In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate
The speech by the His Eminence
Prof. Ahmed At-Tayyeb,
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar
President of the Muslim Council of Elders (MCE)
At a conference on global peace,
Entitled, “Ways of Peace”
held in the city of Münster, Germany
During the period from 19th to 21st of Dhul Hijjah 1438 A.H.
(10th – 12th of September, 2017)
Münster – Dr. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany,
Distinguished members of the Muslim Council of Elders who have organized this important conference
I greet you with the greeting of peace proclaimed by Islam and all other revealed religions, that is, peace be upon you. I also thank all of you for attending this conference which includes such distinguished elite of religion, politics, intellect, economics, and media leading figures. I am particularly grateful to those young people whose faces today look to me bright, promising and fully determined to create a human future characterized by security, peace, coexistence, and mutual understanding, based on the principles of justice, freedom and equality among all peoples. Given its short time limit, I hope that my speech will make sense to you. It basically reflects on some of the problems of our contemporary world and the sufferings of the people, especially in our Arab and Muslim East. The present-day horrors, physical-abuse, bloodshed and human rights violations are so heinous that they remind us of the scourge of past-time wars that we thought to have now been consigned to oblivion and part of bygone history. In those bygone eras, wars broke out in fighting fields. Their calamities and disasters were limited to frontier zones and were suffered only by fighting soldiers and armies. Our today’s world is characterized by scientific, technological and technical progress and advancement. It abounds with international organizations, international human rights organizations, civil society organizations and international covenants that have shouldered the responsibility for the protection of the wretched, children, disabled and the widows, and that have pledged to provide security and peace for people. Unfortunately, it has been shown that most of these institutions would turn a blind eye to bloodshed, corpses, children’s cries, orphans’ tears and deep sighs of mothers bereaved of their children. In this modern age of the third millennium, the concept of war has been changed due to the technologically and scientifically advanced death industry. The raging wars have become so destructive that they could devour safe civilians inside their homes, streets, villages, towns, cities, schools and clubs. They could also force them to flee from the hell of the deadly weapons, leaving their homeland for an unknown destination in painful experiences whose beginnings they only know. Then they do not have the faintest idea about their destiny. They are sometimes forced by panic and fear to ride the sea and end up drowned or wrecked in the deep seas.
Such a miserable tortured group is part of humanity and they have the very same human rights that people in the East and the West have, including respect, security, freedom, stability on their homeland and sovereignty of their territories. According to Islam and all other divine religions, discrimination of rights on the grounds of wealth, race, color or religion is, a barbaric misdeed in every sense of the word. Those of us who were raised according to religions and their morals fully know that the human beings are all fellow brothers and equal peers. We also realize that humanity is a strong relation of kinship that entails certain reciprocal rights and duties among Adam’s children, at the level of the individuals, communities, states or peoples.
Ladies and gentlemen!
Excuse me for this rather pessimistic language with which I have started my speech at such a conference that urgently calls for optimism and unlimited hope. I have come from the East, whose men, women, grandparents and grandchildren pay a huge price of bloodshed killings and mass graves due to regional and international policies that have destroyed countries, peoples and ancient civilizations. Some countries were completely destroyed in a few hours, and then left behind as lifeless ruins until the present moment I am speaking to you. Some other countries have been devoured by killing and destruction machines that have wreaked havoc there for more than five years now. Worse still, such deadly machines have been destroying everything they face in certain countries for more than fifteen years. Some of these countries have been inflicted by destruction and killing in addition to a list of fatal and pandemic diseases.
The most recent chapters of this absurd tragedy in the East are the genocide and forced displacement processes that the Muslim citizens of Rohingya are undergoing nowadays. The international community has failed to save them from their sufferings widely reported by TV channels. However harsh or remorseless such calamities may be, they cannot be denied by anyone or tolerated by any human conscience, in the West or the East.
Ladies and Gentlemen
You know about these disasters very well, and both of us are fully aware of them. They may have been reported and repeated so frequently that some people get bored of them. Therefore, I am not going to dwell deeply on their details. In a statement issued by Al-Azhar last Saturday on the issue of Muslim citizens of Rohingya, I said that the statements of condemnation and denunciation are no longer meaningful. They are a waste of time and a squander of energy. However, I cannot leave this conference endowed with these respectable great leaders, especially the young ones on whom we pin all hopes to save humanity from the terror struck into its heart and to carry it to the shore of peace and security.
Actually, I cannot leave the floor without summarizing the views and thoughts I have in mind about this crisis. Some of my thoughts, I must admit, sound like unrealistic dreams. ‘Although dreams may be conceived of as the means of the helpless people, some dreams can come true’, if I may quote an Egyptian poet as saying.
Firstly: According to what international political analysts say, most of the systematic destruction that we face in the East is caused by Islamist terrorism. Consequently, we must intervene to stop it and to save the world from its dangers. Wishing not to cross the bounds of decency and etiquette, let me remind you that what is happening in the East is caused by arms dealings held in the West,. These arms dealers need to ensure the continuity of their production and sales. They then search for territories where religious or doctrinal conflicts can be fueled to call people to armed and bloody fights. In the introduction to the book «A Global Moral Project» by the contemporary theologian: Hans Kung, I have read statistics stating that every minute, the nations of the world spend $1.8 million on military armaments, while, every hour, 1,500 children die from hunger or hunger-related causes.
With the exception of World War II, every week during 1980s, more people than at any other time in history were detained, tortured, assassinated, made refugees, or else had their rights violated by repressive regimes.
