IRIN, November 14, 2006
Muslim clerics from 25 African countries have begun a five-day population and development meeting in Tanzania's semiautonomous island of Zanzibar, focusing on issues such as HIV/AIDS and gender violence from an Islamic point of view.
The participants, from member countries of the Network of African Islamic Faith-based Organizations, are also focusing on social and development problems.
The network's deputy secretary, Issa Ziddy from Zanzibar, told a news conference on Tuesday in Stone Town, capital of Zanzibar, that the network was launched in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2005 during a meeting of Islamic organisations from several African countries.
Senegalese Sheikh Hassan Cisse, he said, initiated the network, with the support of the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, after finding that religious leaders could play a great role in combating HIV/AIDS and gender violence through Islamic teachings.
He said the UN had included religious leaders in promoting human rights and fighting social problems such as HIV/AIDS and gender violence.
Ziddy said the network's operating plans were set during the first meeting in Abuja, and "now this is a continuation of what we have; we also need more Islamic organisations in Africa to join the network, despite the problem of [not] having a common language in our meetings".
He added: "We are being supported by the United Nations Population Fund, which works to ensure universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health for all. But we are discussing these problems in reference to the teachings of Islam."
Opening the meeting, Zanzibar's constitutional and good governance minister, Ramadhani Abdallah Shaaban, said the network's establishment was timely. "This is what Almighty Allah has ordered us," he said, so that we can "conduct our affairs by mutual consultation".
He said African governments, including Tanzania's, which were signatories to the International Conference on Population and Development, must put people first and promote human dignity and equal opportunity for all, "especially those who are marginalised and excluded".
Shaaban said it was crucial for Muslims to boost development efforts, especially in population, health and environment.
He urged the Muslim clerics to come up with ways of providing awareness on issues such as family planning and safe motherhood; access to sexual and reproductive healthcare; and how to counter gender-based violence.
Shaaban said one of the crucial factors limiting Africa's development was the technological gap between developing countries and the industrialised world. He said good governance was also vital for development and the implementation of accountable, transparent, just, fair and democratic systems, which respond to people's needs.
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