Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Dialogue between the Muslim Council of Elders and the World Council of Churches

The Dialogue between the Muslim Council of Elders and the World Council of Churches

East and West Elders' Dialogue

Geneva, Switzerland on Sep. 30, 2016

Speech by H.E. Professor Ahmad At-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

at the Inauguration of "Dialogue between the Muslim Council of Elders (MCE) and the World Council of Churches (WCC)"


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

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As-Salāmu ‛Alaykum wa Raḩmatu Allahi wa Barakatuh

     Allow me at the outset of this talk to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to you for inviting me to attend this meeting held in such critical circumstances our world experiences today. The entire humanity is undergoing a moral crisis to the extent that the meanings of love and peace are viewed as an exception to the main rule of selfishness, hate, and dispute governing the world today. Frankly, I am telling the truth when I say that no single nation but that it longs to permanent peace and life free from violence and terrorism. It is deeply regrettable that fingers are pointed in accusation of religions as the maker of that abhorrent terrorism.

     In reality, those people who accuse religion of creating terrorism are unaware of two important facts in this regard. Firstly, religions aim to instill the pillars of peace amongst people, to eradicate oppression, and to strictly prohibit people against the unlawful shedding of human blood. As you all know, the name of my faith, Islam, is derived from the word peace. Moreover, As-Salaam (Peace and Blessing) is one of Allah’s attributes. Furthermore, He, the Exalted, is named the All-Merciful, the Most Compassionate, the All-Pitying, the Loving, and the Subtly Kind. Likewise, the Messenger of Islam, Prophet Muḩammad, ( pbuh) has defined the true Muslim as “one from whose tongue's and hand's harm  people are safe.” Secondly, terrorism--of  which religions in general and Islam in particular are accused— does not differentiate between a religious person and an atheist; nor does it differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims.

     A quick look at the victims of terrorism confirms that the Muslims are the ones who pay the highest price of terrorist acts, as their blood is shed and their corps are severed. Terrorism does not only occur in the East where it strikes many countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and the torn-apart Syria. More than one thousand mosques have been demolished so far and more than 400,000 people were killed. It also exists in Europe where European Muslim bloods are also shed in terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, the great loss to Muslims is that their religion and its followers are being charged with terrorism. This accusation has been frequently leveled against them, leading some extremist rightists to adopt a discourse of hate. Accordingly, they offend religions and call for separating religion from the lives of people as well as deportation of its followers from their countries. Houses of worship are also being assaulted. Thus, innocent people are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea; the devil of terrorism and the deep blue sea of the Islamophobia

Ladies and Gentlemen

     It is not my concern here to apologize for religions against these oppressive accusations. You surely know that it is a stark calumny. However, I want to affirm that the primary and genuine responsibility of religions is to foster and promote peace in all the corners of the world. This is the universal objective of all religions. All religions, with no exception, prohibit blood shedding, property seizure, and honor violation. I have never recognized a divine religion allowing blood shedding, right infringement or intimidation of safe people. I do believe that peace never prevails nor can people enjoy it unless the religious institutions and their leaders cooperatively work towards peace building.

     Here, before you, I would like to reiterate what Al-Azhar has called for since more than seventy years in Egypt and in some European capitals: that peace should be made among the religious leaders at first and then between them and the intellectuals on the one hand and the decision makers on the other, before it can be promoted among ordinary people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

     In fact, statements of condemnation by clergymen against violent and terrorist operations and discourse of hate are insufficient. It seems that we are working in isolated islands. Such work produces weak outcomes, lacking effective tangible impact in the real world. Therefore, we need to coordinate to carry out a joint work combating violence through a global realistic project. Such a project is to be supervised by religious leaders through holding a number of meetings, probing in depth the causes of this phenomenon and deciding upon the most important proposed solutions to effectively confront it on intellectual, scholarly, social and educational bases.

     It is worth mentioning that Al-Azhar has introduced a new subject in its curricula to educate the students on the dangers of terrorism and extremism. The subject is meant as immunity from falling prey to violent ideologies or joining terrorist groups lifting Islamic mottos while pursuing armed violence. Meanwhile, it is incumbent upon religions to assume their roles in educating the youth on the importance of mercy and compassion by means of holding major international youth forums. Such forums should focus on clarifying religious concepts, especially fostering the concept of citizenship without discrimination on the basis of religion or race.

     Such is the basis of plurality, freedom, equality, acceptance of the other, and showing respect to others’ beliefs. The Prophet of Islam ( pbuh) had applied these concepts, before the modern world constitutions were drafted, when he established these concepts among the citizens of Medina upon his migration. He stated that "the believers and the Muslims of Quraysh (Mecca) and Yathrib (Medina) and the Jews are one nation; and that The Jews of Banu ‛Auf represent one community with the believers; the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs)."
Thus, the Prophet ( pbuh) instilled the principle of equality among the Muslim and non-Muslim citizens in his early state and recorded it in a document titled the "Constitution of Medina." In this context, we reaffirm that the belief in the value of this principle implies salvation from countless religious and social problems in both the Eastern and Western states.

     The Islamic Sharia has always emphasized that the Muslims in the East shall consider the followers of other faiths as fellow citizens taking part in establishing and defending the nation. The Sharia maxim that goes is as follows: “They [non-Muslim fellow citizens] equally share our rights and duties.” Al-Azhar has always called on the Muslims in the West to truly consider themselves as part of their societies where they should integrate and react positively in order to achieve social peace.

     Undoubtedly, in this context, the religious leaders have a role not to be ignored to break down the psychological barriers erected by propagandists of violence, isolation, and hatred among the followers of different faiths. This role entails highlighting multiple facts, on top of which is that such diversity is a God-dictated norm that must never give rise to conflict, seclusion or war. Otherwise, the situation would result in a contradiction between the freedom of diversity and the confiscation of this right.

     In conclusion, I voice my hopes that we together step up our efforts to confront all manifestations and practices that stand in the way of promoting peace, mercy and justice among people in the East and the West. I also hope that we formulate an integrated humanitarian draft agreement that should lead us to bring about a positive effect on the current affairs. We pray to have enough good deeds whereby we may escape God's reprimand on the Day of Judgment.

As-Salāmu ‛Alaykum wa Raḩmatu Allahi wa Barakatuh

Professor Ahmad At-Tayyeb,

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

Al-Azhar Headquarter

Dhu Al-Hijja 26, 1437 AH/ Sep. 27, 2016

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