Dr Mohammad Abdulkarim Al Issa, Secretary General of The Muslim
Dr Mohammad Abdulkarim Al Issa, Secretary General of The Muslim World League

Global religious organisations have a central role in helping address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world today. The Muslim World League, as the world's largest Islamic organisation, is no exception, pushing an agenda driven by moderate values, including but not limited to peace, tolerance and love. A candid conversation with the Saudi Arabia-based NGO's Secretary General, HE Dr Mohammad Abdulkarim Al Issa, who has been in his position since August 2016, shed further light on the challenges with which his organisation faces today and how moderate perceptions of Islam are adapting to our rapidly evolving globalised world. HE Dr Mohammad Abdulkarim Al Issa also serves as president of the International Islamic Halal Organization and is the former minister of justice in Saudi Arabia.

What were your goals when you became Secretary General of the world's largest Islamic NGO, the Muslim World League (MWL)?

Upon assuming leadership of MWL, I was intent on promoting the truth of Islam – which was often misrepresented globally. Islam celebrates peace, coexistence, charity, respect for women, youth, and other faiths. Yet when I assumed my position in 2016, Islam had been distorted by extremists in the Muslim world and anti-Muslim hate preachers beyond. Many spoke of a clash of civilisations. Significant divides were also emerging within the Islamic world itself, with Daesh and other extremist groups engaging in sectarian violence.

All this meant it was of historic importance that credible religiously backed counter narratives showcased the true face of Islam to the masses.

Ultimately, I aimed to foster unity, both within the Islamic world but also between the Islamic world and other civilisations. That's why I led efforts to create the Makkah Charter, lead the first Islamic religious delegation to Auschwitz and focused on countering extremism and promoting interfaith efforts globally.

What impact could the Makkah Charter have on how Islam is practised globally?

The 2019 Makkah Charter is the most significant religious jurisprudential document in recent history. With buy-in from every Islamic religious denomination and over 1,200 Muslim scholars, it is a universal manifesto of Islamic rights and values backed by the world's foremost Islamic religious thinkers.

The charter calls for a rejection of religious differences justifying conflict, empowering women - emphasizing their rights to equality in wages and opportunities and stands against all forms of extremism.

As for the Charter's impact on how Muslims practice Islam, we must understand the charter does not communicate any new Islamic concepts. Rather it revives Islam's true message, bringing Muslims closer to the true tolerant and pluralistic ethos of Islam.

I believe we are already seeing the charters impact globally - in empowering women, in opposition to extremist groups like Daesh, and in a deeper appreciation within the Islamic world of cooperation with other civilisations systems.

Given the Gaza conflict, what role should faith leadership play in facilitating peace? Do you think the role of faith leaders in peace building is given too little emphasis?

The Gaza war is a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions, with over 30,000 Gazans, mostly women and children, killed. Yet it is not just a political crisis. It's also a moral one. Which means to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and peace requires moral leadership transcending political boundaries. In the Middle East, that makes the role of faith leadership indispensable.

As such, I invite Jewish and Muslim leaders to unite in calls for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages and to stand against the dangerous rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. There is no better testament to the shared commitment to human dignity and life that both the Islamic and Jewish traditions cherish.

The role of faith leaders in peacebuilding is essential, especially in the Middle East where faith ideals are interwoven with the values of communities. That influence can extend from the pulpit to the diplomatic arena, where faith leaders' actors can advocate for peace, mediate and mobilize humanitarian aid.

Jewish-Muslim relations have weakened globally in recent months. As such, what one message would you give to Jewish communities?

That war must not compromise the common humanity that people of faith share.

In the shadow of the Gaza war, divisions have emerged in Jewish-Muslim relations that run against the spirit of our shared heritage and common humanity.

This period of heightened tension underscores a pressing need for dialogue, mutual understanding, and a renewed commitment to peace. Let's not forget there is more that unites Muslims and Jews then divides them. After all, the Medina Charter, facilitated by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself, is a reminder of Islam's longstanding tradition of cooperation with the Jewish people.

You are Chairman of Faith For Our Planet (FFOP), which uses interfaith relations to protect the environment. How exactly can faith leaders have tangible impact in such a challenging domain?

I founded FFOP because of a realisation that to protect the environment, the global community does not lack finances, technological innovation or political structures. It lacks will power and moral fortitude.

In that sense the world's faith leaders must play a necessary role in mobilising mass behavioural change and shifting global public opinion. 84% of the world after all, identifies with faith.

That's why FFOP has delivered the world's first youth interfaith fellowship program on Climate Change at Duke University, engaged with the UN, delivered climate literacy training to religious leaders in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Gambia, across the African Union, the UK, and engaged female faith leaders at the UN General Assembly.

It's also why I am intent on uniting the worlds of religion and science - two stakeholders that must collaborate for successful global ecological efforts.

What are MWL's goals and ambitions for 2024?

The world is experiencing significant crises and divisiveness. Faith often offers the crucial glimmer of hope during such bleak times. It is this hope that MWL looks to not only keep alive in 2024, but to strengthen through interfaith engagement, cooperation and dialogue.