The speech of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar at the Bundestag

  • | Thursday, 17 March, 2016

In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful

Professor Norbert Lammert, Speaker of the German Parliament;

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dignified members of the Bundstag,

Dignified attendants,

Peace be upon you!

At the outset, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to you for giving me the opportunity to be among you and to address my speech through you to the dignified German people.

I am truly happy for being in the historical building of the Bundstag whose walls are still keeping the memories of international events that changed the history of Europe; the Bundtsag which enabled the German nation to overcome the political, economic and social crises, to be a prominent country which attracts the attention of all people as an example of sustained development and a country that promotes the values of freedom, justice and equality.

I’d like to seize this opportunity to thank Chancellor Angela Merkel and tell her that I, on behalf of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, appreciate her noble humanitarian situation with regard to men, women and children who fled away from the hell of wars in the east in spite of the pressures she faces to retreat her position, but she insists on her brave position that history will ever never forget. Al-Azhar has actually issued a statement in which it expressed gratitude for the Chancellor for her decent situation towards Islam and Muslims when she took part in Berlin demonstrations rejecting Islamophobia. Like brave heroes, she affirmed the statement of the ex-German president Christian Wulff who once said, “Islam is part of Germany.”

Dignified members of the Parliament!

Please, allow me to introduce myself to you as a Muslim man who is specialized in studying religion and understating it as willed by Allah to mankind and as conveyed to them by His Messenger Muhammad (PBUH). As well, I’d like to affirm that I have no political or party attitudes nor do I adopt any rightist or leftist ideology. Truly, this is not my goal. Rather, I am a Muslim who loves all humanity and who is concerned about the issues of peace with all its dimensions including the religious, social and international ones; a Muslim who pursue peace and wishes it for all mankind, irrespective of their different countries, races, nationalities, religions, creeds and doctrines.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I did not come to preach you nor to applaud the religion of Islam among you, but I am here to stimulate the motivation of your fairness to support this religion that deserves you to protect it against injustice and false allegation attributed to it; allegations which Islam strongly and publicly denounces; allegations resulting from the behavior of few so-called Muslims who badly misunderstood it and introduced it to people as a brutal religion that is against humanity and destroys civilizations.

Ladies and gentlemen, you know that Islam is tightly linked to the heavenly-revealed religion. That is because we, the Muslims, believe that the Torah, the Gospel and the Quran are guidance and light for all mankind, and that what came later of these books affirms what came before. In fact, we are not true Muslims unless we believe in these heavenly-revealed books, Moses, Jesus and all the Prophets and Messengers before them. The Quran reads, “Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. (Qur'an 2:62)

It is not true that Islam is a religion of fight or sword. As a matter of fact, the word ‘sword’ was never mentioned in the Quran, not even one time. Muslims believe that Allah sent Muhammad a mercy for all mankind and not for Muslims only. Rather, they believe that he (PBUH) was sent as a mercy for man, animal, inanimate objects and plants. In this regard, the Quran reads, “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds” As well, Muhammad (PBUH) said about himself, “O People! I am a gift of mercy granted by Allah the Almighty." So, whoever understands the teachings of this Prophet out of the context of general mercy and international peace, he/she will be ignorant of the teaching of Islam.

Islam does not permit killing a non-Muslim just for refusing to accept Islam, or killing a person for refusing to accept any religion in general. It is Allah Who creates believers and unbelievers alike, as stated in the Qur’an, "It is He who created you, and among you is the disbeliever, and among you is the believer. And Allah, of what you do, is All-Seeing." (Qur’an 64: 2) Allah has never created unbelievers to order believers to kill them. This is an illogical attitude that does not befit the human wisdom, not to say the Divine Wisdom.

Freedom of belief is guaranteed by a clear text in the Qur’an, as stated in Allah’s saying, "So whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve," (Qur’an 18: 29), and also, "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong." (Qur’an 2: 256). Moreover, the constitution that the Prophet (PBUH) sent to the people of Yemen stated that, "He who refuses to accept Islam from among the Jews and Christians, should not be forced to abandon his religion." History has never witnessed a single case in which Muslims have ordered non-Muslims -in the lands they ruled- either to accept Islam or to be killed. Rather, they would allow those people to keep their religions, traditions and customs. Muslims, moreover, found it acceptable to co-exist and have relations with those people or even to marry from amongst them.

Jihad, in Islam, is not confined to fighting, that is to resist aggression. In fact, the greater Jihad in Islam is to resist and struggle against one’s own whims, the Satan and evil desires. Broadly speaking, the legal concept of Jihad includes all efforts devoted to the welfare of humans, at the top of which are efforts devoted to combat poverty, ignorance, illness, and the efforts devoted to help the needy , the poor and the miserable. Islam do not instruct Muslims to use armed Jihad except in case of resisting aggression and wars waged against them, in such case they have to defend themselves. This kind of Jihad is approved by all religions and traditions and at all civilizations. It is completely untrue to say that Jihad in Islam means to carry weapons in order to fight and kill non-Muslims. It is deeply deplorable to promote such misunderstanding and false interpretations of the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah (Prophetic Traditions) in order to defame Islam and Muslims.

