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Organisers of banned conference ‘will sue’ those threatening them online

By Rana Husseini - Oct 31,2018 - Last updated at Oct 31,2018

AMMAN — Organisers of a conference on contemporary religious narratives that was recently cancelled by the Interior Minister on Tuesday said they will “sue everyone who threatened them via social media”.

The organisers also pledged to continue their mission of “spreading free ideologies and encouraging peaceful and free thinking”.

On Monday, Interior Minister Samir Mubaidin ordered the ban of a Masarat Centre conference for ideological enlightenment, scheduled to be held in early November with the participation of 50 religious scholars and researchers from Jordan and abroad.

Mubaidin’s decision came as a response to a letter received from Amman Third District Islamist MP Dima Tahboub on Sunday. “I sent the Interior Minister a letter informing him that I received a lot of complaints from people about the conference, and asked him to check out its content on the organiser’s website and take what he deems the necessary actions,” Tahboub told The Jordan Times.

The lectures listed on the organisers’ website caused controversy on social media, with activists and influencers urging a ban on the event, arguing that some of its content could include blasphemy and contradict with the religious values of the Jordanian society.

The conference, which was to be held in cooperation with Mominoun (believers) Without Borders (MWB), sought to discuss several topics, including contemporary religious narratives, modernised ideological models and religious media discourse, according to the Masarat Facebook page.

During a press conference held in front of the Writer’s Association’s headquarters in Jabal Lu-weibdeh, MWB Secretary General Younis Qandil said that the content of the conference was “in accordance with our religious fundamentals and values while maintaining the right for the participants to express their opinions and thoughts in a scientific manner”, adding that it aimed “to allow thinkers and researchers to express their ideas and explore the religion in a manner that ensures the safety and security of all”.

“Unfortunately, we were met by some individuals who rejected our peaceful approach to have a free and responsible dialogue and instead declared us ‘infidels’ and we started receiving death threats via social media,” Qandil stated, charging that the cancelation was part of “politicising the Islamic religion in Jordan in order to control our lives although the Islamic religion is supposed to encourage discussions and allows us to express our opinions freely”.

One of the founding members of Masarat Centre, Raed Khatib, added that the event was “in no way meant at attacking the Islamic religion”.

On the contrary, Khatib maintained, the conference was based on three aspects including “stretching our hands to shake it with others, extending our hearts to love others and allowing our minds to think and be creative”.

“Many people declared us as apostates and infidels through social media but we will never give up and will continue with our sacred path to spread our enlightening project that spreads love and acceptance in all religions,” Khatib said.

Muath Bani Amer, who was scheduled to present a paper titled, “The History of God”, which the organisers said was the reason behind cancelling the event, said: “It is a disaster that the minister decided to cancel the event based on a call by MP Tahboub since we obtained the necessary official approvals to hold the event.”

He added: “The decision was based on one word [History of God] from my research paper that is a total of 18,000 words. It is really sad that they singled out this word and ignored the entire research and what it represents”.

Tahboub defended her actions, saying that she was “alarmed” by the title of the conference. “I noticed it carried the meaning of shutting down the Islamic society and the name there caused a problem to me,” she stated, noting that Bani Amer’s paper title was another point of concern to her.

“I also noticed that none of the participants are religious scholars and therefore are not eligible to discuss matters of religion,” Tahboub added.

Amman Third District MP Khalid Ramadan, who expressed solidarity with the participants, told The Jordan Times that he holds the government accountable “if any of the organisers is harmed as a result of the threats they received”.

Activist and feminist Zulaikha Aburisha, called the cancellation “a disaster”. “How can the relevant ministers accept to cancel such an important event that is aimed at researching the idea of God? We are really going backwards in terms of freedom of speech,” she told The Jordan Times.

A woman who came to express solidarity with the organisers said cancelling the event was a complete disappointment and goes against Jordan’s image as a progressive country.

“Many of these thinkers are important figures and I was willing to travel to Morocco to hear them speak. When I heard they were coming to Jordan I was very happy. It is a shame that the event was cancelled and we decided not to invite them to Jordan because of such a decision,” the woman, who preferred not to be identified, told The Jordan Times.

Meanwhile, the Ifta Department issued a statement on Tuesday warning against holding conferences and events that would instigate sectarism by holding religious events that could be misinterpreted as harming the religious fabric of the society.

The Ifta Department stressed that “it rejects any events that would tarnish all religions and would shake the security of the society, and in no way reflects accepted free speech but rather falls under the idea of attacking others and their values”.

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