In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
All Praise be to God and Blessings and Peace be upon His Messenger, upon his Family and his Companions.
His Holiness Pope Tuwadrus II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Holy See of St. Mark
Your Reverences, the Members of the Panel, Respected Guests
As-Salamu alaykum wa Rahmatu Allah wa Barakatuhu
(The Peace, Mercy and Blessings of God be upon you all)
Welcome to you all, our dear guests, who kindly heeded our invitation, coming from the farthest lands of the East and the West. We thank you all and welcome you to Egypt, the Kinanah and your second home, a sister country to yours that we believe occupies a special place in your hearts. Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif is indeed delighted to receive you all and it looks forward to benefit from your cooperation and from your learned endeavours, at this very critical moment in the history of our Ummah and for its foreseeable future.
This conference not only brings together many distinguished personages, from the Arab and the Islamic East, as well as from the vast world beyond: Sunni and Shi'i Muslims, Christians of different denominations, and other creeds and doctrines that grew and developed out of the soil of the East, and that benefited from the richness and the goodness thereof, but it is also a conference that comes at a most critical and a most troubled of times, when our countries and our nations are besieged by many dangers, both externally and internally. Wherever you turn your gaze, on the map of the Middle East, you will be horrified by the tragic spectacle and at a loss to find a single rational explanation that can justify all the deliberate destruction that has befallen lives, habitat and property alike, and that now seeks to bring disintegration to a whole community of faith (Ummah), to decimate a whole civilization and to cause a whole history to vanish.
Day and night I keep asking myself and my visitors about what could be the root cause for this Arab crisis, for this state of blind strife, mixed as it is with the stench of blood and death, with bombings and explosions, the sight of beheadings, the dislocation of millions and the destruction of the vestiges of civilized existence and of whole countries; all with a savagery that was never known to us before, and indeed may not be expected hereafter, if it were not for these factions, which are a new development in our civilization and our culture, particularly in the way they contravene all the interdictions that have long been established by religions, ethics and common human decencies, as a mark to distinguish a rational human being from a beast of prey.
A third grievous calamity - my good Brothers - is that these barbaric and heinous crimes are being committed by donning the mantle of this true religion, giving the dark dens, wherein such crimes are being plotted, the name of "Islamic State" or "Islamic Caliphate" or some such misnomer or spurious title, all in an attempt to send abroad an image of a disfigured Islam, one that brands this religion as one that brings slaughter, beheadings and dislocation, to all who dare differ from it. This hateful and calumnious image of our true religion has long been conjured, dreamed of and waited for by the enemies of Islam. Indeed, they have long been murmuring incantations around it, construing artful falsehoods, spreading calumnies and lies. It is thus most likely that these very enemies will now confront us with this disfigured image, to further calumniate us, from all the satellite screens, so as to finally achieve their goal and send warning alarms to all the nations of the world about this bloodthirsty and barbaric religion.
When one seeks the reasons behind the appearance of such armed groups, taking note of their quick expansion across Arab and Islamic countries, one is faced by various explanations, ranging from the religious, the economic, the cultural, to the political, in addition to some other possible explanations that this conference shall have ample time to consider. I wish here to direct attention to yet another explanation that merits our close examination. This is the one that sees our present sufferings as nothing other than the result of a conspiracy, wrought by the enemies of the Arab and Islamic East, for the benefit and in the interest of the State of Israel, so that it can remain as the most powerful and the most affluent in the region. On our part, we do not consider such an explanation to be a far-fetched one. Indeed, the State of Iraq was invaded, under false pretenses, in 2003. Lies were deliberately foisted on us to that end, only to be revealed later as unfounded, by the international media; a fact that also acknowledged by the great powers themselves. The first patch woven of the plot by the invaders was the disbanding of the Iraqi army, which was one of the most powerful Arab armies. Not only were the officers and the soldiers disbanded, but their weapons were left to be vandalized by the warring factions and militias, despite the full awareness of the invaders of the deep divisions that existed, in terms of sect, creed and loyalty. So, what was the final outcome, after eleven years from the invasion of Iraq? Iraq has fallen into a maelstrom of endless fighting, swimming in seas of blood, with no shore in sight, to this day. The same thing may also be said of Syria, of Yemen and of Libya. The conspiracy plays at the same fault lines of doctrine, sect and ethnicity, supplying the factions with arms, to further spread the fires, letting death reap thousands of the Ummah s youthful lives. In all of these afflicted countries, only God knows when the roaring machinery of war will finally fall into silence or when these countries will be guided by their own lights, instead of succumbing to outside pressures, from both regional and international interventionists.
