Declaration, Le Caire 22-23 février 2010

 Joint Committee al-Azhar – Holy See (23-24 February 2010)

The Joint Committee for Dialogue, set up in 1998 between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PC ID) and the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions, held its annual meeting at the al-Azhar headquarters, in Cairo, 23-24 February 2010. It will be remembered that the meeting always takes place around 24 February, anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to al-Azhar in 2000.

The delegation from the PCID, headed by H.E. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Council, was composed of seven persons, whereas the al-Azhar delegation, led by Sheikh M. Abd al-Aziz Wasil, the wakîl (deputy) of al-Azhar, had only five members as two persons were unable to participate.

Before the meeting began its deliberations the two delegations were received by the Grand Imam, Sheikh al-Azhar, Dr M. Sayyed Tantawi. H.E. Cardinal Tauran took the opportunity of thanking Sheikh Tantawi for his condemnation of the violence at Nag Hammadi on the occasion of Coptic Christmas in which six Christians and one Muslim lost their lives. Sheikh Tantawi had travelled to the spot for Friday prayers and had delivered a khutba, the text of which was later distributed to the participants. The Grand Imam stated that he had only done his duty when faced with these sad circumstances.

The theme chosen for the meeting was The phenomenon of confessional violence. This had been chosen the previous year, before the most recent outbreak of sectarian violence in Egypt. Papers were read by Professor Abdallah Mabrouk al-Naggar, a member of the Academy for Islamic Research, and by Monsignor Bernard Munono, of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. They were asked to examine the phenomenon of confessional violence, bringing to light its causes, and proposing solutions to the problem with special reference to the role of religions.

After exchanges in a cordial atmosphere, the participants summarised the results of their discussions.

 § 1             They drew attention to the instrumentalisation of religion for political or other ends as a possible source of violence.

 § 2             They stated that religious discrimination must be opposed, and human dignity upheld without any distinction based on ethnicity or religious affiliation.

 § 3             They recognised that mutual pardon and reconciliation are necessary conditions for a peaceful and fruitful coexistence.

§ 4             They pledged themselves to promote a culture of mutual respect and dialogue through education at home and at school, but also in churches and mosques.

§ 5             They called for vigilance regarding the teaching of religious leaders as well as the contents of school text-books, making sure that they do not directly or indirectly induce a violent attitude among the followers of different religions.

§ 6             In this context, attacks against religions in the mass media are to be strongly opposed. Particular mention was made of the dangerous impact that certain programmes on satellite channels can have on social cohesion and the peaceful coexistence of religious communities.

§ 7             The participants were conscious that time had been too short for an in-depth study of the phenomenon of confessional violence and the proposal of adequate solutions. In private conversation the heads of the delegations agreed that there could be improvements in the method of exchanges. For instance, the absence of simultaneous translation entailed a considerable loss of time. It was also suggested that the position papers could be submitted in advance, allowing for deeper mutual questioning.

§ 8             On the other hand, the growth of friendship leads to greater openness and a desire to continue the dialogue. Accordingly, the Joint Committee agreed that its next meeting would take place in Rome, 23-24 février 2011.

                                                                   Michael Fitzgerald   

Source : Islamochristiana 36/2010/268

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