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September 7 2014 17:00 | Stadsschouwburg

Cultures and religions in dialogue


Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam


Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt

Ladies and gentlemen
 
I greet you with the greeting of Islam which is peace. May the peace and the blessings of God be with you all!
 
First allow me to express my heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation for this generous invitation and for affording me the opportunity to meet with you all to discuss how our shared religious traditions and values can enhance world peace. I really hope the event proves to be informative and pragmatic for serving humanity at large.
 
Islam established a moral and humanistic civilization that encompassed a plurality of religions, philosophies and civilizations which contributed immensely to the Muslim civilization. We see ourselves as a people who have absorbed a multiplicity of civilizations; we have been exposed to and assimilated the great civilizations of the Persians, Indians, Chinese, and Greeks into our cultural and intellectual life, and we benefited from all of them as well as contributing to them. Islamic civilization places people and worshippers above places of worship. This humanitarian and cosmopolitan worldview does not allow us to consider ourselves as superior to other people. We are proud of our civilization, but we do not reject other civilizations, rather all who work towards the constructive development in the world should be considered as our partners.
 
Dialogue is a responsibility that accrues to Muslims by virtue of the nature of their religion. What we have learnt about Islam has been taken from the clear, pristine, and scholarly understanding of the great university of Al Azhar and not from the self-claimed who have attempted to paint a distorted image of Islam as an isolationist faith. Muslims believe that Islam is indeed an open worldview which never seeks to erect barriers between Muslims and others. Rather, Muslims must approach the other with open hearts intent on trying to clarify matters, and not to attack every person who offers objections, for this latter detracts from the purpose of dialogue and understanding.
 
Muslims must be driven by the principle of conviviality, living together in harmony, and enhancing world peace.
 
When Muslims turn to the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet, therefore, they will find that dialogue – and not competition – is what is required of them. Dialogue is a process of exploration, and coming to know the other, as much as it is an example of clarifying one’s own positions. Therefore, when one dialogues with others, what is desired is to explore their ways of thinking, so as to correct misconceptions in our own minds and arrive at common ground. This common ground is the desideratum of all dialogue, and lays the groundwork for mutual cooperation based on the principles of “faith in God” and “good relations with neighbors.”
 
The key imperative of an interfaith or intercultural dialogue is to build trust between people. As I have argued previously in many forums, the quest for understanding and trust that underlies any dialogue is a process that requires equal and equally willing partners on both sides. The world is in dire need of forums which facilitate genuine dialogue in a shrinking world – a dialogue that stems from the recognition of identities and specificities; a dialogue that remains respectful and does not seek to inflame hostilities or dominate the other; a dialogue that is itself based upon a respect for religious plurality and cultural diversity; a dialogue that does not turn into a one-sided conversation. Dialogue from my perspective is thus not about trying to defeat others, but about understanding and learning about them. As the Qur’an states, God has created us into nations and tribes so that we may learn about each other (Al-Hujurat:13).
 
One of the problems faced by religious communities today is the issue of authority.  In both Islam and other religions we are witnessing a phenomenon in which laypeople without a sound foundation in religious learning have attempted to set themselves up as religious authorities, even though they lack the scholarly qualifications for making valid interpretations of religious law and morality. It is this eccentric and rebellious attitude towards religion that opens the way for extremist interpretations of Islam that have no basis in reality.
Furthermore, and this is very important, is that none of these extremists have been educated in Islam in genuine centers of Islamic learning. They are, rather, products of troubled environments and have subscribed to distorted and misguided interpretations of Islam that have no basis in traditional Islamic doctrine. Their aim is purely political and has no religious foundation. It is to create havoc and chaos in the world.
 
Our role as religious leaders who have spent our lives carefully studying religious exegesis is to re-establish authority with those who are in true possession of knowledge. I have, through my present position, set out to publish an authoritative picture of Islam which, I hope will give the world a better understanding of and empathy for Islam and the Muslim world and help us all to live together in peace, tranquility, and mutual cooperation.

Some commentators from the non-Muslim world have taken the actions of a small but highly visible and disruptive minority of people within the Muslim world to represent the beliefs of the majority of Muslims, claiming that Islam has been a violent religion from the beginning. This view has unfortunately been reinforced through the presentation of Islam in much of the mass media.
 
The source of and alleged justification for much of the extremism and political violence across the Muslim world and beyond cannot and should never be attributed to religious values and beliefs but rather to a complex of factors. We need to understand this complicated situation in order to eradicate this menace which is affecting the entire world. Let me be clear by reiterating that Islam is utterly against extremism and terrorism but unless we understand the factors that provide a rationalization for terrorism and extremism we will never be able to eradicate this scourge. This must be understood in order to build a better future that can bring an end to this grave situation that is destroying the world.

It is noteworthy to mention the initiative of the custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz to establish a center under the umbrella of the UN for combating terrorism. We welcomed this initiative and we are pleased for put our scholarly expertise for the success of this important initiative.

Building a world of the sort I imagine requires the participation of leaders of all communities – both religious and otherwise – to express their faith and trust in their Muslim counterparts. There will be no progress until we work together, in faith and trust. There is no more powerful a weapon against all sorts extremism than correct education.

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