2016 was a monumental year. It gave us some unforgettable memories: the Queen turned 90; Pope Francis met with the Eastern Orthodox Church leader for the first time after 1,000 years, the Coalition forces recaptured some of the territories occupied by ISIS, NASA placed a spacecraft into Jupiter's orbit, 300 African communities pledged to end FGM, Pokémon Go excitement swept the nation, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar, underdogs Leicester City won the Premier League title, London elected its first Muslim mayor and Team GB provided stunning performance in Olympic Games and Paralympics.
But it was a year defined by political turmoil, challenging the status quo and near-global discord. It was also a year when bigotry and prejudice won over economic policies and diplomacy; exaggerated fear of immigration threw away the biblical concept of 'welcoming strangers', the establishment was defeated by outsiders with no solid policies. Most shocking of all was the brutal murder of Jo Cox MP - a wonderful humanitarian who had championed the cause of the vulnerable and disenfranchised.
In 2016, the terrorist attacks also continued to cause bloodshed and chaos around the globe. Precious lives were snatched away from us in Batley, Istanbul, Brussels, Nice, Orlando, Quetta and many countries around the world.
The year 2016 challenged the values that underpin our society: freedom, tolerance, and respect for fundamental rights. The economic insecurity, striking inequalities and the open expression of hatred towards ethnic minorities in various political campaigns reinforced deep divisions in society and gave rise to isolation and extremism.
The outlook for the new year is shrouded with political and economic uncertainty. The potential implications of British government triggering Article 50 to start the Brexit negotiations, Donald Trump taking the Presidential office, Obama expelling Russian diplomats, Putin flexing nuclear muscles and the UN passing a resolution to end Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are yet to be unfolded. However, what is clear is that those who hated 2016, are likely to loathe 2017.
The fact is that the "political revolutions" of 2016 have changed the world that we now live in. The populist voices are causing huge shift in the political landscape of the UK, Europe and the US. Nigel Farage has already set the tone for 2017. At a celebratory party, he gave a speech saying "For those that are here that aren't particularly happy with what's happened in 2016, I've got some really bad news for you - it's going to get a bloody sight worse next year."
2016 will also be remembered as a year of intolerance. The anti-immigrant, anti-ethnic and anti-Muslim rhetoric and politics of hatred and division used during the EU referendum and US Presidential election have given legitimacy and a new-found voice to racist and bigoted narratives across the world. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's religious Thought for the Day slot, Princes Charles warned against the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive to those who adhere to a minority faith or are fleeing persecution. "All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s".
The refugee crisis increased tensions between communities. But the refugee crisis or the terrorist threat can't be solved by scapegoating Muslims or building walls. Terrorism is a global phenomenon, resulting in a gigantic bill for all governments and it is constantly evolving. The world must analyse what allows violent extremism to flourish. It's not enough to deal with the symptoms but we need to look at the root causes. Muslims have suffered more as a result of growing terrorism than any other group. One third of the victims in Nice were Muslims. One of our priorities in 2017 must be to tackle radicalisation by the far right extremist ideology. In a multi-belief pluralistic Britain, people should not be allowed to get away with anti-ethnic, anti-Muslim and anti-semitic rhetoric or attacks.
As Muslims living in the West demand equality and respect, the Muslim World must also offer the same to faith minorities living in those countries. The Marrakesh Declaration of 2016 provides an exemplary foundation for peaceful co-existence between diverse communities. I hope that the principles of the declaration are soon implemented by Muslims.
The Muslim World also needs to wake up in 2017 and robustly tackle its challenges. The Muslim World is mired in a state of perpetual conflict. The Syrian war, the Saudi-Yemen conflict, the genocide of Rohigya Muslims, the recent scrimmages in Kashmir, the ongoing conflict in Palestine, the instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, injustices in many Muslim states have all stagnated Muslim states. The ummah, the worldwide community of Muslims, also has a collective responsibility to suppress the ongoing brutality of ISIS, Boko Haram and their affiliates. The Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies offers a glimpse of hope. The Forum has emerged as one of the leading global Muslim responses to end the rise of extremism in the Muslim world.
Although the forecast for 2017 is bleak, I am optimistic that people will chose respect over intolerance, hope over fear and peace over violence. In 2017, we must not forget the ability to see things with new imagination and hope.Suggest a correction