Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat-In the fourth International Conference of the World Association of Al-Azhar Graduates that was held recently, 92 scholars, researchers and intellects from all over the world warned against the consequences of the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia and the increasing hostility towards Muslim generations in Europe and the West since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. They highlighted the importance of launching initiatives for dialogue between religions and civilizations in order to remove the deep-rooted misunderstanding among westerners towards Islam and Muslims.
Those attending the conference entitled ‘Al Azhar and the West…Dialogue and its Limitations’, which lasted three days, agreed that Al Azhar is an international institution that endured history for over 1000 years and serves as Islam’s biggest religious reference with its approach that is based on tolerance and moderation. Furthermore, it is qualified in its history and the way it conducts dialogue with the other monotheistic religions [Judaism and Christianity].
The participants of the conference indicated that ‘Differences in beliefs and ideologies are universal and exist as part of divine will. The Quran states, ‘If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people: but they will not cease to dispute.’ This difference, if it is utilized in the best way, is a rich source through which nations can integrate and civilizations can develop.’
The closing statement of the conference called for religious leaders of the monotheistic faiths to ‘shoulder their responsibilities in order to rescue societies from the abyss of extremism and egotism and to represent the monotheistic religions by spreading a spirit of love and fraternity.’
The statement said, ‘Even now calls for dialogue between civilizations are still merely slogans that are being repeated in forums and conferences and are not being transformed into an effective program that aims towards real rapprochement.’
The attendees of the conference, who represented all three monotheistic religions, adopted the idea of drawing up a charter for dialogue based on mutual recognition of the monotheistic religions and the idea of searching for common ground and agreement, which in the near future can be invested in.
The closing statement also said, ‘The biggest obstacles facing the success of dialogue between the civilizations is the policy of oppression that is being practiced by the West against Islamic societies, and this is what places responsibility on Christian societies to call on their politicians to put a stop to this oppression and strive towards achieving justice, which represents the spirit of the monotheistic faiths.’
Participants also agreed that the World Association of Al-Azhar Graduates has great capabilities to support Al-Azhar’s international role. They highlighted the importance of its inclusion in the UN-affiliated social and economic body EcoSoc to be able to strengthen its ability to engage in dialogue with institutions and devote its energy to realizing Al-Azhar’s message.
Dr. Ahmed al Tayyeb, President of Al-Azhar University and head of the World Association for Al-Azhar Graduates stressed the “importance of the West abandoning its double standards policy, respecting Islam’s religious constants and putting a stop to the smear campaigns targeting Islam, especially as the European media is still presenting stereotypical and negative images of Islam and Muslims and depicting Muslims as terrorists who should be feared.”
Professor John Esposito, a lecturer of Islamic and Religious Studies at Georgetown University and coauthor of ‘Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think,’ which he penned with President Obama’s Islamic advisor Dalia Mogahed, further emphasized the necessity of concentrating on dialogue between cultures and civilizations in order to ward off any deviant ideas that call for conflict between civilizations.
Esposito alluded to America’s interest in Islam, in particular towards the study of Islam, based on the idea that it is a religion that founded a well-established civilization in human history and one that has many adherents, pointing out the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in Georgetown University.
Esposito stated that the conflict between the West and the Islamic world is far from inevitable as this conflict is related to politics rather than principles, and to the injustices of politics and apprehension rather than religion or the clash of civilizations and cultures.
“The conflict taking place at present between the Islamic world and the West is not because of doctrinal or civilization differences but because of the adoption of double standards towards the Islamic world. Some groups and lobbies, which have an influence over decision making in the West, support the practice of this erroneous policy,” Esposito said.
Esposito underlined that building respect between Islam and the West in general and the United States in particular requires building trust for example taking effective steps that are related to general and foreign policy and this is what gives diplomacy an important role in this field.
The American Jewish filmmaker Jacob Bender who also attended the conference emphasized Muslim ties with the Jews who lived under the protection of the Islamic civilization. The Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd also spoke about this period when the Muslims were in Al Andalous, and the influence it had on Jewish Rabbis in such a way that there was rapprochement between the Islamic and Jewish cultures. Bender also called for joint efforts to be exerted to restore such excellent ties.