Utilising Sports To Counter Extremism In The Muslim World

The co-existence of different faiths and ethnicities is increasingly under threat in both the Islamic and Western worlds, now is the time to build new models to bring people together and celebrate what we share: our humanity.

The co-existence of different faiths and ethnicities is increasingly under threat in both the Islamic and Western worlds, now is the time to build new models to bring people together and celebrate what we share: our humanity.

It is increasingly recognized that young people become radicalised due to a combination of factors. On the one hand, the intersection of poverty and conflict in so many parts of the Muslim world has made young people easy prey for extremist preachers. And all 57 members of the OIC have a long way to go to fulfil their developmental potential.

On the other hand, factors like low self-esteem, a lack of entertainment and poor social bonds, make young people increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups like Daesh and Boko Haram.

To address some of these issue this month, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world's second largest intergovernmental body after the UN made-up of 57 Muslim-majority countries and the Government of Azerbaijan launched several grand activities under the theme of Islamic Solidarity. Two flagship events - 4th edition of Islamic Solidarity Games (already coined as 'Islamic Olympics') and the Model OIC youth summit designed after the UN Model simulation, are designed to tackle these challenges head on.

Finishing this week, The 'Islamic Olympics' brings together young Muslim sports men and women from across the OIC's member states. The government of Azerbaijan, in particular, is supporting aspiring young participants from the poorest countries who cannot afford to cover their own costs.

The new opportunities for training and building networks of peers, along with the exhilaration of competing and winning, is designed to inspire young Muslims across the world to throw their energies into the values that define sports: self-improvement, teamwork, bettering oneself, and fair play.

The Baku Model OIC summit, specifically aims to tackle one of the most prominent drivers of radicalisation: a crisis of identity in bridging one's Muslim identity with the pressures of globalisation. The simulation harnesses the talents of 100 top social science students from 70 universities across 35 Muslim-majority countries, training them in the skills of future diplomats and community leaders.

By learning how to use multilateral diplomacy to defeat twin challenges of concern to the OIC - the peril of religious extremism along with 'alt right' animosity toward Muslims - the students learn their capacity as a constructive force in their own societies and the wider world.

Women's empowerment is also a major theme of the both the Games and the model OIC event. It's not a coincidence that Islamic Sport Games were organised under the patronage of Mehriban Aliyeva - newly appointed first Vice-President of the country and the spouse of Azerbaijan's President. As First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva has been championing the issues of intercultural and inter-civilizational dialogue for more than decade and a half, launching a number of charity initiatives that foster inter-cultural dialogue both in Baku and abroad. All whilst being the only woman accorded as Good Will Ambassador of both UNESCO and ISESCO, and as the UN High Representative for Alliance of Civilizations Ambassador.

Indeed, Qatari diplomat, Nasir Al Nasser underlined during Model OIC Summit Opening ceremony that it is "the role of the female First Vice President, who is in charge of running such large-scale international program, that plays a model for Islamic world, where the battle for the women's rights is a critical issue for overall development of the OIC countries."

One of the inspiring outcomes of the Baku Model OIC Summit was the young delegates' proposal of an OIC Youth Day, designed to celebrate the creative potential and achievements of young people across the Islamic world. A day that will highlight gender balance and raise awareness on creative solutions to overcome challenges of unemployment, poor education and lack of social mobility amongst Muslim youth.

Ambassador Elshad Iskandarov, President of ICYF-DC, the organising body for model OIC event, will present a proposal for an OIC Youth Day at the next OIC Youth Ministers Council, speeding the process for this idea to become a reality.

Thinking bigger picture, the hope is that events like the model OIC summit, the Islamic Sports Games and the forthcoming OIC youth day will demonstrate new ways in which Muslim governments can enfranchise their young people and catalyze policies across the Muslim world, in order to empower young Muslims to create new narratives of belonging in which different people of all varieties of faith and ethnic backgrounds can co-exist.


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