The Islamic Sharee’ah (law) is based upon the principles of justice, equality, freedom and human dignity. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) has declared the value of equality among all people at a time when human mind has not matured enough to fully figure out or comprehend this principle, because people at that time knew not but the society of class conflict between masters and slaves. However, the Prophet declared it so clear that "People are as equal [with one another] as the comb teeth."  It was only ten years after the death of the Prophet that the second Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab angrily addressed one of the governors saying, "Since when did you enslave the people though they were born from their mothers in freedom?"

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe that you have here in Europe many laws and regulations  that correspond –in essence or even in wording- with the regulations of Islam in this regard, especially those regulations that preserve humans’ dignity and freedom, and ensure justice and equality among people regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds.

In this regard, I address Muslims living in Europe -who became part and parcel of the social European body- to care for these high values of the societies where they live, and to benefit from these values in presenting a similar image that reflects pure teachings of Islam that respect others regardless of their religion, faith or race. You have to always remember the saying of Allah, "Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly." (Qur’an 60: 8)

How much I wish that every Muslim living in Europe writes this verse in a beautiful board and puts it on his desk, hangs it at his shop, or posts it on his mobile phone, to always remember it. He has to remember that Birr (goodness) which is the climax of courtesy and politeness required in dealing with one's parents is also required with those who are peaceful and do not fight against us. Moreover, the fairness and justice should be the substantial moral value for a Muslim with his brothers in Islam and his brother in humanity alike.

Woman in Islam is equal to man in rights and duties according to the wording of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), "Women are twin halves of men." Do not think - o gentlemen- that marginalization that the Eastern woman is suffering from is because of the teachings of Islam; this is a false allegation. In fact, this suffering came as a result of violating the true Islamic teachings in dealing with woman and giving preference to local traditions and customs over the real teachings of Islam.

The Muslim community has lost much creative power and productivity when we as Muslims- allowed marginalizing the role of woman and excluding her from influential positions in the Eastern societies.


Ladies and gentlemen!

Diversity of peoples and cultures are natural as stated in the Qur'an.  The Islamic law of international relationships i.e. the principle of "knowing one another" is based on this diversity. This principle necessarily entails engaging in dialogue with others, whether we agree or disagree with them. In fact, dialogue is what our contemporary world needs in order to overcome the current severe crises. Thus, it is difficult for Muslims to imagine that all peoples and nations of the world follow one religion or have one culture.  Allah has decreed to create people different from one another, even in their fingerprints, as the Qur'an says: "And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one community; but they will not cease to differ," (Qur'an 42:118)

A person who believes in the Qur'an has no doubt that it is not possible for any power or civilization to change Allah's Will in creating people different from one another. Such a person considers the theories that dream of all people adopting one religion or one central culture as daydreams or childish desires.

Hence, it was normal and logical to see this openness of Islam to Christians and Jews that it extends to them bridges of co-existence and mutual peace. Among the clear  examples in this regard is to allow a  Muslim man to marry a Christian or Jewish woman who can still keeps her religion; it is it is not permissible for her husband to prevent her from going to a church or a sanctuary. In addition, it is not allowed for that husband   to prevent his non-Muslim wife from practicing her rituals in her Muslim husband's house.

Respected members of the Bundestag!

Perhaps, some of you may whisper objecting to what I am saying , or ask in a deniable manner, "If Islam and Muslims are in such bright image, how can  armed religious movements as « ISIS » and others came out of the mantle of Islam to kill, destroy and behead in the  name of God, Islam and Sharee'ah ? Are these terrifying inhumane scenes sufficient to destroy all what I said about Islam as a religion of peace and human fraternity and compassion among people?

My answer to this question is that: if any religion is to be judged by the atrocities committed by its followers, then no religion shall remain free from the charge of terrorism. In fact, those who practice this terrorism do not represent these religions. Rather, they misrepresent the religions that they claim to fight in their names.

Religions are to be understood from their Divine teachings and the practices of Prophets who conveyed these teachings to people. This is how to understand the messages of Prophets Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, and all Divine messages.

This wave of terrorism that we all suffer from is condemned by the whole Islamic world: peoples, governments, Al-Azhar, churches, universities, thinkers, intellectuals, etc. So we all - Muslims and non-Muslims- have to stand altogether to confront all forms of extremism, terrorism and injustice, and to make all possible efforts for cooperation to eradicate this deadly epidemic.

Terrorism does not distinguish between its victims as long as they do not adopt its ideology and extremist ideas. If some people still believe that Islam justifies the crimes of terrorism, they should remember that Muslims are paying a heavy price for this terrorism from their blood, souls, wives and children more than what is paid by non-Muslim victims… So how can one relate between Muslims and these killers who are disavowed by Islam and Muslims themselves?

