Search
Close
Close

Articles

Grand Imam/Articles

     

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Four Messages on Peace by His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

Four Messages on Peace by His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

ON PEACE

     The talk on peace is too much multifaceted to be fully encompassed. The rising inquiries about peace, its meaning and its relationships to other cognitive disciplines remain endlessly open. This happens despite the fact that a special discipline is dedicated to the field of research on peace and war, their causes, their relationship to social, political, and military sciences, etc. Even philosophers still argue about peace. While some of them view the human history as a sheer history of bloodshed , others think that peace is the default rule in the human life, and that wars or violence are exceptions to this rule.

     History tells us that humanity did not enjoy long terms of permanent peace, and that it still suffers destructive wars and their bearings. Thus, modern nations of great civilizations, when pressed by need, feel no restriction in inventing an enemy and applying the axe of war to them, with the purpose of maintaining its own cohesion in the face of that imagined enemy. They transfer the battlefield to the lands of that enemy to keep the fight away from their own lands and peoples. This approach that is assumed by some modern political organizations is undoubtedly a flagrant call for elimination of international peace and stability, encouragement of aggression and transgression of all ethical and humanitarian principles that make peace the minimum right of humans and the human community.

     In diagnosing the calamities besetting us in the east, I do not draw much on the conspiracy theory, according to which western Anglo-American machinations against the east is the primary cause of our problems in terms of security, economy, health and education. However, the theatre on which these ugly occurrences take place is anarchic and absurd, involving hints at the hidden dark hands that manipulate the strings from behind the scene.

     The proofs of reality and the course of events over half a century or more do not only sustain this understanding, but rather impose it as incumbent on all those interested in international peace issues in general, and Arab and Islamic peace in particular. How can we understand the backwardness of a great continent like Africa, with its riches and resources including gold, oil, etc., and its persistent inability to pursue advancement and progress? How did third world countries, with all their natural wealth and manpower, lag at the nadir in terms of scientific advancement and technological progress!

     Regarding peace, I would dare to claim that members of the United Nations who charted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not serious enough when they clearly accentuated in its first article the principles of peace and international security, and sovereign equality among member states.  Were they serious when they theoretically prohibited the use of force or mere threatening to resort to it in the international relations, and the full refrainment from interfering in the internal affairs of countries? They were not any serious in acting upon the declaration which they claimed to have charted for the benefit of humanity and the protection of the rights of states, with no discrimination between eastern or western states or peoples. No wonder then that an organization, like the United Nations, have played no role at all in putting an end to any of many unfair and oppressive policies. Although sixty-six years have passed since the foundation of the United Nations to encounter global threats to peace, to stop hostilities among countries, and to spread stability and peace among nations and countries, the Super Powers still grant peace to certain nations and deprive others of it according to their own interests, the system of domination, and even the unjust approach which they immorally justify according to the rule 'ends justify the means'. I may not be departing from the truth if I say that the UN statutes and charters, and its major institutions do not allow dissemination of peace on the grounds of the values of justice, fairness and respect for people’s rights; whatever it grants by one hand, of global peace and collective security, it soon plunders by the other hand through stipulating consensus among its five permanent Security Council members regarding the council’s resolutions, namely the resolutions related to the use of military force in the areas of local and international conflict.

     I do not need to prove that these violations or deficiencies in the statute, regarding the concept of the world peace in the United Nations, were the direct reasons behind the breakout of wars in areas that had nothing to do with such wars.

     One of the most dangerous factors that demolish world peace is the so-called "right to veto”, and the excessive use of it, especially by the two major poles (the United States and Russia). This alleged right is the one which ties the hands of this organization, preventing it from chasing criminals or administering fair peace in many areas stricken with global tension. Hence, many critics argued that the American veto with regard to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the key reason behind international terrorism, encouragement of it, and even participation in it one way or another. However, the statements issued by the owners of such power of veto describe the victims of terrorism themselves as the primary terrorists.

     Although these international institutions have been originally established for enforcing the principle of peace, justice and collective security—especially the legacy of the two world wars of death toll, destruction, devastation and loss of property—they were not the lifeline for humanity against what ambuscades them now from involvement in battles. This is what makes them return backward to distant past of primitiveness, and lose all their achievements, advancement and progress.

     Here, a comparison attracts me, like many others, between the International Charter announced by the Prophet of Islam, Muḩammad (pbuh) in his sermon during the Farewell Pilgrimage  when he stated the rights of peace, justice and equality, long before the Charter of the United Nations regarding these rights. I also wonder how the charter of the Prophet fully achieved its objectives in spreading international peace, while the declaration of the United Nations failed to establish an international umbrella that guarantees justice to the oppressed in the face of their oppressors, be they members in the organization or not. To me, the reason is that the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was honest in his call for the dissemination of peace, justice and equality among people, and that he was not working for the Arabs or the Muslims only. He commenced his statements with an address to the entire humanity: "O people", and would say, "It is incumbent on those who are present to inform those who are absent". He even challenged the attendants that the umbrella of peace and security would extend to the countries and people in the Arab region within a short time, "By Allah, Allah will bring this matter to its consummation to the extent that a female rider will travel from Sana to Hadhramout fearing none except Allah, and the wolf that might attach her sheep, but you are in too much of a hurry".

     Members of international organizations who have taken upon themselves to spread peace in the world were even maintaining discrimination between the West and the East, and between the right of the Westerners to security and peace, and the rights of other people. Why are conflicts boiling only in the East? Why is the West conflict-free, while the reasons behind clashes and strife are fully provoked in the East, in Africa and the Muslim countries in particular! We know for sure that the arms industry in the West is ceaselessly thriving. If the use of such weapons against Westerners is forbidden, where are these weapons expected to be used? And who would it be aimed at other than the easterners!

     The worst thing about the philosophy of peace is that it be related to the purposes and fluctuating moods of international politics, to the abandonment of ethics and its fixed objectives. Here, the line of demarcation is blurred between the perspective of Divine messages regarding the concept of peace, as well as its maximal objective as a basic condition for progress, advancement and civilization on the one hand, and that which is based on political temperaments in their volatility, contradiction and injustice, on the othe.

     Peace is inevitable in Islam, not only for humans but also for animals, plants and inanimate objects. The necessity of peace for humanity in Islam derives from equality among all people in terms of rights and duties. The first of these rights is the right of difference. Allah has created people as different: “If your Lord had so decided, He would indeed have made all humankind one nation; but they do not cease differing [among themselves]." (Qur᾿ān, 11: 118). If difference is an irreversible Divine will in the creation of people, then the relationship between different people, as decided in Islam, is one of knowing one another, meeting and cooperating in righteousness and piety. Hence, peace is the absolute consequence of the relationship of knowing one another and its primary need.

     Islam views peace as the foundation of international relationships and the relationship among peoples, and it views wars as an exception to the rule. Muslims resort to it only when defending themselves, their lands and their beliefs against serious aggression. What applies to the cases of war also applies to the cases of inevitability in Islam. It is known that necessities are assessed proportionately. Hence, Islam forbids exceeding the limits and transgression in fighting: “Fight in the way of Allah the ones who fight you, but do not transgress; surely Allah does not like the transgressors. [In that case] kill them wherever you catch them, and drive them out from where they had driven you out; temptation is more serious than killing. Do not fight them at the Inviolable Mosque until they fight you therein. If they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.” (Qur᾿ān, 2: 190-191)

     We would keep repeating that Islam forbids killing the blind, the crippled, the wage-earners, the farmers and the monks among the enemy army, because those and similar others are disabled or weak, and therefore are not expected to engage in the fight against the Muslims, despite their apostasy and their presence in the enemy camp.

     Islam also forbids mutilation of corpses and even the carcasses of mordacious dogs. Moreover, Islam forbids compromising the safety of animals, plants, or inanimate objects. It forbids Muslims from demolishing buildings of the enemies, burning their palm trees, deluging their bees, or killing animals in their territories, except in cases of exigent need for food, given that such a license is measured proportionately.

     The relationship between peace and Islam is amazing to contemplate. Islam restrict terms are clear regarding the sanctity of blood. It prescribes severe punishment on those who kill people, threatening them with painful punishment and permanent torment in hellfire: “He who kills a believer premeditatedly, then his recompense is Hell, eternally abiding therein. Allah will be angry with him, and will curse him. He has prepared for him a tremendous torment.” (Qur᾿ān, 4: 93)

     There are numerous prophetic traditions that dictate the prohibition of killing people or shedding their blood. Here, we are interested in the bond between peace and Islam and the cobwebbed structure in which Islam and peace wonderfully blend. Muslims pray five times daily, and in every prayer they contemplate the word peace and its meanings, reciting it at the middle and in the end section of each prayer through the Tashahhud formula: "Peace be upon us and upon the righteous servants of Allah". Then they contemplate it a third time when concluding the prayer saying, "peace be upon you".

     Thus, the Islamic legislation obligates every Muslim to save himself and save people through peace at least fifteen times a day. Besides, peace is the greeting initiated by the Muslims towards everyone meeting them, whether they know them or not. It is an established greeting at all times by day and at night. In Islam, there is not a morning greeting, an afternoon greeting, an evening, and a night greeting; there is only one round-the-clock greeting, associated with peace in word and meaning. If peace is the key to meetings between Muslims and non-Muslims, then the reply to the greeting would also be associated with peace. Since “Peace be upon you” is the greeting, then «Peace be upon you too» is the response.

     Let us now consider how peace in the Islamic legislation represents the movement of the pendulum back and forth every time a Muslim contacts other non-Muslims, either through meeting in person or through correspondence, as if the whole life of the Muslim is originally built on peace as a firm principle. Either in terms of worship or interaction with others, a Muslim breathes peace day and night, because Islam as a religion is in fact synonymous to peace, with both being derived from the same Arabic lexical root.

     If the Name of Allah in Christianity is love, Allah in Islam is Peace; and peace is one of His Names. In Islam, we are ordered to observe the marvelous Attributes of God, like peace, as much as our limited nature allows.

     Peace is not only a greeting in worldly life, but a mutual greeting between people even in Paradise: “Their greeting therein (in Paradise) is peace.” (Qur᾿ān, 10: 10) The Qur᾿ān calls Heaven Daru s-Salām (the Abode of Peace), which means that peace is the standard of happiness in life and in the Hereafter. The word peace and its derivatives are mentioned in the Glorious Qur᾿ān forty-one times, while the word war is mentioned three times only. As for the word sword, it was never mentioned in the Glorious Qur᾿ān. Hence, the civilization of Islam is built on peace, as Islam is a religion of peace, mercy and unity. Neither history nor reality indicates that humanity, suffered fear, poverty and devastation under the umbrella of the Muslim civilization.

     Luckily, the Muslin Council of Elders (MCE) has perceived the weight of the issue of social peace and security, and the urgent world need for revival of the concept of just peace for the sake of those suffering due to the absence of such concept over more than half a century. I thus believe it is high time for the MCE, which encompasses unique elite of scholars and prudent and cultured people, to assume a leading role. It is time for it to take broad and confident steps towards reviving the concept of just peace, and to work on building effective international institutions. This is meant to avoid wars in favor of other political, diplomatic and dialogic alternatives towards solving international disputes, primarily in relation to the Palestinian issue.

     The MCE, which heralds promising horizons, should adopt the rule of engaging in mutual acquaintance, which was mentioned in the Glorious Qur᾿ān: "O humankind, surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you races and tribes so that you may get mutually acquainted. Surely, the most honorable among you in the Providence of Allah are the most pious. Allah is Ever-Knowing, Ever-Cognizant." If the contemporary philosophers in the West find no restriction in introducing theories of clash of civilizations, the end of history and creative chaos, all of which are devilish calls for killing and fighting, then we, the protectors of right, justice and peace, have the right to herald the theory of «engaging in mutual acquaintance» as an unshakable basis for international relationships in our contemporary world for the sake of a stable and secure life that is free of fear, coercion, poverty and need!

     The MCE should now be more active in promoting peace in communities, by launching channels of direct communication between scholars and elders on the one hand, and decision-makers and politicians in the east and the west, on the other. Moreover, it should call for the establishment of values of peace, security, brotherhood, and love by means of dialogue, and through youth education. The United Nations launches many programs for the purpose of building and maintaining peace. These programs promote constructive peace and aim at avoiding disputes and violence.

     Finally, yet importantly, the MCE should immediately take a step towards urging the Muslim scholars to openly collaborate, away from petty biases and ideologies which have been the causes of retardation, disintegration and humiliation of our Arab and Muslim peoples. It is through scholars that the hope in guiding people to values of right, good and beauty can be nourished. This can only take place when such scholars maintain peace and concordance amongst themselves first!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

IN PURSUIT OF PEACE

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

     Prayer is an Islamic fundamental ritual practice revealing human submission and humility to Allah and inculcating peace in the depths of worshipers' hearts as an hourly reminder of peace. This meaning is not limited to prayers in Islam. Indeed, it is a general feature of all the Heavenly-revealed religions. Prayer is the basic article of faith in all the Divine messages of Prophets and Messengers. We learn this guidance from the statements of the Qur᾿ān which assert two important points:

First, prayer is a common pillar in all the Heavenly-revealed religions.

Second, it is firmly associated with human peace; when it exists, peace follows and vice versa.

     The fact that prayer is a pillar of faith is made plain in several Qur᾿ānic contexts in which prayer and faith are concomitant. The Qur᾿ān even uses the word ᾿īmān (faith) and the word ṣalāh (prayer) interchangeably in an indication that prayer is faith and faith is prayer. For example, Allah says, “In no way will Allah indeed waste your belief (i.e. your prayer).” (Qur᾿ān, 2: 143) Prayer is the only way to human happiness in this life and in the life to come. As such, a civilization whose vision and prospects are devoid of the philosophy of prayer experiences a case of unrest with serious negative effects on its people and the people of other civilizations as well.

     In this context, we understand from the Qur᾿ān that all the prophets conveyed the message of prayer to humankind in order to save them from idolatry and diabolic aberration. This understanding is evident in the attitude of Abraham—the Father of the Prophets. After completing the building of Ka‛bah, he collected all his fears and worries and implored Allah to make that land safe and to safeguard his future progeny from idolatry. Abraham is very clear in the intentions behind bringing his family and progeny to such a deserted place; he only wanted them to perform prayers around the House of God. As such, he besought Allah to help him keep prayers regularly and guide his descendants from the children of Ishmael and Isaac to keep prayers in all places and times. The Qur᾿ān records the account of Abraham as follows: “Mention when Abraham said, 'Lord! Make this land secure, and make me and my children avoid the worship of idols. Lord! Surely, they have led many of humankind into error. So, whoever follows me, surely he is of me; and whoever disobeys me, You are Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful. Our Lord, surely I have made [some] of my offspring dwell in an uncultivated valley at Your Inviolable Home, our Lord, so that they may keep up the prayers. So, make hearts of the humankind yearn towards them and provide them with products, so that they may thank [You]. Our Lord, surely You know whatever we conceal and whatever we make public; nothing whatever is concealed from Allah in the earth or in the Heaven. Praise be to God, Who has bestowed me with Ishmael and Isaac at an old age. Surely, my Lord is indeed Ever-Hearing of invocation. Lord! Make me one who keeps up the prayers as well as my offspring, our Lord, and graciously accept my invocation.” (Qur᾿ān, 14: 35-40)

     Abraham’s supplications to Allah directly help us understand the necessity of prayers to achieve security and peace. His major concern was to achieve peace through prayers and to avoid idol worshipping. As far as the philosophy of religion is concerned, peace only comes true when two indivisible elements are fulfilled: devoting prayers to Allah and rejecting the worship of idols. In Sūrat Al-᾿Anbiyā’ (the Prophets), Allah commends the way of Abrahams, Lot, Isaac and Jacob, describing them as the imams and leading guides of humankind. Allah inspired them to do good deeds and keep up the prayers: “We made them Imams (i.e., leaders) guiding by Our Command, and We revealed to them [instruction on] the performance of charitable deeds, keeping up the prayers, and the payment of poor-dues. They were worshipers of Us (alone).” (Qur᾿ān, 21: 73)

     Moreover, despite his old age and barren wife, Prophet Zachariah asked Allah in his prayers to grant him good children. In response, the Angels gave him good tidings of John when he was upright offering his prayers in his chamber. It is indicative that prayers may make the most unlikely matter possible: "So, the Angels called out to him as he was upright praying in the Chamber, 'Allah gives you the good tidings of [the birth of] John sincerely confirming a Word from God, a master, a chaste, and a Prophet from among the righteous.” (Qur᾿ān, 3: 39)

     The significance of prayers comes next to the proscription of polytheism in Luqman's recommendations to his son: "O my son, keep up the prayers, command beneficence, and forbid malfeasance, and endure patiently whatever may afflict you. Surely, that is [an indication of] true resolve concerning His Commands.” (Qur᾿ān, 31: 17) When Allah chose Moses to deliver His Message to people, prayer was the second Divine command given to Moses next only to the command of the worship of God: "I have surely chosen you, so listen to whatever is revealed. Surely I am Allah; there is no god except I, so worship Me, and keep up the prayers for My Remembrance.” (Qur᾿ān, 20: 13-14)

     Even the first miracle of Jesus stressed the importance of prayers in the human life. Jesus’ words in his cradle were: “[Jesus] said, 'Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I am and enjoined upon me [the practice of] prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive. He made me dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant. And peace is upon me the day I was born, the day I will die and the day I will be raised alive.'” (Qur᾿ān, 19: 30-33)

     In this context, the revelation to Prophet Muḩammad was not an exception; reaffirmation of prayers followed the same example of the past Prophets and Messengers. Prayer in Islam is inseparable from faith; none of them can stand without the other! As such, it is said: "No faith lies in those who do not pray.” In conclusion, the Qur᾿ānic verses that mention prayers (93 verses) confirm that prayer is the best manifestation of the unity of religions and the integration of the Prophets’ messages as well as the unity of the Heavenly-revealed Books. In other words, God's address to humanity since their first day until the Last day is the same, with prayers holding the cornerstone of the Divine religions.

     Now, the second issue is about the association of human peace with prayers; when it exists, peace follows and vice versa. The Islamic philosophy sees prayers as a regular training for the human beings to learn forgiveness, tolerance, and transcendence. Like a citizen with two worlds—one is narrow and suffocating and the other world is vast—a man lives physically in the materialist world fraught with conflicting interests and ambitions. However, man lives spiritually and emotionally in an entirely different world, superior and free from conflicting purposes or interests.

     Like a true school, prayer teaches the Muslim how to get rid of brutal instincts that feed evil desires, such as aggression, fighting, and exclusivism. Meanwhile, a Muslim can thus gain physiological peace, tranquility, intellectual and emotional transcendence. All people, whether they are simple or highly educated, equally avail of this transcendence. Simply, they all have fierce and brutal desires. It was proved that the scientific and cultural advancement could not discipline the humans or save them from the beast that dwells inside them. Only the right religious education can make this transition, which is essential for the human life. We should learn the lesson from the events of our current civilization. Peoples and countries suffer from a systematic destruction and unethical extermination of the humans, animals, inanimate objects and plants, in full view of human nations and states of the East and the West boasting of their progress and prosperity. However, they have no pangs of conscience and they find no qualm because of that destruction.

     As a Muslim, I long contemplate the texts that explain the importance of prayers in achieving psychological and inner peace, especially when I meditate the prayer experience in the life of Prophet Muḩammad ( pbuh). He says about himself, “My comfort has been made in prayers,” i.e. he finds calmness and tranquility of his heart and mind in prayers. He used to say to Bilal Ibn Rabah—the caller to prayers, “Get up [to call for prayers], Bilal, and give us comfort with prayer.”

     He even relieved angry souls with observance of prayers; He said: “Anger is an ember in the heart of the human being. So, whoever senses something like that, let him cling to the ground (i.e. in prayer).” Simply, the worshipers put their foreheads on the ground [prostrating themselves] in obedience and submission to God. When a person puts his face, which is the dearest part of human body, on the ground, he liberates his soul from the feelings of arrogance, anger and vain superiority to others.

     I do believe that humanity is in dire need of the Divine guidance and the light of prophecy. I have the conviction that human salvation from the contemporary diseases, particularly blind deviation from the truth, has no solution in any material or technological advancement. The solution is actually conditional on the achievement of spiritual and moral progress in which case prayers and supplications do save and rescue humankind from destruction.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

COMMON RELIGIOUS VALUES AND WORLD PEACE

     First, we should be aware that the discussion of religion is not that appealing to contemporary human generations, who pay but little attention to religious guidance in their moral decisions about what is right/wrong, good/bad, honest/dishonest of practices, actions and judgments. Given the fact that the contemporary human being has won the bet in battles against backwardness and achieved amazing progress in all the areas related to technology and information, he still suffers a clearly painful and enormous spiritual and ethical loss. After turning away from the Divine Guidance, humanity could not find any alternative guide to correct its course and safeguard people from decline and bitter feelings of individualism, egotism, and erosion of moral responsibility. Such a case almost disemboweled the major civilizational and historical revolutions of all their beautiful meanings. As such, the achieved progress itself almost forms a history of deviations suffocating humanity in the west and the east on equal footing.

     This vision of civilization, chosen by the West as a way to human liberation from the chains and fetters of the past, is devoid of spiritual elements, especially the human tendency to believe in Allah and in His Prophets and the Last Day. This emptiness has led to tremendous interrelated and complicated human problems. Such a case only disappointed whoever contemplates the spread and expansion of civilizations, leaving them perplexed with worries and fears. Please, do not think that I am a pessimist or that I have any tendency to gloomy views. I know that this majestic hall, with every single piece reflecting an aspect of civilization and progress, has some noble clergymen from the offspring of this civilization. I know them and I know how worried they are about the unknown consequences of the international policies which persist in ignoring religions and their role in establishing the world peace and the values of human brotherhood and love. I am definitely not pessimist; but an honest reading of realities allows no optimism. What reason is there driving a superpower to spend billions of dollars for the destruction of poor and hopeless nations? It was possible, if any goodwill was guaranteed, to devote 10% of such sums for modernizing these nations and relieving them of the clutches of suppression, ignorance, poverty, and diseases. This is only one of the most recent destructive examples, quite having no qualm about violating the rights of the weak and oppressed nations without the least conscience. This is symbolically indicative of the wrong practices nurtured by egotism and arrogance within these civilizations.

     We once thought that excluding religion from the epistemological and psychological structure of the Western civilization was just a choice made by political convictions for the achievement of welfare and benefits. While making their choice, the policies exercised their sheer right, unrestricted by other civilizations, cultures, or even religions, especially the religions that resorted to desolate corners in the places of worship. We also presumed that the irreligious philosophies and their civilizational stereotypes are non-exportable and not marketable to the world nations. Unfortunately, and to our surprise, the attempts to impose this culture on other nations by ways of interference with their most special privacies, even sometimes by force when they saw it necessary, shocked us. If only the issue had come to this bad end, it might have been easier to tolerate but they went beyond all limits in attempts to form some philosophical and political theories, such as the clash of civilizations, globalization, stereotyping of culture, and center/margin theory, among other policies. Indeed this case recalls the ages of colonization, dominance, and genocide.

     Contrary to these policies, religions educate that God has created the human beings free and, thus, variant in beliefs, ideas, feelings, religions, languages, races and colors. If Allah so willed, He would have created them all as one nation. Conversely, He made them variant nations and willed them to live variant lifestyles to the end of time. Clearly, the Qur᾿ān puts it, “They will continue to hold different views.” (Qur᾿ān, 11: 118) The practical conclusion averred that it is beyond the ability of any nation or civilization, no matter how arrogant, tyrant and powerful, to melt all peoples into one civilization or culture. A civilization undertaking this attempt just acts against the Divine plan and the nature of things. The Qur᾿ān rightly asserts, “Allah always prevails in whatever His purpose is, but most people know it not.” (Qur᾿ān, 12:21) The logic of religions is purely free from hegemony in affirmation that, were civilizations to walk through this inauspicious course, the natural result would not be the dominance of a civilization or a culture over another but the fall of the arrogant civilization or the return of humankind to a historically-unprecedented state of brutality and chaos.

     This quick comparison makes it plain that the logic of religion concerning the relationship of civilization is radically contrary to the logic of the clash of civilizations or the end of history and to the logic of communal one-class community, whose pillars fell even before their erecting construction was complete. In this respect, religions put greater emphasis on human intrinsic tendency to practice religion as a commonly human shared instinct and universal feeling. No nation, ancient or recent, fell short of this feeling. The studies of fossils and myths and the Western comparative religion studies all prove that human inclination to religion is older than human history in all the materialistic civilizations. Indeed, the motif of divinity or deification was not what Voltaire and Rousseau suggested as “a created idea presented by the maliciously cunning clergymen and priests who found enough fools and simpletons to believe them.”

     A religious person is spiritually more qualified to feel empathy and human fraternity as being the foundation of all the spiritual values shared by religions. This fact is clearly evident in my faith, Islam, which asserts that all the human beings belong to one father and one mother. Not only does Islam affirm this human origin, but it also stresses the inseparable religious brotherhood between Islam and the previous heavenly-revealed religions. The Islamic faith, Sacred Book and Prophet emphasize this fact. For example, Islam (which lexically means submission in Arabic) stands as the main issue of the same Divine religion delivered by all the Prophets and Messengers from Adam to Muḩammad (may Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon them all). Similarly, the Prophet Muḩammad (pbuh) affirms that “Prophets are paternal brothers.” The paternal brothers share the same father while they have different mothers. In this statement, ‘father’ is symbolic of religion, while 'mother' denotes the various laws brought by prophets in compatibility with their times and locations. Furthermore, the Qur᾿ān affirms the guidance and enlightenment of the Torah and the Gospel. See how wonderful the relationship between the contents of Islam and those of the previous Divine messages is. The Qur᾿ānic statement declares, “He has legislated for you as religion what He had enjoined on Noah and that which We have revealed to you, and what We had enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus, saying: ‘Keep up religion and do not be disunited therein.’ Greatly detested to the polytheists is that to which you call them. Allah selects to Himself whomever He decides and guides to Himself whomever turns penitent”. (Qur᾿ān, 42:13)

     Since religion is one and its source is one, it is impossible that religions fail to conclude an agreement on several universal principles and guidelines, those standing for the prophets' inherited light of guidance undertaken by prophets one after another.