We are quite certain that those who perpetrated such plots are now reaping great benefits from the inter-fighting of Muslims, for this fighting will keep the Arabs and the Muslims in a state of depletion and despair that knows no respite; they can never now muster any strength, achieve any development or make any progress. It is a war by proxy, in which the real fomenters of the fighting will lose nothing of value, whether in lives or in resources. Moreover, the inter-Arab fighting opens big markets for the arms industry and for the dealers in war, death and destruction. It is enough proof - over the years - that the Syrian theatre has now become an open field of war, where the western and eastern arms industry may vie and compete.
How much I wish - and wishing is the resort of the helpless - that the arms industry will find some remote desert or wasteland, to try its weaponry and to test its strength, away from the chests of Arabs, their habitats and their built environments.
The conspiracy theory - gentlemen - is not all there is, for there is yet another deeper reason, one that goes back to our own Arab Islamic history and it is now almost a constant of our internal dealings. This is the propensity for vicarious splintering, bickering and being contrary. I have no wish to digress here to deal with this scourge, neither briefly nor at length, for the Quran has already warned us of its dire consequences in the words of God: Obey God and His Messenger, and do not dispute with one another, lest you become ineffective and the lose the wind that runs in your favour; but be patient, for God is indeed with those who are patient. (Surat Al-Anfal: 46(
However, I just wish to emphasize that our Ummah, despite of all its potential for unity and union, when compared to the other nations of the world - possessing as it does unity of language, of ethnicity, of religion, of history and of geography - and despite the existence of an Arab League and an organization of Islamic Cooperation, established some half a century ago, yet it still lacks for a union, like the European Union, for instance, even though it is quite possible or at least not impossible to achieve. But, to achieve it, one needs to have sincere intention and a long-term vision, setting all internecine conflicts aside. The Arabs are no doubt highly qualified and eminently capable of achieving such a union, if they so wished. In this context, Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif highly esteems the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques, for his tireless efforts to unite the Arabs, before the challenges and the dangers that now stares the Ummah in the face. Against such dangers, there could be no shield, unless we Arabs forget our differences; unless we extinguish the raging fires within and unite to confront this devouring monster. The international alliance has to muster all its energies and resources, both moral and material, to rout out terrorism, in all its forms and its varieties, by confronting those states that stand behind it and support it with arms and financial resources. In so doing, the alliance will actually be helping its own nations, before defending Arab nations.
Moreover, we must not avert our eyes from taking responsibility for the extremist ideas that have seeped into the minds of some of our youths, driving them to adopt declaring Muslims disbelievers thought (takfeeri) and to embrace harsh or violent interpretations of the sacred texts, such as we find in Al-Qaida and the armed movements that derive from it, who work day and night to attack our homelands and to destabilize our societies. This trend has lately manifested itself in the ISIS (Da'ish), an organization that calls for an Islamic caliphate. But before it and after it, there were also the sectarian killer militias, who possess great power and a vast propaganda machine. All of these together have brought in their wake the worst of consequences upon Islam and the Muslims, the world over.
Da'ish, however, is not the only armed organization on the ground. There are also the sectarian militias, who keep slaughtering people and forcibly dislocating them, in Syria, in Iraq and in Yemen. There are also the sectarian groups that are trying to push their countries into a state of vassalage to certain regional powers, in the name of democracy and human rights, like we find in Bahrain, for example. All of these have their own shuyukh (clerics), who issue religious opinions (fatawa) permitting such crimes and encouraging people to commit them. In fact, it is difficult to speak further about such a grievous tragedy. We think only of the unity of Muslims, which is one of the noblest of goals for Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif; one that goes back to its inception as an institution, and ever since its call began to spread in the horizons, for more than a thousand years now.
What unites all of these groups is a common denominator that determines all their crimes and to which they all cling. This is: to pronounce all Muslims as disbelievers or to declaring Muslims disbeliever (takfeer), for some sin or other, thus holding it as lawful to spill their blood. This brings to mind the crimes committed by some of the sects of old that vanished in the mist of history, who would kill Muslims, after pronouncing them as disbelievers, on the basis of an erroneous and deviant understanding of the Quran and the Sunnah. The new extremists express this very belief, after perverting the proper meaning of the concept disbelief as well as the concept of belief, even though disbelief has been defined by the Prophet himself - Peace be upon him, in the tradition of Gabriel - peace be upon him. Muslims have always subscribed to this definition, which rules that no Muslim may be pronounced as a disbeliever, merely on account of having committed a sin, even if this sin is a grave one (kabira), unless the culprit in question actually believes his sin to be lawful. For disbelief is a denial in the heart or an absence of belief in God, His Angels, His Prophets, His Revelations, the Last Day and Destiny, whether it is to one s liking or not; whoever believes in all of that may not be pronounced a disbeliever.
