‘Image of Muslims’ discussed as Iran slams Saudi Arabia

‘Image of Muslims’ discussed as Iran slams Saudi Arabia

‘Image of Muslims’ discussed as Iran slams Saudi Arabia

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the 29th International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. AP Photo

Muslims must improve the image of their religion, which has been tarnished by the violence of hardline groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Dec. 27, while also slamming archrival Saudi Arabia. “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?” Rouhani told a conference on Islamic unity in Tehran.

“It is our greatest duty today to correct the image of Islam in world public opinion,” he said.

Rouhani accused Saudi Arabia of promoting poverty and terrorism by continuing to bomb Yemeni rebels and supporting armed rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, adding that destroying Syria would not strengthen those governments in the region which support the anti-Assad rebels.

“Does the weakening of Syria benefit its Muslim neighbors? Does the destruction of Syria lead to the strengthening of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates or other countries? Who is pleased by Syria’s destruction other than Israel?” Rouhani said.

Iran is one of al-Assad’s main allies and has provided his government with military and political backing for years.

Rouhani said ISIL and other armed groups are defaming Islam by resorting to barbaric acts and that has led to Muslim states forgetting their common enemy: Israel.

“How many bombs and missiles have you purchased from the U.S. in the past year?” Rouhani asked in an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia. “If you had distributed the same money among poor Muslims, none of them would have gone to bed hungry.”

Rouhani, a moderate politician, said a Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Yemen since March has prompted a humanitarian crisis and greater poverty in Yemen, saying these were among the main causes behind the spread of extremism in the region.

Rouhani’s comments highlight the struggle for regional supremacy between Shiite powerhouse Iran and the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has played out in conflicts in Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab military intervention against Shiite rebels who are backed by Iran.

The Yemen conflict pits President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally, against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis – who control the capital, Sanaa – and military units loyal to ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Meanwhile, Turkish Directorate General of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) head Mehmet Görmez said all Muslims needed to purify themselves from elements that would lead to unrest and dispute. 

“Priority should be given to ending bloodshed and tears. This is the sole purpose of our visit,” said Görmez before the meeting, adding that he would deem himself happy if he could contribute to this target.