     It is not true—as some unmindfully claim— that the points of similarity and likeness between the Qur᾿ān and preceding scriptures indicate that the Qur᾿ān borrowed from these Scriptures. If they observed that the Divine religion was only one, they would have realize that these points of similarity form evidence to the same source translated in the same Divine discourse, regarding the major issues which are constantly the same regardless of time. Contrary to their presumptions, this is not a proof for the discrepancy of these books, or evidence that one of them borrows from the other. We, Muslims, believe that all the Divine messages are in agreement regarding the fundamental issues of monotheism and the basic virtues and ethics. Any difference in this area is even unimaginable. For example, the Qur᾿ān is not blamed for having the contents of the Ten Commandments (Exodus: 20:1-17) in various verses. Likewise, the meanings of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, such as happiness, benignity, charity, asceticism, giving glad tidings to those who are poor, kind, merciful, bereft or peacemakers are all stressed in various Qur᾿ānic statements.

     Actually, the history repeats itself. London hosted the International Conference of Religion in 1936 CE to which the then Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Muḩammad Muṣṭafa Al-Marāghi (d.1364 AH/1945 CE) sent a treatise entitled, “Az-Zamālah Al-‛Ālamiyyah, i.e. Human Universal Colleagueship.” In this treatise, he highlighted the causes behind human disunity and differences, paying attention to a very serious source of the international conflicts, viz. the exploitation of religion and merchandizing it in markets of politics and conflicts. He believed that materialism had dominated religion and tampered with it. As such, the right beginning shall be the revival of religious colleagueship among the religious leaders themselves. These are the most qualified people to perceive these lofty meanings and the most deserved of humankind to understand that the threat posed to humanity never comes from different religions. It rather originates from atheism and the philosophies which sanctify and worship the matter and, meanwhile, ridicule religions. Sheikh Al-Marāghi suggested a well-defined plan to activate the universal colleagueship program specifying the following methods and mechanisms for its implementation.

     First: A foundation should be established to purify the religious feelings from grudges and hatred through the following procedures:

1.   The religious activities of different religions should adopt a human attitude instead of rousing religious conflicts among their followers.

2.  Collecting the lofty human values shared by all religions, such as kind treatment and showing lenience to human beings, and promoting them in various languages away from all grounds of discrimination.

3.  Purely rational means should be employed to promote these universal meanings of sincere love of the truth, without any reliance on doubtful means in education, and to encourage true religious beliefs.

     Second: A foundation should be established to enhance the religious passion among the educated classes, with the aim of strengthening the centers of religion to stand firm before scientific research and freethinking. This enhancement must depend on evidence and avoid delusion and recourse to despotic spiritual authorities. To sum up, the past errors that cost humanity heavily and burdened them badly must be avoided.

     This was Al-Azhar's message to the International Conference of Religion held in London seventy years ago. Despite the changes that have occurred, the world is still in dire need of the spirit of this treatise which testifies to the universality of Al-Azhar. Since its early beginning, Al-Azhar has been mainly concerned with humankind as a whole; it responds to all serious calls for the promotion of universal peace based on justice, respect of human rights and equality for all people. In all of its endeavors, Al-Azhar believes that the human prospects aspired by interreligious dialogue conferences never disagree with the universal rules of Islam; rather they mostly form some parts of the Islamic higher objectives and goals.

     I am tireless to repeat it once and again—as mentioned in my previous talk— that humanity is urgently in need of the light of prophecy. The modern European urbanity has failed to achieve human happiness and left humans prey to the monstrous powers of tyranny, dominance, and double standards. Actually, these powers of falsehood allow no space for fairness and justice. No one would defy this fact but an arrogantly stubborn person. Let us hope that the modern world will seek spiritual purity in the future by coming back to the guidance of Heavens.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

THE MUSLIM CIVILIZATION VS. THE WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE MISSING WORLD PEACE

     All praise is due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon our Master, the Messenger of Allah, and upon his family and companions, and those who follow his guidance.

     Now, the month of Ramadan is coming to an end, and its sun is about to set. One cannot tell whether or not to survive and enjoy in the shades of its awe and beauty in the coming years or not! Indeed, Ramadan is the month of the Qur᾿ān;, its beginning is a time for mercy, its middle for forgiveness and its end for deliverance from Hellfire. It also includes a night which is better than a thousand months, as described in the Glorious Qur᾿ān: “The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months.” (Qur᾿ān, 97: 3) Besides, the Prophet Muḩammad (pbuh) advises us to “seek it during the last ten nights.

     Celebrating the Night of Glory (Laylatu l-Qadr) is in essence a celebration of the Glorious Qur᾿ān, the book that has given rise to a splendid Muslim civilization, and that protects it from being assimilated or attacked by other contemporary civilizations. Such civilizations turned away from the guidance of religions and adopted the clash of civilizations and armed struggles as an ideology, a philosophy and a creed. This is accentuated by the famous English poet Rudyard Kipling (d. 1936) in the opening lines of The Ballad of East and West: “OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. Since then, this statement has governed the Western policies as a principle to rule the relationship between the West and the East. The more-than-a-hundred–years-old statement has been the most distinctive description of the Western culture that rejects the Muslim east and opposes its civilization and heritage.