In face of this world-wide terrorism, you may agree with me that it is inevitable to establish real mutual openness between religions and their followers. Moreover, it is inevitable to settle peace among religious leaders, scholars, and strongly believe in the slogan launched recently by the contemporary theologian Hans Kong, who said, "No peace among the nations without peace among the religions,”[1] the same slogan launched by the late Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mustafa al-Maraghi in London in 1936 when he called for global fraternity and a correct mutual understanding between the Western civilization and the Islamic civilization.

ladies and gentlemen!

Let me say that when I used to talk about your communities expressing my admiration with your policies which are based on equality, democracy and consideration of human rights, some  asked me -in a deniable tone-, "If this is true, why do not we see these values embodied in many Western attitudes toward the Islamic countries?" Many people in the Arab and Islamic East do not know about the West except double standard policy and prejudice of self-interest policy that do not take into account the interests of peoples. Those questioners give examples of what happened in the "Iraq", "Libya" and other areas.

My message and serious appeal to you is to work eagerly to change this pessimistic view, in order that we may start a new chapter together, in which we promote together world peace, put an end to the horrors of war and stop the blood falls. Besides, we have to work to solve the Palestinian issue in a way that guarantees peace and stability in the region. This is my hand extended to you to work together for these noble humane values.... would you please respond to me?

Ladies and Gentlemen!

The democracy that we look forward in our Arab and Islamic countries, cannot be achieved by war, the clash of civilizations, the creative chaos, blood and force; rather it will be achieved by mutual cooperation between civilizations, balanced and unbiased dialogue, and exchanging programs of education, industry and technology.

Although Al-Azhar always works to renew religious discourse and educational curricula, but it has recently doubled its efforts in this regard. There is no time to detail our plan for renewal, but it is sufficient to inform you that Al-Azhar scholar confronting everywhere the mistaken ideas which distort the image of religion and make use of  religion in calling for blind sedition that justifies killing and destruction of nations. In fact, Al-Azhar employs several means in this regard, including sending "Peace Emissaries" all over the world to promote world peace and protect the minds of young people against terrorism. These efforts are mainly done through "Al-Azhar Observer" which works in foreign languages, and we expect that this Observer achieve a worldwide spread in the near future.

In December 2014, Al-Azhar held a conference and invited Shiite and Sunni Muslims scholars, heads of the Eastern and some Western churches and a representative of the Yazidis of Iraq. In its joint communiqué, the conference condemned all armed groups and militias that use violence, terrorism and terrify civil people. The communiqué added that Christians and Muslims in the East have always lived side by side as brothers and they are determined to live in a national state that achieves equality and respects freedoms. Moreover, attacking Christians and others in the name of religion is indeed contrary to the teachings of Islam, and the crime of forced displacement is reprehensible and condemned by all participants of the conference. Al-Azhar has called Christians to adhere to their homelands until the defeat of this wave of terrorism that we are all suffering from.

Today, Al-Azhar condemns all atrocities committed by terrorist groups; the last of their afflicted arenas was Cote d'Ivoire. We also want to offer our condolences to the German people for their victim in this grievous incident.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, nearly twenty million Muslims live in Europe and most of them were born in Europe and have become European citizen. I would like to say that those citizens need enjoy equality with other native European citizens; you should not leave them think as if they are immigrants living as marginal groups in society, so as not to lose loyalty to the society they belong to. Indeed, loyalty to one’s homeland is the strong «immunity» against slipping into extremism and violence.

On the other hand, peoples in the Arab and Islamic world in the East look at Europe as the closest partner in the Mediterranean civilization. Thus, those people expect much of your help for their development and scientific renaissance, and this will only be achieved through fruitful cooperation and respecting the will of those peoples in choosing their own destinies and defining their own future.

Once again, I repeat what I have already said that Al-Azhar is extending its hand towards you and towards the European Union through you, in order to consolidate the human fraternity and the global peace between the East and the West in general, and between Al-Azhar and Muslim citizens in Europe whom I am addressing right now in this great parliament. I ask them to embody the civilized humane example of Islam and its Messenger who was sent by Allah (Glory be to Him) as mercy for all mankind not Muslims alone. Al-Azhar is ready to provide you with curricula that protect you from deviant enticement, and help you to represent Islam as a religion which is suitable for every time and place. In addition, you have to remember that your religion had a vital civilization and humane contribution in the heart of Europe, which is still remembered and mentioned in the European universities up till now. It is a sufficient example to remember what the German writer, Goethe and art critic Lessing mentioned in favor of Islam and Muslim civilization.

This is a long speech, but I find it an excuse that I came to you with fervent hope; hope that echoes the feeling of 1.7 billion Muslims who aspire to peaceful coexistence and a civilized dialogue between the East and the West. No one can achieve this hope as this great house the Bundestag can, as it represents a people that truly appreciate freedom and democracy. This is why we bear faithful feelings and trust in Germany and we hope that it will have a real role in building strong relations in the future.

May Allah’s Peace, mercy and blessings be upon you!

Ahmed El-Tayyeb,

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar


[1]  Quoting from Prof. Giuseppe Skatolen, "Reflections on mysticism and religious dialogue" (127), published by the Egyptian General Book Organization, 2012

Categories: Speeches