Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Dialogue between Elders from the East and the West, Abu Dhabi

The Dialogue between Elders from the East and the West, Abu Dhabi

The Speech of H.E. the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar at the opening of the Fourth Round of the Dialogue between Elders from the East and the West in Abu Dhabi


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

Rt. Revd. Justin Welbey, the Archbishop of Canterbury

Elders of the East and the West

Ladies and Gentlemen

As-Salāmu ‛Alaykum wa Raḩmatu Allahi wa Barakatuh

     This is the first meeting we hold in the Arab East, in the United Arab Emirates. Thanks to the rightly-guided leadership and wise leaders of this country, it has become a model for the balanced openness and well-planned development in which originality and creativeness, heritage, and modernity come together in fine harmony and unique compatibility rarely found in countries initiating their way on the route of progress and development.

     This is the first time, in the Arab modern history, that a finely-planned meeting takes place between the Muslim Elders and the Christian Elders from the Anglican Communion for specific objectives. Praying to God for success and help, we pin huge expectations on today meeting to initiate a seriously new step on the way to build a world of integration and mutual understanding. In essence, this initiative aims to relieve the current human sufferings of terror, pains, bloodshed and wars.

     Wise Elders! I think you agree with me that most of the current human tragedies have germinated from the dominant materialism and injustice of anti-religious policies that go against, and even mock at, the revealed religious teachings. However, they have manifestly failed to provide alternatives of religions to achieve a kind of happiness to humankind, create hopes for better and meaningful life, or guarantee rights equal to those guaranteed by the revealed religions, especially the rights of justice and equality as well as the right of freedom and the right to difference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

     I have no doubt that humanity, at this moment, is eagerly yearning for a return to the revealed religions and their human and ethical teachings. This has been the case after so long and painful experiences, misleading humanity to imminent destruction and certain loss. Such experiences abusively dominated the destinies of peoples and their rights and resources. Immersed in their powers and arrogance, such experiences manifested the imperial philosophy of expansion and fell prey to the monstrous desire for hegemony and unlimited lust of unilateralism and egoism.

     During the past two centuries, some people mistakenly thought that the scientific progress and technical and philosophical advancement had eliminated the role of religions and turned them into antiquities only to  display in the museum of history. Moreover, they thought that the advancement achieved in these areas is the one thing worthy of leading humankind, taking charge of refining and developing human feelings, and deterring any of the evil tendencies.

     To their surprise, the reality falsified that new dream day by day. Indeed, the reality left the delusions of this dream to face their fatal destiny. We read in many books that if the 19th century was a time for scholarly research and philosophies of evolution, it was also a century for the colonial expansion and bad utilization of knowledge to achieve the imperial interests and the political ambitions of the colonizers.

     Unlike what is stated in the heavenly sacred religions, some of the 19th century scholars and thinkers went so far to claim that human races are not originated from the same origin, but came from various origins, seeking early roots in the great apes and other animals. They went on with their wild claims to build other theories on these false assumptions which disunited humankind and categorized peoples on the basis of their color and race. Another theory appeared to give rise to the superiority of the Aryan race over other races, regarded as the designer of all scientific, cultural, and civilizational discoveries.

     Surely, you know about the history of these pseudo-scholarly theories which were wickedly devised to justify the imperial policies and the domination of other nations in open disrespect of the unanimously agreed-upon teachings of religion on the issue of human creation as independent species. For the sacred texts, the issue of human creation will continue, irrespective of the scientific development and advancement, an eschatological metaphysical issue, entirely beyond the limits of science, experimentation, and laboratories.

     "I did not make them witness the creation of the heavens and the earth, nor the creation of themselves. Nor would I take the misleaders as helpers." (Qur᾿ān, 18: 51) The 20th century was not better than the 19th century. Two World Wars took place, leaving behind more than seventy millions of deaths. Evidently, the religion has no relation whatsoever to any of them. Only the false inclinations to the European superiority of race were among the causes that triggered them. In the wake of these two wars, nuclear weapons soon appeared, as a new leap for world terror and a constant threat to humanity.

     Then 21st century then began with a new imperial policy with excessive inclination to violence and cruelty, which has of course led to much affliction in the West. However, we—the Arabs and Muslims—are experiencing it in the east as a living reality turning life into a medley of dust, bloodshed, tears and ruins. The new imperial colonization also found those who philosophize and theorize these policies and present justification thereto, such as the theories of “clash of civilization”, “end of history”, “constructive chaos” and the “center-margin”.

     To sum up, the amazing scientific advancement has unfortunately no parallel advancement in ethics. Likewise, the technical development, especially in the area of lethal weapons, proved devoid of all the values expected to direct it to the right destination for human welfare. Noticeably, wars are constantly increasing and growing worse day by day in synchrony with the progress of knowledge on the ladder of development. Indeed, scientific progress and war breakup are currently concomitant, each strengthening and inflaming the other. The same is true about the development and progress achieved in the areas of philosophy, literature, sociology, and arts. They all advanced apart from the philosophy of religion and in the absence of ethics, in total contempt of mere rational contemplations and metaphysics--all in isolation from the human heritage and its religious and philosophical treasures. Eventually, these modern theories proved more detrimental than beneficial.

Dear Brothers,

     History repeats itself and the conference we are now holding is very similar to the international conference of religion held in London in 1936 to which the then Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Muḩammad Mustafa Al-Marāghi sent a treatise entitled, "Human Brotherhood and Universal Colleagueship." I was amazed to identify this kind of similarity in worries experienced by Europe at that time and those we suffer at this very moment of our history. Second, the titles of treatises of the far past are very similar to those of today. The treatise of Sheikh Al-Marāghi had a mission; he was pursuing and exploring the issues of human fraternity and the international peace, which are identical with the contents of today’s mission in pursuit of a world of integration and mutual understanding. It is most likely that the conclusion of Al-Azhar treatise in London Conference will rightfully guide our way in the conclusion of the current meeting of Abu Dhabi.

     The significance of this message lies in the fact that Western citizens had then developed a pessimistic view of the clergymen. At that time, a message was declared at the heart of Europe that the world could only escape its contemporary crises through devoutness, and through holding firm to religion. It maintained that the cause of civilizational decline at the age of scientific prosperity was not religion, as mistakenly perceived by common people, but it was atheism and materialist philosophies. Few people thought leaders and reformers could dare to propagate such a critical approach. At that time, it was quite onerous to point profound criticism to the morality of science at the peak of its prosperity. Besides, it was not easy to criticize positive philosophies or to warn people against its lure and dominance over social and political theories, and even over religious thought itself. Hence, some Christian and Muslim scholars were compelled to resort to a conciliatory or adaptive approach between sacred texts and opposing scholarly and philosophical perspectives, even if such perspectives were grounded on sheer potentiality, not attaining the acceptable level of scientific laws or gaining certitude. This adaptive approach was frequently adopted at the expense of clear denotations of sacred texts, so many people felt that religion was about to suffer an eventual decline.

     Then, the late Grand Sheikh Al-Marāghi did not hesitate to state in his message that the only cure for such decline is “devoutness and religious sentiment”, which he described as an intuitive element instilled in the human being. It is more forceful in driving humanity towards peace, justice, and equality than atheist inclinations that nourish corruption in the human community. The late Grand Sheikh also expected that atheists and their fellows who satirize religions would raise the objection that history abounds with human-made catastrophes and disasters that were motivated by “a religious sentiment that acted as a reckless force prompting horrific violence and destruction.” These distressing occurrences, Al-Marāghi believed, constituted a tragic reality, though religion had nothing to do with it. Indeed, none of the divine faiths incite the calamities imputed to it. The genuine motive behind these calamities has been a manipulation of the religion sentiment in producing a distorted reality and attaining goals that are justly denounced by religions themselves. After all, it is only misguided religious scholars, rather than religion itself, who stand behind such tragic occurrences!

     Here, fellow brothers and sisters, springs the serious responsibility resting directly on our shoulders or those of devout religious scholars and preachers to face the crises that distressingly loom large in today’s world. Scholarly fellowship, which has once been proposed by Al-Azhar in the thirties of the last century, begins with a fellowship among religious scholars, orin the words of leading theologian Hans Kung, “No peace among the nations can be without peace among the religions”. Therefore, religious scholars—even when they intend to undertake their role in preaching world peace, sustaining harmony in the face of struggle, and realizing people’s hopes for an integrated world with full faith in mutual understanding—should first maintain peace and understanding amongst themselves. In this way, they can preach it to others. Such is the framework of action that Al-Azhar has always maintained since it initiated the first practical step in this long path with an official visit to your venerated church, Canterbury Cathedral. We were so pleased, Reverend Archbishop, with your generous entertainment of Al-Azhar delegation in your palace during the period of June 6 to June 9, 2016 A.C. Then followed the second step towards the Vatican City to Pope Francis on May 23, 2016 A.C. The third visit was to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, during the period of September 28 to October 2, 2016 A.C. By Allah’s Willing, I expect such visits to largely contribute in mitigating the pains of the poor, the wretched and those groaning under the fire of absurd wars and the deviant policies of those lacking religious and moral conscience.

     Here we gather today in Abu Dhabi, in a meeting of wisdom and fellow feeling, invoking support from our Almighty Lord, and imitating the noble example of prophets and messengers in their sincere reliance on the Lord alone and in their bearing unimaginable burdens for the sake of delivering the human community from aberration and guiding it to the path of happiness in this life and in the life to come.

Dear noble guests,

     If I have a hope in this meeting, it is that we forget the past and its nurtured grudges and enmities, and that we look forward to the future, having a firm belief that we will not be held accountable for the past before our Lord. Rather, we will definitely have to account for that which happens at the time in which we live in terms of our duties towards the Lord and His creation.

     Finally, dear guests, the great religion of Islam, which I embrace as a faith, openly welcomes any efforts that do not only upkeep the welfare of humankind but also cares for other creatures, including animals and plants, and even inanimate objects.

Thank you for your kind attention!

As-Salāmu ‛Alaykum wa Raḩmatu Allahi wa Barakatuh

Written at Al-Azhar Headquarter

Al-Muḩarram 28, 1438 AH/October 30, 2016 A.C.

Professor Ahmad At-Tayyeb

Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar

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