     We would think that the culture of rejecting Islam became now obsolete under the tremendous progress achieved by the West, especially in the field of information technology through which Islam can now be properly assessed and easily acknowledged, given its moderation and human nature. It was supposed that with the Westerners being able to clearly perceive the true Islam, there would remain no ground for their traditional antagonistic stance towards Islam and its civilization. To our surprise, however, the modern policies of the West retained its old path, though under different mottoes, and kept fabricating false claims and lies about Islam. While the motive for colonization in the last two centuries was the ‘white man’s mission of civilizing and refining the barbarous easterners’, the West has introduced a new plea, namely ‘the clash of civilization’, the ‘inevitability of encountering Islam’, ‘the end of history’, ‘creative chaos’ and dissemination of democracy. All these are fallacies and shameful scandals when considered in light of the Qur᾿ānic verse that maintains interaction and mutual integration of civilizations as a basis: “O you humankind, surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you races and tribes so that you may get mutually acquainted. Surely, the most honorable among you in the Providence of Allah are the most pious; Allah is indeed Ever-Knowing, Ever-Cognizant.” (Qur᾿ān, 49: 13) This is also the case when such fallacies are viewed in light of the Prophetic hadiths that accentuate the principle of equality among humankind: “All humans are as equal as the teeth of a comb” and “Humans are the children of Adam, and Allah has created Adam from earth.

     Indeed, the ‘clash of civilizations' theory that governs the philosophy of the Western policy is a colonialist theory par excellence. It is carefully designed to justify the ‘inevitable’ clash with Islam, which is a haunting obsession for decision-makers in the West. When it was crystallized in an article published in the United States in 1996, it was quickly adopted by decision-makers, and transformed, along with other claims, into a miserable reality experienced by the Arabs and the Muslims in many of their home countries.

     Undoubtedly, the civilization of Islam is far from polarization or exclusion sustained by some other civilizations; otherwise, it would have not survived until now. Indeed, it has survived because it is a civilization of peace, moderation, and tolerance. Hence, the Muslims are moderate, given that such moderation is established in the Qur᾿ānic verse in which Almighty Allah addresses the Muslims, “Thus, We have made you a moderate nation to be witnesses over humankind, and for the Messenger to be a witness over you,” (Qur᾿ān, 2: 143) The nation that witnesses over other nations is a just one, given that justice is moderation.

     Moreover, the Muslim civilization is distinguished by such moderation from other civilizations that opted for either materialism or spirituality. The reason behind Islamic moderation is thus the Glorious Qur᾿ān through its balanced and fair address to humanity. A human being belongs to two worlds, with the soul belonging to the world of the unseen and the body to the material world. However, the Glorious Qur᾿ān addresses humanity with answers to questions which fulfill those dual needs.

     In this respect, much can be said about moderation in the Qur᾿ānic discourse, in terms of creed, morals, legislation and the balanced vision of major binaries. These include the seen and the unseen, life and afterlife, coercion and volition, physical and abstract, religion and state, man and women, prohibition of transgression and obligation of self-defense, as well as other binaries whose scope falls beyond enumeration. Indeed, due to its moderation, the Muslim civilization has gained that which is lost by other civilizations that lacked that very principle. In the Muslim civilization, man is free from all internal contradictions that arise from polarization between the body and the soul, or between the requirements of Divine guidance and those of life and the community. Hence, a Muslim is qualified to overcome the superficial hiatus between worldly life and the afterlife, and to derive from both that which fulfills the ambitions of the body and the yearnings of the soul. In this sense, there is no binarism, polarization or conflict, but rather integration, mingling and blending that together create a consummate vision, a balanced and tranquil sentiment, and a distinctive acknowledgement of the universe and of the Creator of that universe at one and the same time.

     Perhaps it is not an arbitrary exaggeration to maintain that those non-Islamic civilizations, which built their conceptions away from the light of the revelation and the Heaven and from conscience and morality, all had nothing other than the philosophy of struggle as a means or a tool to deal with others. For instance, what would be expected from a civilization that fails to combine belief in the physical matter and belief in God, acknowledging the former and disbelieving in the latter? Would it then conceive perceptions and actions beyond the framework of this suffocating mundane life? Wouldn’t lustfulness, utilitarianism or self-love be the sole norm for virtues and vices!

     Imagine the case when countries of great civilizations, with all their political and military institutions governed by such pure materialist logic, need—for purposes of economic security—to operate arms factories or control sources of wealth beyond its borders. Would such countries hesitate to get what they want, even if this meant swimming in blood baths? Would they refrain from committing heinous crimes? How would it then maintain a principle that guards it against committing such ferocities?

     The Muslim civilization would not acknowledge conflict as an approach in dealing with other civilizations or exercise exclusion or destruction of the others or distortion of their identities. The history of Muslim conquests bears witness that the Muslim civilization would offer radical solutions to genuine social problems, liberating the oppressed and the wronged from the shackles enforced on them by the tyrants. This civilization was never known for liberating the vulnerable for the purpose of controlling or enslaving them or for appropriating their wealth. Rather, it is well known among those who are fair, among the non-Muslims, that fight in Islam was never meant to make people change their faiths, or to impose Islam on the followers of other religions. Besides, the Muslims never preemptively attacked other nations with whom there were no feuds, or else forced them to choose between the embracement of Islam and engagement in fight. This truth needs no evidence, being firmly established in history, despite the suspicions raised by ill-intentioned persons. However, it is worth noting in brief that Islam was never introduced by Muslim conquerors as the only available option. Rather, it was introduced to people as an alternative, with people having full freedom to either embrace it or maintain their own faiths, and with their full freedom to exercise the rituals of their faiths being maintained.

