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Protect Christians’ rights, says outgoing Muslim envoy
01 January 2014 11:49 by Abigail Frymann Rouch

The outgoing head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said yesterday that Muslim nations should broaden rights for religious minorities.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who stepped down on Monday after nine years as secretary general of the 57-country group that represents the Islamic world and is based in Saudi Arabia, wrote in email exchange with Reuters: “I have no doubt that there is room for religious freedom improvements in some parts of the Muslim world with regard to allowing non-Muslims to have access to their religious facilities or construction of such facilities".

In some Muslim-majority nations Christians face hurdles, or are barred, from building churches.

Ihsanoglu also said Western countries should do more to combat an increase of prejudice against Muslims there.

The OIC' was long focused on unsuccessful efforts to get the United Nations to pass a global ban on defaming Islam but the fate of Christian minorities in Muslim countries rarely figured in its declarations.

Ihsanoglu met Pope Francis on 13 December at the Vatican, and said he stressed to the Pope the need for "greater efforts from OIC member states to foster respect for religious pluralism and cultural diversity and to counter the spread of bigotry and prejudice".

The Turkish academic and diplomat said both the Pope and the grand imam of the prestigious al-Azhar centre of Sunni learning in Cairo, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, have recently expressed support for his proposal to foster better ties between Islam and Christianity.