In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
Praise be to Allah. Allah's peace and blessings be upon our master Prophet Muhammad and upon his Family, Companions, and those who follow in his footsteps until the Last Day.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As-Salamu ‘Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh
“May Allah's Peace, Mercy, and Blessings be upon you!”
We are pleased to welcome you to the prestigious institution of Al-Azhar at the kind invitation of Muslim Council of Elders (MCE). We welcome the dear guests and honorable delegation of the World Council of Churches (WWC) representing all Christian denominations worldwide. Our thanks especially go to Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, the General-Secretary of the World Council of Churches. Since the first moment we met Dr. Olav in Geneva, the MCE felt him a man with a truthful and sincere heart full of good and kindness to the entire humanity, and determined to help all people enjoy the noblest form of peace and happiness. His lofty personality reflects his deep spiritual peace and clear conscience, which actually embodies the heavenly-revealed messages. This is the core of religious faith and, then, various divine laws and guidance follow, such as doctrines, acts of worship, financial translations, and ethics.
Let me start my word with reminding of the conclusion reached at our first meeting in Geneva last year, held in Oct. 2016 CE. We agreed to “do our utmost in order to overcome all obstacles that hinder the way to promote peace, justice, and love among the entire humanity in the east and the west alike; and to hold the next meeting—the current one, at Al-Azhar Headquarters in Cairo.” Our frequent bilateral correspondences chose the theme of “The role of religious leaders in activating citizenship and coexistence initiatives.”
I think, although I may not be true, this issue would most likely capture the attention of religious leaders in the oriental Arab and Muslim world. This is the greatest challenge in the face of calls to terrorism and terroristic postulates, which attempt to lead young people astray east and west and inculcate false notions and wrong conceptions about the idea of “Islamic State” in their minds. They endeavor to restore traditional concepts and terms (e.g. ahl al-dhimma i.e. clients of Muslim states; jizyah i.e. a per capita yearly tax levied by Islamic state on certain non-Muslim subjects; and sabiy i.e. spoils), which Muslim jurisprudence and laws have surpassed since the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. The past political system of Islamic caliphate employed some legislative rules in conformity with ancient times concerning the rights of non-Muslims, so it is logical, pursuant to the Islamic jurisprudence itself—in the aftermath of changing the political system—to change many or a few legislative rules in relation to the relationship with non-Muslims in the Muslim state.
In the mid of these challenges, which forcibly attempt to drive contemporary ruling systems in Muslim states back to some imaginary systems in their mentalities without any link whatever between them and the Sharia and its laws. Indeed, they are completely far from the Sharia and its eternal texts. Here, we perceived the grave dangers that result from misunderstandings and fake religiosities. This form of misconception confuses the impeccable values of religion recorded in the Glorious Quran and Sunnah with the reason-based juristic conclusions made under certain exigent circumstances in the past times.
Given the great differences in circumstances, contexts and time exigencies, the issue of “citizenship” becomes the first and foremost issue worthy of the interest and discussion of religious leaders. It constitutes the practical reply to the “delusions” that have met somewhat material and moral support so much so that those deceived by delusions thought that working on achieving them is a form of jihad in the cause of Allah and a way to restore the golden ages of Muslim glories. I have no doubt that citizenship is the best guarantee for the enforcement of the juristic maxim governing the relations with non-Muslims “They have rights and duties equal to our duties and rights.” To use the modern expressions, all citizens are all completely and absolutely equal in rights and duties.
It pleases me to say that Al-Azhar in cooperation with the Muslim Council of Elders held a conference last February entitled, “Freedom and Citizenship: Diversity and Integration.” It declared for the first time in our modern history that “Citizenship” is a purely Islamic system applied by the Prophet in the first Muslim state, the State of Medina. When it comes to the west, this call may—I hope I am wrong—lose much of its brilliance, because citizenship is no longer a challenge to these actively citizenship-based communities, in which citizenship and equality of rights and duties are already in force.
Perhaps, the most persistent challenge is to fight the phenomenon of Islamophobia. It is a very dangerous phenomenon, if left rolling like a ball of snow without decisive explanations about the facts and philosophies of religions and their ultimate ends to achieve human happiness and help human spiritual, mental, and moral progress. I am deeply afraid lest the phenomenon of Islamophobia may someday in the near future turn to be the phenomenon of religiophobia.