     Had the Glorious Qur᾿ān or the noble Sunnah referred, explicitly or implicitly, to the imposition of faith or occupation of other people’s land as the objective behind fight, the victorious Muslims would have not allowed vanquished people to choose maintaining their faiths in return for the payment of an insignificant amount of money. In fact, history tells us that the conquering Muslims would live among the people of the conquered lands with its people maintaining their own faiths, customs and traditions. In other words, the Muslims have always acknowledged the existence of a different civilization than theirs and chose to communicate with it unreservedly. Such acknowledgement of other civilizations and heavenly faiths is a clear proof that the Muslim civilization was never a civilization of exclusion or appropriation.

     Such is the impact of moderation that is manifested in Islam’s respect for, and acknowledgement of, other religions despite being different from them. This principle was applied by the Muslim civilization towards the countries conquered by the Muslims. The inhabitants of countries, like Egypt for example, were able to retain their Christian faith. This moderate civilization itself was the reason behind the embracement of Islam by many people in such countries. Westerners are still attracted to Islam to the extent that the conversion rates to Islam have become a source of disturbance for the official authorities in these countries.

     Perhaps the people who deny the moderation of Islam do not doubt that the millions of Westerners in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, or Washington who choose Islam as a religion were not forced to accept it by the force of the sword. Rather, people embrace Islam despite the sponsored distortion campaigns against it, which exert every possible effort to make people repulsive of Islam and the Muslims.

     Tracing the history of the Muslim civilization’s relationship to other civilizations, one would feel awe at the moral and humanitarian impact of the moderation of Islam and the Muslims who were guarded against the pitfalls suffered by the followers of other civilizations. The case of Andalusia reveals the difference between the moderation and tolerance of the Muslim civilization when the Muslims prevailed there, and the extremism of the Spaniards when they controlled the lands. It is sufficient here to cite one example given by historians about the tolerance of the Muslims in Andalusia. The Muslims fully participated in the ceremonies of the Christian festivals; some Muslim authors even wrote books on non-Muslim festivals. Among those authors were Abu ‛Āmer As-Sulami, Abu Al-Qāsim Al-‛Azafi, and Ibn Bashkawal Al-Qurtubi. Even Muslim jurists and philosophers addressed these festivals, like At-Tartūshi, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Al-Wanshārisi and others.

     Historians trace such participation to the Muslims sense of integration with the Christians under the Muslim rule in Andalusia, and the common practice of marriage between Muslim men and Spaniard women. Those women would celebrate festivals, like Christmas, in the houses of their Muslim husbands. These reports are reliable since they conform to the fact that the Muslims would never prevent the followers of other religions from practicing their religious rituals.

     Besides, the pact concluded by the Prophet (pbuh) with the Christians of Najran is a decisive proof for such a practice. Indeed, it represents a sublime sense of tolerance that is historically exclusive to the Prophet of Islam. The pact included the following,

     The protection of Allah and the guarantee of the prophet Muḩammad, sent from Allah, extend to Najran and its neighborhood. Protection is guaranteed for their goods, their people, the practice of their worship, for those of them who are absent or present, their families and their sanctuaries, and all the large and small money in their possession. No bishop will be removed from his episcopal seat, monk from his monastery, or priest from his hermitage. No humiliation will afflict them, or the blood of revenge former to the treaty.

     They will be neither assembled nor taxable with the dime. No troop will press their ground and when one of them claims it, equity will be established among them. They will be neither oppressed nor suppressed.

     Reviewing these texts, an objective reader would agree that they surprise both the Muslims and non-Muslims alike, out of its unique fairness that emits only from a Muḩammadan water spring of Prophethood. The lessons learned and the spiritual experience witnessed during the month of Ramadan dictate, at such a critical moment in the history of our nation, a recollection of our inevitable duties and incumbent objectives. On top of these duties are unity, conscientiousness, and accountability so that we would not lose the gains accrued by the Arab revolutions and uprisings for which sake noble people lost their lives. We believe that they have fallen martyrs and that they are now alive in the Providence of their Lord, near Him, well provided.

Dear fellows,

     We are not alone in this world. We have friends just as we have enemies. Those enemies eagerly seek to destroy us and squander our resources, and thus drive us back towards the age of ignorance prior to Islam. Let us overcome our whims and realize that our battle is one of survival and resistance in the face of fierce challenges and stormy winds that are about to sweep our countries, history and culture.

     One of our neighbor countries has been suffering political disintegration and security deterioration for over two decades. Most of the people there starve to death. Therefore, and through the platform of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, I call on the Egyptians, the Arabs and the Muslims to launch an immediate large-scale relief campaign to collect money, food and medicine for the purpose of aiding those suffering fellows in Somalia. In this call, we are drawing on the noble manners established by the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) through a hadith reported by Al-Bukhari: “With regard to their being merciful and compassionate among themselves and showing love among themselves, the believers resemble one body. When any part of such a body is not well, then the whole body shares sleeplessness and fever.”

     As the month of Ramadan is coming to a close, it is high time to work towards achieving a Muslim civilizational project that encounters challenges, redresses the path of the nation, and responds to the aspirations of its people. I believe that an arrangement of the Muslim house from inside, and at the hands of the Muslims themselves, is the incumbent challenge of the moment, and that it should be encountered despite the pains and perils. This belief is driven by the hopes and yearnings for a renaissance through which our deserved glory, leadership and honor can be revived.

Professor Aḩmad At-Tayyeb

The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar

Number of views (166)/Comments (0)

Back To Top