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The Summit of Religions
Mohamed Helal 586

The Summit of Religions

Speech by

 His Excellency Al-Azhar Grand Imam,

Prof. Ahmed At-Tayyeb, Chairman of the Muslim

Council of Elders

To "The Summit of Religions" Conference

Entitled, "Enhancing Child's Honor"

The Vatican City, Rome, Italy

Dated in Rabī‛u l-'Awwal 1441/

November 2019

 

In the name of Allah the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

 

Dear esteemed attendees,

Peace and Blessing of Allah be with you

     It gives me a great pleasure to meet you for the second year in a sequence to discuss one of the most serious issues about which every single household in the East and the West must be worried. In the light of the recent developments in technology and digital world, the future of our children seems unclear and turbulent. It has become clear to the representatives of religions as well as to wise people that such a digital development has unfortunately managed to steal from these susceptible creatures their innocent dreams and their rights to enjoy a childhood warm with parental love. This is happening despite the existence of international moral laws that are supposed to protect such rights and heavily punish those who violate them.

     I suppose that such conferences concerned with the endangered future of the children have become an inevitable necessity that can go beyond mere chanting of these rights, inefficiently and impractically. In fact, it has become the responsibility of the believers and the wise politicians to swiftly confront this danger and find a safe way out. We do not need any additional tragedy to fatally threaten our modern civilization, leading to a regress to a form of human slavery. Such a recent development is likely to victimize our innocent children who have nearly become slaves to the worshippers of materialism exclusively obsessed with this worldly life. This would be a natural consequence of the philosophy of the free market, the principles of demand and supply, and the value of satisfying the lower human desires, away from all the natural instinctive high values.

Dear esteemed attendees,

The rights of the child in the Islamic legislation are varied and well protected with laws and punishments. Such rights represent a sacred goal in the      philosophy of Islam, and one of the main targets of the Divine rules. The rights of the child start as soon as one is shaped a fetus in the mother's womb, and continue till the end of the period of childhood. This includes the child's right to be given a good name by his parents to avoid their fellow children's sarcastic notes, the case that is likely to lead to separation and loneliness. The prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h.) would change children's names when they carry any negative connotation that may harm the children's feelings. He would then replace bad names with good ones, full of positive implication.

     Islam would give priority to a Christian or Jewish mother over a Muslim father in keeping her Muslim child under her personal care (in the case of parental separation). This is done to best serve the interests of the child. The Prophet Muḩammad (p.b.u.h.) says, "He who separates a child from her/his mother will have to be separated from his beloved ones on the Day of Judgment".[1]

     My brief notes about the rights of children in Islam are not the only motive for my taking the trouble of travelling to talk to you here and listen to your suggestions. Rather, it is my terrible worries, shared with the wise people concerned with this human issue, which have motivated me to highlight the terrible situation of our modern children enslaved by this little apparatus (e.g. the mobile phone) they keep on them all the time. They would go to bed with it in their little innocent hands, only to wake up the next morning at its blue lights. They resort to its virtual life disconnected from their reality to which they come back only to eat and drink and soon escape to its imaginary world.

     I personally noticed the early symptoms of extreme diverted attention on the children around under the age of eighteen. This is an anticipation of a deep drift between the children on the one hand and their parents and relatives on the other. Such a drift covers their thoughts and imaginations, and is extended even to the logical principles of their thinking that not long ago used to be the family's center of attention.

     I have also noticed the children's tendency to separation, loneliness, carelessness, laziness, and early symptoms of inhibited aggression, among other social and psychological disorders threating these blossoming human buds.

     I'd also like to bring to your kind attention the fact that such dangers have always occupied a great space in my thought, in a common concern with my brother and friend His Holiness Pope Francis of the Vatican when we worked together on preparing the Human Fraternity Document. That is what motivated us to notify this problem within the basic principles of this historic document. Let me quote it in the following: "The basic rights of the children to family upbringing, nutrition, education and care form the duty of both the family and the society. They should be provided and protected, so that no child may be deprived of them anywhere. Any practice that may hurt their dignity or violate their rights must be condemned, and the same applies to any possible harm, particularly in the digital environment. Trading with their innocent childhood or causing any harm to it must be made illegal.

Ladies and gentlemen,

     To me, there is no doubt that the digital technology revolution, whose harms greatly overweighs its benefits, will not stop to develop with all its positive and negative consequences so long as such a development takes place unguarded by the religious and Divine moral values. Therefore, finding a solution cannot be by confronting this revolution, but rather by means of looking seriously for the means to establish a solid relationship between scientific advancement and religion, seen as the guard of the noble human values. This is possible given that religion be taken from its authentic sacred books and the instructions and behaviors of the Prophets. To my mind, the gap between the course of science and religion forms a recent human tragedy, leading to advancement in science and technology but withdrawal in values, morals and virtues. This incessant conflict between scientific advancement and moral setback is the major reason behind the unapproachable recent human disasters. The relationship between the astonishing advancement in the weapons of mass destruction and tragic conflicts in the Arab and Muslim countries is clearly noticeable. The same applies to the relationship between the availability of arms trade and terrorism. Terrorist organizations have managed to recruit kids and trained them on fighting in their war camps.

    The UN reports state that about 8,000 kids were recruited by the terrorist Boko Haram organization and that 3,000 kids were conscripted by ISIS. According to these UN reports, many of them were trained to attack their own families, showing their absolute and blind loyalty to their terrorist leaders. Such recruitment is still going on via the social media networks, digital games and internet sites—all that brainwash them and fill their heads with images of violence and aggressive thoughts. In particular, ISIS has managed to recruit a great number of boys and girls via such social media and transformed them into brutal soldiers who indifferently kill and cause destruction. Another disaster that has started to threaten us all is enabling sex abusers, via the digital world, to have access to their victims among the children. They do that by means of hiding their real identities and using fake names, the case which makes it almost impossible to trace them and hold them legally accountable for their sex crimes. This situation seriously threatens the family privacy and harms the dignity of the children. In its report about "The Children in the Digital World" (2017), the UNICEF states that no child is safe from the dangers of the internet, and that the children who excessively use the internet are the most susceptible to these dangers. It is well known to you that many online sexual blackmailing crimes take place in European countries and other technologically advanced countries, where the children overuse the digital technology in the absence of parental watch.

Dear esteemed attendees!

     I hardly need to confirm the positive aspect of digital technology from the perspective that it has offered humanity great services, many of which takes place in no time, only at the blink of an eye. Some of these services even miraculously reduce the time and distance gaps and squeeze the world into a handy space within convenient access. To my mind, the most significant digital services is providing the children with learning opportunities, notably to children whose countries have been inflicted with armed conflicts, poverty, famines and forced migrations.

     On my part, I never get tired of paying tribute to official and public organizations that offer initiatives for employing digital sites to save those children from the claws of ignorance and illiteracy in the 21th century.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

     Talking about the child dignity in the digital world is a much elaborate topic in which the feeling of admiration is merged with disappointment  and worry. In the past, scientific advancement used to offer absolute services to humanity at large, due to the fact that it was protected by a guard of noble values. Nowadays, every scientific breakthrough seems to be a mixed blessing in which case it is hard to put its benefits away from its harms. Again, this is our central issue and we have to make a choice.

     I do not claim that I have a solution to this civilizational disorder, as putting the scientific advancement machine to a halt is almost impossible. But here are some basic principles kept for the believers of Allah, as well as the wise people who still believe in noble human values, to take hold on:

     First, we need to revert to the principle of family responsibility for the children by watching and guiding them, without resorting to violence. Protecting the children against moral ailments is certainly prior to providing them with unlimited freedom that makes them susceptible to fatally destructive disorders.

     Second, a tireless reminder is due of the destructive consequences of the digital technology revolution, together with an incessant discussion of related issues within the framework of the religious and educational institutions, particularly in the early school stage curricula and programs. Due attention is also required from official and public institutions, notably the UN and the UNESCO, among others. Due attention has to be paid to the child's dignity in international agreements about children, in the hope that an international human awareness of the issue acts as a protection fence against the harms that are likely to burn them with its scorching flames.

     In conclusion, I would like to warn against the negative consequences of globalizing the agreements on children, ignoring all the distinctive differences between men and women. Let us take into consideration, for example, the fact that some items of such agreements were formed in a civilizational environment that cannot be the same everywhere else. Hence, in my view, the moral principles of the eastern culture, affluent with religious traditions, should be taken into serious account, given the great respect and sanctity they have always been enjoying for thousands of years. In this respect, I call for a conference to discuss this serious issue, taking into account the principle of respecting the other human civilizations, the only principle that can achieve the mutual cooperation we all aspire to harmoniously link the East and the West.

     Thank you for your attentive listening. I'd also like to pay tribute to everyone who has taken part in organizing this significant conference, providing it with all the necessary elements of success. This conference acts as an essential pillar that deserves the attention of everyone who seeks to provide a better future for our world.

May Allah's Peace and Blessing be with you all!

 

Dated on Rabī‛u l-'Awwal 17, 1441

November 14, 2019

Ahmed At-Tayyeb,

Al-Azhar Grand Imam

 

[1]   Narrated on the authority of Ahmad (23499), Tirmidhiy (1566), Bayhaqiy in his As-Sunanu l-Kabīr (18357, 18356), Tabaraniy in his Al-Mu‛jamu l-Kabīr (4080) and Al-Ḩākim in his Al-Mustadrak, who states that "this is a sound hadith, given the conditions set by Muslim, without the latter's reporting it himself".

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