The world horizons are replete with confusing anti-religion ideas, which deny religions in general and the world two greatest religions: Christianity and Islam in particular. For the callers of atheism, Christianity caused the Crusades in the east and the religious wars in the west whereas Islam, they also claim, spread terrorism and destruction, bombing the innocent civilians and turning human life into an unbearable misery of terrors and fears. For the atheists, there is no way but to remove these two religions completely from human life, if humans really desire for peace, security and honorable life. Those atheists do not tell us about the outcomes of wars, in which religion had no hand whatever, near or far. Indeed, atheists and deniers of religions initiated many of these wars, whereas religions had no hand whatever in them. Review the victims of social dogmas of modern times to see what the numbers tell us. Victims of religions throughout ages, since the ancient times until contemporary ages, are not even one tenth when compared to the millions of victims killed, exiled, or tortured for the sake of false prophecies of atheists that no one of them ever came true. After paying this very heavy toll, all such vicious prophecies remained dead letters and impossible to carry out.
Excuse me for expatiating on this point. I am deeply worried for the future of religion and for achieving the religious message entrusted to clergy, scholars, and religious guides. We all know the immoral arrangements made in preparation for destroying religion and vitiate its contents. Protected by laws, justified by communities, and promoted by globalization, these fallacies find their way to minds of young people day after another. All these preliminary steps will finally lead to a fierce conflict between the believers and the atheists.
The current problem of heavenly religions cannot be solved through religious conflicts. Indeed, the first step—I see—to solution is to remove tensions among religions. Moreover, we should renounce negative historical legacies whose bad influences should be avoided. It is very deniable to recall them in such a critical timing while anticipating long wars against the fierce enemies of religions, who are savagely ready to devour us all.
For the sake of achieving this lofty goal of communication and mutual understanding among the religious institutions, Al-Azhar sought to meet the leaders of the major religious institutions in Europe at the Vatican, London, Geneva, Florence, Paris and Berlin. Moreover, it dispatched peace-delegations to many capitals worldwide in Asia, Europe, Africa, and America.
We are here at Al-Azhar working day and night for our Christian brothers and citizens in Egypt. You may contemplate the ‘‘Egyptian Family House’’ here at the heart of Mashyakhat Al-Azhar. You may also read Al-Azhar Declaration on Citizenship and Coexistence, which presents citizenship as an alternative to ‘‘Minority/Minorities” terms, which Al-Azhar renounces categorically. These are two urgent and practical steps taken on the ground to be followed by more steps in the future.
Dear brothers, do not believe the lies of media, which associates terrorism with Islam and accuse Muslims of persecuting their fellow Christian citizens. Some liars even said that Islam and Al-Azhar, as falsely alleged in their latest flagrant lies, are behind the last two terrorist bombings. Such lies no longer deceive any person of sound mind, who can correctly read events and what is behind them.
I do not want to waste your valuable time in raising evidence against this open falsehood. I would like only to draw your attention to a well-proven current, yet inescapable fact, that terrorism kills Muslims before Christians. This evidence is decisive and is not open for sophistry and fallacies. Review statistics and monitoring centers and compare the numbers of Muslim victims and Christian victims in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt in particular. You will certainly know that terrorism has no religion or homeland. As a blood thirsty, it gives no care to bloodshed, whether the victims are Muslims, Christians, or atheists. Its goal is to destabilize nations. The target place may be a mosque, a church, a market, or any gathering of peaceful innocent people.
Finally, Al-Azhar is looking forward to the WCC's adoption of Geneva's Call to address the phenomenon of Islamophobia and to the continuity of its thankful steps on the way of Christian-Muslim dialogue, which was officially commenced in 1982 between the World Council of Churches and the Islamic Conference in Colombo, the Capital of Sri Lanka. I once again welcome you and wish you a fruitful stay in Egypt. Thank you for your visit, which is dear to hearts of all Egyptians, men and women alike.
Thank you very much for attentive listening!
al-Salamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh
The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar
Rajab 1438 AH/April 2017
A paragraph, not included in the speech:
The citizenship system had been changed in the aftermath of Muslim widespread conquests. The Muslim relationship with non-Muslims in the new territories had developed. It was necessary to define the relation of non-Muslims with a clearly announced "Muslim State." The term Ahl al-Dhimmah thus appeared. It means that a Christian or a Jew citizen enjoys the protection guaranteed [dhimma] by Allah and His Messenger in term of their rights and obligations, which are equal to Muslim citizens.
 See al-‘Aqqad, al-Shutū‘iyyah wal Insaniyyah [Communism and Humanity], p. 15, adapted.