Full text: Speech by Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Oct. 1 at World Council of Churches' Bossey Institute

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Dr Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque and university and the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit at the WCC's Ecumenical Institute in Bossey on Oct. 1, 2016.

Speech by Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, 1 October 2016

04 October 2016

Read this text in Arabic

In the name of Allah the Merciful

Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the central committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC),
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary,
Ladies and gentlemen

May peace and the blessing of Allah be upon you.

I am glad to welcome you, having just used this expression, which conveys love, brotherhood and peace, and to present to you, in my name and on behalf of the delegation of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and the Muslim Council of Elders, my warmest compliments, thanking you for your kind invitation to attend this historic and unprecedented meeting. I hope that we will achieve our goals with practical results, enabling us to follow our path as believers from different parts of the world, so that we may realize the hope of humanity, in overcoming those obstacles to civilization which could take us back to an era of darkness, ignorance and the law of the jungle.

The WCC is to be commended for inviting us to this important meeting, with the presence of eminent scholars and religious leaders representing the monotheistic religions, meeting in the heart of Europe, in the beautiful and peaceful city of Geneva, so that we may assume our responsibilities both to our conscience and to the message of Allah the Almighty. In this way, may we contribute to the revival of hope in the hearts of millions of people living in fear and distress and restore happiness to the faces of those in despair, orphans and widows, who regrettably become victims of armed conflicts imposed on them.

No doubt, the world nowadays is in need of your wisdom and your inter-vention more than ever before to reduce the suffering of people.

Many world statistics reveal the huge amounts of money allocated to the arms race, causing people suffering from poverty to contribute these amounts to the economies of big countries, carelessly ignoring the suffering and weeping of women and children.

We are also facing unjust policies that do not heed the destiny of poor and miserable people, causing disruption in society, exploiting resources, and taking away freedom of choice. These unjust policies are gambling with the present and future, using openly new philosophies and theories such as the "Clash of Civilizations," the "end of history" and "creative chaos"— all fabricated modern theories reminding us of those used by the occupying powers in the last century to convince themselves and the occupied peoples that occupation is not a form of domination and imperialism but a message of civilization and modernization brought by the white man in order to save his Semitic brother from poverty, ignorance and disease.

We thought that the leaders of the free world and the defenders of liberty, global peace and human rights would never permit the confiscation of the fundamental right to live in freedom, justice and peace, particularly after the creation of the UN in the wake of the Second World War. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that the UN Charter will save humanity from suffering, protect their human rights, and provide them with welfare and progress. The first article in this charter called for the protection of world peace and security and the implementation of the principles of justice and equality among the member states, banning the use of force and violence or even the use of menace as well as the interference in "local affairs of states." No one of my generation would have thought that this international charte—with its commitment to protect the oppressed and to combat the oppressors—would become a mere piece of paper unable to be implemented in relation to developing countries in the African continent and in both Arab and Islamic worlds. In fact, these commitments, which were presented and introduced with great hope for the oppressed peoples, are now, after nearly 70 years, no longer capable of fulfilling its obligations to combat injustice. Though the United Nations Charter was signed 68 years ago, it committed itself to combating all the ¬¬¬¬different threats against world peace, putting an end to military aggression among nations, and imposing stability and peace worldwide. Unfortunately, the states empowered to safeguard the UN charter give peace to parties of their choice on the basis of their interests and the logic of hegemony and dictatorship which constitutes a new "logic of partiality" based on the immoral principle of "the end justifies the means."

I am sure that you agree with me, ladies and gentlemen, that the real plague is the issue of peace worldwide that is wrongly linked with the interests of some states estranged from the firm moral and spiritual principles called upon by all monotheistic religions. "And this is the main difference between the philosophy of the divine messages ensuring cohabitation in peace and the deceptive meaning of 'peace' in the context of modern policies leading to conflicts and wars."

Ladies and gentlemen, I will not repeat all that is mentioned in the holy books about the concept of peace and its central role in the equilibrium of the whole planet, including mankind, animals, plants and indeed all things. The word "peace" is repeated many times in diverse contexts in the Old and New Testament and in the holy Qur'an. All the messengers and prophets were sent with a message of peace, love and fraternity. All the divine messages are based on the idea of enshrining peace among individuals and tribes. Allah warns the transgressors with severe sanctions, so that throughout history all empires that used oppression, injustice and brutality as a policy in order to rule have ultimately collapsed and lost everything. In fact, humankind is the creation of Allah, we are God's children and in this context, our prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) said, "Human beings are God's children and he who takes care of them surely is the most beloved to God."