Every month, the world’s economic system adds $7.5 billion to the unbearable debt burden of $1,500 billion now resting on the shoulders of the Third World Peoples.()
Till this moment, the story of terrorism remains, to my knowledge, a puzzling one. Terrorism is like a foundling of unknown parentage. I don’t want to go on and on about the rest of the baffling questions regarding this miraculous monster which was born with ready-made fangs and claws and which didn’t reach its third year before declaring its Islamist State whose name has so far swept the world newscasts. Then it has soon become one of the tremendous powers in the fields of armament, technology, and training, setting up a communication and information revolution. Among its amazing potentials is that it can move among nations, and its army can cross borders guarded by air defenses, with absolute confidence that no gun single shot would be pointed at them. Moreover, terrorism can deploy its forces wherever it wants, control oil fields, slaughter and capture females, and accidentally receive weapons and equipment landing in one of its camps from planes that lost their way. One can carry on telling more of this amazing tale we all know much about.
I don’t exempt our Arab and Muslim East from bearing its due share of the historical responsibility for this terrorism. This responsibility is due to many interrelated causes: political, religious, educational and social. However, I can’t understand that the scientific, technical and arm potentials of the area, where such organization have appeared, are sufficient to explain the boom in all of these fields. Likewise, I can’t understand how the policy of hit-and-run can be used to encounter such an organization and to protect the miserable from its evils and dangers.
Secondly: The East, whose peoples are moaning under the duress of the suffocating crises at all levels, was a good-doer to the west, for which it provided much of its civilization and spread in all its corners the origins of science, culture, literature, and art. It is enough to quickly refer to what one of the contemporary western scholars has said that the European culture owes an immense and immeasurable debt to the world of Islam. Muslim scholars preserved and enhanced the learning of ancient Greece, laid the foundations for modern science, medicine, astronomy and navigation and inspired many greatest cultural achievements of the West ().
This fair writer adds that if it were not for the inherent tolerance of Muslims for the People of the Book that was manifest within the Islamic world for over fifteen centuries, it is highly doubtful that the Jewish people could have survived as a racial and religious (independent) entity, and we would have lost their contribution to art, medicine, science, literature and music which is almost beyond measure. Thus, although the prevailing view of Islamic World in Western mentality as a backwater, inhabited by people of strange habits and almost incomprehensible beliefs and of the Arab lands that have only become important to the West when viewing them as a collection of giant gas stations, and mere providers of raw material upon which the Western economy is driven. This doesn’t reflect the reality of the Islamic world; it can’t form a basis for a real understanding among peoples of different cultures and beliefs.
Then, Murphy goes on and draws his logical conclusions backed by a wide knowledge, as he says that European nations all went through periods of despotism, dictatorship, and internecine strife. Their move towards democracy was done almost only in the last century. Thus, the internal political problems of the Muslim countries, whatever the nature of their regimes might be, must be left to their own people to solve. History has proved beyond all doubt that the World of Islam has spiritual and ethical principles that have an innate capacity for it to foster tolerance and promote brotherhood among all races and creeds. Furthermore, the World of Islam has the same right to develop in line with the needs and aspirations of its people as the European nations did before. Europe, America, and Russia have co-signed on the founding charter of the United Nations organization whose principle terms state that no country has the right to intervene in the internal political affairs of another. ()
I apologize to you again about the length of the previous quote, but I wanted you to look at the Islamic world from a fair Western perspective to see how big the contradiction between word and deed is and how far the distance between them. I remember when I was a high school student my celebration of the liberation of our Arab world from colonialism, the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the new political and economic systems, and the new liberation movements that were spreading from one country to another. However, the region has become again a scene for armed conflicts and competing policies of national and international ambitions. The wretched poor peoples, among whom I was born and raised, are the ones paying the cost of this regional and international absurd. They are fighting proxy wars that they have nothing to do with.
Thirdly and lastly, I can say with real humility, that the reason behind this trouble is the fragility of the ethical values of today in guiding our civilization and curbing it when dominated by immoral desires and ambitions. The solution cannot be obtained from further scientific development or technical progress, despite their being necessary for a better and more prestigious life. The solution cannot be found either in the materialistic philosophies that deny God and religions or in their respective value systems. Neither is it to be sought in utilitarianism or humanism; all of them revolve around the human beings as individuals rather than as members of a community with rights to be respected; otherwise the community would be corrupt and conflicts would then arise.
The solution, as I can see it, is a general set of humanitarian ethics that are intercontinental and agreed upon by the East and West to prevail our modern world, control its behavior and substitute the conflicting and contradicting ethics that have driven our modern world to something like civilization deadlock. The only way to a global ethical program, as Kung says, is through religions. However, this is conditional on establishing peace between religions at first. Kung’s famous quote says, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” To achieve the first step in this quote that completely matches with the message of Al-Azhar and well enough with the peace message of Islam itself, Al-Azhar visited religious institutions in Europe, “Sant’Egidio” association in particular, that I’’m attending its conference of peace for the first time. Al-Azhar made its visits to confirm its willingness to make peace with all divinely-revealed messages and other religions. For that reason, I have come to the city of peace, the country of peace and the policy of peace.
Thank you for your listening!
May the Peace, Mercy and Blessing of Allah be Upon You!
Written in the office of Sheikh al-Azhar:
18 Dhul-Hijjah, 1438 A.H.
9 September 2017 A.D.
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar