Iran President urges Muslim nations to improve Islam's image

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left) shaking hands with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari during the 29th International Islamic Conference on Dec 27.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left) shaking hands with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari.PHOTO: AFP

TEHERAN • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Muslim countries should strive to improve the world's opinion of Islam.

"We must remove Islam's negative image from today's cyber and real space," he said in Teheran at an international conference on "The Islamic World's Current Crisis".

Most "violence, terror and massacres, unfortunately, take place in the Islamic world", he said.

"I invite all Islamic countries in this region and beyond - even those who until today have bombed and launched missiles on their neighbours - for all of us to stop this and choose the right path," he said. He did not name any country.

Shi'ite Iran supports Yemen's Houthi rebels, while its Sunni- ruled regional rival Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that has been bombing the rebels in support of the loyalists since March.

"How many bombs and missiles have you purchased from America this year?" he asked. "If you had distributed the money for those bombs and missiles among poor Muslims, nobody would be going to bed hungry."

Teheran also backs the Syrian regime, whose army is fighting rebels and militants, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that has taken over large swathes of the country and Iraq.

"Did we ever think that, instead of enemies, an albeit small group from within the Islamic world, using the language of Islam, would present it as the religion of killing, violence, whips, extortion and injustice?" Mr Rouhani said.

"If some groups like Daesh can recruit soldiers, the reason is financial and cultural poverty," he said, using the Arabic name for ISIS. Both types of poverty should be eliminated from "Islamic society", he said. "Terrorism will not be destroyed by bombs. For years and years, we have talked of unity. Is unity possible without economic connections within the Islamic world?"

The Syria and Iraq conflicts benefit only Israel and "those who are against Muslims", he said.

Mr Rouhani's remarks were rare for a leader of Iran, which considers itself an authority in the Islamic world and often blames the"enemies" of the religion for problems in the Middle East.

More than 100 Islamic scholars from the Shi'ite and Sunni schools of thought are attending the three-day conference which kicked off on Sunday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline 'Iran President urges Muslim nations to improve Islam's image'. Print Edition | Subscribe