Allah the Almighty defends his believers—though I know that such ex-pressions, nowadays, make no sense to many people, particularly young people living in the West and also some young people in the Orient, because they are far away from the message of Allah, have forgotten the moral principles of religions and have even become influenced by the messages of derision and sarcasm encouraged by atheists and their advocates simply because they have a feeling of hatred against religions. This group of people is rejecting God's precepts, thus entering in an alliance with Satan to serve moral decay and wickedness. We must, as believers and messengers of peace and love among individuals and peoples, combat these evildoers, their message of hatred, and their misuse of religion to spread terror and violence, and we must together strongly fight terrorism across the whole world.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to take up once more the philosophy of the religions, with its rich principles defending peaceful coexistence and shared security among the peoples, recognizing that our modern age has suffered a lot by adopting worldly principles, thinking that these principles can be sufficient. And even if these worldly principles can realize modernity — technological and scientific development — they failed to grant humankind security, stability and peace. I will not remind you the chaotic results of the two world wars and the death of more than 70 million victims during a period of less than three decades.

In fact, these two wars were not caused by religion or by moral religious precepts. Indeed, the religions and their believers suffered a lot from the effects of these wars, from oppression and ill-treatment.

Humanity has experienced different political, economic and social regimes that have led to the happiness of a limited category of individuals at great cost to the majority of people living in extreme poverty. But these regimes did not grant to humanity stability and coexistence among the peoples; and what is noticeable here in Switzerland through the eyes of the elders of the West, is that this minority is controlling the world economy, monopolizing its markets, imposing "new forms of spoliation and plundering the resources of poor countries, pushing many companies and pension funds to bankruptcy and ruin ... and the firing of thousands of workers." This means, as explained by the eminent religious scholar Hans Küng in the New York Times Magazine, that "the principle of supply and demand does not lead necessarily to balance and that market philosophy can never replace ethics."He rejoices to hear the voices of people in the USA warning of the mounting policy of egoism and selfishness and the greed of a rich minority.

We need to ask the following question:"What will we expect from peoples living in poverty and whose destiny is put in the hands of world policy-makers who ignore the notion of suffering, poverty, disease and illiteracy?" We cannot forget on the one hand the images of bloodshed, the abject situations of distress of orphans and oppressed people fleeing in the desert with no shelter or food and, on the other hand, the images of those living in extravagance and luxury in their ivory towers.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In this world, witnessing the suffering of people worldwide, I recognize the importance of this meeting with you and the necessity of assuming our responsibility to reduce the suffering of humanity with a hope that we will take together the right path with individuals of good will and strong faith. The Al-Azhar Institute [delegation] has come to Geneva, bringing with it the focus on the important issue of peace and presenting this to the WCC in order to discuss the issue in the framework of this high-level meeting, gathering both elders and scholars from the Al-Azhar and from the WCC. This meeting, with our Christian brothers and sisters, is the third one: last year, we met with the Church of England with a group of eminent scholars and priests under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury. A second meeting took place this year with Pope Francis at the Vatican. After these two meetings, the Al-Azhar called for the convening of an international conference on peace in Abu-Dhabi (UAE) next year, with the will of Allah, as well as a peace conference in Egypt in the middle of next year, with the presence of the Pope, and I am glad to invite the WCC to participate in these two conferences. I hope that young people from the WCC will have an effective participation in your official delegation. Truly speaking, the last visit of the WCC youth delegation to the Al-Azhar from 18-22 of August 2016 was a success and left a good impression on Al-Azhar's students in Cairo and a good echo in the Egyptian and world media as well as the social media network. I was glad to hear from this delegation of youth its willingness and enthusiasm to participate – within the capacity of the young people - in Islamic projects, advocating for a message of love instead of hatred.

Dear daughters and sons, young people,
Please do not let your minds and thoughts accept those false messages that link Islam with terrorism; you are best at understanding that religion and violence are inconsistent. I do not have any doubt that you all admit that all religious messages have one unique aim, which is the happiness of humankind and to avoid falling into tragedy and disbelief. I am underlining the fact that religious armed groups advocating religious messages are in reality betraying their religions and their souls; that using religious messages in order to perpetrate crimes, slaughter, destruction is to be seen as unacceptable and reprehensible. All of you know that the horrible and abject deeds perpetrated in the past in the name of Christianity, using a false interpretation of the holy books, and causing the killing of many Muslims can never be linked to Christianity, and no Muslim has ever accused this religion of all that happened.

I am reiterating from this forum my firm position: that all these forms of terrorism with their different names and slogans are rejected by Islam and we have to find the real roots of terrorism outside the context of the holy Qur'an and the precepts of Islam; otherwise the approach will be an aber-ration of sound logical reasoning. The parties that are promoting these false accusations need to find the real causes of terrorism that are linked, as mentioned before, in biased policies and double standards as well as the greed of a minority defending its international and regional interests through the arms race and flourishing arms markets, forgetting the divine message of all religions and instead using mockery against God's prophets, books and messengers.

Thank you so much for listening.
Peace and the blessings of Allah be upon all of you.

Al-Azhar Institute
26 Dou-Hijja 1437 Hegira year
1 October 2016

Ahmed al-Tayyeb
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

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