Arab Research & Advocacy Bureau praises the United Arab Emirates for hosting the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar al-Sharif and Pope Francis of the Vatican. It is the Pope’s first visit to the Arabian Peninsula.
We welcome interfaith dialogue based on tolerance and respect, and believe this fosters understanding and enhances communities. We are sceptical of dialogue that tries to focus on finding similarities: we find great value in diversity and differences. Differences create stronger communities that foster values of understanding and respect. As such, we welcome the decisions of the Grand Imam and Pope and urge other Arab communities to follow their steps.
The message brought forward by the Grand Imam and Pope Francis focused on the importance of peace and tolerance in religion. They declared that neither Islam nor Christianity tolerate needless war, hate and violence. On such a basis, they signed a document of understanding to prevent a world war ignited by religion.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar directed two important messages. One to the Muslims and one to Christians. He urged Muslims living outside the region – and especially in the West – to integrate and assimilate to the societies in which they live. He urged them to follow the laws of the state because these are more likely to protect their identities. Likewise, he urged Christians living in the Middle East to let go of the concept of minority. He argued that using the term “minority” to describe non-Muslims alienates the population and creates an arbitrary divide.
The Pope, on the other hand, urged that peace must always be the way towards overcoming issues. He warned of the dangers of news and media that spread rhetoric and propaganda that does little more than ignite hate and prejudice. The Pope highlighted the ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya and called for an end to the bloodshed.
Arab societies both in the West and in the Middle East need liberation of constraining identities that states use to control feelings and sentiments. Tolerance, alone, is not sufficient in providing peace. We must be able to contextually understand our own identity politics and be able to dissect where it is problematic in order to effectively and productively engage in dialogue that can achieve the message advocated by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam.