Over the last two decades, the world has been going through many deplorable sufferings, pains and crises. One chief trigger for such dilemmas is the absence of human values such as tolerance, peace and mutual acceptance as well as the quick rise of radical rhetoric and extremist ideologies, which put the world in a circle of growing instability on political, social, economic and, most importantly, religious levels. That said, there was a dire necessity for the voices of wise people to rise to help bring the world back on the right course, voices that call for the revival of long forgotten moral values. Driven by their religious and humanitarian role on local and global levels, Prof. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church, did everything in their power to put an end to the hatred, prejudice and violence spreading in many parts of the world.
The collaboration and talks between Al-Azhar and the Vatican have been manifested in organizing and participating in several activities and events, including the 2017 International Conference of Peace organized by Al-Azhar in Cairo and the 2019 Document on Human Fraternity signed by Al-Tayeb and Francis in Abu Dhabi. This historic Document has been welcomed by many national and international institutions and public figures, given its emphasis on promoting positive values and countering extremism and discrimination.
The idea of the Document was developed by the Grand Imam and the Pontiff as they believed there was a need to fill the gap between all religions and foster peace and love between the East and the West. They realized that most crises and challenges facing the world as a whole and having a profound negative impact on the relationship between people of different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds are attributable predominantly to ignorance, extremism, the widening gap between religions and the stereotyping of the others' cultures. Therefore, they reckoned that enhancing dialogue and building bridges with the “other” is the only solution to the aforementioned crises.
The items contained in the Document highlighted a number of significant values. In the Document's preface, for example, a link is made between belief and human rights by stressing that belief will drive an individual to see the other as a dignified, equal fellow, with whom the times of joy and suffering are to be shared. The phrase “Human Fraternity” itself demonstrates that equality has a great role in spreading universal peace since it does not exclude or discriminate against a particular religion or ethnicity. The Document further states that teachings of religions promote and uphold values of peace, mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence. It also points out that freedom is a right of every human being and that each individual is entitled to freedom of belief, thought, expression and action.
As for the means of putting the values contained in the Document into action, the Document suggests that world leaders should play key role in ending wars and conflicts, stressing the significance of stopping the use of religions in fueling hatred and violence, and further encourages leading thinkers and artists to rediscover the value of peace, while warning against signs of a third world looming piecemeal.
Indicative of the positive influence of the Document, the UN General Assembly has proclaimed the 4th of February as the International Day of Human Fraternity, to be observed each year as of 2021. The General Assembly invited all UN Member States, relevant UN bodies and international and civil society organization, including non-governmental and the private sector institutions, to take part in the celebration of this day on an annual basis. This important decision crowns the joint efforts made by the Grand Imam and Pope Francis in promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
In continuity of building upon the Document, the Higher Committee of Document on Human Fraternity organized a webinar to celebrate the first anniversary of the International Day of Human Fraternity. Several public figures made presence in the event, most prominently, the Grand Imam and Pope Francis as well as European, Asian, African and UN officials. They all voiced their messages of peace, tolerance and coexistence, wishing that human fraternity would prevail to end the cycle of hatred and violence.
The proper consideration of the efforts of His Eminence Prof. Al-Tayeb and His Holiness Pope Francis will make it clear that the two religious leaders did their best to help human beings, regardless of their different backgrounds. The Document is one of their most significant endeavors since it issues a direct call for reconciliation among all human beings and for bridging the gap between the East and the West. It addressees the collective moral conscience to reject violence and extremism, which marks a firm stand in the face of terrorist and radical ideologies and organizations.