Today, our world is facing a lot of challenges and crises at the political, economic or intellectual levels. One of the thorny problems that the world encounters is the absence of dialogue between parents and children, husbands and wives, managers and employees, etc. In addition, the world is witnessing an increase in the number of hate crimes and violence in contemporary societies. Therefore, the present article focuses on dialogue as an important factor that can help in eliminating this problem, giving examples and elaborating on the role of religious institutions, such as Al-Azhar Al-Sharif in holding constructive dialogue among people of different religions.
The word dialogue is derived from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means “the word” or the “meaning of the word” and dia means “through”. A dialogue can be held among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the dialogue is present.Therefore, dialogue can be defined as a conversation between different individuals or groups whose main purpose is simply increasing mutual understanding. Dialogue is completely different from debate where one of the engaging parties try to defeat the other. In a dialogue, nobody is trying to win, and there is no attempt to gain points or to make your particular view prevail. A dialogue is something more of a common participation, in which we are not playing a game against each other, but with each other.
Reviewing the verses of the Glorious Qur’an, we find that there are many examples stressing the importance of dialogue. The first dialogue took place between Allah and His angels regarding making Adam his vicegerent, where Allah says, “And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know."
Dialogue was the practical approach which all Prophets and Messengers adopted in conveying the message of Allah. Ibrahim (PBUH), for instance, held a dialogue with Allah (Glory be to Him) where he asked Allah to show him how He (Glory be to Him) can give life to the dead. Ibrahim also opened a close dialogue with al-Namrud (a king of his time) when Ibrahim said to him, “My lord is the one who gives life and causes death.” Al-Namrud replied, in arrogance, “I am the one who gives life and causes death.” At that point, Ibrahim used logic and tangible evidence in refuting the misconception of al-Namrud as he said, “Indeed, Allah brings up the sun from the east, so bring it up from the west."
On the other hand, Ibrahim opened a constructive dialogue with his father to convince him of worshiping Allah when Ibrahim asked his father saying, “Why do you worship that which does not hear or even see and will not benefit you at all”? Furthermore, one of the most important examples of accepting the dialogue with the other even if we were different in religion is the dialogue that took place between Prophet Musa (PBUH) and the Pharaoh. Allah (Glory be to Him) asked Musa and his brother Harun to go to the Pharaoh and to speak to him with gentle speech.
In this regard, it is worth noting that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif paid great attention to the issue of dialogue with the other, as it is one of the most effective methods in combating all forms of conflicts and problems which our contemporary world encounters. Al-Azhar’s efforts in the field of interfaith dialogue includes essential steps at the local and international levels. Over the last few years, the relationship between Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and the Egyptian Church has been characterized by mutual respect and cooperation from both sides. In 2011, Al-Azhar established the Egyptian Family House which includes representatives of Christian sects and Muslim scholars. this House played an effective role in fighting sectarian strife in the Egyptian society and solved a lot of disputes to maintain the national fabric of the society.
At the international level, in 2018, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif held two important conferences to promote dialogue among people of different religions. Early in 2018, Al-Azhar held a conference entitled “Al-Azhar International Conference in Support of Jerusalem” and invited delegations and guests from all religions and cultures around the world to discuss the Palestinian issue. In the same year, Al-Azhar held another forum entitled “Islam and the West: Diversity and Integration”. At this forum, Al-Azhar invited a number of representatives of different cultures and religions for dialogue and exchanging views regarding fostering direct relations among religions and nations, in addition to bridging all terrible gaps for a safer society.
The Grand Imam’s tours to many countries of the world brought about a remarkable development in the field of interfaith dialogue, as his Eminence, traveled the world, east and west, for the sake of promoting dialogue, spreading peace, correcting extremist ideas, preserving societies, and building up people, regardless of their religion or belief.
 See David Bohm, On Dialogue, Routledge Classics edition, 1996, p 7.