Al-Azhar’s Cairo Declaration for peace between Muslims & Christians must be welcomed by all

Sheikh al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Tayeb Speech.

By Sufyan Abdul Sathar for

A few days back, Cairo witnessed a historical and promising event. A two-day conference on ‘Freedom and Citizenship; Diversity and Integration’ was organised by Egypt’s Al-Azhar and Muslim Council of Elders (MCE) of UAE to promote peace in the middle east and to discuss joint initiatives from Muslims and Christians for peaceful coexistence on the region. UAE made whole effort to make it a grand success and to shape it as a reformative and progressive step towards Muslim – Christian relationship. The organisers granted me the opportunity to participate this conference at Cairo. Let me share insightful discussions, and forward position of Al-Azhar explained in this Conference.

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Arab Spring and its impact led Arab youths to think about freedom and diversity. As a mentor of Egypt, Al-Azhar played a crucial role in the promotion of moderate thinking and MSE took the sharp position against all radical ideas which used to be quoted to promote terror activities in the region. The major attraction of conference was equal participation of Muslim and Christian leaders and opportunity to share the views, and the same time everyone is vigilant not to be rhetoric and symbolic one. Sheikh Al-Azhar Prof. Ahmed Al Tayeb and Pope Tawadros II (Leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria) were the presidential presence throughout the conference. Muslim and Christian initiatives for peaceful coexistence, working together to combat extremism & terrorism, and future dimension of citizenship & role of diversity were the key points of discussion. Such Conference is demand and need of the hour on the occasion of recent violence from the side of ISIS.

How to prevent Islamophobia?

The First day of the conference discussed the shining history of Middle East which had fruitful and shared experience of both Semitic religions. Sheikh Al-Azhar Said, on inaugural speech, that some groups broke out the fire on Arab and Islamic regions without any reasonable cause and rationale satisfactory to this age. Their terror activities caused an increase in Islamophobia amongst West and East, so all the religious institution should act against Islamophobia. If did not, the Christianity and Judaism would face the same prejudice in the future. All religious clerics and leaders agreed on the impeccability of religion toward terrorism. This understanding of faith needs to practice through interfaith dialogue and perception among religious leaders to eliminate the remaining tensions and ambiguities. All should pay jointly against Islamophobic phenomena as an initial step toward peaceful coexistence. Al Tayeb reminded us if the joint action would not happen, it will formulate more enigmas, and he quoted famous Arabic proverb (‘I am eaten in the day the white bull was eaten’) which recalled me the poem ‘First they came,’ written by German Pastor Martin Niemoller. Many public figures and intellect reiterate the need for collaborative academic action and scholarly effort to promote peace and ethics in the provinces of East and West.

Sheikh al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Tayeb Speech.

Pope Tawadros II articulated the same idea from his experience in Egypt and noted the harmonious appearance of East to the Christianity. The religion is the solution, not a trouble maker. Every radical ideology should lead to discrimination and expeditious to disgrace non-believers as Other. The diversity is the key function of Humanity, and it is the soul of dialogue leading to understanding and tolerance. It is worth mentioning that each one tried to attribute the word tolerant to East (Al Sharq al Muthasamih) and civilised to West (Al Gharb al Muthahadir) in every speech. It may be coincidence, but I locate it as a sound against the theory called ‘Clash of Civilisation.’

Moderate Thinking

Moderate thinking (Al Fikrul Muthawasith) is the soul message of the conference. Al-Azhar and MCE focus and approach the gist issues of citizenship and diversity through the lens of Moderate thought. The same way Al-Azhar remains the mentor of a country since decades. Diversity and the integration are the interest of Islam.  Let me say in connection with the nature of Conference, the representatives of a religion which covers ‘majority’ of the region speak about diversity is the key feature of the event. Certainly, they do not believe in Majoritarianism, and they do believe in Ethics which promoted by their religion, Islam. The conference concluded to use the term ‘citizen’ instead of ‘Minority,’ and it is an inclusive approach. Naturally, it demands the traditional jurisprudential position of Dhimmis (Non-Muslims of Muslim Country) to be revisited. Sheikh Al-Azhar put Madinah Charter of Prophet Muhammed as an authoritative reference for the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with Jews and Christians. It treats all Citizens of Madinah equally in Rights and Duties. Some Scholars indicated this as a credential to the substantiation of Civil State instead of Theocratic State. Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic, Patriarch Abraham Isaac said that Civil Democratic State is essential for Citizenship and Freedom for all communities and Nation State should forsake all religion.

Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria

Dr. Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Chief Justice of Palestine, shared his experience of Diversity and Freedom that they enjoyed once. There are Jewish temples near to Masjid Al Aqsa, and it remained as it is, even after all conflicts, in the hands of A Muslim Family. He said that we are fighting against invasion, not Jews. He quoted Ibn al Qayyim, Classical Scholar of Islam, to justify his stand on Jihad. Jihad is not against Non-believers, but against aggression and to discharge the injustice. Rev. Jim Winkler is the only voice from the US and was the opponent of America’s invasion of Iraq. He agreed that All the believers, especially Christian followers in the US, have the responsibility to promote and work together for the better future and security of the region. Earlier, Sheikh al-Azhar’s visit to Vatican helped much to the international peace and mutual understanding of Semitic religions. All the participants of the conference asked to continue this effort from the side of all religious leaders.

Sheikh Muhammed Abdu’s view on tolerance, Rifa al-Tahtawi’s experience on West, Abu Ishaq Al-Shatibi’s take on Maqasid of Shariah and Shakib Arslan’s idea of reformation are quoted and came to the discussion occasionally. The session on Al-Azhar stance on citizenship is the crystal clear message of the way of thought which advocated by Al-Azhar. Indeed, it is a moderate one.

Al-Azhar Declaration

The last day of the conference included Al-Azhar declaration, treated by cheering from all. It is the outcome the conference and engages with the challenges faced by Religion, Region, and Society, and response to reformative needs. It is the continuation of the earlier Al-Azhar’s declaration on terrorism, 2014 which reject radical ideas and advocate for the coexistence of different believers. This resolution, named ‘Al-Azhar Declaration on Citizenship and Coexistence, 2017, is the extension and effective measure towards the aim. ‘Citizenship’ is the fundamental character of all members of the civil society. No more ‘minorities.’ It confirms to avoid such practice from all literature, cultural activities, and curriculum. The term minority conveys discriminatory notions on performance and approaches. The duties and rights of all members are equal. The declaration lightens to the new debates on the formation and concept of citizenship in the new world. This paradigm shift not to exclude the so-called ‘minorities’ from the mainstream or not to impulse them other’s culture, But to treat them equally in the light of democracy and to practice the insights of a civil state. The another resolution is the joint agreement of Muslims and Christians on every religion are clean from terrorism. All should suspend denoting religion on terror activities. All citizen should strengthen the diversity of the nation and should contribute to the spiritual advancement of the country. All our institutional and cultural events need to be refined and reformed in the way of enriching mutual understanding and tolerance. Cultural exchange and amicable sharing are need of the hour. Finally, the aim of this conference is to build active participation and apparent contract among the citizens of the Arab world, based on understanding and exchange of Freedom and Citizenship.

This conference and declaration not as a better choice, but as the exigency of being and as the reform of our society, nation, and the youth.

Promising Future

AL-Azhar and MCE took the moderate position in possible ways. Promptly, one can locate it between Radical and Liberal Ideas; which is Ethical and Moderate Position towards all. It is between westerns secularism and Islamism. The influence of this perspective has emerged again and shaped through the days of Arab Spring and caused for realising democratic rights to all citizen. The Cairo city itself show the pulse of moderate position which recognises and welcoming the human rights and tolerance towards all.

The author is a Senior Research Fellow at English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad and is currently doing research on post 9/11 novels of Saudi Arabia.