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Top Muslim president calls for peace jihad at summit

March 16, 2008

DAKAR (AFP) -- The leader of the world's most populous Muslim nation called for a jihad of peace to spark an ""Islamic Renaissance"", at a summit where leaders struggled to agree reforms to the main international Islamic group.
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for greater democracy and efforts to improve the plight of Muslims and spread Islamic values, in a speech to the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit.

""The possibility of an Islamic Renaissance lies before us,"" Yudhoyono told the summit, but first, he added: ""We need to get our act together as an organization of Muslim nations.

""When the Islamic Renaissance comes it will be the natural fruit of a peaceful and constructive 'jihad'.""

Yudhoyono said the OIC was ""unique"" because it covers three continents and ""Muslim countries supply 70 percent of the world's energy requirements and 40 percent of its raw material exports.""

But he said the Muslim world must improve its image. ""Protracted conflicts in Muslim societies bring shame to the Ummah (Muslim community) and tarnish the good name of Islam.""

In many non-Muslim circles ""Islam has unjustly been associated with violence,"" Yudhoyono added.

""We must disabuse the world of this terrible misconception,"" he said, calling for greater efforts against 'Islamaphobia' in the West but also greater democracy in Muslim nations.

""We must strive for good governance and attend to our democratic deficit.""

Indonesia, with more than 230 million people, is the world's most populous Muslim nation and its third biggest democracy.

""History tells us that Muslims in the past contributed immensely to the march of civilization through groundbreaking achievements in the sciences, as well as in arts."" But Yudhoyono added that Islam was now ""on the defensive"".

He called for efforts to ""improve the plight of the Muslim peoples and empower them. This means extensive economic cooperation among ourselves. This entails pooling of resources and plugging of the development gaps all over the Muslim world.""

Yudhoyono said there should be investment schemes and ""Islamic free trade areas"".

OIC leaders are negotiating a new charter to modernize the group with members from across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

But there has been intense debate about issues ranging from eligibility for new membership to how to define ""self-determination"" for the Palestinian people and how the OIC could get involved in conflict resolution, diplomats said.

The absence of several prominent leaders -- including Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, Libya's Moamer Kadhafi and Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf -- has made a delay more likely, diplomats said.

The OIC executive hopes a new charter will speed up decision making and allow initiatives to encourage solidarity between the organization's wealthy oil powers and African members who are among the world's poorest nations.

One reform would allow decisions to be taken by a two-thirds majority, diplomats said. The OCI currently works by unanimity, making decisions difficult in such a group where members range from Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf to Thailand in Asia and Suriname in South America.

The talks must also set out guidelines for membership and observer status. Some countries want only countries with a Muslim ""majority"". But others which do not meet that criteria now are opposed to such restrictions.

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