international Islamic research center that would appraise terror acts committed in any part of the world, and offer correct interpretation of Islamic precepts. He said that Muslims all over the world ought to take center statements and opinions into account.

"Though much has been done within recent years [to oppose terrorism], we still let bad blows pass. Today, our religious activists and scholars are doing far from enough to oppose Muslim radicalism," said President Alkhanov.

He said, "If Muslim-populated countries come up in the anti-terror vanguard, that will be the most efficient arrangement against international terrorism."

"There is no way to combat terrorism unless Muslim countries are involved in the cause," said representatives of the Foreign Ministry.

"We regard the Muslim world and Russia not as mere partners but as allies in fighting the evil that threatens us all [meaning terrorism]," Lavrov said in a greeting message to the forum. "Russia formed that opinion after terror acts in several Arab countries," he said.

"Russia can come up as a link between the Islamic civilization and the West," said Dr. Abdullah al-Lahidan, Saudi Arabia's deputy minister of Islamic Guidance. "Though Russia was victim to terror in its most cruel form, it never blamed the atrocities on Islam," he said.

"The Moscow conference will play a major role in explaining what Islam is really about," said the deputy minister.

The Saudi politician's opinion of Moscow's role is especially topical as Russia will receive an observer's status on the Organization of the Islamic Conference in late June.

The Moscow forum was organized by the Muslim Peacemaking Center, an international public organization, and the Moscow-based Institute of International Relations under Russia's Foreign Ministry.

Both organizers had Saudi Arabia's support. As many of the forum speakers said, the event came as logical continuation of Russo-Saudi partnership, which started as Adbullah ibn Abdul Aziz, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, was visiting Moscow, in the fall of 2003.

Significantly, the forum was timed to a visit by Sheikh Salah although-Sheikh, Saudi Minister of Islamic Guidance to Russia.

Guests of honor included Yevgeny Primakov, president of Russia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and former Prime Minister; Chinghiz Aitmatov, prominent author and Kyrgyz Ambassador to the Benelux and France; President Alu Alkhanov of Chechnya; and Aslanbek Aslakhanov, adviser to the Russian president.

"We must make one point clear: we cannot divide the world either on the ideological principle, as was the case during the Cold War, or on the religious-to fall into Muslims and non-Muslims. The sequences of such a division are very dangerous," said Primakov.

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