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Date: Thu, 6 Apr 1995 16:37:17 -0500
Message-Id: <25040616315615@vms2.macc.wisc.edu>
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From: beshir@cig.mot.com (Khaled I. Beshir)
To: Multiple recipients of list <eritrea-l@relay.doit.wisc.edu>
Subject: Eritrean Islamist attend PAIC...join African delegates to oppo

Drawing The Line Between Islam and Ethnicity

By Nhial Bol, IPS, 3 April 1995

KHARTOUM, APR 3 (IPS)—Sheikh Mohamed Beshir Osmani from the West African state of Benin is always clean-shaven, dons a traditional West African hat and wears colourful attire.

However, many here will remember him not for his garb or his gentle smile, but as the man who almost split the third annual meeting of ’The Popular Arab and Islamic Conference (PAIC)—which ended here on Sunday—along racial lines.

The problem began on Friday when the Sheikh led a campaign to delete the word ’Arab’ from the name of the PAIC, an organisation Sudan’s spiritual leader Dr. Hassan Abdalla al Turabi helped to form in 1991 to defend the interests of Muslims in the post-Cold War era.

I made it clear to Dr Hassan Abdalla al Turabi, the secretary-general of the organisation, that the word Arab must be removed because it will create racism and discrimination among the Muslim people, Sheikh Osmani told IPS.

Arabs account for fewer than one-fifth of all Muslims, more than half of whom live in Asia.

Osmani argued that Arab and Islam must be separated in the PAIC’s name because as an African and a Muslim he would otherwise not fit into the organisation.

It will also be rejected by my people, he said, referring to the Muslims in Benin, who constitute 55 percent of t he country’s 4.5 million people.

The proposal was backed by other non-Arab delegates from Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Eritrea, Asia, Europe and North America.

But delegates from the mainly Arabic-speaking countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Mauritania and Libya objected to the cha nge, describing it as unneccessary, especially at a time when the Islamic world is facing a serious challenge from the w est.

There was commotion and haggling over the proposal. Every delegate was shouting in the hall, calling for the chairman either to remove the word or retain it.

Some delegates from Arab countries, who walked out of the hall after the majority of delegates voted for the proposed name change, refused to talk to journalists whereas advocates of the change were happy to explain their stance.

Hakbar Mohamed, who is the vice president of the Nation of Islam, said as an American citizen, I would not like to be called an Arab because I am a Muslim.

But, to the chagrin of the non-Arab delegates, PAIC secretary- general al Turabi shelved the idea to change the name u ntil next year, without explaining the reasons for his move.

Insiders say the PAIC boss, a Sudanese, has come under tremendous pressure from the Arab lobby.

Islam was first preached by the Prophet Mohammed in Arabia in the 7th century AD to a small group of followers before spreading rapidly through the Middle East to Africa, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, the Malay Peninsula, and China.