The concept of jihad too was perverted by these armed groups of extremists and sectarians. They would kill anyone they wish, by pretending they were doing jihad, while claiming that whoever is killed from their own ranks is in Paradise. This is indeed a most repugnant understanding of Islamic law (Shari'ah). Firstly: Jihad is legitimate in Islam only if it is waged in self-defense, in the defense of one s religion or in the defense of one s country. We have learnt from our shuyukh )scholars), in Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif, that the legitimate cause for fighting is aggression (qital), not disbelief (kufr). Secondly: the declaration of jihad and engaging in it may not be undertaken by just anyone, but only by the ruler; it may not be undertaken by mere individuals or groups, who take things into their own hands, whatever be the justification; otherwise, the outcome of such behavior will be to plunge a whole society into a morass of chaos (fitnah), bloodshed, rape and pillage, which is what we suffer nowadays, due to this mistaken understanding of Shari'ah rulings.
It is thus that Islam prohibits attack on any human soul, whatever be its religion or its belief. Because of that We (God) ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all of mankind (Surat Al-Ma'ida: 32). Indeed, how could that be, when Islam has opened up even to the followers of other religions, to the extent of allowing mixed marriages, in which two different religions may live together under the same roof. By this Islam not only accepts coexistence, but also accepts the mixing of families.
Whatever be the misunderstanding among certain Muslims of the question of the caliphate, or the imamate, it is an established principle, among the scholars of the fundamentals of religion (usul-ud-din), that the question of the imamate belongs to the derivatives (furu', lit. Branches), not to the fundamentals (usul, lit. roots) of religion. It is thus susceptible to differing opinions, which is a well-established principle, known by heart even the youngest of students, in the faculty of religious fundamentals, in Al-Azhar. In the book of Explaining the Stations (Sharh Al-Mawaqif), which is one of the pivotal works of Ash'arite theology, stipulated by the curriculum of Al-Azhar, the author says: It is not (i.e. the imamate) one of the fundamentals of religion to us, but one of the derivatives therefrom. (Sharh Al-Mawaqif, vol. 2, p. 603, Bulaq, 1266 A.H.(
It is stated, moreover, in the book of Explaining the Objectives (Sharh Al-Maqasid), which is also part of the curriculum of the faculty of theology ('aqidah), where Saad At-Taftazani (one of the most eminent theologians of the Ahlu-s-Sunnah waj-Jama'ah ( says: there is no dispute - among theologians - that the question of the imamate belongs more suitably with the derivatives. This principle is indeed a constantly stated one in the theological works of Sunni Islam. How it is then that such a question has become such a great cause for strife and for so much bloodshed and destruction, disfiguring in the process the very
image of this true religion?
One needs to digress for too long, if one tries to enumerate all the Shari'ah concepts and rulings that were disfigured, infringed upon and taken out of context, by the unwholesome disposition of these groups, in order to justify for themselves the killing of people. I shall leave to this conference the task of setting these misconceptions aright, by reference to both our transmitted and intellectual traditions. Afterwards, such contributions may be published, for the whole world to see, as part of the final statement of the conference, to exonerate the truth as well as to clear up one s conscience.
Good Brothers and Good Friends:
We sense the great need to direct the efforts of our youth, to seek scientific, technological and cultural progress, so that we may hope to catch up one day with the other nations of the world, which are ahead of us now in the exercise of leadership and influence over the destiny of humanity, directing its march as well as determining its ends. Now, this march stands in great need for guidance, by the light of the Revelations of Heaven and for the discipline from religious ethics, if we are to alleviate the sufferings brought on people by the international politics, which operate in the absence of the values bequeathed to us by the Prophets and the Messengers of Heaven, who were sent to humanity only to guide it and bring it happiness, in this world and the next.
Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif has devoted - and still devotes - a continuous effort, towards the formulation of a conscious and well-guided religious discourse, of which the structure must be well-founded on the Noble Quran and on the Holy Traditions of the Prophet s Sunnah, as well as on the well-received opinions of the scholars, over the centuries.
From that vantage point, I appeal to all Muslims, asking them to have the greatest confidence in Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif, both as mosque and as university, for it is your honest instructor in the affairs of religion, whether those that pertain to the creed ('aqidah) or to the right path (shari'ah), with purity and wholesomeness, as it was willed by God and conveyed by His Messenger - Blessing and Peace be upon him, far removed from the perversions of extremists, the wiles of deceivers and the misinterpretations of the ignorant.
Finally, as we confront terrorism, extremism and unwarranted interpretations of our religion, such challenges that keep us daily occupied must not take us far away from the primary cause of all Arabs and Muslims, which is the Farthest Mosque (Al-Aqsa), the first orientation of prayer and the third most holy mosque. There will be no peace for our world, without resolving the question of Palestine, radically and justly.
Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif is now resolved to devote its 15th conference to the question of Palestine. May God almighty to give us all success, in doing whatever is for the good of all of humanity. I beg your pardon for taking too long of your time and I thank you all for listening so attentively.
Was-Salamu alykum wa Rahmatu Allah wa Barakatuhu